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Farewell Len

After two terms, yesterday was Len Brown’s final meeting as Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland and so I think it’s appropriate to look back at what he and Auckland have achieved over the last six years.

len-brown

 

First here is his valedictory speech.

As the first Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland I think the Len and the council often faced some very unique challenges and ones that won’t exist to anywhere near the same extent for any future mayor. The bringing together of eight different councils, each with their own plans, policies and rating systems was never going to be a straightforward task and the process of making the new council omelette was always going to require a few eggs to be broken.

The government amalgamated Auckland in part to try and address some of the long standing issues that weren’t being adequately addressed, particularly around planning and transport. By and large those have been or are well on the way to being addressed. Some of the significant pieces of work such completed include: the first Auckland Plan, the Unitary Plan, Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the standardisation of services across the region and of course combining eight separate rating systems in to one.

Simply by virtue of all of these disruptive changes having already taken place, any future mayor and council is going to look much more stable and in control of what’s going on even if they carried on exactly as things are. Also let’s not forget that Len had only one of 21 votes on the council for decisions. If all of the other Councillors didn’t agree with the changes then they could have voted against them.

But not everyone has been happy. Whether it be rates, policies, plans I don’t think he’s had a particularly fair time from the media. As we’ve repeatedly seen with the Unitary Plan debate and other debates like the Long Term Plan, the truth has often been bent to paint Len in a negative light. I do think that history will much kinder to him though. The city has come a long way in just six years and we’ve probably witnessed some of the most dramatic change the city has seen:

  • The city become more walkable through developments like the Shared Spaces
  • We have an internationally award winning waterfront development at Wynyard Quarter and there is now an urban regeneration arm of the council looking to replicate the success in other parts of the region.
  • We’re in the middle probably the biggest building boom the city has seen. It’s hard to go far in the city centre, or even out in most of the suburbs, without seeing signs of construction and the city evolving.
  • Electric trains have been rolled out across Auckland’s network and over the six years of the council, rail patronage has increased by 94%
  • Bus patronage has increased by 35% while usage of the busway has well more than doubled, this has been helped in part by double deckers are an increasingly common sight on city streets.
  • Ferry patronage has increased by 30% with new routes rolled out to Hobsonville Point and Beach Haven.
  • The city has started to roll out good quality cycling infrastructure that is encouraging more people to ride. Some older cycleways such as SH16 at Kingland now have more than double the number of bike trips on them as they did just 5 years ago.
  • The government and council now have aligned views on the future of transport for the city with the recently completed ATAP.

But by far the biggest achievement has to be the City Rail Link. Len has consistently pushed for the project since elected in 2010 despite the government originally not being supportive of it. After they agreed to the project back in 2013 he continued to advocate for it to start earlier. The council backed that and Albert St is now a hive of activity with the project now well underway. More importantly and just two weeks ago, the council and government signed a heads of agreement to fund the project 50/50. Considering how hostile the government have been towards the project at various times over the last six years, that’s an impressive achievement and one I imagine Len is most proud of.

This is far from an exhaustive list and of course some of those changes were already under way before the council came into being, but they are all things the council has had some involvement in achieving. Furthermore, the future certainly looks positive thanks to the work and focus that Len and the council have had.

In saying all of this not everything has been great. Perhaps the biggest concern I’ve had and continue to do have is that Len has spent a lot of time trying to please everyone. When it came to transport he could best be described as trying to do it all, for example in the Auckland Plan instead of making some tough calls as to which projects get included as priorities the council have opted to just do everything – something partially addressed now with ATAP.

Still on balance I think Len did a pretty decent job, most importantly being that he pushed a vision for Auckland that has been positive. Many people still think fondly of Mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson for pushing his rail scheme in the 60’s and 70’s despite it never being built. By comparison Len has actually resulted in the CRL getting funding and starting construction. I suspect Aucklanders of the future will thank him for it. His legacy will be that Auckland is and will become a much better place than it was when he became mayor. He has helped make Auckland a more liveable city.

Thanks Len and good luck for the future.

Manukau Bus Station Fly Through

Auckland Transport have released a fly-through video of the Manukau Bus Station that is expected to start construction soon. They are also saying it will be complete in the second half of 2017 which is at odds with the board report a few days ago.

New data on cycling

We’re always on the lookout for interesting new pieces of transport data. Smartphone apps and automated trip counters provide an increasing amount of usable, timely data that can tell us how, where, and (at times) why we’re travelling.

Moreover, transport agencies are increasingly open about publishing their data and opening it up for others to analyse. For instance, Auckland Transport now publishes data from dozens of automated cycle counters on its website, allowing organisations like Bike Auckland and Transportblog to track and analyse the benefits of investment in safe, separated cycleways.

But transport agencies aren’t the only people with data. I recently ran across two interesting sources of data on cycling that are being collected and published by private companies.

First, Strava, a social network that allows cyclists and runners to track their routes and publish them online, recently published a global map of user-submitted cycling routes. While Strava is targeted more towards athletes (or at least weekend warriors) than everyday cycle commuters, it still provides an interesting glimpse into where some people are cycling. (But not all!)

Here’s Auckland. This map pretty clearly shows the impact of recreation/sports cycling – although major commuter routes like Lake Road, Tamaki Drive, and the Northwestern Cycleway show up strongly, so does Scenic Drive in the Waitakeres, which is definitely not a common commuting route:

strava-auckland-map

Here’s Christchurch – again, some of the same patterns, with hilly rides to the south of the city showing up stronger than cycling within the city:

strava-christchurch-map

And here’s Wellington. Perhaps not surprisingly, the busiest Strava corridors are on the flat areas around the edge of the harbour, and the ride up to the Hutt Valley:

strava-wellington-map

Second, I happened to find out that the data from the automated cycle counter that AT installed on the Quay St cycleway is published online by Eco-Counter, alongside data from a whole bunch of similar counters around the world. (The only similar counter in NZ is in Hastings.)

The data shows daily trips on the Quay St cycleway. We’ve just ticked over 41,000 trips, or an average of 574 per day since it opened:

eco-counter-quay-st

That’s pretty good for Auckland, but Eco-Counter’s data also shows how much better we could be. For instance, here’s a cycle counter in Freiburg, Germany, which I wrote about after a visit last December. They get an average of 9,134 cycle trips per day passing by their city centre counting point:

eco-counter-freiburg

Closer to home, here’s a cycle counter in Darebin, a middle-suburban part of Melbourne, that gets more trips a day than Quay St – 1,340 cyclists a day on average. If the Australians can manage that in the ‘burbs, why can’t we?

eco-counter-darebin

As always, discussion is encouraged! Also, if you have any additional sources of interesting data, leave them in the comments.

Unitary Plan hits a snag

In August we celebrated as the Unitary Plan was finally approved by the council and then formally notified after a four-year roller coaster of a process. Even better was the end result was actually pretty good, far better than we could have hoped for back in February after the agreed to most of the changes the Independent Hearings Panel made. Things were looking up, that we might actually be able to start to addressing the housing crisis that has pushed people out of the city or even worse, to have to live in a car.

Unfortunately, yesterday the council announced the plan had suffered the same fate as car below after running into an Auckland 2040/Character Coalition shaped bollard (we could also do with some of those bollards in our bus lanes)

car-crash-bollard

Following notification of the Unitary Plan on August 19, there was a 20 working day window for people to appeal the plan. Appeals were possible to the High Court on points of law but there were limited rights of appeal to the environment court “where the council either rejects a recommendation made by the Panel, or accepts a Panel recommendation that is identified as being beyond the scope of submissions on the PAUP” (Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan). In total there were 106 appeals, 65 to the Environment Court, 41 to the High Court, and eight applications for a judicial review.

Most of those only related to specific sites, such as a land owner complaining about the zoning of their property. But the council have deemed that a joint appeal by Auckland 2040 and the Character Coalition on the residential zoning has meant that the zones and the zoning and maps can’t become operative. Here’s what the council says about it.

However a joint appeal lodged by Auckland 2040 and the Character Coalition, which is broad in scope, has the potential to impact residential development across Auckland.

Because that appeal challenges certain zoning decisions, the zoning maps cannot become operative until that appeal is resolved. This may mean that applications for resource consent to develop a property will also need to be assessed against the relevant operative legacy planning zones and rules.

“Until all appeals are resolved, Auckland Council is required to assess all resource consent applications against parts of both the old and new plans,” says Ms Pirrit.

“Decisions will need to be made on a case by case basis as to how much weight can be given to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan versus the operative legacy district and regional plans.”

“In practical terms, this will add greater complexity and a degree of uncertainty for applicants while the appeal process is ongoing.”

So to get consent, developments will need separately pass the old and the new criteria. That sounds onerous and something bound to add a lot of cost to the process or could perhaps even stall much needed developments for up to a year until the appeal is resolved. This almost sounds like a nightmare and one of the worst case scenarios that could have happened.

It appears that even the Character Coalition were unaware of just how much impact their appeal would have, perhaps they got some bad advice.

At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if council are being overly cautious about this and are playing it conservatively to prevent further issue if it was perceived they weren’t taking the process seriously. Either way I certainly hope this is able to be resolved quickly because Auckland can’t afford any delays in trying to address the housing crisis that already exists.

For the parts of the plan that aren’t affected by this appeal, the council are holding their final governing body meeting of the term and staff have recommended they make those parts operative. This will also be the final meeting for Mayor Len Brown and Councillors Arthur Anae, George Wood and Cameron Brewer who are not standing for re-election.

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

Caution: this post contains references to John Farnham.

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

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

9 Farnham Streetview

Source: Google Streetview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

534058E

The proposed building which was marketed over 2014-2015.

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

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

On the way to some Inner West bike routes

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

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

inner-west-feedback-routes-and-issues

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

inner-west-feedback-revised-network

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

inner-west-cycle-network-route-consultation-2

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

Route 1: Surrey Crescent to Garnet Road

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

inner-west-cycle-network-route-consultation-route-1-cross-section

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

Route 2: Richmond Road

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

inner-west-cycle-network-route-consultation-route-2-cross-section

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

Route 3: Greenways Route

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

Route 4: Great North Road

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

inner-west-cycle-network-route-consultation-route-4-cross-section

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

inner-west-cycle-network-route-consultation-route-4-map

 

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

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

Pick up your shopping at your Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

countdown-delivery-to-orakei

Image thanks to Geogoose

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

LGNZ local government voter turnout chart

Why is this happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dependent variable: log(2013 voter turnout)
Explanatory variables Coefficient
log(Resident population) -0.082***
(0.018)
Regional Council (1) 0.111**
(0.05)
Unitary Council (1) 0.107*
(0.055)
STV voting system (2) 0.022
(0.051)
log(Candidates per position) 0.091
(0.055)
log(Median age) 0.640***
(0.221)
log(Share of households renting) 0.171
(0.115)
Constant -2.169**
(0.841)
Model statistics
Observations 75
Adjusted R2 0.414
Residual Std. Error 0.112 (df = 67)
F Statistic 8.476*** (df = 7; 67)
Notes: *p<0.1; **p<0.05; ***p<0.01
(1) Relative to District Council
(2) Relative to FPP

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

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

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

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

auckland-and-rest-of-nz-voter-turnout-chart

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

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

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

I would draw two key conclusions:

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

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

Breathing new life into Aotea

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

civic-administration-building-redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This shows the expected layout of the buildings that are planned

civic-administration-building-redevelopment-plan

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

civic-administration-building-redevelopment-plan-current

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

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

Driverless cars, sprawl and density

This is a guest post from reader Frank McRae

Google Self Driving Car

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

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

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

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

Driverless cars are not viable without road pricing

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

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

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

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

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

Driverless cars will disrupt car ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electric vehicles will improve the amenity of central suburbs 

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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