Guest Post: Future of Christchurch Transport

Posted on February 15, 2012 by


This is a guest post from JJ Barnes


In general, Christchurch is an easy city to get around. I believe that this is the number one reason we have such low public transport and cycling numbers (less than 4% and 3% respectively in 2009/2010). In my experience, there are two main reasons public transport systems are successful in cities around the world; traffic congestion and expensive parking. In other words, successful transport systems grow out of necessity as the alternative (driving by car) is terrible, and as a city Christchurch isn’t quite at that point yet. Obviously, this is a positive thing for Christchurch, and generally a point of difference with Auckland, Wellington and Australian cities. The experience of most commuters is that when they drive to work, it won’t take too long and parking is cheap or often free.
So while the situation is good now, it can be better. And, as population of Christchurch grows, the price of petrol goes up, and parking becomes more scarce traffic congestion and parking costs will rise. The current situation in Addington and Riccarton, where rapid post- earthquake growth has caused congestion and parking hassles, is probably a sign of things to come.
Nonetheless, the points made in the first paragraph are relevant to future transport planning. First of all, because the car travel is so flexible and fast, public transport faces stiff competition. And secondly, we must try to keep the current ‘low congestion, cheap parking’ situation for as long as we can!
So, what to do? I have two ideas:

  • Overhaul the current bus network to develop four ‘spokes’ and two ‘rings’ of well connected, high frequency bus routes.
  • Create a comprehensive and safe cycle network across the city.

Both ideas are not revolutionary or particularly expensive, and both have been implemented successfully in cities worldwide.

Frequent Bus Network

Our bus network is underused. Less than 4% of all trips are made by bus and a lot of these are school kids. It’s clear from the route map and the timetables that Christchurch’s bus network is intended as a community service – i.e. transport for those who cannot drive – and not as a credible alternative to driving a car.
I propose an overhaul of the bus system, using our existing resources to provide a useful alternative to driving as a primary goal and to provide a community service as a secondary goal. The coloured lines in the map below show proposed key bus routes. The red balloons are ’interchange stations’.
Features of the bus routes include:

  • High frequency – ideally around 10 minutes in peak times. Similar to the existing Orbiter bus.
  • Branding – all buses and stops on the red line to be painted red, on the blue line painted blue etc. This is to clearly differentiate between these ‘express’ services and ‘local’ services.
  • Real time information – on all stops and on all buses.
  • Increased stop spacing – to enable faster journeys. Also, each stop will be upgraded with shelter, seating, bike parking etc.
  • Priority measures – an extension of the existing bus lanes present along Papanui Road and Colombo St to the other key routes to improve speed and reliability.
  • Pendulum routes – the ‘spoke’ routes go via the city centre and then to the opposite side of town. All spoke routes to pass through at least two of the three ‘street stations’ in the city centre to ensure connectivity.
  • Two ‘ring’ routes – this is to build on the success of the Orbiter with the aim of making cross city travel quicker and easier.

The interchange stations are also a key part of the network. I imagine them to be similar to the ‘street stations’ proposed in the Central City Plan – basically a larger stop that can handle more buses with more seating, shelter and landscaping than normal. The interchanges are generally located at destinations such as hospitals, shopping malls and the university. The aim is that with the high frequencies proposed, that connections between two routes don’t have to be planned but will just happen. This will create a more connected city wide network.
In terms of network planning, I would devote all the resources I needed to create these 6 routes. The remainder of the city’s bus fleet would provide services spread evenly across the city. Where possible, feeder services would be created, that terminate in one of the suburban interchanges. For example, a short feeder/shuttle service would operate from Russley to the interchange at Bush Inn.

Frequent Bus Network


We all know that cycling is the ultimate way to get around. Cheap, easy, flexible, non polluting, easy to park etc etc. Yet in Christchurch, the proportion of all trips made by cycling is less than 3%. In ECan’s Annual Report Card 2009/10 it states that over half of the population have not ridden a bicycle in the past year. ECan seems to view this as a negative, but to me this says “almost half the population has!” The issue is not people not being able to cycle, just that they don’t want to.
We need to get as many people that can cycle to cycle. Who knows how many that is? I would say a lot. Certainly it can be higher than 12% of all trips, which is a goal set by ECan to be achieved by 2018. To maximise the number of people cycling we need to remove barriers.
The main barrier is safety – especially perceived safety. The solution is a massive increase in cycling infrastructure. This would comprise:

  • ‘bicycle boulevards’ – seen in Portland and Berkeley in the US. The boulevards are simply quiet suburban streets with traffic calming, improved landscaping and large ‘look out for bikes’ signs. Give way and stops signs are changed to give cyclists on the bicycle boulevards priority, and crossings are improved where they cross major roads.
  • Off road cycle paths – these are ideal but there is generally no space to put them! The only candidate I can see is perhaps along the railway line from Hornby to Addington, but there may be unsurmountable difficulties with railway sidings along this route.
  • Cycle lanes on busy roads – keep on extending what we already have until all major roads have painted cycle lanes. Particularly cool are the lanes on Tennyson Street where the lanes are separated from traffic by parked cars.

The two maps below show a proposed network of bicycle boulevards (blue lines) and off road cycle paths (green lines) for Riccarton and Spreydon. The blue balloons are schools, and the red are activity centres such as hospitals, swimming pools and shopping malls. The network is intended to provide safe cycling routes to every school in Christchurch. The boulevards will provide alternative routes for cyclists intimidated by heavy traffic.

Cycle network – Riccarton

Cycle network – Spreydon


I think the current transport situation in Christchurch isn’t too bad. This is something we should be proud of and celebrate, and also provides a good platform for future improvement.
For the bus network, an overhaul of the timetables, routes and branding of the existing services will go a long way in improving patronage. Improvements in infrastructure are required but this work is fairly minor and inexpensive.
As for cycling, I am convinced that a major investment in infrastructure will result in exponential increases in cycling. This will be a laudable goal in itself, but will also unlock a number of secondary benefits. Fortunately major investments in cycling infrastructure are cheap! In fact, you could probably implement most of the improvements listed above for less than the cost of the study into light rail.


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