How do we keep the city moving?

03:08, Jun 18 2014
Generic Chch bus
'NOT AN IMPROVEMENT': Lincoln University urban planning lecturer Dr Andreas Wesener says reducing existing bus routes will make the current situation worse.

Sydney's Powerhouse Museum is fascinating. You can find out about everything from the latest award-winning product designs, to fashion, robots, and consumer electronics.

Transport displays bring together the mind-boggling changes that have taken humanity from scuttling around the planet to hurtling beyond Earth's atmosphere.

We have got from one place to another by horse and buggy, sailing ship, steam locomotives, and vehicles powered by petrol, electricity, and solar energy.

Soaring overhead, frail early aircraft, pioneering planes, and spacecraft remind us that humans don't like to sit still. That can be a problem.

Another display examines climate change, energy, and the pressures the planet faces. Can we keep moving? Can we keep cramming more people into cities?

One interactive display is relevant to any major city, including Christchurch: how do you solve congestion?


Getting around Sydney is not too bad. For a city of 4.5 million - the same population as the whole of New Zealand - getting around can be easier than Christchurch, a city with 15 times fewer people.

An excellent rail service speeds you from the airport to the city centre in only 20 minutes. The city has got rid of its futuristic-looking but limited monorail and introduced a commuter light rail system. Otherwise, you can get most places by mainline train, bus, or ferry.

Most people drive, though, and with Sydney's grid pattern, hold-ups are to be expected. It's a big city. A few new cycle lanes are being installed, sensibly segregated from car traffic.

An interactive exhibit asks: Suppose your city was facing increasing congestion. You are appointed Minister of Transport. What do you do? Make the right choices, problems will ease and you are voted back in; make the wrong ones and you face voter wrath and, in the offered computer touchscreen-scenario, get sick from stress and burnout.

The choices are build more freeways, improve public transport, build cycleways, encourage ride-sharing, halve fuel prices, encourage telecommuting, introduce road charging, double fuel prices, ban cars from the city, stop suburban sprawl, ban polluting cars and cut public transport.

You can choose three strategies. I opted for improving public transport, building cycleways, and encouraging telecommuting.

Cycleways reduce car traffic and reduce pollution, and cycling is healthy. Telecommuting - together with encouraging suburban hubs - reduces the need to travel long distances in the first place.

Better access to public transport was rated the best solution in a NRMA (Australia's National Roads and Motorists Association) survey.

Here's what happens: "Convert our public transport system into one that is fast, reliable, convenient, user friendly and affordable. Introduce more frequent services and more routes."

The expected result: "More people on public transport leads to less congestion, less pollution. Forty commuters on a bus means up to 40 less cars on the road."

However, there is a warning: "Very expensive! Consider funding it by introducing road charges or fuel taxes."

One big cost saving that is often overlooked is the reduced need to spend up large on roads through less wear and tear.

Getting more people to use buses is the aim of ECan's new bus plan for Christchurch, submissions on which closed on Monday (see

"The plan proposes providing frequent, reliable services in popular areas," says ECan. "Public transport will play a key part in allowing the space for the people-friendly, green city we all want to emerge . . . The key to our plan is five high frequency core services running across town every 10-15 minutes."

That sounds great. If it works. I support the idea of core services running frequently.

Under the plan, routes still look complex, though. Some services will be discontinued. Some changes are bound to attract criticism.

Some services will run only till 7pm. That is pretty hopeless if you want to take a bus to a restaurant and not worry about drinking an extra glass.

A simple system would be buses going the length of Colombo St, around the four avenues and around Hagley Park, and up and down Blenheim Rd, Lincoln Rd, Riccarton Rd, Papanui Rd, and other main roads. Some services could be free, like the discontinued yellow shuttle buses. Sydney runs free buses up and down its main street, George St. Melbourne has a free circular tram route.

Lincoln University urban planning lecturer Dr Andreas Wesener says while he supports some changes like higher frequency on some routes and the significance of suburban hubs, not all suburban centres have been included. He says reducing existing bus routes is a bad idea. "I argue that the proposed changes are not improving the present situation but unfortunately make it worse."

Of course, every strategy has its pros and cons. The worst strategy, though, is doing nothing, or pretending that yesterday's solutions are adequate to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The Press