47: Water in Public Spaces
What if we made more of water in our public spaces?
Sometimes it is the simple things. People flock to water in public spaces. We need more of it in this city. And in more exciting, dramatic and interactive forms.
Auckland’s Transport’s patronage results for September are now out and they show that the city is experiencing spectacular PT growth, growth which is also setting a number of records. The big news was earlier in the week was that when it was announced that over the last year there had been more than 12 million rail trips on the rail network and that for the first time more trips than the rail network in Wellington. As it turns out the 12 million trips milestone has actually occurred some-time in October rather than in September. Here are the highlights according to AT.
At 73.96 million trips to the end of September represents a massive jump in usage compared to last year and even from last month when the total was 73.14 million trips. Importantly it’s not just from the growth of rail but increased bus patronage too that’s causing this surge. The Northern Express along is up 21% on the same month last year. It definitely appears that AT’s major projects such as integrated ticketing and electrification are starting to pay off and with so much positive change to go the tend is only likely to accelerate. One little milestone that did occur is that per capita we crossed 48 trips per person which is the first time that’s happened since 1989.
The rail patronage growth has been stunning for months and is really highlighted on the Onehunga and Manukau lines – the only two running electric trains so far – which respectively saw a 32.6% and a 50.6% increase for the month compared to the same time last year. I’ve personally really been noticing of late that both buses and trains have been getting very full, even if travelling against the peak flow such as from the North Shore to the city in the afternoon suggesting that we’re likely to see this strong patronage growth continue in October and be hopefully beyond.
Crucially the growth of PT is also happening faster than the population growth in Auckland with the latest results showing Auckland increasing at 2.3% per annum. With PT having grown as 7.6% over the last year it shows the growth is coming from many existing Aucklanders.
Moving on to other modes, for Ferries one thing that did catch my attention was this patronage graph. Significantly they have split out ferry patronage by whether the service is subsidised (contracted) or not. As I understand it only the Devonport and Waiheke runs are exempt and the graph shows how significant the patronage from those two locations compared to the rest of the ferry destinations.
Lastly after a few lower months (possibly due to a faulty counter) cycling numbers are up 6.3% on September last year and 11% on a 12m basis (despite what the Monthly Cycle Monitoring Report says). Partly because we’re now in spring but it certainly feels like in seeing a lot more people out and about on bikes, even compared to previous years.
It’s common to hear people say that because roads are paid for by their users (fn 1), we should build more roads. After all, the new roads will fund themselves!
At first glance, this seems convincing. But a closer look reveals that the “new roads pay for themselves” argument is based on a logical fallacy. Basically, the fact that the average road pays for itself does not mean that the next road will also pay for itself. In fact, there’s a large amount of recent evidence from the transport market that the next, or “marginal”, road will cost taxpayers more than it brings in revenue.
Economists understand the importance of marginal analysis when making decisions about what to build and how to charge for it. Businesses typically make pricing and production decisions “on the margin”. In other words, they look around for the next potential customer and ask: “Can I produce one additional unit and sell it to that person for a profit?” If the answer is yes, they produce it; if it’s no, they don’t as it would reduce their overall profits.
So what is the market telling us about demand for new roads? As always, it’s best to go and look at the empirical evidence. Over the last decade or two, there have been a number of efforts to get users to pay for new roads. Australia, the US, New Zealand, and a variety of other places have built toll roads – sometimes privately financed, sometimes publicly financed. In most cases, revenues from users were expected to pay the cost of the roads.
These costly investments have almost all failed. Toll roads have suffered from low traffic and low toll revenue. They have often required expensive taxpayer-funded bailouts. It looks as though people are not willing to pay for the marginal road.
In Australia none of the toll roads built after 2000 have been profitable:
The failures include the A$1bn Sydney Cross City Tunnel, which has seen traffic volumes less than half of forecasts, and the Brisbane Clem 7 and Airport Link tunnels, where traffic volumes have fallen short of forecasts by over 75%.
In the US, an academic paper reviewing toll roads financed by Australia’s Macquarie Bank found that:
In New Zealand, private finance has been slower off the mark, but there have been a couple of experiments with toll roads. In Tauranga, the Route K toll-road has been a financial millstone for the council since its opening in 2003. This year, NZTA agreed to pay off its remaining debt at public expense:
This is a clear market signal about the financial viability of new roads. It should not be surprising. After a half-century of road-building, Australia, the US, and New Zealand have extensive and mature road networks. There are seldom opportunities to dramatically improve the network by building another road. (Which is not to say that there are no opportunities to do so – it’s just that they’re bloody hard to find!)
In this context, it makes more sense to invest the marginal transport dollar in providing better transport choices. After half a century of underinvestment in public transport and walking and cycling facilities, there’s a lot of latent demand. As a result, every time Auckland has built a new piece of public transport infrastructure this century, demand has outstripped projections. Here, for example, is a graph from a few years ago that shows that Britomart met its 2021 patronage targets more than a decade early.
In other words, people aren’t willing to pay for new roads, but they are queuing up to get on the bus or train. Transport policy should recognise these market signals and invest in choice.
Footnote 1: This is factually incorrect. Since 2004, the National Land Transport Fund, which consists of fuel taxes, road user charges, and vehicle license fees, has paid 100% of the cost state highways. However, it only pays 50% of the cost of local roads, which account for the majority of vehicle kilometres travelled. The remaining 50% are paid for by local council rates.
46: On the Way or Already There?
What if we dropped the pseudo-word “roading” from Auckland’s vernacular?
Roads are on the way somewhere; streets are already somewhere.
This simple difference in understanding and perspective between movement and place often results in very different outcomes when it comes to transportation, public realm and place-making.
In Auckland we have done a lot of the former. In fact the (non)term “roading” seems to be a bit of an NZ-special; it isn’t really a word and isn’t used as such in other countries. Which says a lot. Wouldn’t it be good if we could recognise the value of place more, and thereby have a more sophisticated conversation about the need to balance movement with place?
In the recent article The Conservative Case Against the Suburbs Charles Marohn (@StrongTowns) takes on the awkward relationship between conservative Americans and cities. He questions why conservatives not only perpetuate myths around the suburban experiment but also cede urban issues to the left. Like Peter’s post on Monday this The American Conservative piece is a response to geographer Joel Kotkin’s love letter to the suburbs in Why Suburbia Irks Some Conservatives.
Marohn cites the federal largess of central government programs- the FHA, Fannie and Freddie and the interstate highway system – all of which have underwritten and subsidised the smudging of cities over the landscape.
He also questions why conservatives tend to entrench the notion of an urban left and a rural right when cities could benefit from a closer look at inefficient market distortions.
Strongtowns has been covering a wide range of transport and urban issues over the last several years including some highly critical pieces on the traffic engineering profession, transportation economics, and street design. During that time I never considered their work to be following a particular left/right political paradigm.
I’ve written a few things inspired by the Strongtowns aproach. Below is a diagram calculating the property value of various land development types (land value+capital value)/area. Note how poorly suburban/horizontal/car-based typologies perform compared to traditional land developments (see for example the Onehunga Mall property). This is how the ponzi scheme of suburban car-oriented development pencils out. Atlantic Cities wrote a great piece calling this “the simple math that can save cities from bankruptcy” which describes the thought process:
In a country where many people derive income come from land productivity, it seems that this approach would resonate. But maybe not. One example is Westfield (malls) pleading in the Unitary Plan hearings to maintain minimum parking regulations.
Such regulation, requiring spatially inefficient development, ensures that the return on public investment – roads, pipes, footpaths – remains very low.
Here’s another example. This 3D graphic illustrates property values (land value+capital value/area) not height. The new, modest, 4-story apartment block (Ockham Building) has 13 times the property value as it’s neighbours (mostly one-story stand alone homes). This property value also translates to rates which for the most part fund ongoing road maintenance but also city services like community pools, libraries and berm mowing.
This above image was cross posted to Facebook and someone (I assume) with a “conservative” disposition said:
Lets take this comment at face value. Here is a project that has few car parks, is located on a frequent bus line, next to rail station, and within cycling (if not walking distance) from the largest concentration of jobs in the city. This part of town has a very active mode share and the shortest journeys to work averages (0-6km). Worrying about congestion in this context is a failure to understand the spatial implications of congestion mitigation (see image 1 above) or a very optimistic expectation about vehicle travel time contributing to economic productivity.
As far as the additional council services – I don’t know the specific impacts that 20 additional households has on existing schools or the pipes under the street, but a recent Council study has determined that attached dwellings are only 60-80% as costly to serve. (link)
Overall it seems very likely that 20 households in an existing neighbourhood close to the city centre in the space of 20 meters is much more cost effective than serving the same across 200m in a greenfield scenario. And it seems reasonable, and even fiscally responsible, that someone should do this math.
Prime Minister John Key is dead right when he said:
After all, the locational efficiencies of well placed apartments can mean great savings in transport expenses, and the smaller size of these dwellings also leads to savings in operational costs such as energy and maintenance. Apartments do offer a great option for getting onto the property ladder in the more central locations that many desire, and in fact in many cases will be the only option.
And he is doubly right when he added:
Doubly right? Right in the first instance because that’s true, but secondly right because he is implying that Auckland is becoming more similar to these cities in its functioning. Yes, Auckland is increasingly exhibiting the well known economic patterns of cities; high value placed on proximity, increases in productivity with density, the power of spatially efficient transport modes.
He’s kinda right when he then says:
Kinda right? Yes because of course it’s land, the cost of land, but he is only telling part of the storey, because he neglects to say that where that land is is the principal determinant of its value: Location, Location, Location. A 300m² site with a problem on it in Ponsonby recently made the news because of the price it sold for and of course it only reached that sum because of its locational value. No one is spending that kind of money on similarly tiny plots with rotting old shacks on them at the fringes of the city. Only by delivering more dwellings on locationally valuable sites can the demand for city proximate living be met and at attainable prices.
But then he was rather curious about the City Rail Link, that project that more than any other, will facilitate Auckland’s urban spatial reset by improving efficient connectivity and extending locational value to more currently underdeveloped parts of the existing city:
Curious? Yes because he says he doesn’t want to use our taxes to fund half the project because he wants to save us from spending our rates on the other half. Well Mr Key there’s an even better way out of that, and that is to recognise that the CRL’s value to the Auckland economy and therefore the national one too, means that it should be funded entirely from the National Land Transport Fund like other nationally significant land transport projects.
Every project is somewhere, the CRL is no more local than a Highway in Tauranga, nor the coming one that almost no one will use out of Wellington. Aucklanders help fund those roads. The CRL will unlock a network from Swanson to Pukekohe, and points in between, helping shift a great many more people than a State Highway around Te Puke, and freeing up roads for many more freight movements. Therefore it is no less important for the national economy.
But anyway the City’s share of the CRL is already budgeted for in capital works programme so withholding the taxpayers share is not saving the Auckland ratepayer anything.
And this is significant because there are two issues that are vitally important to the success of apartment living that PM understands we now need; the location of the apartments and the quality of their connectivity. It is important that they are well placed in as much walking distance of amenity and employment as possible, but then that they are also well connected to the rest of the city through spatially efficient transport systems. After all the best trip is the one not needed to be taken, or that is shortened or otherwise has less impact on other city users and places [reducing the negatives of traffic congestion, space consumption, and pollution].
Auto-dependent apartments on greenfields sites at the end of the motorway will only achieve the worst of both worlds: dense sprawl. And this kind of distant and disconnected living supplies none of the agglomeration economies that make cities successful. Furthermore they are unlikely to succeed as they satisfy no one: They provide neither the scale nor gardens that detached house lovers want, nor the city proximity that city dwellers value.
So the successful growing city economy isn’t just about Land, or Dwelling Type, but about Location, Dwelling Type, and Connectivity.
Gotta have all three.
*Adendum. In case anyone is thinking that increasing sprawl doesn’t increase transport demand and therefore pressure on all systems here is an up to date chart derived from the 2013 census Journey To Work data that shows a very clear match for distance from centre and length of journey to work. This is not just about the concentration of jobs in the centre, but also about people working in all sorts of places throughout the city and travelling across town to get there:
So with the interesting addition of that area on the south of the Tamaki River, and a developing one on the mid North Shore, the most efficient journeys to work on a distance basis are all in the City Centre and the older heart of the Isthmus. In other words the further out you live the longer your schlep to and for work is likely to be, by whatever mode.
A group of New Zealand researchers recently published an excellent paper on the costs and benefits of investing in a complete cycle network and safe street design. Their paper, which is available online, found that:
The researchers employed a system dynamics modelling approach that incorporated feedback loops between infrastructure provision and street design, people’s travel behaviours, and actual and perceived safety.
As a transport economist, I found their methodology incredibly interesting. It illustrates how you often need complex modelling tools to quantify things that are intuitively quite simple. In this case, the fact that if you make every street safe to cycle on, people will choose to get on their bikes.
Importantly, the researchers found that a larger, more ambitious programme of cycle upgrades will deliver a higher benefit-cost ratio than a smaller programme. This is what economists sometimes call the “complete network” effect – in effect, the more places you can get to easily and safely on a bicycle, the more likely you will be to cycle. (This is also why Facebook has so many users: You have to have an account because everybody else also has an account!)
Right now, Auckland’s obviously not doing too well when it comes to complete cycle networks. If you look at Auckland Transport’s online cycle maps, you’ll see some streets with strips of green paint down the side, and many more that you could in theory cycle on (if you were especially bold).
However, we’re lucky enough to have a local example of a city that is rolling out an ambitious complete cycle network. Since the 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, Christchurch has planned a network of 13 major cycleways that will extend throughout the city, a re-jig of its city centre street network, and a new street design manual that will deliver better on-road cycle facilities. (Disclaimer: I have previously worked on the An Accessible City project as a consultant.) And they’re planning on getting it done over the next five years.
It’s going to be interesting to watch Christchurch over the next few years. I expect they’ll provide a good example for a lot of other New Zealand cities.
Consultation for the West Auckland portion of the new network is now underway. This follows the consultations for Pukekohe/Waiuku, Warkworth, Hibiscus Coast and South Auckland. The consultation runs from today till Monday 1st December. It’s a consultation I’ll be following very closely seeing as I line in West Auckland.
Like much of Auckland the current bus network in West Auckland is an absolute mess. It consists of a myriad of routes, some as slight variations that focus on providing coverage at the expense of directness or frequency. As such many buses trundle around the suburbs largely empty. Some routes also mimic the rail network which is a hangover from the days when rail services were virtually non-existent. A map of the existing network is below and you almost need a degree to properly interpret it. In fact I believe this isn’t even all routes.
Like with the other consultations the new network shifts the thinking about how we could run our buses and instead focuses on transfers to increase mobility.
The map for the proposed new network is below.
There are a few thoughts I have about the network for West Auckland. I’ll list them below in no particular order.
The immediate thing I noticed was the lack of frequent services. There’s just two of them, the 4 which travels between the CBD and New Lynn and the W3 which travels between New Lynn SH16 via Henderson before branching (more on that service soon). This is less than was signed off in the RPTP just let year. The key frequent routes missing are from Te Atatu Peninsula to Henderson and a route on SH16 with interchanges at Lincoln/Triangle Rd and at Te Atatu interchange. I can only assume these interchange upgrades are held up NZTA and AT not being able to come to an agreement/location for them. The lack of a frequent on seems to being SH16 is also disappointing considering the growth that is about to occur there.
I’m a little surprised that they’ve branched the W3 frequent route as one of the outcomes from the South Auckland consultation was to keep the frequents as a single route. Again this is possibly to do with the fact there appears to be no bus interchanges at the Te Atatu Interchange or the Triangle Rd/Lincoln Rd interchange.
There are some notable areas both gaining and losing service. The most noticeable of these is the buses to more rural areas such as Oratia and Waiatarua (a service I used to use in my teenage years) as well as Henderson Valley.
In September an update to the Council’s development committee talked about the the future NW Busway and indicated that bus shoulder lanes would be built on the motorway between Lincoln and Westgate by 2018 however in this consultation AT are now saying it won’t be till 2021.
There will be these specific open days to discuss the proposal.
In the National Review, a conservative American magazine, Reihan Salam takes a look at the confused state of the American debate over intensification. His article, entitled “The Great Suburbia Debate” criticises the position taken by Joel Kotkin, a long-time campaigner for low-density suburban development. He writes:
Salam’s article is excellent and I recommend reading it in full. I pulled out these excerpts as they highlight a few essential facts that often go missing from the debate over urban policy:
In short, we must interpret rising population densities as the result of many individual decisions rather than the whim of an urban planner. My research shows that population densities are rising rapidly in Auckland and several other large NZ cities, which suggests that we’re voting heavily for density with our feet and our wallets. This is, as Salam suggests, a natural outcome of market forces and should be accepted with equanimity. We should recognise this demand where it exists and make complementary public investments in walking and cycling facilities and public transport.
Lastly, I’d note that people from all across the political spectrum should be able to appreciate cities. As Jane Jacobs observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a good urban neighbourhood demonstrates many of the virtues that conservatives celebrate, such as small business ownership, a close-knit community that watches out for itself, and independent-minded civil society (often battling against big government bureaucracy in the form of overreaching traffic engineers).
As a result, we often see centre-right mayors implementing good urban policies. Big-city mayors such as New York’s Michael Bloomberg, London’s Boris Johnson, and Buenos Aires’ Mauricio Macri have been right at the forefront of the movement for better cities. They’ve realised that better cities are more prosperous, and that it’s possible to improve a city by improving the choices available to people.