Bernard Orsman seems to be on a campaign against the new bus network in recent weeks. After a few beat-ups over school buses he’s now turned to how the new bus network affects people travelling to Greenlane Hospital:
Auckland’s elderly are rattling their Zimmer frames at Auckland Transport for “dumping” them on the roadside to receive medical treatment at Greenlane Clinical Centre.
The axing of a bus service into the clinical centre has angered residents at Selwyn Village in Pt Chevalier and in Mt Roskill at the other end of the cross-town route.
The furore is over AT’s decision to no longer take patients into the clinical area, but drop them at a bus stop outside the gates of the hospital on one of the city’s busiest roads.
Wrapped in a warm jacket, fitted in podiatry shoes, standing straight as a fence post over a walker and wife at his side, Peter Dunne caught the bus to hospital today.
Not just any bus, but the new 650 bus that takes residents from Selwyn Village in Pt Chevalier and “dumps” them on Green Lane West to walk 300m, via a pedestrian crossing on one of the city’s busiest roads, to the Greenlane Clinical Centre.
Until last month, the elderly, mums with sick children, people in plaster casts and using crutches, could catch the 007 bus on the same route and be dropped inside the hospital grounds.
It’s hard not to feel for Mr Dunne, as this change has clearly made his life much more difficult. But I think there’s much more to this than Orsman presents.
Bus route trade-offs
There is always a trade off with bus routes and every time you deviate from a direct route it adds time, thereby making it less attractive for everyone not going somewhere along that deviation.
The 650 bus now travels directly along Green Lane West, rather than making a detour into the hospital grounds. AT say this saves up to five minutes
By not venturing into the grounds of the Greenlane Clinical Centre, it avoided the need for buses to turn at a set of traffic lights, wait for an entry barrier to be lifted, drive around a carpark and repeat this to leave, he said.
You can even see this from Streetview with an 007 waiting for entry at a barrier.
The vast majority of bus users are probably seeing a decent benefit from the change. The 650 bus after all is a key cross-town bus route from Pt Chevalier to Glen Innes.
Perhaps another way of thinking about this is to look at the impact of reinstating the trip via the hospital. On a normal weekday there are 78 services of the 650, 41 westbound and 38 eastbound. Timetabled travel times vary from about 45 minutes up to 65 minutes depending on the time of day. To detour services into the hospital at five minutes each, it would add about 390 minutes of in service running. Depending on the time of day that’s the equivalent of 4-9 services. To maintain current frequencies, you’d either have to cut those services (or ones somewhere else) or find another source of funding. For the few Selwyn residents who can’t walk far, it’s probably cheaper just to buy them a taxi fare than divert buses to the hospital.
Better Pedestrian facilities needed
Zooming in, I wonder whether the bigger problem is with the layout of the hospital grounds. There might also be an opportunity to provide a better located pedestrian crossing and bus stop. After all, the hospital directly opens out onto Green Lane West so it should easily be possible to have a very short bus-to-clinic walk without forcing the vast bulk of bus users who aren’t going to the hospital into a lengthy detour.
This is a good example of why it’s important for critical land-uses to “be on the way“, as Jarrett Walker phrases it:
If I could put one sentence about transit in the mind of every developer, every land use planner, indeed anyone who makes a decision about where to locate anything, the sentence would be this: Be on the Way! If you want to be sure you’ll have good transit, be on the way from one transit destination to another.
An efficient transit line — and hence one that will support good service — connects multiple points but is also reasonably straight so that it’s perceived as a direct route between any two points on the line. For that reason, good transit geography is any geography in which good transit destinations are on a direct path between other good transit destinations. (Obviously, this is not always a geometrically straight line; it may be a path defined by existing roads or rail corridors that everyone perceives as reasonably direct given the terrain.)
A bad geography is one that indulges in cul-de-sacs on any scale: It sets destinations a little back from the line, so that transit must either bypass them or deviate to them, where deviating means delaying all the other passengers riding through this point.
The same problem arises at many scales:
- A person who lives at the end of a long cul-de-sac road complains that the bus doesn’t go by her house.
- A small shopping center or grocery store sets itself too far back from its street, even though the street is where the transit service is.
- A university, hospital, business park or other campus-style development positions itself on a hill, often at the end of a road leading only to it, or on a road at the edge of the city where there is nothing further beyond it. This makes the institution look and feel important, but limits the possibilities for transit service because it can only be served by lines that end there.
- An entire suburb, perhaps one called a Transit-Oriented Development, is located in such a way that no regionally logical transit line will ever get to its town center, except for routes that go only there. One of the major failings of Peter Calthorpe’s early 1990s project Laguna West, in Sacramento, is that the town center is located in a place where no regionally logical transit line could ever serve it. Laguna West still has mediocre transit service because it’s impossible to combine its market with any other markets, which is what you have to do to create an efficient transit line.
Land use planners urgently need simple tools to catch these problems. Until those tools are developed and built into training, they’d do well to just remember one sentence: Be on the Way!
Before pointing the finger at Auckland Transport’s new network, maybe there should be a discussion about how the hospital’s layout over time can better orient itself to the important bus route passing by its front door, to be truly “on the way”.
A potential solution
I think there could be a way to make everyone fairly happy. Even better it also fixes one of the New Network’s biggest flaws, the Outer Link. Here’s the network currently:
The Outer Link, being a loop, is notoriously unreliable and often suffers from bunching. Auckland Transport had originally proposed split the route up but changed their mind following initial consultation. They need to revisit that.
One way to think about the route is as a triangle. On the western side the route is logical and useful, same on the eastern side, although it duplicates either Manukau Rd or Inner Link buses for it’s journey. The biggest concern though is the cross-town section, from Mt Albert to Greenlane, including its detour via Valley Rd. That detour makes a stop in the hospital look tiny by comparison.
The basic idea is to break that cross-town section away and use the freed-up resource to turn the 650 into an all-day frequent bus. That would leave the Outer Link with two distinct ends and the eastern end could be diverted to stop at the hospital.
Below is a map I quickly pulled together. It only shows the frequent routes and the rail network. You may also notice that I moved the 20 route to terminate at Newmarket to give us two new frequent cross-town routes.
This map could solve the hospital issue, solve the low frequency cross-town and make the network more like a grid, which is always how it should have been