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Providing a well-integrated modern public transport system would do more to make Dunedin one of the world's most liveable small cities than a succession of ad hoc projects the poor ratepayers continue to be lumbered with.
But recently I have been heartened by occasional items in the ODT about bus hubs, bus loops and even, dare I say it, free inner city travel using electric buses. Now that is something really worth thinking about.
Today the CBD, especially George St is a nightmare of cars, many just driving around looking for a parking place, lumbering, near-empty diesel buses, frustrated pedestrians, even more frustrated delivery drivers and recently, Lime scooters.
It seems to be deeply ingrained in the psyche of Dunedin motorists that they should be able to drive their SUV to within 50m of their destination and expect to find an empty parking place.
Both private and public transportation is going to have to change radically to ensure a sustainable future. Some cities around the world are well advanced in providing integrated public transport often using a combination of electric light rail and street cars, supplemented by appropriate bus services.
Portland, Oregon is a very good example and often cited as one of the most liveable cities in the world.
A trawl on the internet demonstrates clearly how the modern street car is far removed from the old tram cars that older generations will remember. They are quiet, comfortable and designed to be easy to use with floors flush with the pavement at stops, wide automatic doors, open floor areas for wheelchairs or pushchairs and standing passengers who may only be travelling one or two stops.
Yes, I know some of our buses have at least some of these features for recently I have been leaving my car at the edge of town and using my Gold/Go Card to visit the CBD.
The present combination of a major state highway bisecting the city and university and attempting to integrate this with cycleways is ridiculous. As each successive set of traffic lights is installed, it further defeats the whole purpose of a throughway and does little to help local residents visiting the CBD. The already voiced thought of creating a State Highway 1 bypass of the inner city should be a very high priority for those planning for the future.
Even in the shorter term, Dunedin's basic road layout in the downtown area could be adapted for street cars in several ways. One, of several possible solutions, would be to have a loop running between Queens Garden (or perhaps the Oval) and the Gardens Corner in North Dunedin, using Princes and George Sts running north and the southbound one-way.
Such an inner city loop between the Oval and the Gardens is about 7km in length so, for example, a fleet of 10 street cars would have a separation of 700m between them. In other words they would be only a few minutes apart, which is obviously desirable.
The loop passes by the railway station, with a wonderful opportunity there for synergy, Toitu, the Chinese Garden, the Oval, Queens Garden and the fast developing warehouse precinct, the projected development around the harbour basin, several large supermarkets, the future hospital, the museum, the Botanic Garden and for a considerable distance runs through the university.
Clearly, this would be attractive not only to local users but also to tourists. At various points, there could be stops where commuters' bicycles and cars could be safely parked during the working day and electric cars recharged. This would have the additional benefit of reducing the number of cars in the city centre. Ideally, the central city loop should be free. It works elsewhere and ensures continuing custom, vitality and viability for the central city.
Obviously some buses will still be necessary and hopefully these will be not be diesel in the future. The newly commissioned transport hub is neatly situated between the north and southbound arms of such a street car loop. Coincidentally, this loop runs past the present bus depot in Princes St, a good place to park the off-duty street cars.
How much more convenient an excursion to the city would be, hopping on and off a street car all day without the need to be concerned about parking. No logging trucks to scare you, no empty, smelly, noisy diesel buses, Tourists would love it, and the inner city would thrive, rather than atrophy, as can happen all too easily if access becomes too difficult or peripheral development becomes excessive.
Gazing into my admittedly very cloudy crystal ball I can see even further into the future. The basic layout could be extended up NEV, serve the stadium or be extended to South Dunedin. The hill suburbs could be served by a series of modern electric cable cars (maybe even a restored old one in the fleet). Connectivity with the rail system at our wonderful railway station could provide an option for commuters from Mosgiel and Port Chalmers using modern rail cars which could also serve the airport.
Regarding the Harbour Basin: what better place could there be for a terminal for electric ferries serving the peninsula when sea level rise might make it an island.
Electric ferries already exist in Scandinavia.
Although this will seem unrealistic to many, it should be remembered that much of this has already being done in other cities. Wouldn't it be great to use local expertise in design and manufacturing, revitalise the Hillside Workshops and build our own fleet of street cars to meet our local requirements and even construct them for other future enlightened cities.
Don't just dream. Think about it.
- Brian Tidmarsh is a Dunedin resident.