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Traffic Preserves

Just before Christmas, Auckland Transport released this cute video about the causes of congestion and how to help avoid it,

The press release focused on the holiday period but I can also see them using this campaign later in the year, especially in February and March as the roads get busier.

Congestion on our motorways is frustrating at any time of year, but during the busy holiday season it can be worse than ever.

Auckland Transport’s ‘Spread the jam’ video has been produced to simply explain how traffic congestion can start.

AT’s chief transport operations officer, Andrew Allen, says there are generally four causes of congestion. “Usually it’s drivers cutting-in, following too close to the vehicle in front, rubber-necking or being distracted like using their cell phone. A heavy dab on the brakes can cause a ripple effect right down the motorway turning free flowing traffic into a sticky jam!

“All drivers have to do is always maintain their following distance and give plenty of warning before changing lanes, so use your indicators.”

He says if people are more aware of the causes of traffic congestion and modify their own behaviour our motorways will run more smoothly.

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association says the answer lies with motorists. “Driver behaviour makes a bad congestion situation even worse – AA members recognise it, and they want to see more done to raise awareness. ‘Spread the jam’ is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’re right behind it.”

A study in 2014 found that the annual cost of congestion in Auckland was $1.25 billion when compared with free-flow traffic conditions.

Remember, spread the jam:

  • Keep your following distance.
  • Don’t cut in.
  • Don’t rubberneck.
  • Avoid distractions like cell phones.

As cute as the video is, and it’s a decent start, there’s a couple things I wanted to point out.

  1. The primary cause of congestion is of course, too many vehicles on the road at the same time. Although getting people to drive better is certainly a good thing, especially on urban streets where more vulnerable road users (pedestrians and bikes) are around.
  2. Another way to spread the jam is to simply not participate in it. This can mean travelling at different times or by other modes, particularly those that aren’t affected by congestion such as the Northern Busway, rail network or bus routes with good levels of bus priority. This is obviously a bit harder on holiday trips like the press release was focused on but for regular commutes it may be a viable option.
  3. It is interesting that AT specifically mention the cost of congestion being $1.25 billion compared to free flow. The emphasis is important as the study (for the NZTA) that came up with that figure (actually from 2013) suggested that based on optimising the network capacity, the cost was only $250 million, considerably less. That’s because it absurd to build any transport network to be completely uncongested at all times of the day – in the absence of pricing. Particularly with roads, the financial cost of doing so would be astronomical, not to mention just how much land would be needed.

 

Overall a useful message but to me it’s just one part of the congestion equation.

Auckland’s New Network — What comes next?

Right now Auckland Transport is in the process of implementing the New Network (NN). The NN is already operational in the south, and is being readied for implementation in other sub-regions as per the following timetable:

You can view the latest networks for each sub-region by clicking on the links provided at the beginning of this post. For those who don’t know, I should disclose that I was part of the consultant team who worked with AT to develop the original NN way back in 2012-2014. The original network we developed is illustrated below.

The original network shown above has subsequently evolved in response to several rounds of stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This included engagement with existing operators, consultation with local boards, and — finally — consultation with the general public. Moreover, as time has progressed, more detailed information has come to light, such as the land use outcomes associated with Unitary Plan and the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for developing highways and busways. All useful information that can inform the design of the public transport network, albeit information that has been somewhat slow to extract.

The NN has also had to dovetail with other projects AT has underway. I’m not aware of any other city in Australia or New Zealand that are attempting to change so much about their PT system in so little time. In the 15-20 year period starting with the opening of Britomart, Auckland will have developed a Rapid Transit Network connecting to every sub-region almost from scratch; redesigned the ticketing system and fare structure; implemented a new public transport contracting model; and drastically re-structured its services. Somewhat understandably, the desire to coordinate implementation of the NN with these other projects has delayed implementation beyond the initial (indicative) 2016 timeline.

So as we stand on the threshold of implementing the NN, one may wonder what comes next? The answer, in my opinion, is that the NN will be a constant, ongoing project for at least the next 5-10 years.

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that all aspects of the NN won’t work perfectly right from the beginning, and they should be changed as further information comes to light. In terms of demand, some routes will experience too much while others will see too little. That’s a reason to reallocate resources. In terms of schedules, some timetables will have too much time while others will have too little. The struggle for reliability is ever-present.

Public transport nirvana won’t happen over-night, but it will happen. If we keep working on it. Maybe. But aside from continuous refinement of the underlying network structure, what else might change? The answer to this is both nothing and almost everything. When I say nothing, I am referring to the underlying principles of frequency and connectivity on which the NN was built, and which will allow us to run a more efficient public transport network. These principles are sound and should not change as we go forward. Instead, they should be strengthened and embedded more deeply into our PT network. Every time AT increase frequency, we should be asking whether we can remove duplication.

On the other hand, much about Auckland’s public transport network will continue to change. Let’s list just a few of the major projects that Auckland Transport and others will be working to implement over the next 5-10 years:

  • AMETI
  • City Rail Link
  • Northern Busway extension, including new Rosedale station
  • Extension of electrified services to Pukekohe, and new stations
  • LRT on Dominion Road and Queen Street
  • North-western Busway

When you line up all these projects, you start to realise that there isn’t many corners of our fair city where the public transport will not change fairly dramatically in the next few years. So we will need to get used to PT network changes happening on a fairly regular basis. Of course none of them should be as large as the NN itself, but nor should we delude ourselves that it will end with the NN. The NN is arguably close to the start of Auckland’s journey to PT salvation.

Indeed, such complacency with regards to continuous improvement of Auckland’s PT network is arguably a contributing factor to the situation we are in today. As an aside, I understand the following meme is popular among some of the folk that have long-lorded over Auckland.

Aside from the persistent and ongoing issues with the allocation of resources and reliability, there is one other potential meteor that seems likely to pass fairly close in the near future, and which threatens to destroy the heart of Auckland’s PT network. That is, Auckland has very limited bus capacity in the city centre, in terms of corridors, stop, and terminal capacity. I think it’s fair to say bus capacity in Auckland’s city centre has been neglected for decades, and is now being rapidly squeezed in all directions. The risk is that the meteor of bus volumes brings about a never-ending buspocalypse that in turn suppresses patronage and exacerbates congestion.

Put simply, the volume of buses that need to be accommodated in the city centre is rather high already, and it’s growing. And it’s not just about the corridor capacity: Buses need to stop, terminate, and/or turn-around. In fact, I’d suggest that corridor capacity is almost the least of our concerns, we can always splash around a bit more green paint, e.g. on Wellesley Street. Stop and terminal capacity is more problematic, simply because there’s not much space. LRT will help, but it is something that won’t happen super-fast and nor will it be a panacea when it is up-and-running. Meanwhile construction works associated with the CRL and the Council’s (excellent) place-making initiatives look likely to exacerbate the problems caused by our historical reluctance to address bus terminal issues.

Whether we encounter bus apolocalypse depends on whether AT are successful at changing the way we currently operate buses and manage streets so as to make them more efficient. The NN as it currently stands seem likely to result in higher bus volumes downtown than originally planned. Indeed, changes made during consultation — for potentially good reasons that I explain below — have had the effect of throwing more buses into the city centre, specifically:

  • Removing through-routing — the original NN proposed through-routing bus services between Takapuna–Onehunga, Glen Innes–Mt Albert, and Glen Innes–New Lynn. I understand all three though-routes have been dropped. This both increases bus volumes in the city, and requires more passengers to transfer, which increases dwell-times.
  • Retaining duplicative routes — In some cases, services have been added or retained that duplicate other services, even if they perhaps remove the need for passengers to connect. The most notable is the Outer Link, but there are also a number of peak services that have snuck their way back into the network. In terms of capacity, the latter are particularly problematic, because they directly increase peak bus volumes (by definition).
  • Removing cross-towns — the original NN arguably contained five frequent crosstown services in the Isthmus, specifically: Mt Albert — Glen Innes, Takapuna — Onehunga, New Lynn — Glen Innes, Pt Chevalier — Ellerslie, and Mt Albert — Pakuranga. The proposed NN now contains only one, or arguably two if you include the Outer Link. Going from five to two cross-towns will increase the number of buses terminating in the city centre, and increase the need for passengers to connect between services there.

This should not be construed as criticism of the changes made by AT. Indeed, the changes arguably reflect positively on AT’s desire to respond constructively with feedback. It’s also entirely possible that the changes will increase patronage and/or efficiency in the short term, even if they exacerbate issues with city centre bus capacity in the medium to long term.

But *if* buspocalypse does arise, *then* what should we do about it?

The good news is that AT are aware of the risk of buspoalypse, and have started considering how to mitigate the chance it occurs. Some of their current thinking has been documented in the “Bus Reference Case” report that was published last year, and which was written by my colleagues at MRCagney. While somewhat technical, the report does make for interesting reading, as it provides an indication of the sorts of volumes we might expect and sketches out some possible responses. And when I say response, I am talking about one that considers not just infrastructure, but also other related aspects, such as services, vehicles, and ticketing.

The report notes, for example, that after the CRL the following actions could be taken to reduce bus volumes in the city centre:

  • Re-direct the New North Road (Route 22) service to Newmarket. This would possibly allow AT to drop the infrequent but direct rail service operating between the west and Newmarket, and increase rail services on the main Western line.
  • Eliminate expresses from the West, including Blockhouse Bay to City (Route 195), Green Bay to City (Route 209), Glen Eden Express (Route 151x), and Titirangi Expresses (Routes 171x and 172x). Instead, these routes would terminate at the Avondale, New Lynn, and Glen Eden rail stations.
  • Expand service from the Northwest, specifically Routes 110 and 125x (WEX upon completion of the North western busway); and
  • Eliminate expresses from the Southeast, including Mangere to City (Route 309x) and Papakura to City (Route 360x).

As well as changes to the network itself, the report investigates the potential demand for bus infrastructure in the city centre, especially with regards to bus termini and stop infrastructure around Wynyard, Wellesely, the Universities and Britomart. It’ll be interesting to see what the detailed designs for these areas look like, and whether they avoid off-street interchanges and termini. Naturally on-street would be more cost-efficient, but it does place increased demands placed on city centre streets. Balancing this demand with other place and movement needs will be tricky.

Either way, when we say “city centre bus infrastructure”, it’s fairly clear we are not simply talking about a lick of green paint. If we want to get buses off the streets in the city centre, while maintaining accessibility and growing patronage, then we need to think about where they go. And we may need to spend some money along the way.

In terms of the last point, it’s interesting to compare Auckland with our comrades across the ditch. Both Brisbane and Perth have some serious bus infrastructure in their central city. King George Square station, for example, opened a few years ago and is nicer than most metro stops.

Meanwhile in Perth, construction of the long-planned underground bus station (BusPort) in the city centre was completed in July 2016.

Over here in Amsterdam, they’ve been busy elevating their buses away from the street level so as to improve amenity around central station, while maintaining connections to other transport modes. Impressive stuff, and things that have long been in the works.

None of this is to say that Auckland will neessarily need bus infrastructure of the same scale as the above cities. With a more brutal network structure and more efficient operations, it’s certainly possible we could get by with less hard infrastructure than these cities have achieved. However, these cities do provide a good lesson for Auckland in terms of developing long-term plans for acommodating buses in the city centre. That is something Auckland hasn’t yet managed to achieve, even if it looks like the wheels are starting to turn.

It’s promising that Phil Goff’s election platform and subsequent noises have emphasized the important role for buses, both now and in the future. Getting Auckland’s buses working well will definitely require a level of technical and political leadership that perhaps has been lacking in the past. It may also require that we step on the toes of landowners in the city centre, who arguably have ruled Auckland’s roost for far too long.

What do you think? And if you were AT, and if there was an issue with city centre bus infrastructure capacity, then what would you do? I’d be particularly keen to hear about people’s ideas for the NN as it currently stands, and how it could be adapted so as to reduce bus volumes in the city centre. Which routes would you cut, and why?

And/or what are your ideas for how to improve bus infrastructure in the city centre? Ideas big and small are welcome. If we succeed with our plans for the city centre and public transport more generally, then it’s possible we’ll need some of these infrastructure and service initiatives sooner than we think. I think that’s a good problem to have.

P.s. Feel free to also comment on the proposal to relocate long-distance buses to Manukau and Albany. Grrr. That’s an issue I hope to cover in a future post.

Introduction to Systematic Safety, The Principles Behind Vision Zero

Here’s a great video on the principles of behind “systematic safety” by Peter Furth. It’s really interesting how the approach is so different than current practice in the States, Australia and New Zealand.

And in case you missed it, Harriet had a great post on Dutch cycleway design last week, “Great Cycling Myths & Mistakes – How Auckland can easily be a Great Cycling City“.

Nelson St Phase 2

The Nelson St Cycleway was completed just over a year ago and has been a fantastic addition to the city.

Since then we’ve been patiently waiting for Phase 2, which has had a particularly long gestation period. It is intended to extend the cycleway to the Quay St cycleway and also includes extending it along Pitt St to Karangahape Rd. Auckland Transport originally consulted on a design way back in September 2015, months before Phase 1 even opened.

We weren’t thrilled with the design which would have seen the cycleway cross diagonally to the eastern side of Nelson St before sending cyclists along Sturdee St and Lower Hobson St, across in some places incredibly narrow footpaths, before reaching Quay St. We, and others, wanted the cycleway kept on the western side of Nelson St and linked into the tree lined Market Place. We also liked this well illustrated idea from reader Jonty to send it via the Hobson St Viaduct.

Just before Christmas, Auckland Transport finally announced the outcome of their consultation and the final design. Like we’d see in some earlier board reports, AT confirmed that the cycleway would now link into Market Place rather than using Sturdee St.

The link that will complete Auckland’s city cycle loop is a step closer.

The route, announced today, will connect the Nelson St Cycleway with the waterfront.

The connection along Nelson St to Quay St via Market Place, Customs St West and Lower Hobson St, will complete the loop.

The city cycle loop includes cycleways on Quay St, Beach Rd, Grafton Gully and the pink Lightpath.

Phase 2 of Nelson St Cycleway will include protected, on-road cycle lanes on both sides of Nelson St and Market Place from Victoria St to Pakenham St East.

Construction of this section will start in April and be completed by July. Plans for the remaining section of Market Pl, Customs St West and Lower Hobson will be made public in early 2017.

The major difference from what we suggested back in 2015 is that instead of the cycleway being completely on the western side, it will be split with northbound (downhill) cyclists staying on the western side but southbound (uphill) cyclists using the eastern side. We’re comfortable with that change.

As we understand, the biggest hurdle, and the reason it’s taken so long to confirm the design, has been the need to convince the traffic engineers that carmegeddon wouldn’t ensue from removing the two lane signalised slip lane from Nelson St on to Fanshawe St.

So here’s what AT plan to build (click to enlarge)

The cycle lanes on either side of the road will be protected. The biggest challenge will be the driveways and so all road users will have to take care here.

It’s the Nelson/Fanshawe intersection that will see the most change with the left turn slip lanes removed to allow the cycleway to be built and the kerb built out on the western side which will be a welcome addition to the many pedestrians that walk past here and who are currently squeezed into a narrow space.  The cycleway heading southbound will have a short section of being a shared path till it gets past Wyndham St. It will also require two legs to cross from Market Place which is a bit annoying.

Finally on Market Place the cycleways continue past Pakenham St.

AT are still working on the final design for Market Place which is why it hasn’t been included yet but from what we understand of it, it will good. From Market Place the intention is to use Customs St West and then Lower Hobson St.

The news for the Pitt St section isn’t so great though. Here, AT have scaled the design back to a simple shared path. They say this is caused mainly by the CRL and the significant disruption it will have on the area both during construction and after it with where they’ve decided to put vents.

Since design for this cycleway project started in January 2015, there have been changes to the CRL (City Rail Link) design, particularly the vent location in Pitt Street. The CRL team have advised that the CRL project will cause significant disruption including a very large excavation across Pitt Street in the Beresford Square vicinity.

AT met with key stakeholders in the area, including local businesses, NZ Fire Service, and St John NZ, to listen and understand their concerns.

Based on feedback received from submissions and also from meetings with key stakeholders, we have decided the cycleway should be re-scoped to provide an interim off-road shared path facility for Pitt Street.

AT is developing a design for CRL in the vicinity of Pitt Street and Beresford Square, incorporating the Pitt Street and Karangahape Road cycleways.

Here are the designs, which as you can see still retain a gap between Karangahape Rd and Beresford Square. It’s not clear how less confident cyclists will bridge this gap, presumably most would use the footpath.

As the press release earlier said, construction of the first section down Nelson St is expected to start in April and at least that and the section to Quay St are expected to be completed in the middle of the year.

AT’s Parking App delayed

Auckland Transport’s interesting looking parking app appears to have been delayed again. If you don’t recall, the app was first mentioned last year in a video about their recently adopted (and good) Parking Strategy.

In the video, it appears that you simply tag on within the app when you arrive and tag off again when you get back to your car so no need to fiddle around with parking machines or paper tickets.

Here’s what Stuff reports:

An app designed to replace pay-and-display parking machines in Auckland is facing delays of several months.

Auckland Transport’s $300,000 AT Park app was initially set to launch in September 2016 but was put off until early this year and now postponed again until late February or March.

The app, which will let people pay via credit card for on-street parking, would eventually phase out parking meters in the city.

Users would be able to log their location and car registration and then tag on and off.

Once the app was released AT would “thin out” the number of pay-and-display machines before scrapping them altogether over the coming years, AT’s parking design manager Scott Ebbett said.

Thinning out and then scrapping the parking meters sounds like a great long term goal as for one, it means one less thing to clutter up footpaths. I recall a few years ago reading that the parking meters we have are effectively obsolete and were in need of replacement. So replacing them with a phone app also sounds positive from a financial perspective, allowing more investment to be put into other areas of the transport system. Of course, I doubt removing all parking meters is something that will happen any time soon because smartphone usage is high but it isn’t 100%.

Based on these comments, I remain hopeful the app will integrate with HOP balances, plus also good to see that while delayed, the app has come in under budget.

An AT spokesman said it was “technically ready” for release but they were waiting to integrate it with the MyAT portal, where people can top up their HOP cards.

He said the app went through changes after its trial period, while technology for MyAT was also upgraded.

It had so far come in under the $300,000 budget, he said.

AT figures show there are 810 pay and display meters in the city, with the majority more than 10 years old.

 

Great Cycling Myths & Mistakes – How Auckland can easily be a Great Cycling City

Recently I have been doing a lot of research on cycling, reading CROW – Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, the NACTO Guides, and reading/watching some great content over by Mark Wagenbuur at Bicycle Dutch. People have always told me that the Dutch are the Holy Grail of Cycling, I had some knowledge of Dutch cycling, but it made sense for me to check it out more extensively.

After this research my conclusion is this,

a) Dutch cycling infrastructure design really is great and
b) It’s made me think, are we prioritising on the right aspects (this question is more posed to engineers/designers), and are there some myths of Dutch cycling that we are to focused on (this question is more posed to us as advocates)

Not everything has to be segregated, like the Netherlands you just have to design it right.

When we think of the Netherlands we think glorious 2m+ segregated cycle tracks safe & protected from traffic, with room enough to overtake, or to cycle with friends/family. While it’s true that the Dutch segregate cycling for arterial roads with speeds above 30km/h, not every road in the Netherlands is an arterial, a large part of the streets network in the Netherlands are local streets which have speed limits of 30km/h, and at these speeds you can still have safety with unprotected cycle lanes, two examples are Fietsstrook streets where motorists can enter the cycle lanes to allow other motorists to pass as long as safe for cyclists, and Fietsstraat (Bike Streets) where motorists are allowed but are guests and must maintain low speeds.

Fietsstrook

Fietsstraat

Safety is about the Intersections

In NZ, we have a tendency to focus on cycle lanes, we put the cycle lanes in either along the street, or add them into the street, but as soon as we get to an intersection we stop. To the Dutch this would seem odd, mainly because it’s intersections where a lot of the danger is, opposed to the section of road we concentrate on.  Surely it makes sense to prioritise the least safe sections for funding, without compromising the network through stop/starting of infrastructure of course, and as these pictures/videos by Bicycle Dutch show fixing them is easier than you might think.

Protected Cycle Intersection

Continuity is Key

Continuity of infrastructure is important, if gaps exist, or it stops short, people wont use it to its full extent. Remember when trains used to stop at the Strand, sure the rail network existed and could be quick, but because it stopped short of the city, people didn’t see it as competitive. Or imagine driving on the Auckland motorway network, then all the sudden SH1 went from 3 lanes each way motorway standard to one lane dirt track then back to motorway standard every few km’s, it wouldn’t be a great drive in the AM peak that is for sure.

For the same reasons why those two examples would be awful for the users, the same applies to cyclists, stopping infrastructure at intersections, gaps in cycle lanes such as at bus stops, or stopping the infrastructure short of where people want to go will lead to infrastructure not being utilized to its full capacity. Arguably, these issues effect cyclists more than PT users/drivers because doing the above not only makes cycling harder, it has large safety effects. Gaps in cycle routes cause a reduction in the perception of safety which leads to potential users avoiding the route, or more likely not to cycle at all.

Therefore getting cycling infrastructure right, and continuous, can be more important for increasing use, than prioritising km’s of cycle lanes across a city.

Floating Bus Stop

Width is Important & not just for Safety.

Width of cycle infrastructure is important for cyclists, it gives more of a buffer against other modes when unprotected, and allows cyclists to overtake safely meaning commuter/social cyclists can ride at their own pace. But it isn’t just about safety, the Dutch believe having wider cycle infrastructure is important because it allows people to cycle together side by side, e.g. riding with your partner, or a mother riding with her children to school. It is understanding that social aspect of cycling is a hugely important part of the mix for driving cycling as a successful mode of transport, and is often mentioned in official guides such as CROW.

Is it time to give Roundabouts more of a go?

In many countries there is a preference to building signalized intersections with a perception they are safer than roundabouts, this is interesting to the Dutch who believe the opposite, over the years converting many intersections to roundabouts. Admittedly the Dutch design their roundabouts a little different, with protected cycle lanes, and with the aim of creating easy sight of conflicts for users, as well as slowing traffic down on the roundabout. This is backed up with the safety record that Dutch four-way roundabouts are around two times safer than Dutch four-way signalised intersections.

SWOV Intersection Safety Stats

Here’s a great video by Bicycle Dutch walking through examples of Dutch Roundabout Design

So what do you think?

Britomart’s new temporary entrance is open

The new temporary entrance at Britomart, which I’ll refer to as ‘the shed’ and is needed while the City Rail Link is built under the old Chief Post Office (CPO), is now able to be used by the public. From next week the CPO will close making the shed the main entry to the station and the only way to access it at the western end – the entrance under the EY building is unaffected.

I haven’t been though Britomart yet this year but Cam Pitches kindly grabbed some photos for us.

And here it is a little closer up

This looks quite different from the renderings Auckland Transport produced earlier showing it looking more transparent

and

The material is translucent though letting a lot of light in as shown in this image from AT when iwi blessed the entrance last week. I wonder the choice of material was to stop the place suffering from becoming a glasshouse effect during the heat of the day.

One can see above is the new train display that’s been installed. Here’s a better look at it from Cam and to me, it looks a considerably better than the old red LED displays in the CPO (above the HOP machines and ticket counters)

With most people arriving at Britomart heading south towards Customs St, the most heavily used entrance will see passengers pouring out onto Galway St. Here’s what that entrance looks like as finishing touches are put on.

For some time now, the footpaths on Galway St have frequently been parked over by delivery vehicles, tradies and taxi’s. With thousands of people daily now about to use it, it will be imperative that Auckland Transport step up enforcement and keep it clear

Here are also some photos by Luke

One thing to note is that there are no escalators from the ground level down to the lower concourse, only stairs or the elevators.

The entrance certainly looks temporary from the outside but as Luke mentions, and what I felt looking at it during construction, it does feel light and spacious. It will also be fascinating to see how long it lasts after the CRL is complete. Temporary structures tend to have history of sticking around a lot longer than intended with a great example being the slug on Queens Wharf.

 

Update: the CRL team have sent me this

The CPO Queen St doors will close after the last train on Monday night (for three years) and the new entrance will be in operation from first thing this Tuesday.

Slowest City tag meaningless

The media seem went gaga a few days ago about a new report that looks at the impacts of congestion in Auckland and other Australasian cities. It’s no surprise they reported on it either, transport in Auckland is a common gripe and so the story of Auckland being the slowest city, confirming what many people already believe, was too much to pass up.

But even reading the news articles, it struck me that this was likely another case of the wrong questions being asked but that by in large, the right answers were reached, much like ATAP. Perhaps even more so it wasn’t the main findings of the report that were important but some of the ancillary comments.

The report is by Austroads, a key organisation in the development of road networks in Australasia. Here’s some of what the Herald said about it.

Auckland commuters can groan in agreement with a report that reveals the city has the worst travel times and reliability in Australia and New Zealand.

This is despite having the fastest road in the two countries combined.

Austroads Congestion and Reliability Review measured the levels of congestion and traffic across major cities in Australia and New Zealand and released their findings in a report.

The cities were categorised into groups of similar population size. Auckland was in group two alongside Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

In its group Auckland performed worst across “most measures”. These included the highest travel time delay, morning and afternoon peak reliability.

Auckland came out worst in it’s group with an average speed of 77.6km/hr. The other cities were between 82km/hr to 86km/hr. American cities of a comparative size went up to 104km/hr.

The slowest roads were St Lukes Rd, Wairau Rd and Lake Rd. While the fastest were the Northern Gateway Toll Rd (which topped the Australasian list with an average speed of 98.8km/hr), Upper Harbour Motorway and SH16.

By focusing on the speed of commutes, my immediate feeling was that this sounds like a very similar approach taken by Tom Tom and other organisations for their own congestion reports. This proved to be correct as this is what the press release says about the method they used.

The findings are based on an analysis of Google Maps data for 600km of roads for each major Australian city, enabling analysis of travel time along different road segments. The analysis was based on two months of data, comprising of 1km long road segments, with data points taken every 15 minutes, to calculate the six key congestion measures outlined in the report. An econometric analysis was then undertaken to provide insight into the drivers of network performance.

We’ve written before about TomTom’s reports, one of the key problems with reports that use this kind of methodology are that they are based on measuring the variance in the speed of traffic compared to the maximum speed limit allowed on the road. This ignores that roads can be more efficient and flow better with lower speeds, for example a motorway will move more vehicles an hour/flow better if they’re all travelling at 80km/h than 100km/h.

Also importantly, these reports only ever reference vehicle congestion/speeds, not the people using that corridor. Infrastructure like the rail network and Northern Busway allow a lot more people to be moved within a corridor, often faster and free of congestion. We know that 40% of people crossing the Harbour Bridge every morning on a comparatively small number of buses don’t suffer from the congestion those in cars next to them have endured.

But it’s here were we reach one of those right answer to the wrong question points. That’s because while we know that counting the speed of PT and other road users is key if we want a more accurate report, we also know that Auckland is one of the worst performers when it comes to use of other modes, something noted by the authors when they say

Auckland has fewer public transport options, compared with other cities. Plentiful low-cost parking in Auckland encourages commuters to drive.

Looking at the articles also raised a new potential issue with how these kinds of congestion metrics are created, in particular the mention that the Northern Gateway Toll Road was the fastest in Australasia. In short, why would you count a rural tolled motorway. Other than on holiday weekends, which wouldn’t be relevant in this discussion, this road has almost no bearing on the congestion most Aucklanders might experience. But that got me thinking, if the toll road is included in Auckland’s numbers, what else is included, especially in other cities.

So here’s Auckland’s map of the most delayed roads based on their methodology.

And as one example, here’s Perth which comes out much better in the metrics.

And Brisbane

One thing worth noting is it appears these maps are not at the same scale, the furthermost point away from the Auckland City Centre is about Drury, 30km away. By comparison in Brisbane and Perth some of the locations shown are over 50km away from the city centre. This hints at one of the potential issues, there are a lot more uncongested rural highways included in the numbers of other cities compared to Auckland. To be fair, in the middle of the report they do say that the types of roads selected for this report will impact the results i.e. more motorways generally results in higher average speeds.

The report also looks at some international cities as comparisons but oddly they decided specifically to choose cites with similar PT modeshares to the Australasian cities which means cities of similar sizes and densities in places like Europe and North America can’t be compared to see if there’s something cities here could learn if there was a different transport/land use focus.

As mentioned earlier though, despite issues with some of the ways this report has been approached, I do think it comes up with some useful points.

More important that the speed of a particular journey is the reliability of it. If you know it’s always going to be slow then at least you can accept that, or adjust when or how you travel to avoid it. But when that varies considerably every day it can be infuriating. Of course, Auckland fares poorly in the reliability rankings

They also make some very salient points about why Auckland performs poorly. These include:

  • Auckland’s geography, particularly its harbours and waterways, impose constraints on the transport system, meaning the main transport links are confined to narrow corridors
  • Compared with other cities there is a lower level of public transport provision for commuters
  • There exists highly available and low cost parking in Auckland which encourages commuters to drive

Auckland’s geographic constraints forces a lot of people to travel through narrow areas, if only there was a way to move a lot of people without needing a lot of space to do so. Despite what some urban myths would have you believe, that makes Auckland ideally suited to public transport, if was provided it well. This is something backed up to some degree by ATAP, which noted that there are only limited options for expanding road capacity within most of the urban area.

There is no one solution to ‘solve’ congestion but definitely a “more of the same but bigger” approach will not work. If Auckland wants a chance of improving congestion it will need provide better alternatives so the best option isn’t to sit in a car and hope for the best.

ATAP ASAP’s – Extra Trains

In Part 1 of my series I wrote about the Third Main between Westfield & Wiri as being an ATAP (Auckland Transport Alignment Project) ASAP, a first decade project that in my opinion needed funding straight away, my second post of this series is about the need for extra trains pre-CRL (City Rail Link).

Currently we have 57 three-car trains and anyone who uses trains on a regular basis will have seen the massive growth in patronage. People at peak report crowded trains, as well people in some shoulder peak services in which some services are only three-car trains instead of six. Even I have noticed it the 5:58am from Avondale which is no longer a very empty train. But don’t take my word for it, the patronage figures speak for themselves.

By allowing for more efficient operations, the CRL will improve capacity but that is not due to be finished until 2023which means we have a long way to go & a lot of growth needing to be accommodated.

ATAP states that three tranches of 21 extra trains are needed over the 30-years between 2018-2048, one tranche per decade. In order to cope with the growth we’re already seeing, let alone what the CRL will deliver, we really need to order the first tranche of additional trains now. That will allow Auckland Transport to run more services as six-car trains, ensuring that all peak and shoulder peak trains are appropriately bulked up, especially in the afternoons where trains are used for school students.

Rail Development Programme

It is imperative we order the trains sooner rather than later as the trains have about a 2 year lead time, meaning if we ordered them today they still wouldn’t arrive until late 2018, by which time services will be significantly more crowded. Of course trains don’t come cheap and each one costs around $10 million and ATAP budgets $210 million for each of the first two tranches. We also know that AT have been looking at the idea of buying some battery powered trains to allow them to serve Pukekohe without needing wires.

Regardless, the network is growing like crazy and we need the capacity to get through to the CRL. Add in the long lead times for production and that we’ll definitely need them once the CRL opens and I think we have ourselves an ATAP ASAP.

 

I have an extra set, but it may still have capacity issues :D

I have an extra set, but we may still have capacity issues 😀

So what do you think?

Wanderlust: One week in Bordeaux makes a hard man crumble

Wanderlust: Strong longing for or impluse toward wandering (source)

Imagine you own a house in the French countryside, where you live with your dogs and horses. Now imagine that you want to spend Christmas with your family in the U.K.

Such situations are exactly what the website Trusted Housesitter sets out to resolve. Once you have signed up, then all you need to do is list photos of your house, the dates you’re away, and what animals needs to be looked after. Then people can apply to look after your house and beloved (usually furry) friends for no cost. You give them accommodation; they look after your animals. Like many online platforms that rely on trust to some degree, they use upfront identity checks and follow-up reviews to try and keep people honest.

We recently made use of Trusted Housesitter to find a house in the Aquitaine region in France, where we spent a week over Christmas. For those of you who don’t know so much about European geography at the regional level, then look at the map below and think mustard yellow and south-west (that’s bottom-left, for the even more geographically challenged).

Bordeaux is the capital of the Aquitaine region, and it is a historical city that is famed for its red wine. When photographed from a particular angle in certain climatic conditions, part of Bordeaux looks like this. That is, quite nice.

I understand the central city is UNESCO heritage listed. We spend three nights in Bordeaux itself, and especially enjoyed walking through the Old Town, along the river, and then looping back through the old wine district. I could actually see myself living and loving here. Bordeaux is lively, with good restaurants and bars, without too much hustle and bustle.

From a transport perspective, the most interesting aspect of Bordeaux is probably the LRT; in the city centre the system is powered by induction loops embedded in the pavement. I understand the use of induction was prompted by the desire to avoid the visual polllution caused by overhead wires. Like most innovative technologies, this one has encountered its share of reliability issues. Could cities like Auckland learn from the issues Bordeaux encountered?

The city itself is also very flat, and I was somewhat surprised with the lack of cycle infrastructure, especially compared to the Netherlands and even Paris.

Nevertheless, after three nights in Bordeaux itself, we grabbed our hire car and escaped to the Aquitaine countryside to take up residence. The house we were living in was located in a little hamlet called Lunas, which was about 15 minutes drive north from Bergerac. The house we stayed in (with our Dutch friend Nienke) was rather delightful, as shown below.

During our stay we were charged with looking after Filou (brown dog), Elmo (black dog), Thomas (black horse), and Blue (white horse). I am pleased to report that all are still alive, even though Thomas did try and have a chew of my jacket.

During the middle of the day we ventured forth to surrounding towns and villages. Aquitaine is an interesting region partly because it was ruled by the English royals for approximately 300 years from 1154 until the end of the so-called Hundred Year’s War in 1453, when it was annexed by France (source). Thereafter the region sustained a high proportion of French Protestants, or Huguenots, at least until St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, military defeats, and loss of rights resulted in sustained emigration to new world countries with more tolerant religious climes (NB: Game of Thrones fans may want to read-up on these events, as I understand they inspired the Red Wedding scene). Or for a somewhat related take on the European (Norman) influence on England, some of you might be interested in this article.

Partly because of this historical legacy, Aquitaine is peppered with partially fortified villages, called Bastides, which combined a central marketplace, church, and fortification. On our day-trips we visited several lovely small villages, such as St Emilion, PerigueuxLimeuil, and Monpazier. Here’s a couple of pics to tease the taste-buds. We were there in winter, so many of the shops were shut. Nonetheless, we always found somewhere decent to eat and as well as some talented local artisans hawking their wares. I have heard, and can imagine, that these places bustle during the peak summer months.

Our week in Aquitaine makes a hard man crumble like a freshly-baked croissant. The food was amazing, and very affordable. We ate several three course lunch meals for 15 Euro, or 23 NZD. And when I say three course meal, I am talking about a shrimp risotto entree, marinated roast duck mains, with creme brulee for dessert. That is, a decent poke of the tasty food stick for a small piece of the old travel budget. I’d highly recommend the restaurant Euskadi, Bergerac. For those who don’t know, lunch is a serious event in France — and most tourist places will shut between 12-2pm. Be warned and plan ahead; I’d recommend joining them in enjoying a slow lunch.

One of the most impressive things about Aquitaine is that it’s quite wild. In the woods close to where we were staying, wild deer and boar roamed relatively freely, at least until they were hobbled by a hunter. Indeed, one long-term upside of the gradual decline of rural areas in many parts of Europe is the gradual “re-wilding” of marginal land that was previously used for farming. This is a topic to which I’ll return in a future post, as it’s been the topic of considerable debate, especially when it is accompanied with the return of mega-fauna, such as bears and wolves (source).

Either way, the key messages of this post are:

  1. If you are an animal lover with wanderlust, then check out TrustedHousesitter.com. The site operates in many countries around the world, including New Zealand and Australia. If you’re somewhat flexible, then it’s a great cost-effective way to travel and also puts you in touch with locals who can advise on things to do.
  2. If you want to go off slightly the beaten track in France, then I’d recommend Aquitaine. You can easily spend 1-2 weeks visiting the towns and villages, even in winter. If you’re short on time, then I can recommend St Emilion — as it’s close to Bordeaux and has a wonderful monolithic cathedral in the centre of town.
  3. Rural areas around the world are struggling with demographic, environmental, and technological change. Is it possible for government policy to help rural areas transition their economy away from marginal extractive and/or agricultural industries? In ways that will benefit both urban and rural areas? I’ll be pondering such issues in an upcoming post.

Until next time, travel safe. And to finish, here’s some lovely street art from Bordeaux. Goodbye concrete; hello psychedelic wolverines. Have any of you travelled in theAquitaine region? If so then please feel free to share your experiences and advice in the comments section. I’d personally be keen to know a bit more about the Atlantic coast, which we didn’t visit on this trip — but may do on another.