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Modacity’s Arlington Passages

Some beautiful videos from our friends Chris and Melissa Bruntlett at Modacity Life have made for Arlington, Virginia.

In the Spring of 2015, the Modacity team was invited to Arlington, VA, for a very special project. Working closely with BikeArlington, a division of the county’s transportation department, we had the privilege of following six Arlingtonians around for the day by bicycle. Each of the individuals and families profiled have unique stories, but one thing connects them – the humble bicycle. Edgar uses his past experiences as an immigrant to help those new to the country, while also understanding the importance of passing on his knowledge to his own daughter. Natalie has combined her passion for sustainable change with her business knowledge to become a successful bicycle real estate agent. Grant and Gillian break convention not only with family roles but also by living car-lite. Annie, as a way to adjust to relocation and change, uses dance to connect to the audience and the people around her. Nonie is a new empty-nester rediscovering her adventurous spirit with her sister by her side. And finally, Chris and Rachael use bicycles as a way to not only overcome Rachael’s Leukaemia but also to strengthen their father-daughter bond. It was an honour to be able to share each of their stories and showcase what it is that makes Arlington a beautiful place to live and ride.


The Volkswagen saga

One of the biggest news stories this last fortnight has been the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal. In a “wildly illegal” strategy spanning many years, Volkswagen deliberately ‘cheated’ on emissions tests of its diesel vehicles, with software which could identify when the car was undergoing a test, and activate emissions controls only during those times. 11 million vehicles were affected, across a number of brands (including Audi and Skoda). The fallout has included the CEO resigning, a 30% drop in share price, and huge cost to the company (they’ve set aside €6.5 billion for starters).

The “emissions” at issue were nitrogen oxides, which are local air pollutants, contributing to smog and respiratory diseases. I don’t think they’re considered greenhouse gas emissions (correct me if I’m wrong) – nitrous oxide certainly is, but it’s not emitted by diesels.

Diesel cars have been popular in Europe (more than 50% of the car fleet in some countries) because they create less greenhouse gas emissions than petrol cars. They use 30% less fuel, but diesel has about 10% more energy, so on the whole they’re 20% more efficient. The downside is that they tend to produce more pollution – nitrous oxides, microscopic solid particles and the like. “Clean diesel” cars supposedly have plenty of hardware and software in place to help reduce their polluting.

These pollutants are supposed to be tightly regulated, since they can have such a big impact on air quality in cities. But that’s not much help if manufacturers figure out ways to beat the system.

And whether or not it’s being done deliberately, many cars from other manufacturers don’t meet the standards when they hit the roads either:

Road tests of more than a dozen popular models from several manufacturers showed that the raw nitrogen oxide emissions from the cars were on average seven times European standards, according to a little-noticed October report from the same outfit that flagged the VW problems.

Indeed, experts said it could very well be that the high levels of real-world emissions reflected in the ICCT report show not that firms are cheating, but only that it’s all too easy to design a car that passes governmental lab tests for emissions. Once outside the lab, those cars fail in real-world conditions.

Nick Molden, chief executive of Emissions Analytics, a British firm, said that in recent years, Europe had put in place two new standards for tailpipe emissions, each one stricter than before.

“But there was no improvement in air quality,” Molden said. “That was the alarm bell. These results suddenly explained why every major European city has an air quality problem.”

The problem, he said, is that the governmental certification test in Europe “is so gentle. It’s 20 minutes in a lab.”

It’s hard to replicate real-world conditions in a lab, and it’s no surprise that when manufacturers know how they’re going to be tested, they design cars that are designed with those tests in mind – with less consideration to what happens on the road.

Plus, the gap between theoretical performance and on-road performance is an issue for greenhouse gases as well. I wrote a post last year based on a Ministry of Transport presentation:

Vehicle fleet and population

“Essentially, vehicles have always tended to use more fuel on the road than they do when they’re being tested. But the performance gap has gotten larger [for Japan and a number of European countries]. Car manufacturers are becoming very adept at designing cars to do well in the tests, but not on the road”.

As an aside, NZ has a much higher proportion of diesels in the fleet than the US, but we’re much lower than Europe. 8.3% of our ‘light passenger vehicles’ (i.e. cars) and 68.4% of ‘light commercial vehicles’ (i.e. goods vans and small trucks) are diesels. Looking at the number of diesel vehicles which have entered our fleet in the last few years, I would have guessed that there are probably thousands of VW-made vehicles in New Zealand which are affected, but the head of Volkswagen New Zealand has said ‘hundreds’ and plans to give more info this week, so he will probably provide a more precise figure.

Grey Lynn bus stop madness

Madness has set in over changes a bus stops in Grey Lynn

Public transport upgrades in Auckland’s Grey Lynn have residents and business owners worried.

Auckland Transport is planning to upgrade the bus stops at the Surrey Cres shops to make them more accessible for public transport users.

However members of the community are concerned about the village becoming a bus hub.

Business owners and residents Darryl Ojala and Soala Wilson say the new stops will have a negative effect on the town centre.

Both are campaigning to move the bus platforms out of the village.

The proposed upgrades will see the extension of the stops outside 586 and 531 Great North Rd, which would provide space for two bus routes.

At the public meeting in April 2015 business owners voiced their concerns, which included the loss of parking for their customers.

However AT spokesman Mark Hannan says the new bus stops will have greater benefits for the village and points to the “public transport strategy of having public transport to places where people do business”.

Hannan says three car parks will be lost as part of the redesign.

Ojala and Wilson formed a working group with other business owners and residents. They have drawn up alternate options for AT which would see the platforms moved 35 metres out of the village towards the Surrey Hotel.

“We are definitely not anti-buses and we encourage people to use buses but we want our area to be kept as a village,” Wilson says.

Yes they definitely are anti-bus as moving the bus stops out away from the shops has about as idiotic as it gets. For more there’s also this column in the Ponsonby News on page 22. The whole thing seems ridiculous so here’s a bit more information about what’s going on.

The whole thing began in February when AT originally proposed making changes. They want to improve safety particularly at the intersection with Surrey Cres and want to cater for a greater number of buses that are expected to use the route in the future. AT say that a minimum of 8 services per hour per direction will travel along Gt North Rd and pass through Grey Lynn. They also need to move the bus stop that’s outside 134 Williamson Ave as that’s the location of a new fire station.

To improve safety they want to add a new pedestrian crossing across Gt North Rd and for buses they proposed to extend the existing main bus stops, close one outbound stop and move the 134 Williamson Ave stop closer to the town centre. All of this would have resulted in the removal of 12 car parks.

Grey Lynn Bus Changes original proposal

It’s the removal of those carparks that first got some in the community upset and making comments such as none of their customers use buses. Some even said they want more vehicle lanes and traffic sped up.

In terms of bus usage HOP data show that over a six month period which includes the slow Christmas and New Year period over 7,000 people boarded at the city bound stop.

Grey Lynn Bus Changes Bus stop usage

Following the initial feedback Auckland Transport have even taken the step of conducting a parking survey and pedestrian intercept survey – which asks pedestrians how they got to the area. The results are quite interesting.

Pedestrian Survey

For the pedestrian survey they had over 1,000 responses over four different days including weekdays and weekend days. They found that despite the retailer’s claims, over 50% of people in Grey Lynn got there not by driving. This is similar to many other studies which have confirmed that often retailers have no clue about just how their customers arrive.

Grey Lynn Bus Changes Ped Survey - arrive

The report also states:

It is worth noting that on Saturday a surveyor overhead a retailer encouraging respondents to complete the survey and state that they travelled to the Grey Lynn town centre by car.

Most who left Grey Lynn did so via the same mode they arrived on with the biggest difference being over 20% who arrived by foot departing on a bus. Given the low car and bus share the results suggest there isn’t that much hide and ride going on.

Grey Lynn Bus Changes Ped Survey - depart 2


When it comes to spending there are some differences with drivers having a slightly share of spending in the higher brackets but not considerably higher.

Grey Lynn Bus Changes Ped Survey - spend

Parking Survey

For the parking occupancy survey they found that the area seems to be and well below parking thresholds.

Grey Lynn Bus Changes Parking Survey 1


So the short outcome of these two bits of research is that parking isn’t an issue and most people to the area don’t drive.

Following all of this AT have come up with a new version of the plan that while largely still the same makes a few minor changes and means that there will only be a net loss of three carparks as mentioned in the article at the start.

As I understand it most retailers and the local board are happy with this outcome however there is a select group who continue to fight it and as mentioned in the article want the existing bus stops pushed out of area. I’m quite not sure where things are at right now but in situations like this at what point to AT keep consulting?

Pukekohe Station upgrade on the way

Auckland Transport have announced that construction will start next year on an upgrade to the Pukekohe Station, turning it into an interchange with the buses that will serve the area.

Pukekohe Interchange Graphic

Construction will begin in the first half of 2016 on the upgrade of Pukekohe Station to a new bus-train interchange.

The project, being delivered in partnership with the NZ Transport Agency, is expected to cost about $13 million.

The upgrade will feature a park and ride for about 80 vehicles, a six-bay bus interchange, cycle parking, a covered walkway and a new canopied pedestrian over-bridge linking buses to trains. Auckland Transport is about to begin work on detailed design.

The new bus-train interchange is at the heart of the new public transport network to be rolled out across Pukekohe and Waiuku by October 2016. New bus services, operating every 30 minutes, seven days a week from 7am to 7pm, will connect to trains at the interchange.

Temporary bus stops will be in place during construction to allow the new network to operate smoothly until the interchange is completed in mid-2017.

The new public transport network is designed to maximise the efficiency of the entire public transport network between buses and trains and provide more frequent journeys to get around south Auckland and the rest of the region.

Franklin Local Board Chair, Andy Baker, welcomes the proposed changes to Pukekohe Station.

“We all know about the pressures of growth in the wider Pukekohe area and the challenges we currently have with our rail based public transport.

“The upgrade of Pukekohe station is incredibly important as we try to make travelling by rail more attractive to people and this is actually something that we can control.

“Creating the ability for people to transfer between buses and trains, together with the improved bus networks in Pukekohe will hopefully reduce the need for people to park their cars in and around the station.

“Similarly, we want to really promote the use of bicycles to get to and from the station, especially with Pukekohe being a relatively flat and easy place to bike around. I am keen to see additional things like a coffee cart or café at the station and a reflection of our history there as well.”

Councillor Bill Cashmore says it’s great that improvements are on the way for Pukekohe commuters.

“It’s a huge growth area and I’m pleased to see we are finally getting a transport interchange that will be able to cope with the increased demand.”

Auckland Transport Project Director, Nick Seymour, says the new interchange will make it easy to use the new bus services being introduced with the new Pukekohe public transport network.

“Pukekohe Station will be at the heart of the area’s new public transport network, so one of our priorities is to provide a modern and accessible interchange that connects commuters both locally and to the wider region.”

Key features are likely to include: 

  • A six-bay bus interchange
  • A covered walkway between the new bus stops and station over-bridge
  • A new canopied pedestrian over-bridge, linking the buses with the rail platform and Station Road with stairs and lifts thereby making it more accessible
  • A park and ride facility for approximately 80 vehicles
  • Cycle parking facilities
  • Plans to provide public toilets within the interchange area
  • Improved pathways leading to the interchange
  • Improvements to the Manukau Road and Custom Street and Harris Street intersections to aid bus movements.

A public information day has been organised on 14 October 2015 at Pukekohe Station from 5 to 7 pm for members of the public to speak with the project team and get their questions answered.

Auckland Transport will also be engaging with mana whenua, Franklin Historical Society and the Franklin Local Board to identify possible opportunities to incorporate cultural and historical connections into the design.

Here is the confirmed bus routes that will serve the Pukekohe area

New Network Pukekohe Post Consultation Map

Now if we could also get some wires strung up between Puke and Papakura along with some additional trains to run on the tracks that would make things even better.

Auckland Road Performance

Every month we report on what’s happening with public transport patronage however Auckland Transport also report on many other metrics too such as how roads are performing. In this post I’ll look at some of those other metrics.

Instead of just measuring traffic volumes, AT use a measurement called Arterial Road Productivity which is a based on how many vehicles, how fast they’re travelling and how many people they have in them. To me this seems like a very bad metric primary because it only seems to count people in vehicles. It could also be interpreted as encouraging bigger and faster roads as a way of improving the metric which goes against many of the city’s wider goals. In saying that another way to improve the result could be improving vehicle occupancy so therefore bus lanes which speed up buses carrying more people will improve productivity. Regardless it seems that AT is performing quite well and is above target.

The second metric is AM Peak Arterial Road Level of Service and as you can see even then around 80% of arterials aren’t considered congested.

Aug-15 Road Productivity

The next set of charts look at how a number of key freight routes are performing. For each of these routes AT have a target for how long it should take to travel. As you can see for almost all of the routes the target has been at least met and some such as on Kaka St/James Fletcher Dr/Favona Rd/Walmsley Rd the target has been significantly exceeded. If the results here are indicative of other parts of the road network then they certainly don’t support calls from the freight industry for significant projects such as the East-West link.

Aug-15 Freight Routes 1

Aug-15 Freight Routes 2

Aug-15 Freight Routes 3

Parking obviously plays a big role in transport and AT measure occupancy rates for both on street and off street carparks. On street parks are only measured quarterly and the result is based on top four busiest hours of the day at each of the three sites around the city centre. The last survey occurred in August and as you can see at the upper level of AT’s target. This suggests there’s possibly room to increase prices to better manage demand.

Occupancy at AT’s off street carparks have dropped quite a bit recently which is almost certainly attributed to the change in parking prices at the beginning of August.

Aug-15 Parking Occupancy

One area that isn’t looking great is road safety with the number of deaths and injuries 6% above target.

Aug-15 Road deaths and injuries

While AT don’t publish monthly traffic volumes, the NZTA does for some selected state highways. The one we look at closest is the Harbour Bridge which is currently experiencing a growth rate of around 1% p.a. Compared to the other state highways that the NZTA publish this appears incredibly low as most are experiencing growth of around 5% annually – although off a lower base.Aug-15 AHB Traffic Volumes

Overall – with the exception of road safety – it seems that our local roads are not performing too badly.

A debate over discount rates

Transport evaluation, and urban policy in general, invariably requires us to make trade-offs between the present and the future. When we invest in the built environment – roads, rails, buildings, etc – we are expending today’s resources on projects that will primarily benefit people in the future. Conversely, decisions we make about resource use today – e.g. how much greenhouse gas to emit – will impose increasing costs on future generations.

Individuals also make decisions that involve trade-offs between the present and the future. For example, most home-buyers take out a mortgage, which allows them to spread the payments over a long period of time in exchange for paying a bit more in interest charges. For the borrower and for the bank, the interest rate paid on the debt reflects the trade-off between repaying the debt today or repaying next year.

Of course, there are also other ways that individuals make trade-offs between the present and the future. They may, for example, spend money on their children’s education, even though the “returns” from doing so are long-term and indirect. Or they may vote for policies that cost them money now but return long-term benefits, such as environmental protection or pre-funding of superannuation.

The trade-offs that governments make between present and future are codified as discount rates, which describe how much of a “discount” we place on future outcomes relative to present outcomes. For example, a discount rate of 10% means that the government would value a benefit of $100 in a year’s time as being equal to a benefit of $90 today.

Transportblog’s previously taken a look at the discount rate issue here, here, and here. But others are also engaged with the issue. Back in August, University of Michigan economics professor Miles Kimball, who had been visiting the Treasury, strongly criticised its approach to discount rates. The key point in his critique is that the Treasury’s discount rates don’t accurately reflect the financial market returns currently available to the government:

There is an extremely strong argument against using an 8% real discount rate in evaluating government projects. I think the argument below can be sharpened to become institutionally relevant.

Basically, an 8% real discount rate makes no sense to use unless the New Zealand government is actually getting an 8% real return on funds that it saves. It is not enough for someone to claim that the New Zealand government theoretically could get an 8% real return on funds it saves when that is not true or is only theoretical because the New Zealand government would never actually do that with funds saved by not doing a project.


Just to be clear, my view is that (a) all projects that are better than putting the money in the Superfund should be done, and (b) if someone claims that a project is worse than putting money in the Superfund, then money should be put in the Superfund instead, and (c) if a project looks better than paying off some of the debt by buying bonds–or, almost equivalently, good enough that borrowing at the bond rate to do it looks like a positive present value–it should also be undertaken UNLESS the government is willing to issue additional bonds to put more money in the Superfund invested in risky assets.

I’ve skimmed over a lot of the substance of Kimball’s argument, which I encourage you to read. (Warning: it’s wonky.) After Kimball’s blog post, former RBNZ economist Michael Reddell wrote a blog post defending the Treasury’s policy. Reddell’s counter-argument is that financial returns to government is the wrong measure of the time value of money:

I was struck reading Kimball’s material that the cost of the government’s equity did not get a mention. There was a strong tendency to treat the government as an autonomous agent (like a household) managing its own wealth, whose low borrowing costs depends only on the innate qualities of the government and its decision-makers. But that is simply wrong. A government’s financial strength – and ability to borrow at or near a conceptual “risk-free” interest rate – rests on the ability and willingness of the government to raise taxes (or cut spending) as required to meet the debt commitments. That ability to tax is implicit equity, and it has a cost (an opportunity cost) that is considerably higher, in most cases, than 2.5 per cent real.  So long as the government will raise taxes as required, the bondholder bears none of the downside if a project goes wrong. But shareholders – citizens – do.  Bearing that risk has a cost, and that cost needs to be taken into account by government decision-makers.

There is a related argument sometimes heard that governments should do infrastructure projects rather than private firms simply because the government’s borrowing costs are typically lower than those of a private firm. But, again, that rests on the power to tax, and the ability to force citizens/residents to pay additional taxes has a cost from their perspective (even if the government never chooses to exercise the option).   As citizens, the possibility that the government will raise taxes (or cut other spending programmes – eg NZS) impinges on our own ability and willingness to take risks, and hence to consume or invest in other areas.   That often won’t be a small cost. The opportunity cost of the government not undertaking a project is not what, say. the NZSF might be able to earn on the funds, but what citizens themselves might prefer to do if that risk-bearing capacity was freed up.

Again, I’ve skimmed over Reddell’s argument, so I’d encourage you to read it in full if you’re interested. He throws in a brief jab at road projects with low BCRs:

We have too little disciplined analysis of the costs and benefits of most government projects, and too little willingness to allow decisions to be guided by the results of the analysis when it is undertaken (did I hear the words “Transmission Gully”?).

I can see some truth in both sides of the debate. Kimball’s got a good point, which is that current government borrowing costs (and financial market returns in general) are at historic lows, which should lead to lower government discount rates. But Reddell’s also correct that it’s appropriate to set discount rates based on wider social decisions about consumption and investment.

One issue that neither of the two grappled with in detail was the question of how risky government investments actually are. Kimball touched on that briefly, arguing – essentially – that the benefits of projects will inevitably rise in the future due to people’s greater willingness to pay for public goods in the future:

A good method of risk adjustment for projects is to think seriously of the real dollar value they will have dependent on the level of real consumption in the economy. One virtue of thinking about the adjustment this way is also that it provides a reminder that the dollar value of the flow of benefits from many projects will tend to increase in the future simply because trend increases in per capita income will raise the willingness to pay for those benefits.

Frankly, I don’t think this is correct. Changes in technology, changes in prices, and changes in preferences mean that infrastructure that’s useful today can easily become a stranded asset tomorrow. Look at Los Angeles: in the 1950s it was rushing to rip up its rail lines, and now it’s rushing to build a new rapid transit network. Or look at San Francisco: several of the elevated expressways it built in the 1960s have been torn down.

In short, things change. Sometimes they change quite radically. When the Ministry of Transport looked at future transport demand last year, they found that they couldn’t settle on a single forecast for future transport demand. Instead, they arrived at four scenarios, three of which entailed a decline in vehicle travel:


In other words, there can be considerable uncertainty in returns from transport investments. While it might not necessarily be appropriate to try to account for this in discount rates, it’s surely an important consideration for project evaluation more generally.

What do you think about discount rates?

Should we have a Hobson St Flyover Cycleway?

A quick reminder that this is the last day to submit on the Nelson St cycleway. I’ve written about the issues with Auckland Transports proposals here and here. I’ve suggested that one option would be to keep the cycleway on the western side and to use Market St as a way to access the Waterfront and beyond. A few others have also suggested using the oversized Hobson St viaduct and reader Jonty has created some images of what that could look like. Here’s his view.

As a cyclist and city dweller who this cycle lane affects directly, I’m concerned about the plans for the connection between Nelson St and Quay St.

As you already know, Sturdee St is heavily used by cars, buses and heavy trucks. Putting crossings all over it is not only going to slow cyclists down while they wait for the green bike, but it will slow down this major road as well.

Sturdee St

Market St as an alternative would require changes to nose-in parking to become parallel to make more space, to the detriment of The Parc residents’ parking spaces.

Market St

If Market St was used, the Viaduct area in front of the bars and restaurants wouldn’t be a good option for cyclists as they would constantly be running into pedestrians (although some cruisers might like to go that way). Customs St West is earmarked for trams, so there may not be room for cycle lanes here (possibly why you suggested the Viaduct option?).

Customs St West

This fugly thing should be removed. It takes up heaps of space and turns the whole area into a horrible dodgy carpark waste of space. If the flyover was removed it could be a nice, open-air place for all the modes to get though. However that means redirecting all traffic that goes up it to somewhere else.

Lower Hobson St

Those massive support poles are wide enough for a cycle lane on their own. But let’s assume for now that the council doesn’t want to go ahead with this plan yet, although they have talked about removing it previously. Maybe it is in their long-term plan. So what about now, how should the Nelson St cycle way connect to Quay St?

Hobson St viaduct

What about this option? Take one lane away from the flyover and turn it into a cycle lane.

Cars coming off Princes Wharf would only get one lane to go straight. The other one would need to be a left turn only lane. Cars coming from Quay St still have their normal 2 lanes to go up the flyover. Their 3rd lane, the slip lane, can stay and the pedestrians can manoeuvre around the air-bridge poles like normal. No expensive changes. Just paint and some concrete separator things. Cyclists would need to have their own crossing lights for the intersection, like at the Beach Road diagonal, but this would be the only lights needed that AT haven’t already budgeted for.

Hobson St Viaduct Cycleway 1

The cycle lane would continue up the flyover on the right hand side, separated from the 2 road lanes with a raised thing like on Nelson St. By the way, I’ve made these cycle lanes classic green, I’m not sure about the pink yet.

Hobson St Viaduct Cycleway 2

At the top of the flyover the cycle lane would turn free right onto the footpath that is currently there and extremely under-used. Most pedestrians walk along Sturdee St where the many buses drop them off/pick them up, or they walk along the Southern side of Fanshawe St where there is a nice new wide footpath.

Cars coming off the flyover still have 3 lanes as it widens at the top. Currently they have 4 lanes but this is overkill, as there are only 2 options from this intersection; turn right or go straight. So with 3 lanes the left lane goes straight, the middle lane can go either way, and the right lane turns right.

Hobson St Viaduct Cycleway 4

At the end of this cycle lane it would join up to Nelson St and there are no carparks lost, no extra intersections to encounter and no extra crossings in front of buses, trucks, etc.

Hobson St Viaduct Cycleway 3

These are great images from Jonty and really highlight an opportunity that AT seem to be missing. Given the dual needs to connect Wynyard and Quay St I think both this and better connections to Market Place are needed.

What do you think and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to submit as it closes at 5pm today.

The Future Design of Albert Street

Albert Street is going to be a mess for a few years while the City Rail Link is constructed and a report to the councils Auckland City Centre Advisory Board highlights that we can expect it to be reinstated looking better than it does now. The section involved is only that affected by the enabling works which is everything north of Wyndham St. They say there has been over 12 months of design and consultation to come up with the current plans which will create “a high-quality urban street which functions as a key bus corridor while providing improved pedestrian access and amenity“.

The history so far:

  • July 2014 – brief completed
  • August 2015 – consultant team engaged – ACADO
  • March 2015 – concept/reference design completed
  • April 2015 – brief updated to support findings from reference design work
  • May 2015 – consultant team engaged – Boffa/BECA
  • July 2015 – draft developed design completed for review and further feedback
  • August 2015-September 2015 – final amendments made, final option prepared for sign off
  • September 2015-October 2015 – Albert Street detail design/tender drawings

The developed design is below, if differs slightly from the reference design we saw in April with the biggest change seeming to be the lane layout of the downtown development – although there may be other changes that can’t be seen due to the low res image.

Lower Queen St and Albert St public realm Sep 15

Below are the key design outcomes that AT have come up with.

Albert St Key Design Outcomes

Most of this is good although a couple of potential concerns stand out. One being the last point that the section of Albert St between Customs and Quay Street will be bus only except for local traffic. That combined with some of the images below suggests that there will be access to underground parking in the middle of the bus interchange.

The other main concern is that there will be no segregated cycle provision. The street on these sections is very wide and my personal observations is that a lot of cyclists use Albert St to get up from Quay St up to the middle of town. It seems that having a cycle facility at least on the uphill section would be useful. It seems based on the latest image from AT on their planned city centre cycle map that they instead want cyclists to use Federal St which long term will be a shared space.

Below are some images of what’s proposed.

On the Wyndham to Swanson section the biggest difference is the wider footpaths. Currently there is space southbound for the bus stops and a separate bus lane however now it seems that will be combined in one lane. Similarly there is currently a separate right turn lane Northbound into Swanson St which will in future be combined with the general traffic lane.

Albert St Design - Wyndham to Swanson

On the Swanson to Customs Section there are a couple of notable differences to what exists now. The wider footpaths take over the parking/loading zone space outside Quay West building and the northbound bus stops are concentrated opposite this rather than split between that location and just south of Wolfe St


Albert St Design - Swanson to Customs

And here is an image of what it would look like – although it seems the traffic are on the wrong sides of the road.

Albert St Design - Swanson to Customs - graphic

And a prettier version from April.

Albert St post CRL

The section between Customs and Quay St where the bus interchange will be. As mentioned earlier you can see there appears to be an entrance to an underground carpark on the eastern side – where one exists now – although it appears not one further north to the HSBC building carpark. Perhaps this suggests the HSBC carpark with views overlooking the harbour will be redeveloped as part of the mall redevelopment.


Albert St Design - Customs to Quay

Albert St Design - Customs to Quay - 1


Albert St Design - Customs to Quay - 2They say the next steps are:

  • Tidy up plans, create supporting illustrations for communications. – September, October 2015
  • Get formal agreements for funding from relevant and various sources – October, November 2015
  • Complete and agree canopies to lower Albert (Downtown development surrounds) working with Precinct, AT, AC, ACPL combined. September, October 2015
  • Present design to relevant PCG’s, Committees, Boards for information. September, October 2015
  • Complete detail drawing as part of tender document for C2 contract. September, October 2015

It’s good to see some progress and the report notes that the advisory board have previously endorsed in principle the allocation of about $7 million from the City Centre Targeted Rate to go towards the street improvements.

Lastly it might be a while before they start focusing on it but I’m really interested to see how they’ll deal with the two sections south of Wyndham St which have service lanes narrowing the road space available.

Sunday reading 4 October 2015

Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Mikael Colville-Andersen, “Paris’ Day Sans Cars Shows Us What Our Cities Can Be“, WIRED.

Everyone wandering around the streets of Paris yesterday enjoyed it. There were people thinking, “Amazing! If only this was every day!” and others thinking, “Amazing! But as long as it’s just one day”. But the enthusiasm was unanimous.

Paris has been busy transforming itself for over a decade. I lived there in the late 1990s and I hardly recognize it today. It’s fantastic. Hidalgo’s predecessor, Bertrand Delanoë (2002-2014), started the shift. He introduced one of the world’s largest bike share systems. He removed an expressway along the River Seine and started the process to calm traffic in much of the city. By 2020, 55 percent of Paris will be a 30 km/h zone (20 mph) for cars. Paris is setting the standard for big cities around the world.


#Popenstreets image via Victoria @108_Victoria_St

Inga Saffron, “Papal Weekend: Closing the streets opened up the town“, Meanwhile in Philadelphia, security related to the Pope’s visit created a de facto Open Streets event across a wide area of the city complete with a clever hastag: #Popenstreets.

When Pope Francis spoke about joy this weekend, he probably wasn’t thinking about the ecstasy that comes from being able to stroll down the center of Walnut Street without a car at your back. Or the rapture of skateboarding the wrong way on Pine Street. Or the bliss of biking 20 abreast on Broad Street. Or the pure, giddy fun of playing touch football in front of the Convention Center on Arch Street.

The unprecedented shutdown of the five-square-mile heart of Philadelphia was driven by the need for security (or rather, the perceived need for security), but it inadvertently created the kind of car-free city that urbanists dare imagine only in their wildest dreams. The virtual absence of vehicles in the sprawling secure zone, from Girard to Lombard, was a revelation. Instead of locking us in, it turned out that the much-maligned traffic box liberated us from the long tyranny of the car.

David Roberts, “The transformative potential of self-driving electric cars“, Vox. Here’s a fascinating look at how driverless cars could transform our cities. From removing the need for parking to “right-sizing” city streets, this article describes some intriguing possibilities.

ICE vehicles are designed for peak use — driving long distances at high speeds. And because all ICE vehicles are overengineered, they’re also big and heavy, which means they must be highly up-armored against collisions from other big, heavy, fast-moving vehicles. All that armor makes them even bigger and heavier. And so on.

Basically, we’re all driving around in quasi-military vehicles, designed to go 100 miles an hour for 300 miles. Yet most of the time, we drive to work and the grocery store, slowly, in traffic. Actually, scratch that: About 95 percent of the time, we aren’t driving at all; we leave our cars and trucks sitting, parked.

Peter Norton, “Autonomous Vehicles: A Powerful Tool if You Can Get the Problem Right (PDF)”, Robohub. Technology historian and author of Fighting Traffic Peter Norton compares the accelerating driverless car technology to the previous (and ongoing) transport revolution – the interstate highway system.

The destruction of American cities to accommodate automobiles, the urban sprawl surrounding these cities, and the loss of alternatives to driving were not the wrong solution. They were the right solution to the wrong problem. Autonomous vehicles can treat these symptoms or exacerbate them, depending upon how we formulate the problem.

In autonomous vehicles and other intelligent transportation systems, we may have a solution so powerful that we fail to pause and ask what problem such systems are best suited to solving. We may fail to ask whether the problem formulation we inherited is the right one. We may justify an emphasis on autonomous cars out of a misreading of history that tells us that we must begin with the assumption that Americans prefer to drive. Above all the neglect of history — or what is much the same, the uncritical acceptance of agenda-driven histories others have packaged for us– may deprive us of hard-earned experience. Experience is the parent of judgment. How strange, then, that so often we find innovators contending that innovation negates the validity of experience: “this changes everything.” Our solutions may be new but the problems of society–the problems of living well together–ultimately are not. The problem formulations we inherit are the products of history. Born in the 1930s, accelerating to a crescendo in 1956, and persisting ever since, the dominant American surface transportation problem has in effect been:
How can motorists be permitted to drive wherever and whenever they want, and to park at their destinations, with minimal delay and with reasonable safety?

In rural America this problem formulation was not unreasonable. In cities, however, it began as a revolution against older formulations that were antagonistic to automobiles.
Because the private motor vehicle’s spatial demands made it incompatible with density, the new formulation had profound implications for cities.

Adrienne LaFrance. “Self-Driving Cars Could Save 300,000 Lives Per Decade in the U.S.”  Automation on the roads could be the great public-health achievement of the 21st century, CITYLAB.

If driverless cars deliver on their promise to eliminate the vast majority of fatal traffic accidents, the technology will rank among the most transformative public-health initiatives in human history. But how many lives, realistically, will be saved?


Researchers estimate that driverless cars could, by midcentury, reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 percent. Which means that, using the number of fatalities in 2013 as a baseline, self-driving cars could save 29,447 lives a year. In the United States alone, that’s nearly 300,000 fatalities prevented over the course of a decade, and 1.5 million lives saved in a half-century. For context: Anti-smoking efforts saved 8 million lives in the United States over a 50-year period.

Mat Honan, “Google’s Cute Cars And The Ugly End Of Driving“, Buzzfeed. Technology writer Mat Honan calls the technology inevitable and describes the ride experience as something from an amusement park.

New technology comes at us so quickly now, and with so much hype that it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s real and truly transformative. (Consider Google Glass or the Segway.) So this is what you should know about the technology behind self-driving, fully autonomous vehicles: It’s real. It’s transformative. It’s coming.

A future without human drivers is a long, long way off. But we’ll get there. No matter what you think. No matter what you hope. No matter how you feel about it. Because the efficient, unemotional, necessary logic of cars that operate without human error and instability is unquestionable.

But when a little self-driving car does, at last, pull up at your door, whether it’s a Google car or an Uber car or an Apple car or a Ford, hopefully we’ll have asked the right questions of it before it gets there. Hopefully we’ll have properly interrogated it.

Angie Schmitt, “What If Traffic Engineers Were Held to Safety Standards Like Carmakers”?, StreetsblogUSA.

What’s interesting, from a safety perspective that encompasses streets as well as vehicles, is that the auto companies are held to account for dangerous conditions to a much greater degree than the engineers who design our streets.

After all, about 33,000 people are killed on American streets annually — a much higher rate than most of our peer countries — and street design is a major factor. But the designers of streets are rarely, if ever, sued when someone is killed because of dangerous, high-speed conditions.


via Persuasive Maps, Cornell University

Andy Fyers, “Who fares the best on public transport costs?“, Stuff. Interesting comparison of PT fares across the country based partly on Peter’s blog post a few weeks back.

Public transport fares in Wellington have increased rapidly in the past decade, but how do they compare to the cost of public transport in other New Zealand cities?

They’re too damn high in Wellington according to this follow-up editorial, “Wellington public transport fares jumped too far“.

Sarah Goodyear, “The Grassroots Campaign to Slow Down Traffic in the U.K.“, CITYLAB.

More than 15 million people in the United Kingdom are now living in communities where the speed limit is 20 miles per hour. That’s out of a total population of just about 64 million.

We’re not just talking about quaint country villages here (although some of those have gone for 20 mph limits, too). Those numbers come from the nation’s major cities. Three million people live in 20 mph zones in London alone. Neighborhoods with 20 mph limits are home to tens of thousands more in Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, just to name a few of the places where the lower limit has caught on.


A Matter of Perspective. Lake Michigan unfurled. An interesting exercise that challenges the cardinal directions basis of cartography. Somethingaboutmaps.

Bill English, “Speech on Housing Affordability“, Here’s Bill English in agreement with this Blog and demonstrating a high level of understanding of urban issues.

Recent studies have shown rules setting minimum floor space requirements and minimum balcony requirements add $50,000 to $100,000 to the cost of an apartment. That’s in addition to costs associated with other rules, such as rules setting minimum ceiling heights.

Some progress has been made. A study examining minimum car parking requirements in Auckland showed the costs of that planning rule exceeded benefits by a factor of at least six. That’s a rule that should never have been made. It has probably cost the economy millions of dollars.

Fortunately, now that we’re digging in to these issues, that rule has been mostly scrapped – and credit is due to Auckland Council for doing so.


Some important objectives set by planners simply aren’t being achieved. In Auckland, it can be summed up this way. Fifteen to 20 years ago, the city set an objective to grow up, not out.

It is easy to understand the logic behind this. Auckland wanted to make greater use of existing infrastructure, and get more people living around transport nodes.

This has not happened. Most of the new building in Auckland has been out, not up. As we get more information about what actually happens, often we find planning doesn’t achieve what people think it is achieving.

Planners and councils have a very difficult job in planning our urban areas. Cities are incredibly complex systems. They are the product of millions of individual choices. The idea that a small group of people could understand what choices we’re making is asking too much of them. Not because they are in any way incapable. But because the task is overwhelming.

The Auckland Unitary Plan is 3,000 pages long.It’s trying to regulate everything from the size of bedrooms to biodiversity in the Waitakere Ranges. No one person could possibly understand all the trade-offs in that plan.Which means many of its effects will be certainly be unintended.

Update on new downtown public spaces

As part of the works for the City Rail Link, Queen Elizabeth Square will be completely dug up however as we know it won’t be replaced, instead the square has been sold to Precinct Properties and will be developed. In its place the current road area of Queen St between Customs and Quay Streets – with the exception of a small access to Galway St and from Tyler St – will be created.

Lower Queen St Event Space

The council have also said the proceeds of the sale of QE Square would be used to go towards at least two of three new public spaces proposed along the waterfront and that the spaces should be delivered by 2018. An update to the council’s Auckland City Centre Advisory Board a few weeks ago gives an update on that with some useful information about what we’ll get. The three potential public spaces are

  1. new/improved space west of Queens Wharf on the water’s edge at the foot of Lower Albert Street
  2. improved space around the historic ferry building and at the base of Queens Wharf
  3. new/improved space east of Queens Wharf in the Admiralty Steps area.

Proposed Downtown Public Spaces


Of the spaces the third is tied up in what is currently the operational area for the port so relies on the outcome of study into the ports future. That means the two spaces being focused on are 1 and 2. The report says that within the ferry basin the plan will deliver a total public space of 4,700m² of which 2,100m² will be brand new space. To put that in comparison the area being lost from QE Square is about 1,800m². As you can see that will obviously require some changes to the current ferry piers.

Proposed Downtown Public Spaces - new space

The report highlights a few major issues related to budgets.

  • The council won’t receive the money from Precinct for QE Square till at least February 2018 which is about 6 months later than when they estimate they need to start construction and of course money is needed immediately for design, planning and consenting works.
  • A pre-requisite for the works is the seismic upgrade to the Quay St seawall however that isn’t budgeted to occur till after 2020.
  • It requires redevelopment of the downtown ferry terminal however that isn’t currently budgeted for in the 10 year Long Term Plan.

The minutes aren’t available to confirm what was agreed however the City Centre Integration team were looking for an agreement in principle to use funding from the CBD targeted rate to progress the investigation and design of project.