Multiple central city “super stops” and “street stations”, or a single transport interchange? This is an important question in the discussion of the future Christchurch public transport network as it will have a substantial effect on its operations. In the draft Central City Plan, it is proposed that buses are to run around the slow core of inner-city streets rather than going through them. In this encirclement, as well as on the approach to the core, buses will pass through a number of “super stops” and “street stations”. Looking at the indicative map, three or four super stops are planned around the core with at least another six on the approaches. It appears two street stations are planned in the ‘loop’ (lets just call it that) around the core (one at Victoria/Durham Streets, the other at High Street) while another is planned on an approach (at the Hospital). The temporary interchange is also located on the loop, although whether it would become a super stop, street station, or nothing remains to be seen.
So what is a street station? The three street stations will effectively replace the old Bus Exchange, and indications are that buses would pass through all three, although this is not entirely clear. Passengers will be able to transfer services at each street station (this benefit would be hobbled if all central city bus routes did not pass through each one), and there would be a range of facilities either meeting or exceeding those of the old Exchange. These stations would be partially covered public spaces co-located with cycle parking, street stalls and cafes. I have little idea what a super stop might be, other than a large, well designed bus stop with good shelters and other facilities, and lots of space.
The move from a central transport interchange to having three “street stations” distributed around the core of the city presents some challenges. Having a central interchange allows quick and easy transfers, which are essential to any modern public transport system. On the temporary transport interchange currently known as ‘Central Station’, the draft Plan has this to say:
“As the city recovers the requirement and role of the temporary interchange will be reviewed by the Council and ECan as part of the public transport network of street stations and super stops and how they link to the proposed light rail network.”
I am not entirely sure what this is trying to say, other than the future of the Central Station site may depend on how the light rail network fits into the proposed network of street stations and super stops, if at all. My thinking is that if it is not feasible to run light rail around the loop, the Central Station site might be developed as a sort of (off-street) street station to allow transfers between bus and light rail. This leads me to my idea of combining the best of both worlds. Having a main central transport interchange, serving all bus routes and light rail, and also having a public transport distribution network around the core of the inner-city, complete with super stops and street stations. This loop may or may not include light rail, but if it did the point of difference for the central interchange would likely be that it is off-street and allows future flexibility (i.e. development of some services that don’t go via the loop).
As far as I can tell, all buses running into or through the central city would run around the loop and through all street stations and three or four super stops. As one of the street stations is off the loop, I do wonder how this would be achieved. It could also be time consuming for the many through bus routes that Christchurch has if they went right around, making them less convenient. This is why it might be best to have buses running on different parts of the loop (i.e., few would actually do a full loop). For example, the number 10 would enter at the Victoria/Durham street station, and run around the loop clockwise via Kilmore and Manchester Streets to Colombo and onwards to Cashmere. A number 3 bus would enter the loop at the High Street street station, run anti-clockwise around the loop via Manchester, Kilmore, and Durham streets, then down Riccarton Ave on to Riccarton. Without a central interchange this could make transfers problematic, though it would be possible to ensure buses ran through all street stations (except the Hospital one – I can’t figure that one out).
It is entirely unclear how light rail would fit into all of this. This probably has something to do with the need to produce a more final blueprint for the proposed system. In my view it would be best to run light rail (and/or train-trains) around the loop in the same manner as the buses, if at all possible. Previously, it was probably the view of most that any light rail would utilise the tram tracks, but now I am not so sure. A loop following the general bus loop probably makes more sense (the current tram route seems more suited to shuttling people around the central city rather than distributing them) and would be a similar practice to what happens with the Max Light Rail system in Portland, which has been a kind of inspiration for the CCC. This would leave the heritage tram as a separate system that could be extended and upgraded in future where more intensive light rail might not be suitable. Again, this follows the example of Portland’s separate Max Light Rail and Portland Street Car systems. Food for thought.
Ultimately, I see no problem with running buses, and possibly light rail, around the perimeter of the inner-city core. However, all bus routes would have to run through each major station in order to provide quick, easy, seamless transfers between services. In addition, at least one of these stations would need to be served by light rail when/if it is implemented. I think the best solution is to develop the Central Station site, once this system is up and running, as an additional street station – except that it would be largely off street. This would be useful in that it provides a distinctive ‘home’ for public transport in the city, could be a transfer station between buses and light rail, if the latter is not extended around the city like the buses, and provides breathing space for dealing with any future congestion issues by potentially allowing some services to bypass the loop altogether. With some minor tweaks, I think what is shown in the draft Plan can work, and work well. It will certainly be interesting to see what comes out in the final Plan, and whether the idea of this loop will be dropped. I was skeptical about it at first, but looking at it in more detail it seems to be a good idea, provided certain conditions are met.