Monday, September 26, 2011

What will it be like in 20 years if we do nothing?

  After 3 weeks in England, it is blindingly obvious that every local and regional (County) Council is asking itself the question: ‘what will our cities and towns be like in 20 years if we just do ‘business as usual’ and don’t seriously address the growing car problem?’
  Not one of the ones I’ve seen has taken the ‘build more roads’ option – the political colour of the local and national administrations seems to make liitle difference, except round the edges. I’ve seen Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat and even one Green city administration – they are all working hard on public transport and cycling & walking solutions to ensure their communities are liveable in the future.
   One transport innovation that has the Brits justifiably enthusiastic is the newly opened ‘Cambridgeshire Guided Busway’ – the longest such in the world, with a total length of over 32kms. In an area similar in size and population to the central Waikato, the Conservative Party-led equivalent of the regional Council has developed a dedicated bus network, partly on old railway lines, linking 2 outlying commuter towns and 2 new development areas (one not yet built) to the old centre of Cambridge, the well-known University town with a 90,000 population.
  The buses travel up to 90kmh out of the city, but just use the normal bus routes and bus lanes inside Cambridge. In every respect bar the small mechanical guide wheels they are normal new buses similar to the Hamilton Orbiters (except for a couple of double-deckers, but in the first month recorded a 92% increase in passenger numbers over the last month of the routes they replaced.
  Well-used shared cycle/walkways parallel the guided busway out of the towns, linking also to a nationally important wetland area that was previously run down and almost inaccessible to the public.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Who'd live in London?

  Obviously, 9 million people - but after a hectic day with 4 appointments, not me! The train (very expensive) in from Bath was 40 mins late, the tube (underground) was massively overcrowded, dirty and hot - and closed on the line I needed to use (electrical fault), leaving me and thousands of others exiting at the wrong stop. And the train out was standing room only for hundreds of us as for the first 40 minutes.
  But, surprisingly, the taxi was cheap, and the driver friendly & fair, and the 'Cycle Superhighways' and 'Boris Bikes' (named after London's Tory Mayor Boris Johnson) were also cheap and easy to use - although I was very thankful I had a local cyclist 'guiding' me on the 4km ride we needed to make through the traffic. There are about 500 official bike docking stations, and over 6,000 hire bikes in the city, along with tens of thousands of other private bikes chained to bike racks, railings, posts and trees throughout the commercial area - sometimes I thought I was in Copenhagen!

  I also visited the central traffic control room, where about 2,000 traffic cameras, dozens of operators, traffic police, utility and emergency service co-ordinators managed all the city's traffic - actually (and very efficiently) managing to keep it from grinding to a halt - one of the operators I met was a kiwi, so that was probably why!
  All in all, however, competing with literally millions every day for footpath, road, and train space is definitely not your average kiwi's cup of tea. The fact that the London transport authorities have managed to get such a good (and growing) cycle network and infrastructure in place in the last few years is a testament to inspired political leadership, excellent staff management and clearly some community realisation that cars in such a crowded place are simply unworkable.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Buses & Bollards

  Visited two quite different towns - Crawley (pop. 100,000), a new town south of London developed post-War initially to take population overspill, and now the gateway to and service centre for Gatwick Airport; and Bournemouth (pop. 160,000), on the south coast settled as a tourist centre in Victorian times with 20,000 hotel beds.
  Both towns (can't be called cities because neither have 'royal warrants') are well-connected to London and other regional centres by passenger rail, and have bus services that would put any medium NZ city to shame.
  However, what I was looking at was the impressive 'Fastway' Bus Rapid Transit system in Crawley, linking all major areas in that town, the major emplyment focus of Gatwick and the smaller nearby centre of Horley (20,000). 'Guided' buses run on a combination of separated bus tracks, standard bus lanes and ordinary sections of road, coupled with bus-only priority measures at most intersections - meaning buses are pretty much the fastest and most reliable means of transport in the area, and sharply reduce the need for parking provision - especially the congested Gatwick airport precinct.
  In Bournemouth, the innovations I viewed were the 20mph (30kph) speed zones and the associated traffic calming measures in residential streets [see photo of kid-shaped bollard decked out in the local school uniform]. In order top slow traffic down and reduce the attractiveness of some wider streets as 'rat runs' physical choking of the street to one lane only is built in - very effectively.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

First impressions - after 3 days 'On the Road'

Visits to Winchester, Brighton and Portsmouth in my 1st three days in the UK have shown a few common threads.... [Pic: on-street cycle parking in central Brighton]
  1/. how much more safety-conscious in the cities people are here - all three have extensive areas of 20mph (=30kph) road speed zones in residential and central city commercial districts - something that is clearly widely bought into by the travelling public, with almost zero enforcement needed. Portsmouth - with 94% of the city covered by these slow speed zones - has recently turned off all their speed cameras, while the police are at the same time saying they don't have the resources to police the lower limits - BUT there is still no obvious speeding problem, and average speeds have dropped;
  2/. how the 1980s and 1990s privatisation of public transport has led to really high fares and an almost complete inability by local councils and communities to have any control over bus, rail and tram services, and their pricing. Already I'm hearing a common thread of complaints by staff and elected members in councils here about how difficult it is to plan for future land use and transport needs;
  3/. how much more cycling, and cycle facility provision, there is here - while the weather and traffic volumes are noticeably worse - I'll have to find out the secret of this!
  4/. How proud staff and Councillors have been about their transport initiatives, and how keen they have been to discuss them, and show them to me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hong Kong & Zurich transport report

  Two vastly different cities on the way to the UK, but a day spent in each showed some similarities in the area of modern transport planning..... [Pic: double-decker buses, and trams (!) in Hong Kong]
  Hong Kong (6M population) & Zurich (a bit over 1M, similar to Auckland) both had modern, frequent, quick and reasonably cheap rail links between the airport and their CBDs, and other major centres - both also used effective new light rail links within the airport to shuttle people around between terminals, arrival halls & baggage claims, etc. The effect of these services kept traffic and resulting congestion on the roads in and around the airport within manageable levels - Auckland could learn a lot from them [Heathrow in London had similar services & it appears Auckland may be the odd one out!]
  In terms of large city CBD planning, both also had extensive underground walkways (especially Hong Kong) linking transport services with shopping areas, and in Hong Kong's case enabling these areas to have multiple usage, freeing up a surprising amount of above-ground land for aesthetically pleasing parks, gardens & piazzas. 
  There was a clear effort to ensure major transport systems did not detract too much from the quality of residents' and visitors' city experiences  - again more lessons for Auckland and perhaps the rest of us.
  Zurich also had an excellent 'Zurich Card' - for about NZ$30/day, transfers between the airport & downtown, all local travel on buses, trams, trains, ferries and the tourist cable-car were covered, as well as providing free entry to the city's 35-odd museums, and discounts at various restaurants and retail outlets - something all NZ cities could usefully copy!
  Both cities also had pretty good transport information displays, signage and electronic ticket self-service systems - both at stops, major stations and in other public areas - even a newbie like me was finding his way around without help within an hour or so of arriving in each place.

Friday, September 2, 2011

On the Road - first of a series of columns from Europe

Dave Macpherson is the recipient of a 2011 Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship – for as study trip to the UK & The Netherlands looking at what New Zealand can learn from practical examples of good public transport systems and cycling and pedestrian facilities in medium and smaller cities and towns.
  Last month Cambridgeshire County in England saw the opening of a ‘guided busway’ network between the central city of Cambridge and the ‘necklace’ of smaller towns surrounding it – an area similar in population and structure to the central Waikato.
  The network is the newest and most advanced example in the UK of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, where public transport links significant employment centres with suburbs and towns that the staff live in. Bus routes are typically separate from the main roads, or (when part of them) have dedicated bus lanes, and bus priority measures at intersections.
  In a couple of weeks I’ll be experiencing the Cambridge BRT first hand, and seeing what we can learn from both the successes and delays and cost overruns they experienced!
Brighton and Hove, on England’s South Coast, won national awards for its network of ‘home zones’ where residential and suburban streets have 20mph (30kph) speed limits, and ‘shared space’  road corridor designs that encourage pedestrian and cyclist priority use of the streets, and cars – while not ‘second class citizens’ – have to negotiate roads with care and consideration for more vulnerable users.
  In the Netherlands, I’ll be looking at the same type of place, in towns like Haren, Houten and Drachten (where the ‘shared space’ concept was born), and at the amazing network of cycling facilities that country has built up.
Some of these have been in place for 30-40 years, and have helped the Dutch develop, and accept as part of their everyday life, a whole new culture around safer use of roads, and acceptance of walking and cycling as healthier, cheaper and very often quicker means of transport.
  In Hamilton and the wider Waikato, we’ve been trialling 40kph zones outside schools, and better methods of slowing traffic in suburban streets than the old ‘hump in the middle of the road’. Until two years ago, we also had nation-leading growth in bus usage, but which has stagnated or even gone backwards recently.
  If we want to continue to be leading lights in New Zealand of transport innovation, including safer roads for all users, it is important that we learn from best practice wherever it happens – I hope my study trip will bring back a lot we can learn from.