Christchurch At The Transport Crossroads In 2020 [2]

Well this part 2 has taken a long time to appear, but these days we want to be more considered in blogging and spending the time to think things through properly rather than rushing out a lot of lower quality posts or ones that repeat stuff already made. Unfortunately the key problem that is affecting all transport projects around the country is a lack of commitment from the government, which is rapidly giving even its most ardent supporters the impression that they are largely a populist personality cult focused around the Prime Minister and have almost no ideological backbone. In the recent announcements all they have really done is fund projects that were either lobbied for by NZ First and included in the coalition agreement, or that were developed by the previous government.

That said, the main object of this part 2 is to continue discussing what are the key reasons we are not seeing progress in developing commuter rail in Christchurch, apart from the lack of government focus, which is a pretty big part of it. Simply put, territorial local authorities have a very weak corrupt political obeisance to the rich and powerful, whilst this is also seen at central government level it tends to be a lot more open there with more checks and balances. In fact we think it is probably a good rule of thumb that the smaller and more local a unit of government is, the more likely it is to be captured by personal interests of the people living in it and the less likely it is to care about being a part of a larger territory and the overall interests of that territory. This goes a long way to explaining why local government authorities frequently fails to take into consideration a big picture of the role they have to play in a larger urban region. They seek to maintain their own small scale political interests and ignore everything else.

In the case of Christchurch City, much of the current debate about the nature of the city focusing on the idea that the central city (the Four Avenues as it is called) is more important than anywhere else within the territorial limits of the whole city and that this area should get more of the resources especially ratepayer funding than the outer suburbs. At the time of writing this there has been much opinion commentary in “The Press” newspaper by a well known radio host and National Party member on a supposed revolt around the Council table by five councillors who are campaigning for rates spending to be reduced. The problem for the said commentator is that if we dig deeper into what is being said, it leads to a default assertion that there are in fact some projects that are not libraries or art galleries or swimming pools that should actually get lots of money from the council and these are straight commercial projects within the central city area, or large pieces of infrastructure that create business opportunities for hotel owners and the like. The key issue underlying this is that there are some wealthy developers and landowners in the central city who are sitting on expensive high value property and that the rest of the city is “morally” obliged to agree to fund, through their rates payments, what is a property owners’ cartel that keeps land prices much higher there than anywhere else in the city.

What flows out from this is that the current Mayor that we have, as with most of our mayors, being based in the central city, is captured by these interests and has focused on pushing the central-is-better viewpoint in a big way. When we see that in 2014 Ecan did this rail study which showed that rail should have been developed, and then the next year the Mayor demands the right to meddle in public transport for the entire region through forming the Joint Public Transport Committee. Then the next stage is to develop a new public transport plan that focuses mainly on Christchurch and from the Mayor’s perspective, on the Christchurch central city area with a whole lot of new routes that go through the CBD. The ideas that anyone can live in other parts of the region (Selwyn / Waimakariri) and travel to an outer suburb or that these areas can offer facilities to people living there or in outer suburbs that compete with what is in the central city, are obviously a great threat to the financial and political hegemony of the small group of super wealthy elite who control the centre of Christchurch.

At the moment the JPTC is said to have rejected rail as a possible solution for Christchurch – this has been stated by other commentators such as Talking Transport but we haven’t been able to find out as yet exactly where this was explicitly stated. However the JPTC has a funding study at work with NZTA to get some proposals investigated – as far as we know, these are for ideas like bus rapid transit or light rail, not for heavy rail. We are intending to get stuck into a lot of process behind the current direction being taken by the Joint Public Transport Committee and the plans and consultations and other processes they have been working with. However this depends a great deal on what can be achieved locally working with other transport activists in Greater Christchurch. As we signalled in the first post for this year the bigger direction we hope to achieve this year is to see greater collaboration with other groups or persons to get progress. Can’t give any guarantees of how that might play out during the year so that question will be left open for the present but we hope that saying “watch this space” will prove to be fruitful.

Christchurch At The Transport Crossroads In 2020 [1]

Whilst we may not be planning to blog as much this year, there are still things that need to be said from time to time. We have spent a few weeks thinking about this post, and just feel it is important to write it. It is partially a different way of writing about some of the issues we were going to put into a different planned article series in late December (which has been dropped due to our change in focus for this year).

Christchurch is a really badly planned city for public transport, and nothing much is going to change as long as the Government passes the buck on it. Whilst Labour did make an election promise for $100 million to establish a commuter service from Rolleston, like other Labour public transport initiatives around the country, this has fallen flat due to general political incompetence. Largely, this is due to the slavish political obeisance of the Minister of Transport to Christchurch City Council politicians. The way the power structures work in the City, these politicians have absolutely nothing to gain from any type of transport system that is not road-based. The Minister has spent far too much time listening to the lobbying of the Christchurch Mayor and not enough on actually understanding all of the issues at stake and the benefits that come from designing a public transport system that works across the whole Greater Christchurch area. It comes about because even though both central and local governance in Christchurch City is nominally Labour affiliated, the city council politicians only follow this in word and not in deed. The ideological focus of the “People’s Choice” political bandwagon in local Christchurch governance is, in practice, nearly indistinguishable from Independent Citizens or other National-affiliated right wing groupings.

So the only actual action on public transport reform we have seen from central government is to pass a law allowing the transfer of management of public transport systems between regional and territorial councils. This issue is largely irrelevant to the way these systems operate, and is unlikely to produce any real improvement in the way public transport systems are operated in Greater Christchurch at present. In fact, it is likely to work against improved systems of public transport being introduced in future, and we believe in fact this is a political calculation by the powers that be. We also note that the Mayor of Christchurch has been one of the chief cheerleaders for this legislative initiative, but we wouldn’t be prepared to put money on her being able to serve her full term at present due to questions being asked about her electoral finance returns at the last two elections. To put it another way, we have to ask what pressing issue the Mayor is trying to solve by campaigning to take over the operation of our bus services. We think it is becoming increasingly clear that it is essentially a political power game being played by Christchurch City against the regional council and territorial authorities further out, and is actually against the public interest.

So what are the political calculations involved? Firstly, let us conclude this first instalment of this two-part article by looking at how a local politician’s mind works when their territory is part of a larger urban area that is governed by multiple councils. This fact in places like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch has been addressed to a large extent by the local government reforms of 1989, which created regional councils to govern public transport systems over multi-territory metropolitan areas. In Auckland, of course, there has since been the further amalgamation of local areas to form the Auckland Council. Prior to that, in the early 2000s the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) was created to separate public transport management from the other roles of Auckland Regional Council (ARC). Auckland Transport is the successor of ARTA but with increased powers and responsibilities, for example management of Auckland roads. In Wellington, some smaller councils were amalgamated into the larger territories of Kapiti, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Wellington City, but there is no present political impetus for a “Wellington Council” type of amalgamation. Wellington, however, did have bus services operated by Wellington City Transport (WCT) which was controlled by Wellington City Council. Christchurch, since the inception of public transport well over 100 years ago, has always had these services regionally managed; CCC has never been in control of them. This function was originally performed by the Christchurch Transport Board (CTB) (Christchurch Tramway Board in earlier years) and their function was handed over to Ecan (Canterbury Regional Council) in 1989.

Prior to the various local government reforms that have occurred, public transport was in some areas regionally managed from an early stage (Christchurch was the first area out of the three mentioned above to have this type of organisation) and in Auckland this system was introduced in the 1960s. In both Auckland and Wellington, the all important commuter passenger services were always managed in a regional fashion, firstly through the district offices of NZ Railways and latterly through the respective regional councils. This however has never been popular with the mayors of the largest territories. In such a politician’s small mind, they are seeking to maximise their political power by concentrating as much of the population of the larger metropolitan area as possible within their territory. They also want to make it more difficult for people to live outside their territory and commute to work within it. Therefore it is in a local politician’s interest to have control over all of the transport systems in their area. A regional transport system such as commuter trains that makes it easy for people to live north and south of Christchurch and commute quickly and rapidly into the city to work has long been despised by Christchurch mayors because these residents are not paying rates into the City coffers. These simple political facts go a long way to explaining part of the reason why Christchurch City Council does not have any interest in furthering the development of commuter rail services in the region. We will look into another key part of that reason in our second article.

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [5]: Political realities

Right now we have a Labour government in Wellington, and we have Ecan headed by a Labour member (Steve Lowndes) and we have the Christchurch City Council headed by a Labour member (Lianne Dalziel).  And this is like political heaven for the Labour party, and as long as it continues we will never actually see any progress in commuter rail in the city. That is because the main focus for Labour in local government is not serving you and me, and standing for anything like they do in central government. It is about getting elected and being in office and having as much power as possible. Local government and other local institutions are what Labour uses to support their national organisation, and train and groom people for national office. So the focus is on getting more political power.

In the transport sphere, we saw that when Ecan was ruled by commissioners and Sir Bob Parker was the Mayor, their focus was quite different in Christchurch PT. They were successful in getting the Riccarton Metro Suburban Interchange built. When the Council staff stalled and welshed and tried to get out of building it, Bazley called them liars and Bob Parker actually got up and apologised, and the interchange got built. What most people missed is that when Lianne was the MP for Christchurch East, she promised to lobby for a suburban interchange to be built in New Brighton. That’s gone very quiet since she became Mayor. We’ve heard no more about any suburban interchanges from her Council in two terms; they are now touting bigger bus stops and calling them “suburban interchanges” despite the earlier plans for proper interchanges that Council staff were putting into annual plans for years in the 2000s.

Instead Labour in the Council has focused on a time wasting exercise of seeking to take over the city’s public transport network. It’s always a goal when there is a Labour controlled council to achieve what they’ve wanted for decades. Once upon a time, Denis O’Rourke was an elected Labour member on the council. Unfortunately he is another politician well past their use by date, who is the chairman of Central Plains Water Trust, that great CCC Labour initiative (started by Garry Moore) to make money off an irrigation scheme that will intensify farming and increase freshwater pollution. O’Rouke was first appointed to CPWT way back in 2000. He lost his council set in 2004, and was unable to gain any office in 2007 Ecan elections, or 2010 elections for CCC and CDHB. He then stood for NZ First on the party list at rank 7 and was elected in 2011 and 2014, but with a drop in rank for 2017 he did not return to Parliament. O’Rourke as a Labour councillor made incessant attacks upon the regional council, claiming they should be abolished. It was obvious this included taking over public transport, but there was no progress towards this achieved during his time on the Council.

It is clear from around the country that Labour are empire builders at local government level and are looking for power and influence over everything else so we should be extremely wary of a situation where they are in control of both central and local government and are looking to feather their nest. For this reason we believe the best way we could see public transport advanced in Christchurch, including commuter rail, is if the Council swings to the right at the present elections. Another example of this is a Labour councillor who is currently being investigated (his name is all over the media at the moment) who has said he opposes Government moves to mandate intensified development in parts of our cities. It is only with that type of development and proper planning focused along transport corridors, such as rail lines, that we will see a development of the city of Christchurch that is properly designed for mass rapid public transit. Just the fact that the government being Labour giving a nod and a wink to its members who have power in the City Council and Regional Council is a recipe for stagnation, not for good policy action that will move the City forward.

Hence, we have to wait for the local elections to see which way things will go in the development of public transport in Christchurch.

MaRTI invigorates rail PT along the Main South Line

This evening we caught sight of the MaRTI presentation at Turanga. MaRTI is a proposed redevelopment of the Middleton rail yards for urban housing. The concept is certainly well conceived. There remain various questions relating to where Kiwirail would relocate the various functions that are currently performed at Middleton yards. Aside from the container terminal and the freight sheds (which until relatively recently were still under Toll Freight control), Middleton also houses the main locomotive depot for Christchurch.

One suggestion is moving the rail yards out further west, between Islington and Rolleston being options. The main challenge there is to get Kiwirail’s freight from customers around Christchurch to somewhere that is convenient for them. We would guess this includes freight from points to the east of Middleton as well as parts of the city. Middleton is the key freight yard not just for Christchurch but for a lot of the surrounding area north, south and west of Christchurch. Kiwirail has a few other sites in Christchurch City but they only have limited facilities for specific types of freight or servicing; they are at Lyttelton, Woolston, Waltham, Addington and Hornby.

Since viewing the presentation, Kiwirail has stated they have no intention at this stage of relocating from the Middleton site. Also, as Talking Transport has highlighted in its MaRTI debrief, “some officials have raised concerns with us that some ideas may counter to what is being planned through the ‘proper channels’. This could only be a reference to the existing work of the Joint Public Transport Committee, which is attempting to wrest political control of public transport, and with it all transport and urban planning, firmly into the grasp of City Hall, despite the fact Greater Christchurch is a partnership between four local government authorities and central government. The reason for this is that City Hall is focused on the dominance of the city centre, the “Four Avenues” as we know it, or the CBD, although the latter is in actuality a subset of the former. There is already a great deal of political conflict going on over the CBD-vs-suburbs debate and this is obviously a part of it, when the “official channels” want to focus on owning all of the transport infrastructure and operations, and directing it towards the CBD. This conflict is very apparent already with the JPTC playing down the merits of rail as a means of moving people outside the Christchurch city limits, and similar reactions (from the Mayor of Christchurch) to the northern motorway corridor, both options which will make it easier for people to live outside Christchurch City limits and travel into the city for employment. This shows why the Government should be stepping in and overriding the city council with its selfish parochial political power plays.

The key concept for the development of intensified housing along the corridor is to have a lot of it. The debate is whether to have large developments around a few stations, or smaller developments spread all along the corridor with stations every kilometre or so. In New Zealand to date the latter has tended to be the predominant model as it is used in Greater Wellington and Auckland. Redesignating land within (for example) five hundred metres on each side of the rail corridor for its entire length is the way this could happen. However a strong case would exist to exempt those commercial areas that make heavy use of rail, which are at Woolston, Waltham, Addington, Middleton and Sockburn. These areas should be kept as compact as possible otherwise no improvement from the status quo will be achievable. The Main South Line is already difficult to develop a suburban passenger business case for due to the historical fact of planning designations placing a great deal of industrial development along much of its length so this is something of an obstacle to making it a viable residential transport corridor. Christchurch has obviously lacked the sort of foresight that was integrated into the development of Auckland and Wellington, especially in the development of the Hutt Valley as a rail served residential area in the 1920s for example.

If Middleton is not an option then former rail land at Waltham and Linwood could become viable alternatives for large scale development. As it stands, without the impetus that developing a large site like Middleton would produce, it is difficult to get the intensification happening along the rail corridors. The real challenge is that the District Plan targets different areas for intensification, and the City Council will not want to change that. This illustrates the uphill battle against the established town planning schemes to get an initiative like this off the ground.

MaRTI proposal impacts public transport development

Chat Club (Christchurch Housing And Transport) has today released its proposal for Kiwirail to relocate its Middleton rail yards to the Rolleston area to enable the existing site to be freed up for affordable housing development.

Currently as many know, Middleton is the historical site of the main Kiwirail freight handling yards for Christchurch. It is also closely connected with local rail served transport logistics hubs operated by several of New Zealand’s major freight companies, such as Mainfreight, Daily Freightways and PBT, although their sites are to the west of the freight yards, closer to Sockburn, and may not be directly affected if the proposed area of redevelopment is strictly confined to the current Middleton site.

Middleton was first developed for rail freight around 100 years ago and an early development there was for the purposes of creating a hump shunting yard, similar to the one that was developed at Te Rapa near Hamilton in the North Island. The Middleton hump facilities, like the ones at Te Rapa, were removed later on. Middleton was just one of a number of freight facilities in Christchurch until the mid 1980s when work began on rationalising yards due to the increased competition from road transport at that time. It then became the major shunting yards for the whole city and relocation of various ancillary functions from other parts of the city, such as the locomotive running depot from Linwood, have continued to the present day.

At the present time Middleton forms the nucleus of the bulk of rail operations in Christchurch, with most freight and support operations handled either at the yard itself or at Sockburn to the west and Addington to the east. Woolston and Lyttelton also handle freight further east, both mainly used by Port of Lyttelton, whilst logs are the main traffic now handled at Hornby.

At the present time the main running lines from Lyttelton to Middleton are double track. From Middleton to Sockburn there are four main lines due to the volume of freight handled on private sidings in the area. The Third Road ends at the Sockburn overbridge while the Fourth Road to Hornby where it connects to the Hornby Industrial Line. We could expect to see these lines remain in their current form. From Sockburn to Islington is double track. The line was singled between Islington and Rolleston in the 1990s. We could expect to see this line doubled again if the railfreight yards were relocated to Rolleston as suggested in the proposal. The main lines at Middleton itself were diverted around the southern side of the rail yard some years ago and probably would not need to be relocated.

The main questions related to this proposal include the following:

  • Impact on freight handling from Middleton yard into the rest of Christchurch.
  • Impact on rail operations, including the relocation of the locomotive depot.

Both of these issues can be handled to some extent using other rail properties in the city. Land may be available at Linwood, unless it has been sold.

The proposal densifies the rail corridor between Christchurch and Rolleston, and will be potentially beneficial to proposals for commuter rail for Rolleston, although there are a number of obstacles to be overcome to make this traffic viable.

We are currently preparing historical maps for Middleton for the NZ Rail Maps project which will be posted in the next day or two either on this blog or NZ Rail Maps.

Greater Christchurch Passenger Rail Stations [1]: Main North Line

If we are going to have a passenger train operation from Christchurch to Rangiora, it will be necessary to look at where suitable locations are for stations. In Auckland and Wellington the typical spacing of stations is 1 to 1.4 km. This is considerably closer together than the stations on the old Christchurch suburban network. To make passenger rail work in Christchurch, more stations would be needed than was historically the case.

If we start from Moorhouse Avenue as a terminus at approximately  11 km, the old Addington station is at 12.7 km so that is almost justifying an intermediate station except that there is no residential population except around Addington so we can let that one go, maybe. Going north, Riccarton at 2 km is too far and the first station, ideally, would be just south of the level crossing, where sufficient space exists for a platform. My view is these stations can be small platforms in the denser residential areas as not all stations need to have car parking facilities. Hence the next station, Station B, would be just past the 2.5 km peg in Clifford Avenue. The old Bryndwr station would be the site of Station C at 3.8 km. Station D would be at Papanui, 5.3 km. Station E would be near Northcote Road crossing, 6.3 km. Station F at 7.7 km near Sturrocks Road. The old Styx site is not ideal and probably 9.1 km is the next best place for Station G. Station H at 10.3 km just south of Belfast and Station I at Belfast at 11.3 km get us to the edge of the residential boundary at present.

North of Belfast with presently very little population we could probably put Station J on the old Chaneys site of around 13.4 km and Station K on the old Kainga site about 15.2 km. Station L can be at 16.3 km near Tram Road. The old Kaiapoi site is unavailable so we could go for two stations in the area, Station M at 17.7 km and Station N at 19.05 km near the Williams Street crossing. A third station (O) along Adderley Terrace near the motorway overbridge is also an option. We are now on the outskirts of Kaiapoi so there is no need at this stage for closely spaced stations.

The next location (Station P) could be at the old Flaxton site around 23.3 km. Station Q could then be placed at 26.8 km just south of Southbrook, with Station R at 28.8 km and the terminus Rangiora (Station S) at 30.1 km. Therefore we have a total of 18 passenger stations in a 30 km distance on the MNL, or 20 if we include Christchurch and Addington.

MNL Passenger Stations

(Click here for larger version of map)

 

Christchurch Local Government Elections 2019: Key Issues

Christchurch will very soon be facing the Local Government Elections in 2019. In my opinion this is quite a significant election because of certain policy directions taken by the Council in the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city in the last couple of terms.

Talking Transport has ably summed up the election process here. One of the issues I raised in the comments is whether the City would do better in terms of city wide planning if territorial wards and boards were eliminated, and all representatives were elected from across the City and the boards were focused on policy areas rather than territories. At the moment the biggest concern and one which I have articulated on various occasions is that each community board gets to decide how to plan its own transport networks in its own areas. This frequently results in a narrow parochial local interests taking precedence over city wide issues, in which the role of transport networks in enabling people to move across the different parts of the city to reach a destination is made less important than the “rights” of residents in the local area. It is likely that this is a key driver of a car-centric culture in Christchurch and other major cities, due to the parochialness that is inherent in territorial local body politics.

The key aspects of the election which I will address here are as follows:

Firstly there is the regional council elections and the shift from a council that is partly appointed commissioners and partly elected councillors, to the restoration of a fully elected council. There are numerous environmental concerns that people are hoping will be more fully addressed by the change back to a fully elected Council. As far as this blog goes, public transport is certainly a key area. Due to government funding cuts but also a lack of commitment from the appointed commissioners in the last term, the public transport network has certainly slipped. In the first term of the commissioners we had the Hub-Spoke reorganisation of the bus network which brought with it the improved passenger facilities at Northlands and Riccarton, particularly the much maligned suburban passenger interchange at the latter, something CCC would have never built without a lot of prodding. More recently, the Joint Public Transport Committee approach with territorial councils has brought proposals to improve the PT network on the assumption of increased central government funding. The key aspects I would like to see happen better under the regional council are some gaps like an effective complaints procedure for public transport users, better communications with users who don’t have the use of social media or smartphones, and greater transparency and engagement with rail passenger service proposals. From my perspective I am personally endorsing the campaigns of Axel Wilke in Christchurch Central, Tane Apanui in Christchurch North and Rik Tindall in Christchurch South/BP. The first two having campaigned on improved PT options in particular and being in areas that will be key to rail passenger development. I am not particularly aware of pro-rail candidates in the other CRC wards. It is concerning to see Peoples Choice have stood candidates in every ward, selfishly oblivious to the possibility of vote splitting with similarly aligned candidates standing on independent platforms.

Secondly we have the territorial elections which for greater Christchurch are in Waimakariri District, Selwyn District and Christchurch City and it’s in the City that the greatest controversies have been raised that are likely to create the impetus for a big change in the look of the new Council. The key areas that I believe are a flashpoint for discontent in the City at the present time are:

  • Rates rises of 65% overall in the term of the current 10 year LTP.
  • The backlash against “An Accessible City” which was highlighted in one of my recent posts. Although the Council has backtracked on changes to High Street and Victoria Street, opposition to the redevelopment of St Asaph Street was only partly addressed by the Council which ignored concerted campaigning to reverse the removal of much of the carparking along the street. The lower speed limits and impacts on other thoroughfares such as Manchester Street and Tuam Street will also be relevant. This also can flow through into concerns about public transport priority measures such as bus lanes in outer suburbs like Papanui and Addington.
  • The impact of the city wide cycleway developments in the removal of carparking in many streets where these cycleways run and the overall substantial expense which many feel is being pushed through whilst roads in other areas are not being repaired to a reasonable standard.

I must make clear in this blog that I generally support the AAC and cycleway developments as being a long overdue rebalancing of transport focus into other modes of transport because prioritising cars will simply keep creating more congestion that can’t be ignored. This post is simply intending to identify where City politics is going amid concerns that transport focus is dominated by a vociferous car-focused lobby that fails to address many of the legitimate concerns about environmental impacts of large volumes of motor vehicle traffic upon neighbourhoods and other transport modes.

Whereas in the 2016 election the AAC opposition slipped under the radar and there was only one serious challenger to Dalziel (from the left of the political spectrum) in 2016, there was also no identifiable right-wing challenger and there was a record low turnout of only 37% in voting. This election there is clearly a mayoral candidate likely to attract significant support from the CBD business mafia and higher income neighbourhoods over ongoing concerns about the AAC, rates rises and cycleways, and with ward candidates tapping into similar suburban concerns, the Council could shift significantly to the right. The issue of rates rises is unlikely to be able to be addressed unless either the stadium project is suspended or major asset sales occur; cycleways can be put on hold and the Accessible City street level changes reversed in a number of areas.

So the elections will be fascinating to observe and the outcomes fairly important for the future transport directions of Christchurch.