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Guest Post: Orange Smoothy II

This is part two of a two part guest post by highly visible e-cyclist and regular reader Greg Nikoloff

This post is about my (continuing) experiences with my Pedego (http://pedego.co.nz) electric bike (e-bike).

In part 1, I covered the basic of my e-bike experience which I’ve owned and used for over 2 years. In this second part I’ll cover in detail my daily commute, and show a bit how the e-bike fares on this route and how it enables me to manage Aucklands hills and traffic and makes it fun as I do my part to alleviate Auckland traffic congestion on a personal and daily level.

My daily commute

I use my e-bike for my daily work commute, mostly during summer months (Oct-Mar). For this, I cycle along the Remuera road “ridge” – during the morning peak traffic, anytime from 7am to 8am – as I don’t get held up by traffic, exactly when I leave home is not critical – unlike if I take the car, when it is. As half of the length of Remuera Road I cycle on has a peak direction bus lane, I use that for most of the trip. Because the cruising speed on the e-bike is about 35km/hr on the flat, and about 24km/hr on the hills, I find I can easily keep up with most of the traffic using that lane and therefore don’t get too many buses passing me. The one or two tight places where I go slow, where buses and cars can’t easily pass, so they have no choice but to wait behind me for about 30-40 seconds at most. With few buses going past me – which are always a bugger and a danger – it definitely makes for a more enjoyable ride, even though you’re in traffic still.

Here’s a Google Maps ride profile of the route, the distance & the amount of altitude I cover:

StJohns_Newmarket_RemRoadRoute

 

The map shows the usual sort of route I take from my home to work (there are extra distances at each end which I’ve left out as they don’t particularly matter). And the above route is pretty much what I cycle daily. The Google maps cycling profile shows a 49 metres climb over 6.5km, with 66m of descent. The descent is mostly in the first half of the ride going to work, so the ride to work is a steady uphill for most of the second half.

Because the start and end points are about the same altitude (some 70m or so above sea level) the ups and downs are mainly due to the topography of the intervening roads between the start/end points. Google Maps suggests 24 minutes to cycle that distance. On my e-bike at about 30-35 km/hr most of the way, its 12-15 minutes. Exactly how long, mainly depends on the number of red lights I hit (as I stop at red lights). When I cycle this I do it my normal work clothes of dress pants, shoes and an open neck business shirt and arrive “warm” from the exercise, but not sweaty or needing a shower. In spring and Autumn, I ride with gloves on as the chill factor on your hands can be noticeable.

This particular stretch of Auckland roads has some 13! (count ‘em all) traffic light controlled intersections and 2 light controlled pedestrian crossing on it. Which collectively must be a record of some sort for number of red lights over this distance in Auckland, outside of the CBD. Some lights do work as linked pairs (Ladies Mile/Greenlane East & Victoria Ave/Clonbern Road), but the rest do not and these lights change independently. If I can get green lights all the way, I can manage about 12 minutes door to door in steady/medium traffic. If I hit 3-5 red lights or heavy traffic, it can take up to 18+ minutes to go the same distance. If I crossed with the pedestrians at the red lights most of the time I’d make it probably 14 or so minutes.

If I was to drive, then I can, at best, manage about the same time, maybe slightly better – as I can drive at 50 km/hr the whole way, door to door, in the best case. Worst case, when the bus lane is in full operation, it can be over 40 minutes in stop/start traffic crawling along. So yeah, e-bike matches or beats the car just about every day – especially during Feb/March madness period.

In fact I have some co-workers who routinely see me go past them – me, legally in the “bus lane”, as they sit (fuming) in the “SOV vehicle lane” as I cycle past them on my way to work. I’ve usually having left home long after they left theirs and will beat them to the office by a good long chalk as well. And I’ll be relaxing at my desk with a coffee (reading TB, or emails), while they come in all hassled and more tired than I feel – yet I did most of the exercise!

Going home, the reverse route is basically the fastest and shortest, but it’s also the “vanilla” option. But having the e-bike means I have alternative options I can use as I desire/need i.e. when I’m sick of vanilla. As seen from this alternative route:

Newmarket_StJohns_OrakeiBasinRoute

I can divert down either Victoria Ave, or Orakei Road (shown) and then use the Orakei Boardwalk(s) if I want a nicer ride, with a lot less traffic. Although going that way is 2 km longer and also means I do have to climb from near sea-level at Orakei basin back up to 70+ metres in height. It does give me a great downhill from the Remuera Ridge down to the water at Orakei first. And that few minutes as you cycle across the boardwalk(s) with the water lapping underneath as you cycle over it – you can’t put a price on that. You’d not normally contemplate such an activity as a normal cyclist as the resultant need to climb “back up” to the ridge afterwards would make you think twice unless you were in training. With an e-bike, it’s no problem to do so. And just adds some variety to what can be a bit of a drag race going the normal way.

E-bike power means you can enjoy the many downhills, and yet you don’t have to worry about the inevitable uphills too much. It will take me at most, all of 10 minutes longer to go home this way. But I know I will arrive at home feeling 10 times more refreshed/energised than if I had to jostle with traffic down Remuera Road and usually get stuck at the many lights along the way. And if by some chance I also see an EMU or two passing as I cycle along beside the rails on the Orakei boardwalk, well that’s quite uplifting as well.

When the Meadowbank Station to St Johns Road part of the GI to Tamaki Drive cycleway opens (hopefully towards the end of this year) then I’ll be able to use that to get “back up to the ridge” at St Johns hill. I‘m sure that will be a really interesting, smooth and invigorating ride with less of the really steep gradients on it than what I face now when I use the back streets with their patchwork of road surfaces. So I’m pretty sure, once opened I’m going to add it to my daily cycle route – even if only on Fridays. And once the Orakei Point development is built, I’m sure that too will provide even more of a reason to go that way if I need to go shopping or simply savour the delights of a summer in Auckland.

Last year I told my doctor what I’d bought, he was happy to see the results in my blood tests, but also was very keen for this for his other patients as he could see, like me, that with an e-bike you can’t ever get in to too much trouble if you cycle too far, and the e-bike will get you home again if you do. So at my last doctor check up – I spent more time telling him in response to his many questions, about the e-bike and how easy it was to ride, what it cost, and how great it is to be mobile again than we did on my check-up. So I’m sure a lot of his patients will be e-biking sooner than later.

The future

The big question with these things is always the future – and would you buy one again/replace your e-bike if it was lost/wrecked/stolen etc?

And what about the rest of us?

“Sure I would get a new one” – and I would get the same brand too, just the newest model. Probably get the same colour too. I do miss not having a regular cycle on the days I don’t ride. I really miss it when Daylight Savings ends and its dark by 6 o’clock at night. While that extra hour in the morning makes cycling to work easier, getting home from work for me before its dark is harder/less enjoyable – those inattentive car drivers the main issue. On separated cycle ways and lanes it wouldn’t matter what time I went to work or home. And while the Tamaki drive to GI cycleway won’t really assist my daily ride that much, directly, using it will make at least part of the ride more enjoyable as I’m out of traffic for some of the way.

This year, I’ll probably keep cycling daily until mid April – post Easter anyway, weather permitting. Then I hang up my cycling spurs for a bit, and mainly cycle on the best days during winter – and Fridays – Friding, after all, is the best antidote to winter, or work.

Looking forward, I’d have to say that e-bikes and Auckland are a good match. And e-bikes and our EMUs (and eventually LRT) are also very good matches. It’s so easy to cycle 3 or even 6 km without breaking a sweat – even over the sort of hills you get in some parts of Auckland, if you were to overlay a map of Auckland PT stations with 5km or so wide circles, you’d cover a fair chunk of Auckland. And that’s easily and realistically the sort of distances you can cover on an e-bike to get to the nearest LRT or train station. And with the e-bike you can replace the walking or driving trip to the shops with a cycle too. The poor state of the cycle racks (if they have any at all) at most local shopping places near me testifies to how far down the scale of transport modes, that cycling has gone. But it is slowly getting better.

If I lived on the North Shore, and with Skypath coming down the path, I think I’d seriously consider getting and using an e-bike to commute to work – either directly if I lived close enough, or via a cycle to the local NEX station otherwise. I’ve told this to my co-workers, as many of them they could easily get to Britomart by cycle then use the trains to get up the hill to Newmarket to avoid that 70m height climb. In journey time, they’d be way quicker than they can get on the motorway in the morning. Even I’d admit that while I could cycle from Britomart to Newmarket easily on my e-bike – I couldn’t beat the train for speed up the hills.

So roll on e-bikes for everyone. If ever there was a 21st century take on an older technology that is truly relevant for Auckland today, and in the decades to come – it would be an e-bike on the personal level and LRT on the mass transit level.

If you don’t believe me, on the e-bikes – don’t take my word for it – head on out to your nearest e-bike dealer and take a test ride on one. Then decide for yourself. Just don’t blame me if you end up wanting to buy one as a result.

Lastly

In part 1, I introduced a tinkly bit and said that I’d explain this in part 2.

Well this comes from all those Star Trek “The Original Series” episodes, which always ended with what we call “a tinkly bit” in our house. Don’t know what I mean or never noticed it before? Well watch the end of an original series Star Trek episode, just before the credits, the last scene is designed to provide an uplifting scene or amusing little vignette, right before the credits – the actors indicate this visually and music tells you this audibly. Visually usually either via Spocks raised eyebrow, or more usually, the smirk on Kirk’s face as he says “Set course, Mr Sulu!” or some such command. And because it usually has some tinkly background music to it, is why we call it “a tinkly bit”. So, here is a slightly uplifting, Star Trek & e-bike related “tinkly bit” to end this post on.

Some of you may recall a recent post about how the recently departed Leonard Nimoy (aka Spock), told how he cycled to get his lunch each day at the studio commissary while at the on the set filming the original Star Trek series episodes – it being entirely “Logical to cycle” in his words. Naturally enough it saved Nimoy time and no doubt, got him at the front of the lunch queue – so he could have some lunch and get back to set, in time to have his make-up and fake ears and such repaired/adjusted if needed. Meaning, he’d be ready to go on set as required. Shatner on the other hand, I’m sure, just had to tighten (or loosen) his corset, and dial down his smirk a bit after lunch, so he didn’t need “time in make-up” after lunch like Spock probably did.

See how, times change, even Captain Kirk himself (William Shatner), and Mrs Shatner both ride a (Pedego) e-bike these days, see this picture of them riding one each – this is from 2012.

Shatners_on_their_Pedegos_2012

The full article is here: http://www.pedegoelectricbikes.com/william-shatner-picks-up-pedego-interceptors/

And on that note, lets hop on our collective (e-)bikes and ride “into the future” creating “Auckland Cycling: The Next Generation” as we go …

Would we ask motorists to tolerate this?

A few readers had some insightful comments on a recent post about Auckland Transport’s quite good plans to add safe cycle lanes on Carlton Gore Road. They highlighted how it is necessary to deliver a complete cycle network if we want to improve Auckland’s livability and choice of transport modes.

Goosoid commented that it’s often really, really difficult to use cycle facilities to get where you’re going:

How many people used to drive their car across the harbour from St Marys Bay to Northcote before the bridge was built? Not too many.

Most people will only start cycling when there is a joined up network that allows them to safely travel around. Until then we will be stuck with the usual 2-3% of people who will cycle on substandard infrastructure.

How many people would use SH1 if every few kilometres it stopped being a motorway and became a local street again? That is basically what people cycling are dealing with.

Very helpfully, David Roos illustrated this point with a map comparing the street network in downtown Auckland (left) with the nascent cycle network (right). A very big contrast in accessibility and connectedness:

Auckland incomplete cycle network

And remember: most other parts of the city have it much worse. I hope that transport agencies in Auckland and other New Zealand cities are mapping their cycle networks and looking for ways to fill the many, many holes.

February 2015 Patronage

We’d already heard about the spectacular rail patronage results of passing 13 million trips, an increase of 1 million in just 5 months. Now we’ve got the full patronage information for February and it’s looking good.

2015-02 - Patronage Table

One of the aspects I noticed in the table above is the Western line appears to have dropped however AT say that is just because of the timing of events last year and so if removing special event tickets from the numbers of each year shows patronage growth for the month of 9.8%.

One impressive aspect about the rail growth is that the total patronage in February was higher than any single month last year despite being only 28 days and including a public holiday. Only one month – October 2011 which was the peak thank to the RWC – has higher and the difference is only around 2,000 trips.

The total patronage growth is shown below.

2014-02 - AKL - Total Patronage

Other than the rail results it’s also pleasing to see buses growing so strongly. The Northern Express (NEX) is obviously still up strongly but other buses which carry the bulk of patronage are increasing too. For the 12 months to the end of Feb patronage was 7.6% (around 4 million trips) compared to the same time last year.

2014-02 - AKL - Bus Patronage

With results so strong I’m really looking forward to seeing just how big the numbers are for March. Given what I’ve been seeing and hearing about how full trains, buses and ferries are the results could be absolutely massive. Of course we’ve also been hearing a lot about buses and trains being so full that it’s putting people off using them, especially on the rail network where issues and delays have become an almost daily occurrence.

On issues, this is showing through in the train punctuality stats which have shown a decline in recent months and it can also in part be attributed to services being too full increasing dwell times. I suspect the 78% the western line managed to achieve could go much lower in March.

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

We also have Wellington’s patronage results for Feb which have remained flat. The monthly figures for buses and trains were down 0.2% and up 0.1% respectively. Due to growth over the last year they were both up on the 12 month figure though.

2014-02 - WLG - Total Patronage

West Auckland and Pukekohe/Waiuku New Network Consultation Outcome

Reports to the Auckland Transport board next week gives the outcome of the West Auckland and Pukekohe/Waiuku new network consultations that occurred last year.

West Auckland

In total AT say they had 1242 submissions on the network with an equal number (41% each) supporting and opposing the changes with the rest neutral. Given the changes that have been made as a result of the feedback AT expect the number of people who opposed the change will reduce.

New Network West Support

Before going into the feedback it must be remembered that the network was essentially compromised by the delaying of bus interchanges at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd. That meant that instead of being able to implement the new network as originally envisioned an interim network was needed which retained a higher number of low frequency services as shown below.

West Auckland With and Without Interchanges

Some of the notable demographics of submitters include

  • 60% of submitters are women which is not too dissimilar to the break down we saw in the Census data.
  • 58% of submitters are over 40 years old. Young people who tend to be the majority of PT users are very under represented with just 18% of submissions coming from those less than 30.
  • Perhaps aligned with the age numbers, 59% of submitters work while only 13% of submitters are students.
  • Of all submitters only 115 said they don’t currently use PT.

In total AT say they have made changes to 11 of the 24 routes originally proposed and that will mean it does cost more to run the network. These extra costs would not likely have been needed if the two interchanges were in place which once again highlights that having the right PT infrastructure can help save on operational costs. The 11 changes are below

New Network West Changes

And the map below shows what the official network will look like.

New Network West Post Consultation Map

And for the rural services these are the maps. AT said “Extending rail services past Swanson was outside the scope of this consultation and is not currently being investigated”

New Network West Post Consultation Map - rural

The report also mentions there was a lot of support for the development of the Northwest busway with 65% of people supporting or strongly supporting it and only 12% who opposed or strongly opposed it.

New Network West NW Busway

Pukekohe/Waiuku

There seems to have been much stronger support for the changes in Pukekohe and Waiuku. All up there were 939 submissions of which 643 discussed the Pukekohe changes and 542 discussed the Waiuku changes. Of those there was respectively a 90% and 95% level of support.

New Network Puke-Waiuku Support

There has been one change made to the Pukekohe network and of the three options originally presented, option 1 has been chosen and a modified version of option 3 will also be run.

New Network Pukekohe Post Consultation Map

 

New Network Waiuku Post Consultation Map

I understand we should see the next area for consultation in a few months.

Urban Form: AKL v CHCH

For those interested in the divergence of development patterns in New Zealand cities it is hard not to be struck by this page in the weekend’s real estate section.  Auckland is still growing out, but it is also growing up. Christchurch not so much, just out. Time will tell which model better suits the demands of this century. This also clearly illustrates how Auckland is an exception in NZ in more ways than just its size:

AKL v CHCH dev patterns

Should we relocate the Ports of Auckland?

Disclaimer: in professional life I have done some work on ports, including co-authoring the 2012 PwC report on future scenarios for Upper North Island ports. This post doesn’t reflect the views of my present or past employers or clients. It’s just a quick thought experiment, based on some data and a few assumptions.

The Ports of Auckland (POA) are back in the news due to their new reclamation plans. As usual, this has attracted both critics and proponents. POA’s plans have been criticised for their negative environmental impacts on the Waitemata Harbour, the loss of views of the Hauraki Gulf, and the fact that they will limit our ability to re-use port land for other purposes. On the other hand, they’ve been defended due to the economic role that POA plays in Auckland – it’s New Zealand’s largest port of import and also a significant port of export.

Ports of Auckland

As this suggests, there are both pros and cons to having a port located right on Auckland’s front door. How should we weigh them up?

Here’s one way of thinking about the question of whether we should prefer having POA in Auckland, or whether we would rather close it down and move our freight elsewhere:

  • The costs of moving the port would primarily relate to the added freight cost for Auckland’s imports and exports
  • The main benefit would be that we could repurpose POA’s land for alternative uses, such as housing, offices and retail, or public spaces.

How large are these costs and benefits?

The costs of relocating the port

One realistic way to look at the cost of port relocation is to ask: How much more would we have to spend to get the same outcomes?

If we closed down POA and shipped Auckland’s imports and exports through the Port of Tauranga (POT) instead, we would have to pay more to move those goods by land between the two cities. This would represent a net cost to New Zealand’s economy.

We can get a rough sense of these added costs by looking at current land transport costs and port volumes. According to an NZIER report published last month, in the year ended June 2014 POA handled:

  • around 968,000 twenty-foot-equivalent containers per year, 203,000 of which were trans-shipped to other ports in NZ;
  • around 207,000 cars; and
  • some other random stuff, like bulk cement.

Now, based on figures published in the 2012 PwC report (see Table 4 on page 76), the cheapest way to move goods between Tauranga and Auckland is by rail. It costs approximately $600 to move a single container by rail between the two cities. (Or around $750 to move a container by road.) While KiwiRail doesn’t currently ship cars by rail, rail operators in other countries do. Let’s assume, therefore, that it costs around the same amount ($600) to ship a single car.

Based on these land transport costs, we’re looking at an added annual cost of around $580 million. Yikes. A quite large sum. In reality, this is probably a bit on the high side, given that some of these goods will not originate from or be destined for Auckland.

In addition, we would forego the $66 million in annual dividends that POA pays to Auckland Council. So the total annual cost of relocating the port would be around $650 million.

The benefits of port relocation

Although the costs of moving POA entirely out of Auckland are high, we might be willing to bear them if the profits from land development were sufficiently high. So: How much would the land have to be worth to justify relocating POA?

Well, we know that, in order for it to be worth doing, repurposing the port land for residential and commercial uses, or public space, would have to yield at least $650 million per annum. That figure represents the minimum annual return that we would require from POA’s land.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that Auckland Council could get an average rate of return of 8% on its port land if it were put to other uses. This suggests that in order to obtain an annual return of $650 million, POA’s land would have to be worth a total of around $8.1 billion. (Calculated as follows: $650 million in annual profits / 8% rate of return = $8.1 billion.)

According to Wikipedia, POA has a total of 55 hectares of wharves and storage areas. If that were worth $8.1 billion in total, it would mean that the land would be worth around $15,000 per square metre. That’s roughly what it would take for moving the port to be a net benefit for the economy – city centre land values above $15,000 per square metre.

Now, this is in the range of current land values in the city centre – albeit on the high side. So redeveloping the port could, in principle, provide net benefits for Auckland. The case might get stronger if land values continue increasing and if the downtown revival continues at pace.

However, I don’t think this quick, back-of-the-envelope analysis proves much. For one thing, the benefits of port relocation are probably overstated due to the fact that it would be quite difficult to redevelop 55 hectares of downtown land quickly. It might take decades to realise the value of port land for alternative uses.

For another, it would be quite difficult to compensate the “losers” from the process – the firms and workers who would be worse off as a result of higher transport costs to their location in Auckland.

So, what should we do with the port?

As this analysis has (hopefully) shown, there are both costs and benefits to moving POA. And, for that matter, to leaving it in place or expanding it.

Moreover, the costs of moving POA are not infinite, which means that the benefits of doing so may at some point be large enough to justify the move. But they are very large, which means that we would have to be confident that we could actually redevelop port land in a reasonable timeframe.

It’s also important to recognise that there are other risks in moving the port, as well as uncertainty about some of the costs that I’ve cited. In my view, there are three main limitations to this analysis:

  • First, I’ve assumed that there are no technical constraints to doubling freight volumes at POT. This is probably not realistic – expanding that port would be costly both financially and environmentally.
  • Second, I’ve assumed that shipping lots more goods by rail between Tauranga and Auckland won’t drive up the price of rail freight. In reality, KiwiRail (or the government) would have to pay for quite a few track upgrades and purchases of rolling stock, which may drive up the costs of rail freight.
  • Third, I’ve assumed that it would actually be feasible to redevelop POA’s land, and that redevelopment of port land would create added value rather than simply diverting growth from elsewhere in Auckland. This is not unreasonable, but it won’t be a rapid process. As the Wynyard Quarter shows, it can take over a decade to active and develop a substantial chunk of new land.

Lastly, there are likely to be problems with the timing of funds. In principle, land development profits could be used to pay for infrastructure upgrades. In practice, it won’t work so neatly, as infrastructure requirements will be front-loaded while development profits trickle in over a period of years or decades.

In other words, actually moving the port is likely to be a costly and risky enterprise. It will be difficult to overcome the risks and up-front costs associated with doing so – meaning that we should expect the port to stay in downtown Auckland.

Port location: What do you think?

The transport benefits of street trees in cities

A while ago Kent and I made a proposal for a tree lined boulevard in Auckland. Curiously, the biggest theme of the comments section was about the perceived lack of value that trees bring to the street corridor. It seems that most people consider street trees to be at best, decoration, and at worst a waste of time and money, dangerous even. Indeed I have seen road design handbooks whose only mention of trees was to outline all their problems in the section of ‘non-frangible fixed hazards’ (in traffic engineering terms, frangible means something that will break off when you drive into it, rather than stay solid and crumple your car around it).

I wanted to use this post to outline some of the reasons why trees are beneficial for our city streets. Not just beneficial from appearance or character, but beneficial in the sense of making the street work better in terms of its transportation and land use.

A word of clarification up front however. I am  talking about trees on city streets, particularly urban inner city streets with speed limits of 50km/h or less and ‘stuff’ around that people actually do there (like live, work or play, and not just move). Trees on rural highways and back roads with nothing going on but through traffic are a different story.

So my point is street trees are not merely decoration and can be included in street design specifically for several practical, technical reasons. In no particular order, these are as follows:

 An outer row of trees can provide physical separation between the traffic lanes and the footpath, cycleway and retail frontages.

Your friendly local highway designer will tell you that trees are a fixed hazard, according to the Austroads design manual at least, and that a high speed highway needs a wide exclusion zone either side so that speeding drivers who run off the road can careen onwards without hitting anything. While this is a very appropriate safety treatment for a state highway out the back of Waipukarau, it is completely inappropriate for a city centre arterial.

For a start we don’t want a high speed highways through our inner city. That what the motorways are for and we don’t want cars and trucks to speed through dense people-focussed places at street level. Rather we want move plenty of vehicles in an efficient manner while keeping to a reasonable speed limit for a city arterial. Consistent reliable travel times and total throughput are far more important that high speed alone.

Secondly, we certainly don’t want vehicles running off the traffic lanes at high speed. In an urban context this means running over whoever happens to be walking on the footpath at the time and smashing into the front window of a shop or office building! We want to keep traffic in the traffic lanes.

Thirdly, we don’t want to waste scarce city land on wide empty shoulders for our main roads: we can’t afford the land and don’t want the severance it creates. Nobody wants downtown to look like Albany (and in fact I’m not sure if anyone especially wants Albany to look like Albany either!), and we shouldn’t really be spending good money to create empty verges in town centres.

So indeed, one very practical reason for street trees is to keep traffic in the traffic lanes and out of the footpath and shops. We could use bollards or Jersey barriers for separation, or wide swathes of land, or we could use trees.

Better to hit a tree than a primary school?

Better to hit a tree than a primary school?

Trees provide a physical barrier to prevent vehicles being parked across the kerb.

This physically stops people from parking vehicles on the footpath, or in medians or other non-traffic spaces. Again we could install bollards all the way along the edge of the road, but trees can do the same job too.

A physical barrier to stop people parking on the footpath.

A physical barrier to stop people parking on the footpath.

 

Street trees provide shade to the footpath and cycleway.

Shade would not be of concern to someone designing a rural highway, where they don’t want nor expect any pedestrians or anyone else not in a vehicle for that matter. But if we are talking inner city streets such things must be considered. People walk, cycle, wait, linger and loiter on city streets and a little shade goes a long way in the summertime. Indeed in Melbourne they have started a program of street tree planting to mitigate the increasing number of heatwaves, and shading the tarmac is a good way to reduce the urban heat island effect and manage stormwater. Trees are a handy component of a complete street that has many simultaneous uses, and users.

Well placed trees can shade the footpath to provide a comfortable walking environment.

Well placed trees can shade the footpath to provide a comfortable walking environment.

Trees can visually screen heavy traffic from the footpath and adjacent buildings.

…and to a lesser degree provide some containment of noise and fumes. Once again this is a very practical concern if we are discussing inner city corridors, particularly those that are ripe for commercial development. Heavy traffic is a necessary evil on city arterials, generally speaking, but it’s impact can be mitigated through design elements such as this.

Trees provide a perceptual barrier that visually narrows the the carriageway.

Perhaps most importantly, a rows of trees can be used to visually narrow a simple two way street or split the opposing directions of a multi-lane arterial with a physical and perceptual barrier. In the case of a multiway boulevard a row of trees can be used separate the local and through lanes from each other.

Overseas, using trees to separate lanes is an intentional feature designed to break up the wide roadway into discrete sections, each section being relatively narrow. The purpose of this is to perceptually narrow and contain each piece of road to no more than two  narrow lanes to remove the visual cues that encourage speeding. In effect the trees act like side walls, narrowing each part of the road and forcing drivers to maintain limited speeds. Without them, any multi-lane street would present you with a wide, straight, flat roadway many lanes wide, all if which tell your subconscious mind that you are able to put your foot down. Of course the highway handbooks define this as the problem of ‘shy lines’, assuming lanes should be as fast and wide as possible and describing anything less in terms of reduced capacity. But this capacity reduction comes from lower speeds, which is precisely the thing we are after on streets, if not highways. Furthermore the shy line effect is almost negligible on 50km/h arterials, it’s really a highway thing.

The literature is quite clear on this topic: people drive fast on big wide roads, and creating a visually constrained roadway is the best means to keep then to the speed limit (ever been infuriated driving on the highway behind someone who is slow on the single lane sections, but who speeds up second they get to the passing lane? That’s them simply responding to the form of the road: going slow and cautious on the narrow winding bits, and driving faster when it goes wide and straight. Its a simple, instinctive perceptual response…)

So we prefer to see this ‘problem’ as part of the solution. Here the trees become a perceptual traffic safety device for reducing speeding and keeping traffic moving efficiently at the proper speed limit.

Octavia Boulevard, SF. Rows of trees turn an eight lane monster into groups of two lane streets.

Octavia Boulevard, SF. Rows of trees turn an eight lane monster into groups of two lane streets.

But what about simple beautification? 

Finally however, what if the trees were just ‘useless’ beautification? And what of the potential for ‘useless’ good quality paving, street furniture, artworks even? Is it a waste of time to make things attractive? Should we spend money on a nice looking and pleasant urban environment?

In the case of the city centre or other town centres, absolutely we should. Recall what we are talking about here are on the whole prime commercial redevelopment sites, where we should aim to maximise both the sale value of the land release, and the intensity and value of the subsequent developments. Simple ‘beautification’ would reap big dividends on the final form of development in the corridor. That’s not to say street trees are all you need to create a blue chip commercial precinct bringing in rates and business investment, but they definitely contribute. Beautification is a practical function when it comes to catalysing redevelopment.

 

An "un-beautified" road. What sort of development would this attract? Hat tip stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com

An “un-beautified” road. What sort of development would this attract? Hat tip stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com

 

So there we are, several reasons why street trees should be considered as technical components of street design with specific transport outcomes. For a wider discussion of all the benefits of street trees, transport and otherwise, check out the 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden.

Northland, Politics, Transport, and Pork

On March 28 the (normally safe) National-held electorate of Northland heads for a bye-election. The outcome of the bye-election will be fascinating for several reasons.

The first reason is that it’s politically important. If Winston Peters wins then it will be more difficult for National to pass controversial legislation, because they will need the votes of not just one but two support parties.

Legislation like the Sky City casino-for-convention-centre deal and RMA reforms suddenly become pawns in a three-way game of arbitrage between parties with somewhat different support bases and philosophies. Amusingly, National could end up leading a government not too dissimilar to what they warned the opposition would have been like, had the latter prevailed at the last election.

david_cunliffe_is_in_labour_s_ad_while_national_go_53f39d7296

The second reason the bye-election is so interesting is that transport has, somewhat unexpectedly, become a major campaign issue.

Early in the campaign, the Minister of Transport (Simon Bridges) suddenly found $69 million in previously stretched transport budgets for two-laning a number of bridges in Northland. This funding announcement was apparently made without any information or advice being sought, or received, from transport officials. This is an announcement that Winston himself would be proud of, indeed he’s pulled similar stunts in the past.

The reality for National, however, is that few people seem to have been impressed by the transport funding announcement. Instead, it has received considerable attention for delving so blatantly into pork-barrel politics.

Northland-morepork

Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of the spend. For many of the locals interviewed by Campbell Live, two-waying bridges seem to be far from the top of the priorities list.

National have also apparently linked funding for the Puhoi-Wellsford highway to the outcome of the bye-election. Amazing how an apparently essential piece of transport infrastructure can so suddenly becomes not so important when there is a bye-election.

I’ve personally found it interesting watching National’s transport pork-barrel approach in Northland, especially in light of recent political happenings in Australia, where I am currently based.

In Victoria, Dennis Nathpine’s Liberal Government tied their political fortunes to the eye-wateringly expensive $18 billion “East-West Link”. It was a bad pick, with polls showing the East-West link had levels of support that were half of comparable metro rail projects. Napthine was subsequently kicked out of office.

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Meanwhile, in Queensland, Campbell-Newman built a reputation for delivering large, expensive, and largely unnecessary motorway tunnels. His Government’s promises of more roading pork were spectacularly dismissed after only one term in office after a 12% swing back to Labour.

And at the Federal level Tony Abbott’s unwillingness to fund passenger transport improvements in Australia’s rapidly growing cities is receiving growing criticism. This is in stark contrast to the former (and possible future) Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who supports passenger transport.

As an economist, I think there’s a key message for National in all of these events. It’s not just that roading pork hasn’t been sufficient to save political bacon, but also that there is often a large gap between stated and revealed preferences.

Why is this important? Well, I suspect what all of these conservative parties have done, including National, is held focus groups where they’ve asked people whether they support more investment in roads. In response, many of these people have said “yes”. Something like these guys.

 

itchyscratchypoochie_03

 

The problem with stated preference surveys is the trade-offs are usually not made explicit. More specifically, when you invest more in roads, you often find that you don’t get much bang for your buck.

So while people say they want more investment in roads, after a couple of years of fluffing about with largely ineffective road investments, they suddenly realise that they’re not actually much better off. Political strategies based on stated preferences may therefore work in the short run, but they are likely to run out of gas in the long run.

The lesson for National in all this, I think, is that they increasingly run the risk that people will catch onto the fact that their transport pork is failing to return much value. Every new road that opens which fails to meet forecasts, every new business case that is shown to be baloney, eventually creates the case for your opponents to shred your credibility. It won’t happen overnight, but it probably will happen.

This is especially true when you’re foolish enough to do what National have done, i.e. hang your dirty transport laundry out to dry in the blazing heat of a Northland bye-election.

This seems to be a timely and early lesson for Simon Bridges: Emulating the pork-barrel approach employed by Joyce and Brownlee will not necessarily bring you enduring political success. Just ask Nathpine, Campbell-Newman, and Abbott if you want to see the proof in that political pudding.

CRL Design Showcase

Auckland Transport have announced a “Design Showcase” for the three new or improved stations that will be delivered as part of the CRL as well as the public areas surrounding them.

CRL Design Showcase poster

A design showcase for the City Rail Link’s three new stations and their adjacent public spaces will give Aucklanders a peek into the future.

The CRL, which starts construction late this year, will re‐shape the city by bringing Britomart, Aotea and Karangahape Road within three to six minutes of each other and Mt Eden within nine.

Each station, new ones at Aotea and Karangahape and a redeveloped Mt Eden, has been designed in partnership with Mana whenua, who shared their considerable knowledge of the local areas to provide a unique look and feel.

“We think people will be excited when they see these new spaces and what they’ll do for the city,” says Chris Meale, CRL Project Director. “Together they represent the city’s most significant place shaping opportunity in the next decade.”

“Visitors to the design showcase in mid‐April will also find out how the first stage of construction will roll out later this year.”

Auckland’s population is expected to grow by 700,000 in the next 30 years with the CRL considered vital to meet the city’s traffic needs by 2040.

It will double the number of people within 30 minutes of the city, reducing the time and increasing the frequency of most trips, while allowing for more connections between rail, ferry, bus services.

“Auckland’s CBD is the heart of the city’s economy with up to 16,000 employees per square kilometer, accounting for 34 percent of jobs in New Zealand and 37 percent of the country’s GDP,” says Meale.

“Improved access to the city centre is the key to Auckland’s economic growth.” The design showcase is being held in an AT Bus by the No.1 Café in QE11 Square, 10am to 4pm daily from Sat 11 to Wed 15 April.

For more information on the CRL visit: www.cityraillink.co.nz and www.facebook.com/cityraillink

It should be interesting to see what they have planned, however seeing it’s on a bus I also hope they’ll roll it out to show other parts of the region. This is because one of the major issues I continue to have is the reoccurring focus on what the project does for the central city and not the massive benefits it also provides to other parts of the region.

The AA and the Long Term Plan

Last week the submissions for the Council’s Long Term Plan closed and one of the more interesting outcomes was the response by the AA and the NZCID. Together they have called for a “Plan C” instead of the all or nothing options that the council presented. One interesting aspect about their press release was the reference to some AA member surveys that have been conducted about the transport plans and which have helped them reach the position they have. Some of the results are in the AA’s latest Auckland Matters newsletter (5MB).

In total the AA say they had over 5,000 responses to an online member survey giving them some good quantitative results and they’ve also set up a 100 member Auckland Panel to give some more in-depth qualitative results – of which just over 50 responded to this survey. To me the summarised responses highlight a few key issues, some of which we’ve been talking about for a few years now and that were a key reason behind us creating the Congestion Free Network. I’m mixing up some of the points that I think are interrelated.

The outcomes of #1 and #6 clearly show that the council and Auckland Transport need to do a much better job at explaining why certain transport projects are needed and how they are funded. This is particularly the case with #6 where little has been done to address notion that the CRL is just about a train line going in circles around CBD.

AA LTP Survey Response 1&6
To me it is so vital for our transport agencies to show how their plans – and in particular the PT plans – form part of a complete network and not just a series of individual projects. It’s not just enough to draw a project line on a map, agencies actually need to show the public what network outcomes the projects enable. As an example the CRL is often shown as just a small line in the central city but what they don’t show is that it boosts and improves train services across the entire network. With a Regional Rapid Transit map like the CFN they could point to the network and say “this is what we’re working towards and XXXX project is needed to enable that”. Instead projects like the CRL get subjected to thousands misunderstanding it and thinking it’s just about people in the CBD.

Moving on and #2, #3 and 7 tell a very interesting story and are perhaps the most relevant to the LTP and what we’ve been saying. People, including AA members want a greater choice in how they get around. They don’t want the only option for them – or perhaps for the person in front of them – to be to have to drive. I think it’s also telling that the AA’s own members don’t think that the current plans being presented are good enough, especially seeing as there’s a huge spend and congestion is still predicted to get worse.

AA LTP Survey Response 2,3 & 7

 

Perhaps it could be summarised as AA members the current plans aren’t good enough and they want more transport choice.

Next up #4, #5 and #9 talk about costs. In relation to the points above, especially #3, I think these results are crucial. Yes the largest proportion of people said they wanting the full plan but clearly not enough to be prepared to pay the kind of costs the council say will be needed to pay for that. I’m sure a few of the economists might have something to say about this point as clearly people don’t see enough benefits in the spending to warrant it. It also lines up with my long held comments that a middle ground option is needed (and of course exactly what the Essential Transport Budget is).

AA LTP Survey Response 4, 5 & 9

I don’t really think point 10 is relevant to this discussion so lastly #10 which is really one of the most important issues. Currently we seem to have both the council and the government (through the NZTA) doing completely different things. The government are currently spending up large on a range of hand picked motorway projects regardless of how important Auckland ranks them. I personally think it’s time that both the council and government come form of agreement around how projects are ranked and funded in the future because at the moment each seem to be doing their own thing. To me Auckland should have the ability to “no we don’t want XX project at this time and we think the money would be better spent on …..”

AA LTP Survey Response 10

As I said earlier, overall many of the comments the AA have made end up being very similar to what we talk about too. In many ways it’s very reassuring that the AA’s members seem to be saying the same thing.

The AA have also put their entire LTP & RLTP submission online and that contains some of the more in-depth information into the survey results. Below are just a few of the parts that caught my attention.

Perhaps the biggest one is this on their attitudes to PT and roads investment. Over 75% agree or strongly agree that better PT would reduce congestion and make the city more liveable and over 60% say it would reduce the need to have a car. In addition 56% agree that more roads won’t solve Auckland’s problems – although many obviously think that there can be some improvements in roads.

AA LTP Survey - PT v Roads

The next few results come from the smaller qualitative panel. Most think a good PT system is essential for city pride

AA LTP Survey - City Pride

And most agree that sustainability is important or essential to take into account.

AA LTP Survey - Sustainability

Lastly just a few of the comments from their submission itself. On roads the AA’s stance is unsurprising but what’s good is that they’re showing strong support for the other modes. On PT in general they appear very supportive of continued investment.

As discussed previously, our Members want choice with the transport modes they use, and there is no doubt that public transport has an important role to play in providing a reliable, accessible, safe, and affordable alternative to the private vehicle for our Members. Given public transport in Auckland is still developing, it is crucial that the transport programme protects not only the significant investment in the network over the last 10-15 years, but also current and forecast levels of patronage growth.

On the CRL they are also supportive – although like us believe better information is needed.

On balance, we are supportive of the City Rail Link. We agree that the CRL is critical to complete the rail network. Combined with electrification of the rail network and new EMUs, the CRL will increase network capacity, resilience, and reliability. We also support the early enabling works over the next three years. Tying in the enabling works with the Precinct Properties Lower Albert Street site redevelopment makes sense.

However, we do have concerns that AT has not included any Benefit Cost Ratios, discussion about value for money, or any information about what the benefits of the CRL are in the RLTP. The approach AT has taken towards the benefits of the CRL is too high-level and lacks data and analysis to explain its assertions that the CRL will:

  • “enable a more productive economy”
  • create “flow-on benefits across the whole of Auckland”
  • “fundamentally change the growth and infrastructure landscape of Auckland, in a similar way to the original opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge”.

On Light Rail they say they are surprised it’s suddenly emerged and ask a range of questions including whether there is enough intensification allowed given the proposed Unitary Plan restrictions.

On the New Network they are supportive and concerned about the rollout of it being delayed

AT is currently rolling out the New Network, which is a positive step in rationalising the bus network. However, the BTN will delay the full rollout of the network by approximately five years due to delays in constructing new interchanges at Otahuhu and Manukau and constructing new busways. These delays may affect not only public transport patronage, but also fare revenue generated, which will cost AT in operating subsidies.

On cycling they say they are comfortable with the strategic direction of AT, they also want more protected cycleways and for AT to release more of their cycling data

We acknowledge that within a constrained funding environment that AT must make tough choices about project choice, scope, and budgets. As a member of the Cycling Safety Panel, our recommendation is for AT to focus funding on good quality projects that reduce the risk of conflict with other transport users and provide safe, reliable and preferably segregated connections. Cycleways like Beach Road are an excellent example of a safe road system for cyclists.

We do not want to see funding made available to projects that expose cyclists to dangerous situations through poorly designed cycleways or cycleways that stop abruptly, leaving cyclists vulnerable on the road network. Nor would we want to see investment in cycleways that does not correspond with strong demand, existing or potential. To that end, we would like to see data provided on cycleway patronage, so that AT can promote the success of the network, and reassure the wider public that investment is meeting cycling targets.

Overall it’s good to see the AA being rational and supportive of other modes and I guess their members telling them so strongly they want choice helps with that.