Follow us on Twitter


Farnham Street residents looking at each other down the barrel of a gun

Caution: this post contains references to John Farnham.

I was updating the Development Tracker recently, and added another one to the list – 9 Farnham Street. It hasn’t made it off the starting blocks yet, despite a couple of attempts.

In 2008, and perhaps for some time before that, 9 Farnham Street was being advertised for a five-storey building, with three floors of office and two penthouse apartments:

9 Farnham Streetview

Source: Google Streetview

The sign was still up in 2009, but sometime after that it was taken down. The GFC put a dampener on new development in a lot of places.

In April 2013, resource consent was granted for 14 apartments, but – shockingly – only 10 carparks. This raised the ire of some local residents, who had their story told in the Herald on 1st April, 2014, the best day of the year for airing public grievances. They decided that they were not gonna sit in silence, and nor were they gonna live with fear.

The three local residents were able to bolster their group with two elected representatives, who help to add gravitas to the obligatory photo of everyone standing in front of the site looking concerned, although sadly only one person out of five had their arms crossed.

A Parnell group is upset about approval for a big new apartment building, saying office workers’ cars already clog their street.

Farnham St residents Jill Tonks, Rosa Volz and Paul O’Connor are angry that a six-storey 14-unit block with only 10 carparks has been permitted to go ahead at 9 Farnham St after Auckland Council approved it on a non-notified basis.

Councillor Mike Lee and Waitemata Local Board member Christopher Dempsey are also concerned.

The article doesn’t specifically say what has the elected representatives “concerned” – maybe the non-notification, maybe the lack of parking, maybe the idea that anyone could put up a building on this pristine site. I’ll simply note that Mike Lee has frequently taken issue with plans or policies for new housing (to be fair, so have many other local representatives, although not to the same extent. Hopefully in the post-Unitary Plan era, we can start to move past this).

Anyway, if it’s the lack of parking that has Mike concerned, I hope that there is much more to concern him in the future. I see the number of new developments being marketed with few (or even no) carparks per unit as a positive sign, and I mean this in the nicest, wanting-to-make-society-as-well-off-as-possible kind of way.

Unfortunately, nothing has quite happened with this development yet. It seems like the apartments were on sale from Nov 2014 – Jul 2015, and were then taken back off the market (the real estate ad says the building has 18 carparks, funnily enough).


The proposed building which was marketed over 2014-2015.

The site changed hands in March this year, and no action since.

Unfortunately, the nature of our local democracy means that if you’re an existing resident with a strong current attachment to the area, you’re the voice. The potential residents – who, I should point out, are all someone’s daughter, all someone’s son – don’t get much chance to say whether they’d like to live there.

On the way to some Inner West bike routes

Earlier this year Auckland Transport consulted on walking and cycling routes for the Inner West of Auckland with improving connections in the area included as part of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Programme. In August they released the results of the consultation which saw 865 submissions. The consultation also included an online map where people could identify issues and in addition to the submissions mentioned, there were 484 pins dropped on the map from 75 people.

In total from the submissions AT say 5,332 routes were suggested which when grouped together resulted in 381 individual routes. There were also 2681 issues or concerns identified which when grouped by location boiled down to 303 in the area. These are shown below where you can see some fairly strong trends emerge.


As a result of this, AT revised their cycle network for the area to the one below.


When completed, and of course depending on the quality of the infrastructure, this part of the city will end up with a well-connected cycle network. Unfortunately, not everything is able to be built within the current funding window to mid-2018 and so following on from the initial consultation, Auckland Transport are now consulting on four specific cycleway proposals for the area. There are a combination of protected cycleways, on-road cycle lanes and traffic calming measures. They’ll also improve things for pedestrians and in some cases buses too. The four routes are shown below.


I’ll just look quickly at each of the proposals.

Route 1: Surrey Crescent to Garnet Road

AT are looking at two different options for this 2km section, and both will see at least parts of the route have parking protected bike lanes installed. Where the two options differ is to amount of the route that is on the street with option A including some sections placed on the grass verge to retain more on street carparking and a painted median. As a result of the differences over the 2km, Option A would see the removal of around 40 carparks (10-15%) while option B would remove about 120 carparks (35-40%). AT say based on parking surveys there will still be enough parking on these routes and side roads to accommodate demand. Below shows the cross section of one part of the route where the two options are different.


AT are looking at options for how to deal with the bus stops along this route and options include using floating bus stops, where the bus stop is effectively on an island with cycle lane going behind it. In addition to the cycle lanes, AT are planning on improving pedestrian crossings.

Route 2: Richmond Road

This 1.2km section appears to be more of the traditional painted cycle lane approach we’ve seen in the past. AT say “people on bikes will be separated from pedestrians and vehicles to create a safer, more enjoyable journey for all” but the plans show carparks being retained against the kerb protected by the meat barrier offered by passing cyclists. Of course is almost certainly not going to encourage less confident cyclists or children to use the route. Here’s one example from the drawings.


As a positive though it is good to see items like pedestrian build outs on entrances to side streets – but why divert the footpath away from the desire line, will almost certainly be ignored by people.

Route 3: Greenways Route

Many parts of this route already exist and for the most part, the plans for this route involve traffic calming roads to improve safety on them for people on bikes. At the Gt North Rd end of the route on Grosvener this even includes using back in angle parking which I’m not sure I’ve seen in Auckland before.

Route 4: Great North Road

This is will be the most visible of all of the routes and easily the most used too, especially with all of the apartment development currently underway along here. All up 1.5km of Gt North Rd will have protected cycleways added – with one small exception – while the bus lanes will still be retained and even enhanced. The cross section of the road will look like the Streetmix layout below. The one exception is on the corner outside the Grey Lynn Library where there isn’t enough space to keep protected lanes on the road – in this location a shared path will be provided for less confident cyclists.


In addition to the bike lane changes, things will also improve for buses. The bus lanes will have their ours of operation extended by an hour in the morning and afternoon (City-bound 7-10am, West-bound 4-7pm) and they will be continuous along this stretch of road rather than disappearing frequently. There will also be a rationalisation of bus stops along the route with it dropping from 14 stops in 10 stops across both directions. The bus stops will likely be a mix of floating bus stops and likely some other solutions too. Both of these improvements should help in speeding up buses. The changed bus stop locations are shown below.



Overall there are some good wins here across a number of areas which is great to see. If you look at the details, you’ll see a couple of key sections missing with the two big ones being the Karangahape/Gt North/Ponsonby Rd intersection and through the Grey Lynn shops. The first of those two is being investigated as part of the K Rd project underway while the Grey Lynn shops will be looked at separately. Given the anger from some locals about the bus stop there, I’m guessing some retailers will really fight changes very hard.

AT have now extended the consultation to Friday 21 October so make sure you have your say.

Pick up your shopping at your Station

Often it’s the big things such as improved infrastructure and services that are needed to make public transport more viable but sometimes small enhancements can help in removing barriers for new users or just improve customer satisfaction with existing users. Yesterday Auckland Transport announced a trial of  the latter kind, a deal with Countdown for people to pick up groceries at a few selected locations with the potential for it to be expanded to more locations in the future.

In a first for Auckland, Auckland Transport has teamed up with Countdown to introduce secure online grocery ‘Click & Collect’ collection points at five initial trial locations.

  • Albany Bus Station.
  • New Lynn Transport Centre.
  • Orakei Train Station.
  • Waiheke Ferry Terminal.
  • Downtown Car Park.

Auckland Transport Chief AT Metro Officer Mark Lambert says “Through this Click & Collect trial we aim to provide our customers with even greater levels of convenience and flexibility, whatever their mode of transport.”

“We’re thrilled to be able to kick off this new initiative with Countdown, who have decades of experience in online shopping and look forward to potentially expanding this customer amenity throughout our network.”

From 27 September 2016, Countdown Shoppers can order their groceries online at (before 1pm) and pick them up on the way home when catching the train, bus or ferry that afternoon/evening.

The collection points will play a part in making life easier for Aucklanders as more and more people embrace public transport.

This new service is being rolled out as a six month trial, with a view to offering it in other locations if proven successful. Currently, the five initial transport facilities service more than 95,000 AT HOP card users and customers every day.

This trial with Countdown is one of several ongoing efforts by the AT Retail Strategy Implementation Steering Group to enhance the AT customer experience.

I see this as a good move and I hope it’s successful so it can roll out to more bus/train stations and ferry terminals.


Image thanks to Geogoose

Of course countdown already deliver direct to homes and at general times you can specify but the difference here is that it appears to be slightly cheaper to pick up your goods from the station than it is to deliver – the same as picking up from a store.

I’d see this kind of model being used for a variety of services – another example might courier deliveries. Ultimately I hope it could lead to AT or perhaps even third parties developing stations into more than just the bare platforms they often are today. In overseas cities it is not uncommon to see stations with shops, cafes and other amenities built in – as a small start, my local station now has a coffee van parked up every morning.


Zoning reform: Who participates in local elections? (4 of n)

This is the fourth installment in an ongoing series on the politics and economics of zoning reform. In the previous post, I took a look at the demographic factors underpinning variations in submission rates on the Auckland Unitary Plan between different parts of the city. That analysis showed that age and income matter quite a lot – variations in median personal incomes and the share of residents over the age of 65 explain a large share of the variation in submission rates from local boards.

In a representative democracy, voting matters. On the whole, politicians tend to respond to the interests and desires of the people who they represent. But there’s a caveat: If you don’t vote, they don’t have a good reason to listen to you.

This is important, because elected representatives get to decide how to address a lot of important issues. For instance, local governments’ choices affect:

  • The availability, location, design, and price of housing – zoning rules can either facilitate or thwart peoples’ desires for a place to live
  • The qualities and locations of the places where we work, shop, and play
  • How we get around – local governments make decisions about investments in streets, public transport, walking, and cycling
  • The quality of our local environment – air, water, and soil quality is regulated by local government.

Unfortunately, as I found when I looked at data on voter turnout in local government elections, people are increasingly disengaged from local elections. Across New Zealand, turnout appears to be structurally declining:

LGNZ local government voter turnout chart

Why is this happening?

A useful starting place is to ask what we know about the reasons why voter turnout varies between different places. According to statistics published by the Department of Internal Affairs, in 2013 people were much more likely to vote in some local elections than others:

  • Mackenzie District had the highest voter turnout – 63.7% of registered voters – followed by Buller District (62.4%) and Wairoa District (62.0%)
  • Waikato District had the lowest voter turnout (31.6%) followed by Auckland Council (34.9%) and Waimakariri District (35.0%).

Why do outcomes vary so widely? As I did in my analysis of Unitary Plan submission rates, I’m going to use OLS regression to investigate a set of potential explanations. OLS regression is a statistical technique for investigating relationships between multiple explanatory variables and a single outcome variable – voter turnout in this case. Here are the hypotheses I want to test:

  • H1: Size matters. Councils serving larger populations are less likely to be as engaged with the community.
  • H2: Council functions matter. Regional councils and district councils serve different functions, which might be more or less ‘salient’ to voters. Regional councils are responsible for regulating environmental outcomes while district councils regulate land uses and provide roads.
  • H3: Voting systems matter. Six councils use single transferrable vote (STV) rather than first-past-the-post (FPP) as a voting system. STV is a bit more complicated to understand, but it allows people to vote their conscience when choosing between multiple candidates and hence may result in more competitive, relevant races.
  • H4: Competitiveness matters. Elections that are more closely contested are more likely to draw higher turnout. I’ve used candidates standing per open position as a proxy measure for competitiveness, although as the Auckland mayoral race shows, that’s not necessarily always true.
  • H5: Age matters. As older people are more likely to turn out to vote, we would expect local governments with higher median ages to have higher voter turnout.
  • H6: Home ownership matters. If home ownership is positively correlated with democratic engagement, we’d expect areas with higher home ownership rates to have higher voter participation.

The key findings are reported in the following table. For the non-statisticians in the audience, here’s what this quick analysis says about the hypotheses above:

  • It provides support for H1 and H2 – larger councils tend to have lower turnout, while regional councils and unitary councils tend to have higher turnout than district councils.
  • It also provides support for H5 – councils with higher median age tend to have higher turnout.
  • It does not provide support for the other hypotheses. In 2013, at any rate, councils that used STV, had more candidates per open council position, and had a higher share of renting households did not have statistically significant differences in voter turnout.

[Technical note: I found that there was low multicollinearity between these variables, meaning that you couldn’t predict the majority of variation in, say, home ownership rates as a function of the other variables in the model. This suggests that there is low risk of understating the impact of any individual variable.]

Dependent variable: log(2013 voter turnout)
Explanatory variables Coefficient
log(Resident population) -0.082***
Regional Council (1) 0.111**
Unitary Council (1) 0.107*
STV voting system (2) 0.022
log(Candidates per position) 0.091
log(Median age) 0.640***
log(Share of households renting) 0.171
Constant -2.169**
Model statistics
Observations 75
Adjusted R2 0.414
Residual Std. Error 0.112 (df = 67)
F Statistic 8.476*** (df = 7; 67)
Notes: *p<0.1; **p<0.05; ***p<0.01
(1) Relative to District Council
(2) Relative to FPP

In short, when we’re looking at determinants of voter turnout in local government elections, size matters, council type matters, and age matters. But there are two important caveats to this analysis:

  • First, this model wasn’t very good at explaining variations in voter turnout. The adjusted R2 statistic of 0.414 indicates that this model only explains 41.4% of the total variation in voter turnout between different councils. In other words, the majority of variation is due to other, unobserved factors.
  • Second, this is a “cross-sectional” model that tries to predict variations between places at a point in time. It can’t tell us much about how voter turnout might change if we adopted different policies. For instance, we can’t conclude, on the basis of this model, that we should reduce council size in order to raise turnout.

To illustrate the second point, let’s take a look at how voter turnout has changed in Auckland over the last three elections. In 2010, Auckland Council was amalgamated from eight predecessor councils. In effect, it got a lot larger. So did this reduce voter turnout?

The DIA voter turnout data doesn’t seem to support that story, at least not in such a simplistic form. Here’s a chart comparing local election turnout in Auckland with voter turnout in the rest of New Zealand from 2007 to 2013. As this shows, voter turnout in Auckland wasn’t that flash prior to amalgamation – in all predecessor councils except Rodney, it substantially lagged behind turnout in the rest of New Zealand.


Turnout rose significantly after amalgamation in 2010 before falling back again. This probably had more to do with the dynamics of those elections than the nature of the new council. In 2010, Aucklanders were more aware of the elections, which featured a competitive race for mayor. The mayoral candidates – Len Brown and John Banks – were both well-known local body politicians with genuinely different visions for the city.

In 2013, those factors probably weren’t as salient. The mayoral race was less competitive, and the new council had gotten on with doing all the million soporific tasks of local government.

So what does all this data and analysis mean, anyway? What should we do differently to get higher turnout?

I would draw two key conclusions:

  • First, demographics matter to voter participation. Different groups vote at different rates, and councils with older populations tend to have higher turnout. This suggests that any attempts to address low voter turnout have to address barriers faced by different types of people.
  • Second, there aren’t any obvious structural fixes related to council size, structure, or the like. Most variation in turnout between councils isn’t explained by the factors I’ve measured here, and the evidence for reducing council sizes as a way of raising turnout doesn’t seem too robust. (See the discussion of changes in voter turnout after the late-1980s amalgamations on page 22 of this document.)

In short, if we want a durable solution to low turnout rates, we need to look at some other, harder-to-measure factors, like the information available to people about local elections. But that’s a topic for the next installment.

Breathing new life into Aotea

Some good news last week with the announcement that the Council’s former Civic Administration Building – which was given Category A heritage status under the Unitary Plan – will be restored. To make things better, it will be joined by a number of new buildings filling in what is currently a dead zone surrounding it.


The iconic Civic Administration Building in Aotea Square will be restored and the surrounding area developed under a private sector proposal that will breathe life into a key part of our city centre.

The city’s urban development agency Panuku Development Auckland has selected Tawera Group to restore the Category A heritage building after an international tender process.

Tawera’s Civic Quarter proposal features residential apartments in the upper floors with food and beverage facilities on the ground floor of the existing building. There will also be a new apartment building on the Mayoral Drive corner, a new boutique hotel on Mayoral Drive and a building featuring a Whare Tapere performance space fronting Aotea Square.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says Civic Quarter shows what is possible if we make the most of the opportunities we have with heritage buildings.

“With the population in the central city expected to double in the next 30 years, it’s essential we develop new accommodation options to make this a liveable city. This scheme is a fantastic way to achieve this. It’s all about making the most of the land and opportunities we have in a growing city.”

The mayor says Civic Quarter will bring a new edge to Aotea Square, with the hotel as well as the food and beverage offerings in the development adding vitality to this corner of Auckland’s arts precinct.

“And for Aucklanders the best news is that this partnership with a well-respected private sector developer will come at no cost to ratepayers.”

Panuku Project Director Clive Fuhr says after an extensive tender process it’s pleasing to announce the plans for a building that has remained largely empty since being vacated by the council.

“It was important to provide a viable commercial opportunity that would enable the restoration of a heritage building, the provision of more housing and the revitalisation of this precinct.”

Fuhr says Tawera was the lead tenderer from an Expressions of Interest and Request for Proposals process that attracted global interest and some impressive detailed submissions.

The Tawera proposal was selected with guidance from a panel of urban design experts and heritage advisors. Mana whenua were also part of the selection process, ensuring the Te Aranga Maori Design principles were incorporated.

“It was important we found the right partner to ensure both the heritage features of the building are protected and that it tells a strong Maori story. We were very impressed with Tawera who recently won the Property Council award for their Hopetoun Residences,” says Fuhr.

“Their scheme certainly gives effect to the objectives in the recently adopted Aotea Quarter Framework Plan.”

Tawera principal John Love says his team is excited to be part of this important development for Auckland.

“Civic Quarter is the kind of regeneration project that has won Tawera Group awards in the past.  It will blend an iconic Auckland landmark with cutting edge design ensuring that the Aotea Quarter becomes a must visit destination for all.”

Auckland Council Heritage Manager Noel Reardon, whose team was involved in the selection process, says the Civic was the city’s tallest building when it was completed in 1966 and it went on to become an icon of local government.

“It’s great news to see such an iconic building being restored. The council’s heritage team will work closely with the developers to ensure the heritage features are retained and restored.”

The next steps in the development will be for Tawera to work through the resource and building consents, particularly in terms of the refurbishment works.  Building is expected to start in mid-2017 and take three years.

This shows the expected layout of the buildings that are planned


As a comparison, most of this space is currently carparks and largely unused dead space


Here’s a video of what’s proposed, some of what’s proposed looks a little awkward but hopefully that can improve as the design evolves. I also hope a lot of care is taken with the design of those shared lanes. I do like that this part of Mayoral Dr will finally have some activation but that will also mean we need to ensure Mayoral Dr isn’t just left as a racetrack.

One thing that also struck me was how in some ways the Whare Tapere is a modern take on Tibor Donner’s original design for the area which included annexes on either side of the Civic Admin Building, as can be seen here. You can also see that image doesn’t include Mayoral Dr which was bulldozed through the area.

Driverless cars, sprawl and density

This is a guest post from reader Frank McRae

Google Self Driving Car

The emergence of driverless vehicle technology has created much excitement, and speculation about how these vehicles will affect the development of cities. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that a major consequence of driverless vehicles will be the outward sprawl of cities (Driverless cars to fuel suburban sprawl):

Here is the weirdest thing about this hypothetical future: where you live….you will be able to escape your cramped apartment in the city for a bigger spread farther away, offering more peace and quiet, and better schools for the children.

..there is something akin to a law of nature about new transportation technology: The faster humans move, the bigger and more sprawling our cities become.

While it is true that lower transport costs and faster travel speeds will generally incentivise the outward spread of the city there are other forces at play. I want to put forward the case that the outward spread of cities will not be an inevitable feature of driverless cars and that these vehicles can complement the ongoing intensification of cities.

Driverless cars are not viable without road pricing

Driverless technology will remove the labour cost of driving, and electric vehicle technology will significantly reduce the cost of fuel. While we don’t currently have road pricing, fuel and labour impose costs on the user that practically limit the amount of time their vehicle can be on the road. If there were driverless vehicles but no road pricing then the vehicles could be left on the road at almost no cost. Indeed if parking is priced, and road space for moving vehicles is not, then leaving vehicles circling the block with no occupant would be the rational thing to do. What would be the point of paying for parking or storage when empty vehicles could be left roaming the streets for free? It’s easy to imagine roads quickly descending into gridlock when the cost of leaving a vehicle on the road is so low. Road pricing would be a simple way to clear the roads of circling drive-bots.

While road pricing is a difficult political sell, the politics may shift when the alternative to pricing is completely dysfunctional roads. People generally don’t like paying for parking either, but it is politically palatable to charge for parking in centres when the alternative is the unavailability of parking spaces. Road pricing may become politically palatable when the alternative is roads gridlocked with autonomous vehicles.

Driverless cars will also improve the viability of road pricing by making it practically easy to calculate the distance travelled and to implement time of day charging. And driverless vehicles would remove the privacy case against GPS based road pricing as, for better or worse, users of on-demand driverless vehicles will already be giving up their privacy to the service provider.

Finally, electric powering will require a new source of funding to replace the fuel excise which goes towards funding the maintenance and upgrade of roads. Distance based road pricing can replace the fuel excise in a way that provides a much better link between funding and demand for infrastructure.

This distance based road pricing will provide a disincentive against living in outer suburbs.

Driverless cars will disrupt car ownership

Driverless cars will mostly be used through on-demand services. Uber has already provided the model for this, and it will not be a huge stretch to extend Uber’s model to driverless vehicles. Indeed Uber is already a major investor in driverless technology and is launching an autonomous taxi service in the US city of Pittsburgh.

If it is possible to get an affordable ride on-demand then why would anyone bother with the storage, insurance, and maintenance costs of car ownership? It seems likely that a major effect of the driverless revolution will be the end of car ownership for the majority of people. This disruption of car ownership will significantly reduce the need for car parking spaces. This has significant implications for the development of the city.

Driverless cars will remove the parking and traffic constraints on dense development

The need to accommodate parking sets design limitations on development, and minimum parking requirements create a regulatory barrier to intensifying housing where demand is highest. These limitations can reduce the financial viability of intensified developments. If on-demand driverless vehicles disrupt car ownership, development can be freed from these constraints.

Additionally, a major source of “community” objection to development is the effect of new dwellings on local parking availability and congestion. For example, a recently proposed development for an apartment tower in Glen Eden was opposed by the Local Board because of the potential traffic generation.

This is just one example but almost every development in Auckland (and elsewhere) is objected to on the grounds of traffic and parking. Also parking and congestion are a significant justification for the planning rules that limit density in the first place.

On-demand driverless vehicles will remove the real and perceived constraint that parking places on development. And the increased efficiency of driverless vehicles combined with road pricing will undermine using traffic as a reason for limiting and objecting to intensive development.

Electric vehicles will improve the amenity of central suburbs 

A major drawback of living centrally, and at density, in a car dominated city like Auckland is the air quality and noise disamenity caused by cars. The electric technology used in driverless vehicles will remove these problems making inner city suburbs a more pleasant place to live.

On-demand ride services will be better in the inner city than outer suburbs

Driverless technology will not change the fact that trips to outer suburbs will take longer and be more expensive than those in the inner city. And while passengers will be freed from the burden of driving themselves, driverless cars are unlikely to change people’s ultimate tolerance for being stuck in a vehicle for more than an hour.

Though it is difficult to predict what a ride in a taxi-bot will cost, an article in Bloomberg suggests that the average cost could be as low as 44 (US) cents per mile (1.6km). But the cost per kilometre could be much higher in outer suburbs to reflect the reduced likelihood of the vehicle picking up a return fare. So outer suburban travellers will not only have to pay a higher fare to reflect the greater distance, they may also have to pay for it at a higher rate.

The service is also likely to be of a lower quality in outer suburbs, with longer wait times due to the lower density of potential passengers. Higher density inner suburbs will have a larger pool of potential passengers and hence shorter wait times for a ride.


Trying to make predictions about an unpredictable future can be a foolish task, and many of the predictions made about driverless cars have been foolish indeed (Dump the cycleways – how driverless cars will save the world). But the impact driverless cars will have on the development of the city is not inevitable. As always, much of this depends on the policy settings we adopt. Driverless cars will not necessarily accelerate exurban sprawl and with the right policies there is plenty to suggest that these vehicles can complement the intensification of cities well.

Sunday reading 25 September 2016.

csree7oweaipbuhHello, and welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here are a collection of articles, videos and commentary I found interesting over the week. Please add your own links in the comments section.

Here is a good article on the illogic of sprawl from a fiscal standpoint. Nice to see Chuck Marohn and Strongtowns mentioned. Matthew Robare, “Why Sprawl Is Not the Only Choice“, The American Conservative.

Sprawl isn’t really as cheap as it seems. A network of tax breaks, financial guarantees, subsidies, and other chicanery keep parts of suburbia relatively inexpensive. Most notably, transportation costs are often excluded from the discussion of housing affordability, even though it’s hard to live anywhere without a way to get to work. For example, Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns has shown that the low density, car-dependent development that has typified American cities since World War II does not produce enough tax revenue to service the debt that cities took out to build the infrastructure needed for sprawl.

The numbers stuff can be really dull and become a barrier for some to the advantages of urbanism.  Sightline recommends the housing and urbanism message can be better communicated by focusing on people, and a shared community challenge. City Observatory says not so fast, here’s a ‘teachable moment’ about supply and demand. Joe Cortright , “Lessons in Supply and Demand: Housing Market Edition“, City Observatory.

The demand for cities and for great urban neighborhoods is exploding. Americans of all ages, but especially well-educated young adults are increasingly choosing to live in cities. And in the face of that demand, our ability to build more such neighborhoods and to expand housing in the ones that we already have is profoundly limited, both by the relative slowness of housing construction (relative to demand changes), and also because of misguided public policies that constrain our ability to build housing in the places where people most want to live, to the point in many communities, we’ve simply made it illegal to build the dense, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods that widely regarded as the most desirable.

We don’t expect the demand for urban living to abate any time soon–in fact, there’s good reason to believe that it will continue to increase. And it’s still the case that we have a raft of public policies – from restrictions on apartment construction and density, to limits on mixed use development, to onerous parking requirements, and discretionary, hyper-local approval processes – that make it hugely difficult to build new housing in the places where it’s most needed.

Many of the problems we encounter in the housing market are a product of self-inflicted wounds that are based on naive and contradictory ideas about how the world works. We believe that housing should both be affordable and a great investment (which is an impossible contradiction), and we tend to think the laws of supply and demand somehow don’t apply to one of the biggest sectors of the economy (housing). At their root, our housing problems–and their solutions–are about understanding the economics at work here. So in our view, it’s definitely time to talk about supply and demand.

Here’s George Monbiot stating the obvious – “it was a mistake – a monumental, world-class mistake”– “Our roads are choked. We’re on the verge of carmageddon“, The Guardian.

Over half the car journeys people make in this country are less than five miles: this is what policy failure looks like. Why don’t people cycle instead? Perhaps because, though the number of motorists killed or seriously injured has fallen sharply, the number of cyclists killed or hurt on the roads has climbed since 2003. This now accounts for 14% of all casualties, though cycling amounts to only 1% of the distance we travel.

The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent, and ensured that it doesn’t happen again.

So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st-century transport system for the 21st century? Helsinki is making public transport as convenient and flexible as private transport. For example, by aggregating people’s requests via a smartphone app, minibus services can collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes. Hamburg is building a network of cycling and walking paths so safe, pleasant and convenient that no one with the ability to do otherwise would want to take a car.

Here is Lyft founder John Zimmer describing how technology will solve the problem of the car in the city – “The Third Transportation Revolution“, Medium.

Next time you walk outside, pay really close attention to the space around you. Look at how much land is devoted to cars — and nothing else. How much space parked cars take up lining both sides of the street, and how much of our cities go unused covered by parking lots.

It becomes obvious, we’ve built our communities entirely around cars. And for the most part, we’ve built them for cars that aren’t even moving.

…I believe we’re on the cusp of nothing short of a transportation revolution — one that will shape the future of our communities. And it is within our collective responsibility to ensure this is done in a way that improves quality of life for everyone.

By 2025, private car ownership will all-but end in major U.S. cities.

Baffingly, our human habitat remains under examined. What make great places, streets and cities? Here is a comprehensive study that tracks people’s movements to determine the properties that make more healthy and active places. It appears consistent with other studies by Reid Ewing and others.  Kaid Benfield, “Four Characteristics of Active, Healthy Neighborhoods“, Placemakers.

  • Residential density. It takes a critical mass of homes in a neighborhood to support economically viable shops and amenities within walking distance.
  • Intersection density. Well-connected streets tend to shorten travel distances and put more likely destinations within walking distance.
  • Public transport density. More transit stops within walking distance make it more likely that residents have transit options and will elect to use them.
  • Access to parks. Parks serve not only as places where people exercise but also as destinations people walk to and from, getting exercise as they do.

Here’s a fascinating study on the health value of architectural features that encourage social contact- porches, stoops, etc. This seems so basic, but rarely applied in New Zealand.  Brown, SC et al, “Built environment and physical functioning in Hispanic elders: the role of ‘eyes on the street‘”, Pub

After controlling for age, sex, and income, architectural features of the built environment theorized to facilitate visual and social contact had a significant direct relationship with elders’ physical functioning as measured 3 years later, and an indirect relationship through social support and psychological distress. Further binomial regression analyses suggested that elders living on blocks marked by low levels of positive front entrance features were 2.7 times as likely to have subsequent poor levels of physical functioning, compared with elders living on blocks with a greater number of positive front entrance features [b = 0.99; chi(2) (1 df) = 3.71; p = 0.05; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-7.3].


Street party. Balmoral, Auckland, 2015

While many of our streets are designed for social interaction and access to transport services, people seem largely content to live behind stone walls and high hedges.  Here’s a neat story from the suburbs of Minnesota that has encouraged people to come back to their front yards. James Walsh, “Project connects St. Paul neighbors by moving them to their front yards“, Star Tribune.

Ross Callahan has lived in his Rondo-area home for 14 years. Yet, he admits, he’d communicated with only a few of his neighbors over that time, usually with a nod or a wave.

Then a funny thing happened. He started spending time in the front yard.

Thanks to a project designed to get people out of their backyards and meeting their neighbors, Callahan started cleaning up the green space at the center of his cul-de-sac, laid a new patio and, yes, started getting to know the people who live in the dozen homes around him.

September 16 AT Board Meeting

The monthly Auckland Transport Board meeting is on again next week so I’ve take a read through the main reports to pull out the bits that interest me.

Closed Session Agenda

Some of my thoughts about them in italics.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • CRL – PTA & QS Contracts
  • Road Stopping
  • Execution of Deed of Lease of Land
  • Route Protection for Roading Projects
  • CPO – Surrender of LRT Easements – Britomart was designed so it could also have light rail but our existing network has been too successful so is not a possibilty now
  • Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG) Programme Business Case – Business cases are now needed to support all of the projects needed to support the sprawl enabled as part of the Unitary Plan
  • AT designations for the Unitary Plan

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Rail Infrastructure
  • MRT/Light Rail Update – I see AT are already using the Mass Rapid Transit name from ATAP
  • Rail Development
  • Bus Services March Capacity – A hint about what this is later in the post.
  • ATAP Update

Business Report

Things that interest me in the order they appear in the report.

Albany Highway – This project is nearly complete and expected to be completed in October

Glen Innes/Tamaki Shared Path – Section 1 is due for completion at the end of October. Section 2 and 3 got resource consent and section 3 will start construction in October

Franklin Rd – Works are now starting on services, although there will be no works around Christmas when the annual lights are on. The actual road works start in March next year. They say the design of the catenary lighting system has been completed and materials ordered. The lights will have a clearance above the ground of 7-8m so shouldn’t have issues with overheight trucks. They also say the lighting system is estimated to cost $900,000. I wonder what an aspiring Councillor standing on a platform of capping rates might say about that.

Franklin Rd Impression

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St) – AT are hoping for mediation with the Cowie St Residents in early October and if that fails an environment court hearing before the end of the year.

Parnell Station – Kiwirail have building consent and works are due to start on the foundations so the old Newmarket railway station can be moved to the site. AT also say they’re working on the design of ticket gates but that they won’t be in place in time for opening due to long lead times for them. They’re also working on getting a footpath connection down through Carlaw Park finished in time for when the station opens in March 2017 (with limited service).

Parnell pic June15

Manukau Bus Station – AT will be issuing the construction contract early next month and say the station is due to be open in early 2018, this appears to have been delayed as previously they were saying late 2017. Oddly later in the same report it once again says late 2017.

Manukau Bus Station 1

Otahuhu Interchange – This is on track to open on 29 October, just before the new network goes live. Ticket gates will be installed in the second quarter 2017 “due to a delay in receipt of the gates from the supplier

Otahuhu Interchange Sep-16 1

Bus Lanes – AT are planning on building 19.1km of bus lanes this financial year but later on they say 26km is planned. This image is from August but it still accurate.

2016-08 - Bus lane Programme

AT Parking App – Earlier this year we saw a glimpse of a mobile app to pay for parking (from 3:05). It’s currently in a live trial till the end of the month and is expected to be launched later this year

AT Park is an account based parking payment system, which will go live later this year. Customers can pay for parking directly from their phone without using a parking meter, significantly improving customer convenience through mobile payment and parking location/availability maps. Other features of the new service are: start and stop a parking session with an interactive voice recording, start stop session with texting and also with the call centre. This innovation will enable customers to pay with ease and therefore increase compliance across the network

PT Services

Supergold Cards – AT are going to transition blue HOP card holders to gold HOP cards and a campaign for it is due in November

Ferries – AT currently has a tender out for the non-commercial ferry routes – like they’re doing with buses. I understand this will likely include some additional services on some routes too. Interestingly this will also include Stanley Bay services as Fullers has advised they’re not going to run it commercially anymore. This will leave only Devonport and Waiheke as commercial routes exempt from PTOM contracts.

March Madness – It appears AT might have finally got the message about March Madness.

Every March there is a spike in patronage which results in insufficient capacity on main corridors. In order to provide sufficient capacity and an enhanced customer experience for next March, new timetables and capacity increases have been developed for main corridors. The expectation is that no customer will have to wait for more than 10 minutes (depending on advertised frequency) to be able to board a bus. This will see an approx. +6.6% peak only bus capacity increase implemented progressively between November and February.

Double Decker NEX – The Northern Express goes from strength to strength and now Ritchies are boosting capacity again with the number of double decker buses used to operate the service going from 18 to 29 in October. That will leave just 2 standard buses at peak times and all off peak services will be run by double deckers. Extra trips are also being added in Jan & Feb ahead of March.

Speeding up trains – AT say a reduction in turn back times at Papakura from late October will free up one train set enabling them to boost another peak Southern Line service in the morning and afternoon. A good example of why they need to focus on speeding up our trains.

New Network – The new bus network in South Auckland is due to go live on 30 October while new buses for the new operators have been arriving. Ritchies/Murphys buses have been arriving from China while the Go Bus buses being built mostly here but also in Malaysia have been arriving.

Station Gates – In addition to completing designs for gating Henderson, Manurewa, Middlemore and Papatoetoe, AT say they’re also now planning and designing gates for Glen Innes, Papakura and Parnell.

Click and Collect – A 6-month trial got underway this week allowing for deliveries to made to one of four AT Metro locations and one park & ride (Orakei I believe). This is positive to see and I only wonder why they didn’t trial it years ago.

Forward Programme

An indication as to what’s coming up to the board and board committees in the next month so an indication of things to keep an eye out for.

  • Northern RTN Programme Business Case
  • Roads & Streets Framework
  • Clonbern Road Carpark Redevelopment proposal
  • Bus Patronage Analysis
  • Train Capacity
  • PTOM West Tenders – the preferred tenderers were announced last week.
  • Manukau Road T3 Operational Impacts
  • Future of HOP
  • Digital / Technology impact on transport

Anything you’ve seen in the reports that I’ve missed?

Development update: September 2016

This will be the last “development update” post for a while, as I’ll be off on holiday for a month. The RCG Development Tracker has just been updated and I’ll get back onto things in November. Oh, and one of the updates is that I’ve added in the Northern Busway and (proposed) AMETI busway.

It’s been a pretty big month for office development, with two major new office buildings announced in August. Let’s take a look at the offices popping up around Auckland.

City Centre

Without a doubt, the city centre is leader of the pack for offices. The rents are higher and the buildings are bigger. I did a post a year ago looking at office development in the city centre; as a quick update of that:

  • 125 Queen Street has almost finished its refurbishment, with 15,000 sqm of space soon to be available.
  • The buildings at 2-4 Grantham Street, known as “151 Victoria Street West”, “NZME Central” and various other names, are now complete. 17,600 square metres (sqm) of office space, developed by Mansons TCLM.
  • One Mill Lane fell by the wayside, and is up for sale by its owners, Mansons TCLM. It could potentially become apartments, but it all depends on what the new buyer wants to do with it.
  • Commercial Bay, aka the Downtown Shopping Centre site, is underway, and will add 35,000 sqm of office space in early 2019. The developer is Precinct Properties.
  • Precinct is also developing 48,000 sqm of office space across five buildings in Wynyard quarter, with the first stage of 12,000 sqm underway.
  • Mansons TCLM are developing 10 Sale Street, with 10,000 sqm of space.
  • Goodman are developing 40,000 sqm across several buildings at the southern end of Wynyard Quarter – Fonterra and Bayleys, both finished, and Datacom, due for completion next year.

All up, that’s a whopping 166,000 sqm completed, underway or planned for the next few years, enough space to accommodate at least 13,000 workers (based on Colliers metrics).

Another factor in the city centre, and not as prevalent elsewhere, is older office buildings being converted to other uses – apartments, accommodation or education. As such, the ‘total’ amount of office space won’t increase as much as the figures above suggest.


In August, Mansons TCLM launched a new project in Newmarket, currently known as “33 Broadway” although it will most likely be given another name when it’s finished. A lot goes on behind the scenes – by the time the building was announced in the Herald, Mansons were just about ready to begin construction.

Mercury Energy was already signed up for two-thirds of the space, and the shops in the existing buildings were getting ready to close. Demolition is now underway. The Herald article mentioned that there was 4,600 sqm of space left to lease, which makes the building sound a bit smaller than it is – it’s close to 12,000 sqm all up. That makes it the second largest office building in Newmarket, if I’m not mistaken (Watercare House, also built by Mansons TCLM a few years ago, is a little bigger).

Sylvia Park

At Sylvia Park, a new office building is just getting underway, with new headquarters for IAG. This is significant in that it’s the first office building at Sylvia Park – in fact, just about the first office building to be built within a ‘shopping centre’ in NZ. This is quite common overseas, and Sylvia Park in particular is poised to become more of a mixed-use hub. The new building is around 12,000 sqm, so a pretty sizeable development.

Other Areas

In the ‘St Georges Bay Rd’ part of Parnell, another major building is underway: 10,400 sqm, and again it’s by Mansons TCLM (as you will have seen, this name comes up a lot in office development!).

Smales Farm is also significant – new headquarters for Vodafone coming in at around 10,000 sqm, and of course the office park still has plenty of room to grow.

There’s also a bit happening at Albany, Highbrook and Auckland Airport, and in the “Southern Corridor” (Great South Rd in the Ellerslie/ Penrose area).

Building Consents*

Looking at building consents across the various Auckland wards, 42% of office floor space is being created in the Waitemata & Gulf ward (which includes the city centre). That share rises to 51% when looking at the figures by dollar value.


Consented office space in Auckland, 2011-2016

* Figures for Jan 2011- Jul 2016 inclusive, essentially the entire period since council amalgamation

Emerging Trends

One key shift in recent years has been buildings with large floor plates (i.e. large sites with mid-rise buildings, rather than narrow towers). Many of the new buildings also have Green Star ratings.

In terms of location, most new offices are going up where there’s good ‘rapid transit’ access – the city centre obviously has this in spades, but Newmarket, Smales Farm and even Ellerslie all have their own high-quality public transport links. This will only become more important in the future: it’s about accessibility.

August-2016 Patronage

Auckland’s public transport patronage results for August are now available and there are some decent numbers on show. This was partially expected thanks to there being two extra business days in August this year compared to August last year but even accounting for that, numbers are up. August is traditionally a strong month for patronage with its 31-days and no school or public holidays, and the month didn’t disappoint clocking in with the third highest patronage behind March 2015 and 2016. The month was significant as halfway through we finally had integrated fares roll out, something that Auckland has needed for decades. Changes like we had normally don’t have an immediate impact though and so it will be some time for us to see the full extent of the new structure and for many, cheaper fares.


Overall patronage was up 8.7% for the month (normalised to 3.9% when taking account of the extra weekdays) and 7.9 million trips were taking on PT. Drilling down to the PT modes:

  • Trains once again led the charge up 18.4% (normalised to 14.5%) and on a 12m rolling basis, we surpassed 17 million trips for the first time. Looking at the rail numbers we’re still seeing fantastic results but the percentage increases are slowly starting to reduce, guess we can’t grow at 20%+ per annum for ever. The next boost is likely to come from the roll out of the new network.
  • Buses have been struggling lately despite some key routes such as the busway growing impressively. This month we’re still seeing that overall trend with this month the busway looking even more impressive after posting a 34.6% increase in August. On a 12m rolling basis, Busway usage could soon exceed usage on the Eastern Line. In fact, patronage growth has been so strong that AT say Ritchies will increase the number of double deckers on Northern Express services in October from 16 to 29 and there will only be two non-double decker buses used (all off peak services will be double deckers too). Other routes that have had double decker love are also said to be posting some good growth. But with stagnant patronage on buses overall, it means those routes seeing crazy growth are offsetting declines elsewhere and the two areas experiencing this the most are the south and the west. More on this later in the post.
  • Ferries have continued to show relatively good and consistent growth over the last 18 months or so.


As part of some travel planning, AT conducted a survey of employees in a number of large office buildings in the CBD on how they travelled to work. From over 10k responses an impressive 51% said public transport.



In some analysis of bus patronage performance, AT have broken the results down by area and eventually route. As you can see from the last image, many of the routes in the south have been on a bit of downward trajectory. Hopefully the New Network launching at the end of next month will help address this.


Looking at some other results, farebox recovery was expected to take a bit of a hit, and it has, but not by too much. We really need to wait to see a few months with integrated fares to see just what impact it has but a promising start at least. Related to integrated fares, AT say 84% of all PT trips were taken by using a HOP card.