Posted by: Gregory | May 29, 2014

Easy Bits: Adelaide Road Bus Stop

One of the reasons behind the Easy Bits series is that small tasks are often more easily handled than large tasks. The end result should be a series of resolved problems. In this case, WCC has already logged the issue and I may see results soon.

The back-story is that with Metlink having updated the timetables for the Island Bay services, the stop nearest my house gets more frequent buses during peak hours. It’s not my favourite bus stop – there’s neither shelter for waiting passengers nor space for the bus to pull in – but it’s nearby. When I got there, I was prompted to send this tweet:

and within minutes, someone at council was on it:

To be fair, there’s a bit of cost associated with this change. There would be 1 or 2 car parks removed to make space for the bounding box for the bus stop. However, I’m tempted to think that the lack of bounding box was an oversight, so the change will be more along the lines of righting a historical wrong.

Posted by: Gregory | May 26, 2014

Easy Bits: Hutchison Road Crossing

 

Easy Bits will hopefully become a series of posts describing simple changes that would result in nothing-but-benefits. This one is in my neighbourhood, so is etched into my awareness. Any readers with issues like this are more than welcome to recommend a post, either by commenting below or preparing a guest-post.

Intersection of Hutchison Rd with Wallace St and John St

This is the most recent satellite image of the area around John St, Wallace St and Hutchison Rd. There are a few bus stops in the vicinity and an increasing amount of pedestrian traffic, partly due to the new Countdown store less than 100m away. The majority of the vehicle traffic follows the bend between John St and Wallace St, but a small number of vehicles take Hutchison Rd to or from Vogeltown. So with all that in mind, I’m completely baffled why the pedestrian crossing stops short of getting pedestrians all the way across from the north side of John St to the south side of Hutchison Rd. Extending the crossing would keep pedestrians in a single context all the way across the road. In the current situation, pedestrians get across to a median and have to watch for downhill cars that would be stopping approximately 2 meters further on and then watching again for uphill cars leaving John St. The cars may be few in number, but it’s easy for anyone to be inattentive to their surroundings.

As near as I can tell, the net result to vehicle traffic would be negligible and the result to pedestrians would be increased safety. Why hasn’t this been done? I’m tempted to think that it’s not been done because no one has suggested it.

 

Posted by: Gregory | May 13, 2014

Schedule updates around the region

Image

Service notices have gone up indicating that a bunch of timetables are being adjusted. In all cases, the notes indicate that adjustments are being made to reflect actual travel times. This has been expected for a while, with enough RTI data being collected to highlight travel-time realities. In theory, this should help with routes that are consistently late and also help with drivers minimising their lateness by leaving early, which is a worse problem in my opinion.

Routes 1, 4, 32

Routes 13, 22, 23

Routes 81, 83, 84, 85

Posted by: Gregory | April 9, 2013

It’s Your Transport

Greater Wellington and Metlink are inviting passengers and potential passengers to get involved with their transport, an idea which I heartily agree with. The full details are at Metlink, but here’s the short story. They’re looking for artwork that can be used in promotions and as wraps for the exterior of buses and trains, and on the interior of the ferries. The work should describe what public transport means to people, whether it be the journey, the destination or the stops and stations themselves.

I believe that public involvement is an important part of public transportation. Not just for the obvious patronage aspects, but also for a sense of ownership of a system. This promotion gives residents a chance to highlight the positive aspects of the network in a very public way. I’m looking forward to seeing what Wellington’s creative minds come up with.

The entry period is already open and submissions are welcome until 5pm on Friday, May 3, 2013.

Posted by: Gregory | January 22, 2013

Why passenger transport is so important

I am posting this on behalf of Kerry Wood, who describes himself as a retired engineer with an interest in transport and sustainability.

The quality of peak-hour travel by car tends to equal that of public transport.

This simple observation is a formal statement of the ‘Downs-Thompson effect’, a useful way to think about traffic and ‘car dependence’.

London’s M4 motorway opened on a Saturday in 1965 and came to a standstill on Monday morning. It did not relieve congestion on the parallel Cromwell Road. The same thing had happened when the Cromwell Road Extension opened 30 years earlier.

Downs-Thompson effects don’t always come as quickly as this, but come they will. They usually wipe out half or all the expected benefits within three to five years. Other names for the process are induced traffic or triple convergence: existing trips converging from other times of day, other routes and other modes.

  • Another time of day may be as simple as leaving home a few minutes later, or not waiting so long for homeward traffic to ease off. The result is a shorter and more intense traffic peak.
  • Another route may be a switch from back-streets to the new highway, or to another destination. It may be a more distant workplace or shopping centre, or a new home more remote from the same destination.
  • For a new mode, the most common change is to using the car, or using it more often.

While there is real traffic growth, most growth is existing trips filling up the new road space. Triple convergence is a drag on the economy, delaying everybody but supporting only car and petrol sales.

Some drivers will always use their car but others actively explore their options. As triple convergence progressively slows traffic they may try the bus again, but find it worse than ever.

  • Delays in re-entering a fast-moving traffic stream on leaving a stop.
  • Consistently missing traffic signals set to give motor traffic a ‘green wave’.
  • A more indirect route to pick up passengers, such as bypassing a flyover.
  • Degraded access because a busy road is hard to cross and stops become inaccessible.

If there is a parallel rail service the ‘explorers’ will also try the train, but may find it is also worse. Operator responses to lost traffic may include higher fares or less frequent services. Older trains may have been neglected and become unreliable. By the time road traffic stabilizes—at the same overall speed as travel by train—the train service may itself be degraded. Everybody is worse off, unless subsidies have maintained standards.

The pressure eventually builds up and something is done. Suppose that this time the railway is chosen: greater capacity on faster, more comfortable and more reliable trains. Now some explorers find the train suits them best, and some non-explorer friends may also be convinced. As more drivers take the train, road traffic speeds up until the quality of peak hour travel by car again equals that of public transport.

In reality there is no simple either-or here. Traffic surveys in London have shown that about 15% of cars in a morning peak are missing the next day, but the total number is much less variable. Train users often take the car sometimes, just as drivers sometimes take the train. A good central area cycle-hire scheme may remove some of the reasons for taking the car. Other options include car-sharing, cycling, school buses and tele-working.

Trucks and diehard car-users do not need more road capacity: there is already space for them. The question is how to keep it clear for those who need it.

The standard solution is queuing: the most inefficient method there is. Who was it described roads as the last refuge of Stalinism? Road users like to believe they have paid for congestion-free travel, but they are not stuck in traffic: they are traffic. Traffic behaves the way it does because users can game the system; what is the economic value of an extra two minutes in bed?

Nothing can be done while road users make trips having external costs greater than the internal benefits. Fixing it needs not RoNS but road pricing: far cheaper, far more effective but politically unpopular. In Britain, the Royal Automobile Club now supports road pricing.

What can be done to introduce it here?

Posted by: Gregory | December 5, 2012

Reactivating a bus stop

Bus stop 7918 was closed during the construction of the Countdown store in Newtown. I don’t remember how long it was down for, but it was a significant length of time. With the store opening today, I’d asked Metlink when the stop would be reopening. I think we were both surprised by the answer: Also today.

Encouraged by this, I went down to the stop this morning and caught the next bus coming along. The driver insisted that the stop wasn’t open yet. The paint is down and the sign is up, but the bus stop isn’t really a bus stop. She let us on anyway.

A couple questions fall out of this instantly:

  • Why wasn’t Metlink advertising the reopening of the bus stop?
  • Why didn’t Metlink have forehand knowledge that the bus stop was reopening?
  • Why is there different information coming from Metlink and Go Wellington?
  • How are passengers supposed to know what is or isn’t a bus stop if all the markings are there?

This highlights a common failure for Wellington’s public transportation system: communication. Metlink doesn’t handle public communication overly well, which is also hindered by the disconnect between Metlink and the operators. I shouldn’t have to ask when a stop is opening. Everyone should know the details well in advance. We need to do better than this.

Posted by: Gregory | November 4, 2012

Frequent Airport Flyer

I first noticed the news of the changes to the Airport Flyer in an article that appeared in the DomPost. The article is very matter-of-fact – quite refreshing compared to the quote-laden GWRC and NZ Bus media releases. Beginning Jan 14, 2013, there will be a 10-minute frequency between the airport and the Wellington Railway Station as well as a 20-minute frequency between the airport and Hutt city centre. Direct service to Upper Hutt will be replaced by a connection with route 110 from Queensgate.

Achieving a high frequency service takes some trade-offs. In order to have enough buses, service to Upper Hutt will be sacrificed, as well as travel through the Rongotai Retail Park. The media release indicates that the bus will take Cobham Drive to the airport instead of Moa Point Road. This implies that Kilbirnie will be bypassed, but fails to state this clearly. This is my expectation for the route after January 14:

Route from Hataitai to Airport via SH1

Using route 30 as a model, we can expect the travel time from Courtenay Place to the airport to be approximately 13 minutes, making a total travel time from the railway station 25 minutes, down from 30 minutes currently seen at peak hour. It’s still longer travel time than in a taxi, but also much cheaper. Frequency is key, though. Every 10 minutes means that no matter when you’re ready to go, you’ll be there within 35 minutes.

Although the route is more direct, dropping Kilbirnie from the Airport Flyer route would be a disappointing shift, especially in light of the Wellington City Bus Review. The network is being redesigned with the idea that making connections will allow for more frequent services than our current direct-service model. As a core route, the Airport Flyer should be targeting the major connection points. Kilbirnie is a hub for the east and south-east  Although a direct route along SH1 may be faster for city passengers, a stop at Kilbirnie allows for much better connectivity. For the cost of around 2 minutes, I would rather see this:

Hataitai to airport via Kilbirnie and SH1

Access through Rongotai and to the retail park will be picked up by extending route 14. Normally, the 14 terminates at Kilbirnie, so an extension to the service is logistically easy. Timetables for the Airport Flyer indicate that it’s only a 2 minute extension to go as far as the retail park. Personally, I find that hard to believe, so I hope that Go Wellington factors in some extra time for its headway calculation. Although the 14 has several partial runs, the full route is run at half-hour intervals. This is less frequently than the current Airport Flyer, but probably adequate for the purpose. More importantly, passengers to Rongotai are treated to normal city bus fares instead of paying the much higher price of the airport service.

Overall, I think this is good news for the city. A high-frequency service through the city centre and to the parliament precinct should put bus service on near-equal footing with taxi services for business and tourist trips. The free WiFi on board is icing on the cake. I had initially expected that longer travel times for the 14 might lead to an adjustment of either the frequency or the staffing. Having looked at the current schedules, I think my fears are baseless. It appears that the extra few minutes of travel won’t substantially affect the running of the route. It appears to be a net win for Wellington.

Posted by: Gregory | October 16, 2012

Transport and Urban Design on Radio New Zealand

I was recently sent a link to an excerpt from Radio NZ of an interview with David Engwicht, as he was in town for the Safety 2012 World Conference. I listened through the interview, especially the discussion of the barriers along Willis St, and found myself impressed with his approach. While searching Radio NZ for the summary page, I stumbled upon an interview from 2009. There was some overlap between the two interviews, but the older interview is longer and contains more back-story. It’s worth listening to both, but expect some moments of déjà vu.

Eventually, I found the show notes for the newer interview and met with a pleasant surprise. Just ahead of Engwicht on the programme was an interview with Madeline Brozen, talking about parklets and the concept of complete streets. I was thrilled to see that Radio NZ exploring the relationship between transport planning and urban design. It was a full hour of great ideas.

Posted by: paula58 | September 5, 2012

When does street art encourage walking?

“Placemaking” is the term now commonly used to describe making the public spaces between buildings attractive.  Placemaking is now a central concept in encouraging walking.  Improve places and more people will walk in them.  Improve the overall walking environment and experience, and more people will choose that mode of transport.

 Which seems simple, but I’ve been struggling to work out when street art – including elements of council urban design, and also illegal/informal art like graffiti, guerrilla gardening and guerrilla knitting – contributes to placemaking.  

My conclusion is that street art – formal or informal – should be welcomed if it has one or more of the following characteristics. 

It helps makes a space into a place.  A space isn’t a place if it is featureless.  If you can’t easily describe it to someone else (“the one with the cabbage trees and piles of rocks above the little waterfall”) it isn’t a place. It’s a space waiting for transformation.

It makes the place feel more welcoming to everyone.  Some public art and urban design just makes spaces feel formal, elitist, cold, intimidating, uncomfortable, hard to cross.  Some urban design makes spaces feel suitable only for certain groups or uses, and makes those users feel they can exclude others.  Informal street art can send a “this is our territory” message or make an area feel unsafe. 

It keeps you there longer.  The walker should want to detour to look at the art, stay and play with it, pause and think about it – not just walk through the space to somewhere else. 

It adds something positive to the experience.  More of the same is boring.  And nasty is nasty.  Good street art adds a new area of interest, or makes you look at a feature previously ignored.  It makes you smile, not seethe. 

It helps transform the negative to the positive.  In Isaac Corbal’s work a pile of building rubble or an ugly puddle becomes a theatre for quirky tiny concrete figures.  Mark Jenkins transformed the effect of old plastic bags trapped in trees by providing a packing tape giraffe to eat them. 

It gives the opportunity for new activities.  The art might be designed for these activities (chess sets, pianos, seats), or be able to be adapted to another use (e.g. sculptures kids can climb or walls people can rest on).  

It helps connect us to the past.  Street art can draw attention to the history of a place, or reference elements of the past.  It can preserve pieces of the past (bits of old buildings, remaining native vegetation) that might otherwise be lost. 

It helps connect us to what is already there.  Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures use leaves, twigs, snow, rocks, dirt, ice that are already there, and transforms them temporarily into art.  

It makes you think.  About the place, about the world, about colour…

Posted by: Gregory | August 24, 2012

Smarter transport, now on video

Generation Zero continues to push the message of smarter transport with this short video. I’m continually impressed with the work they are doing and with their unrelenting energy.

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