It’s almost five years since Christchurch, New Zealand was devastated by the February 2011 earthquake.
A new downtown is under construction in the blocks just south of the ruined cathedral, and one of the first buildings to be opened was the new hub for the transit system. It’s a fine building: spacious, well-lit, with a little cafe as well as great information, both human and automated.
What will strike a North American visitor, though, is that it does something that we consider impossible. Buses pull into terminal bays, and then must back out. This is common in stations for long-distance buses — where the trips are infrequent and dwell for a long time — but it’s very unusual for a high-frequency urban system, where buses arrive and depart constantly. It makes the waiting area more compact, with shorter walks between buses, but it requires a very wide bus roadway. It’s easiest to see from the bus side:
Most North American transit operations people would say that you should never have to back up a bus in normal service; it’s just too cumbersome and dangerous. To be fair, here they’re backing into a bus-only roadway, where only trained drivers should be present. Each driver also has a screen in front of them showing what’s behind them. At first, though, it looked like they could have close calls, such as here between the two blue buses, one backing up as the other passed it.
But it’s ok, or seemed to be. Drivers back up only into the lane nearest the building, and then circulate only using the other lane, so if everyone’s heads are up there shouldn’t be a problem. There’s also a control room in the middle of the bus loop with view of it all. Controllers there direct which bus is assigned to which bay, and watch the whole dance.
There are more routes than bays, so a route may not always go from the same one, but that’s fine; there are many redundant displays and announcements to direct you. This “dynamic bay assignment”, also a way to make transit facilities more compact, has also been declared impossible in other places I’ve worked.
A feature that’s not unusual, in this part of the world, is the platform door, to maintain climate control and protect riders from fumes. A complete glass wall separates the bus roadway from the waiting area, and each bay has doors, lined up with the doors of a bus, that slide open when the bus is there:
For comparison, here are some 2010 images of the old facility, destroyed in the 2011 quake. Even it was impressive to me at the time, with the platform doors, waiting area, clear info displays, and location right in the center of things. But it was very cramped, too, with bus zones spilling onto crowded streets all around it, and couldn’t have handled much growth.
The new one, certainly, is much more spacious, with room to grow as the service expands. It feels a little sterile and empty now, partly because it serves a city that is only now being rebuilt. It will be interesting to see whether other agencies look to these pull-in-back-out bays — and the dynamic bay assignment — as a way to make transit hubs more compact, so that they fit better into the center of things, where transit needs to be.
UPDATE: Among the great comments below, see those of Brian Smith, who had a role in the design!