Sunday reading 26 February 2017

Welcome back to Sunday reading. Here is a piece by Joe Cortright describing the importance of storytelling in framing “Visions of a Future City“, Strong Towns.


In his Presidential Address to the American Economics Association two weeks ago, Nobelist Robert Shiller presented his thoughts on what he called “narrative economics.” Human beings are not the cold rational calculators they’re made out to be in traditional economic modeling. Instead, Shiller argued, human’s are hard-wired to visualize and understand the world through story-telling: We really ought to be called “Homo Narans.” That’s why getting the story right matters so much. If we have a story that centers on technology, vehicles and frenetic movement, we can remake our world in that image. If, instead, we have a story that embraces experience, and place and freedom, we’ll get a very different world.

Auckland was greatly influenced by the modernist concept of the city. This vision was so captivating it has become the default setting – the status quo.

In the recent history of the American city, General Motors’ famous Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair captured the imagination of Americans, and served as an iconic model of a new, auto-centric lifestyle that promised an end to traffic congestion and urban crowding. There’s no doubt that this image of a bright, mobile future appealed to a nation just recovering from the Great Depression. That image ultimately got reflected in policy–and pavement–with the enactment of the federal interstate highway program in the 1950s.

So what are today’s latest urban narratives? Cortright reports back from the Consumer Electronics Show and finds that not much has changed.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show–which is now the place for automobile companies to roll out their newest ideas, technologies and models–Ford presented its remake of the Futurama, which it called, “The City of Tomorrow”.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice that this is a road and vehicle-centered view of urban space. Cars dominate. Sure, there’s a sop thrown to biking, pedestrians and transit, but notice this: All of the pedestrians, and cyclists are shown traveling in parallel to the cars. Walking and biking are just alternative ways of doing the same thing one would do, if one only had a car.

But their are emerging counterpoints including this one by Samsung.

This other vision comes from Samsung, the Korea-based technology company.  They’ve been running a long form (60 second) television commercial called “A Perfect Day.” It follows the exploits of a half dozen kids–armed just with bikes, skateboards, and of course Samsung Galaxy smart phones–as they roam around New York City.  There’s a lot going on here. Watch the video and then let’s see if we can’t unpack the different—and in many ways radical—narrative it’s proposing.

Ultimately transport decisions are not based on cold rational calculations. Again, this is where the narrative come in. Konstantinos Dimopoulos, “Transport Isn’t Technology, It’s Politics“, How We Get to Next.

Deciding whether public transportation is required, or if environmentally friendlier tech should to be developed, ultimately comes down to politics and the people. It is us who will choose — democratically or through protest — whether we want to travel freely or stop at militarized borders, whether we want better public transportation or are fine with automobiles, traffic, and all the pollution that comes with them.

Technology alone will not provide us with miracle solutions. If we really want to achieve sustainable, efficient, fair, safe, and environmentally sensible ways of moving both things and ourselves around, we have to start thinking politically. We even have to question prevalent tendencies such as the privatization of mass transport, consider whether moving to hybrid private cars is wise, or discuss the moral dilemmas that arise in the design of self-driving vehicles.

Speaking of transport technology, here are some recent news stories about Uber.

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber“, Susan J. Fowler.

When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization. When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.

Laura Bliss, “Hailing an Uber Just Got Way More Political“, City Lab.

One could argue that hailing an Uber has always been something of a political act—by taking a ride, passengers “vote” for Uber’s policies and business model with their dollars, even if they’re not particularly aware of the implications. #DeleteUber may raise a certain level of public consciousness in regards to that fact. But as the landscape of urban mobility redraws along partisan lines, fresh arrivals to the anti-Uber camp should know this: The best way to support immigrants and low-income workers who could be exploited by a private transportation service isn’t by downloading a competitor’s app. Now, and always, the most radical statement is riding the bus. 

Dozens of cities are considering removing legacy motorway infrastructure that divide and degrade urban environments. Here is an update of the Congress for the New Urbanism’s top 10 list of “Freeways without futures“, CNU.ORG.

Communities across North America are facing a watershed moment in the history of our transportation infrastructure. With cities, citizens, and transportation officials all looking for alternatives to costly highway repair and expansion, these ten campaigns offer a roadmap to better health, equity, opportunity, and connectivity in every neighborhood, while reversing decades of decline and disinvestment.

Above all, these ten highways are opportunities for progress. Each one presents the chance to remove a blight from the physical, economic, and environmental health of urban communities. Their intended benefits have not justified the tragic consequences, but converting these highways into human-scaled streets offers a chance to begin repairing the damage. From Buffalo to San Francisco, these are the freeways without futures.

The Auckland Bike Challenge concludes this week. Here’s a good take on what it’s like cycle commuting in Auckland. Elisa, “Go by Bike Day 2017 – my experience!“, Elisa’s creation.

Broadway is a nightmare. This is where citybound buses converge and they could come three at a time. Wide footpaths are required outside the shops for the high volume of pedestrians. Then there are on-road parallel parking. There are a couple of pinch points where the footpath extends out onto the road, meaning the buses have to merge into the general traffic lane. Transport engineers, do let me know how we can make Broadway safer and more efficient!

Wow what a difference cycle lanes make! Suddenly I stopped being so nervous, my grasp on the brakes loosened and I started to enjoy myself. There is a psychological shift in perception when your needs are being met. When I use cycle lanes I think: my safety and comfort are being prioritised; there are people thinking and designing for vulnerable road users like myself. It reassures me and encourages me.

We’ve been covering the causes of the global housing crisis over last couple of years. This piece stands out as being particularly influential in shaping the pro-market housing supply response to the crisis.  John Mangin, “The New Exclusionary Zoning“, in Stanford Law & Policy Review.

For the first time in American history, it makes sense to talk about whole regions of the country “gentrifying”—whole metropolitan areas whose high housing costs have rendered them inhospitable to low-income families, who, along with solidly middle class families, also feeling the crunch, have been paying higher housing costs or migrating to low-housing cost (and low-wage) areas like Texas, Arizona, or North Carolina. Underlying both of these phenomena—high housing costs in the suburbs and high housing costs in the cities—is a relatively straightforward problem of supply and demand. A city’s ability to remain affordable depends most crucially on its ability to expand housing supply in the face of increased demand. Among the people who care most about high housing costs there is a lack of understanding of the main causes and the policy approaches that can address them. The central message of this Article is that the housing advocacy community—from the shoe-leather organizer to the academic theoretician—needs to abandon its reflexively anti-development sentiments and embrace an agenda that accepts and advocates for increased housing development of all types as a way to blunt rising housing costs in the country’s most expensive markets.

No argument here -> “For a growing chorus of urbanists, NIMBYism and land use restrictions are the culprit behind everything from growing income inequality to shrinking affordable housing, productivity, and innovation.” But Richard Florida in “Anatomy of a NIMBY“, CityLab, argues that it’s vital to understand neighbourhood opposition.

The crux of the California problem, the Monkkonen paper argues, is not the state’s restrictions on uber-high density building in and around urban centers, but the broader dependence on lower-density zoning across the board. Los Angeles may be a relatively dense city and metro (indeed, according to some basic measures, it is the densest metro in the country), but three-quarters of its residential land is devoted to relatively low-density single-family housing that only shelters half the city’s population.

To get beyond NIMBYism, we first must understand it. Neighborhood resistance isn’t just triggered by residents trying to prop up their home values or protect their neighborhoods from things they don’t like—it’s the product of policies that provide incentives toward homeownership and a regulatory system that encourages and prompts opposition.

What follows is a BINGO card of issues.

  • Traffic and parking: Nothing activates wary homeowners faster than the threat of losing a parking space. People moving into new apartments tend to own cars at higher rate, and one study found traffic to be one of the most common complaints in opposition to affordable housing in the Bay Area.
  • Strain on services: Other residents fear that parks and schools will be overrun, as well as the limits of sewer, power, and water resources to handle new development and more people.
  • Environmental preservation: Some of the most prominent fights over development in California—like the Sierra Club’s resistance to Governor Jerry Brown’s “by-right” legislation—are over possible environmental damage from added density.
  • Neighborhood character: Finally, residents are often concerned over how new construction will negatively impact historic and architecturally significant urban neighborhoods.

Lets return to one of the key arguments of Mangin who notes that cities are not longer the “growth machines” they once were.

Many of the country’s most desirable and most economically vibrant cities are no longer “Growth Machines.” They may be getting richer, and in that sense “growing,” but an emphasis on building housing and adding population is a thing of the past. Consequently, housing prices in these post-Growth Machine cities have risen much faster than the national average. The effect has been the same as in the exclusionary suburbs: The anti-development orientation of certain cities is turning them into preserves for the wealthy as housing costs increase beyond what lower-income families can afford to pay. The phenomenon deserves a similar name—the New Exclusionary Zoning.

Sluggish economic growth and productivity is something that is bewildering economists. Does the urban housing crisis, private indebtedness, and lack of access to cities contribute to the global malaise? I don’t know. Here is David Brook review of Tyler Cowen’s The Complacent Class. This century is broken”, The New York Times.

The hard part is that America has to become more dynamic and more protective — both at the same time. In the past, American reformers could at least count on the fact that they were working with a dynamic society that was always generating the energy required to solve the nation’s woes. But as Tyler Cowen demonstrates in his compelling new book, “The Complacent Class,” contemporary Americans have lost their mojo.

Cowen shows that in sphere after sphere, Americans have become less adventurous and more static. For example, Americans used to move a lot to seize opportunities and transform their lives. But the rate of Americans who are migrating across state lines has plummeted by 51 percent from the levels of the 1950s and 1960s.

Americans used to be entrepreneurial, but there has been a decline in start-ups as a share of all business activity over the last generation. Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history. The share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.

Americans tell themselves the old job-for-life model is over. But in fact Americans are switching jobs less than a generation ago, not more. The job reallocation rate — which measures employment turnover — is down by more than a quarter since 1990.

There are signs that America is less innovative. Accounting for population growth, Americans create 25 percent fewer major international patents than in 1999. There’s even less hunger to hit the open road. In 1983, 69 percent of 17-year-olds had driver’s licenses. Now only half of Americans get a license by age 18.

That’s all for this week. Please add your links in the comments below.

Research: Recommended road user rule changes

A bunch of walking and cycling research just dropped on the NZTA website. This report by MHW and ViaStrada looks at several possible road user rule changes (PDF). The first consideration is fundamental to supporting high quality cycling facilities, and the second is, well, fundamental to living in a city in 2017.

Here is the first: Giving cyclists precedence over traffic when separated cycleways cross side-roads

The first rule addresses the absence of clear guidance on separated cycleways at signalised and unsignalised intersections (see image below). While a person in a cycle lane has precedence over turning traffic, there is no consideration for the priority of a cyclist on cycle path (shared path, etc) which is a facility that doesn’t sit in the carriageway (between the kerbs). There is also lack of clarity around kerb and flexi-post separated cycle paths.


Dashed lines give way to solid lines

This is how the new report summarises the proposed changes:

  • People cycling on a separated cycle facility along a road corridor would have precedence over traffic entering or leaving side roads (signalised or priority-controlled)
  • Vehicles turning across cycleways from the adjacent road would have to give way to the cyclistTraffic on side roads also obliged to give way to the cyclist

And this is what the report recommends with regard to implementation:

  • Give priority for crossings at signalised intersections universally across New Zealand via a change to the Road User Rule (unless signs or signal phasing prohibit it at certain locations)
  • Priority across unsignalised intersections should be either universally across NZ or only where signs/markings allow it, possibly only in lower-speed (urban) areas.
  • A key change needs to occur around the definition of “roadway”. The roadway needs to include all cycle paths and cycle lanes, regardless of the form of separation.

For comparison in the Netherlands right-of-way is clear and unambiguous supporting the wide scale development of cyclepaths (sidepaths). They use an extended version of an almost universal rule where turning traffic gives way to through traffic. This is how the rule is defined as described by Peter Furth:

Unless signed or signalled otherwise, motor vehicles and bicycles turning off a road, whether turning right or left, must give way to cyclists and pedestrians traveling along that road in the same or opposite direction. For this purpose, cyclists and pedestrians are deemed to be traveling along a road if they are traveling on the roadway or on a path or sidewalk within 6m of the roadway edge. 

The report also discusses some interesting supporting solutions such as the flashing amber yellow arrow. I could see something like this being very useful in order to allow a longer straight through green phase for cyclists (see also, Invisible Infrastructure: Turning the Corner Campaign).

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Here is consideration of the second rule change: Giving pedestrians precedence over traffic when crossing side roads

New Zealand is a global oddball with this one (see image below). It’s pretty straightforward. Pedestrians crossing an unsignalised side road do not have precedence over turning cars. While pedestrians have priority at intersections when facing a green disc or with a green man, the report says:

No similar precedence currently exists for pedestrians facing traffic turning or crossing at unsignalised intersections.

At this point, I’m concluding that there is not an explicit requirement for pedestrians to give way to turning traffic, but rather the absence of a rule, along with an established norm where pedestrians are expected to jump out of the way of cars, or step backward after starting to cross (see also Peds Rule).

Dashed lines give way to solid lines

Interestingly, the report also mentions that pedestrians are given priority “at a ‘pedestrian crossing’ (aka ‘zebra crossing’)”. Pedestrian precedence at zebra crossings is not surprising, but in the context of a sideroad crossing the use of a pedestrian crossing is rare.  The few I can think of are located across one-way streets like here on Symonds Street and Wakefield Street.

So this is a bit of a plot twist. The discussion has grown to include traffic control devices (signs, markings) as well as road rules. More on this later.

This is how the report summarises the proposed changes:

  • Pedestrians walking alongside a road corridor who wish to cross would have precedence over traffic entering or leaving a side-road.
  • The pedestrian priority could apply only when the pedestrian crosses from one footpath (or shared path) adjacent to the main road to the continuation of that footpath on the opposite side of the side road.

And this is the recommendation for this rule:

  • Do not adopt this rule universally at this stage without the presence of suitable signs/markings
  • Implement initially at limited trial sites in New Zealand via the introduction and legislation of new signs/markings to allow this, ideally at very low-speed (30-40 km/h) areas first
  • Monitor behaviours/performance of trial sites for consideration of wider uptake

The report recommends the introduction of new signs and markings, something akin to North American parallel crosswalks or the less common ladder crossings. Here are the examples provided.

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Introducing new crosswalk line markings seems like a reasonable first step before introducing universal road user changes. Once people understand the road rules, priority can be mediated by simple stop limit line in many places, and with crosswalks where needed (near schools for example).

There is also a suggestion that existing pedestrian crossings can still be used, but suggests that the current practice requires that they are set back from the intersection. There are a few of these around Auckland. They seem really confusing compared to a stop line and a crosswalk.

For comparison, here is an intersection in Toronto.

Finch Avenue, Toronto

Overall the report is very comprehensive quoting specific road rules where available and also the Traffic Control Devices Rule and other legal precedents.  After reading this report I’m convinced that very few people in New Zealand would even know what the road rules are!

It is also very exciting to see this work progress. I think it offers the biggest opportunity for wide-scale improvement of walking and cycling conditions in New Zealand.

Are we finally ready for March Madness

Next week, the transport version of a perfect storm kicks off in the form of March Madness. It’s the time of the year when both roads and public transport use is at its heaviest. This is generally the result of a few factors that combine to create a significant surge in transport demand. These include:

  • Primary and secondary kids are all at school
  • Tertiary institutions have started for the year and students tend to be more keen and eager to attend classes
  • A lot of people take leave over Christmas or around the various public holidays early in the year rather than in March so more people are at work
  • Coming out of summer, more people are also at work and not struck down by the winter illnesses that tend to sweep through workplaces and classrooms.
  • The weather is still decent so people are less likely to be put off walking/waiting for services.
  • As the roads get busier, more people try out public transport as a way of avoiding congestion

That last point is important because if people try PT and it works well, they’re more likely to keep using it later in the year. If instead they find buses and trains too busy to get on, caught in congestion they’ll be much more likely to give up and go back to driving.

A typical scene in March in previous years

To highlight just how much busier March tends to be compared to other months, this graph shows March coloured red.

You can also see it in these graphs from Auckland Transport’s monthly indicators showing the average boardings on business days. March last year saw almost 250k people a day on buses and over 70k per day on trains.

For many years now we’ve repeatedly asked the question of whether AT is ready for March and every year, once March hits, they’ve been caught short and images of full buses and trains are a regular occurrence. Some people have reported in the past of up to 12 buses passing them before one turned up that they could get on. Often AT have capacity improvements planned but they’re not due to be implemented till after March which defeats the purpose. Last year things were so bad that AT got operators to pull out every old dunger of a bus they had hiding out the back of their depots just to try and meet demand. So, will this year be any different?

Positively, while I expect March will continue to be busy and put pressure on bus and train capacity, I think there’s a greater chance than ever of getting a good result. That’s because AT appear to be learning and have been adding capacity *ahead* of March.

Auckland Transport is putting on more services to meet passenger demand during March.

Group Manager AT Metro Operations, Brendon Main says in the morning peak there will be 56 more city bound bus trips each morning compared to March last year. That’s 5% more capacity overall for bus services and an increase of up to 34% on some corridors. “We know the number of public transport passengers peaks in March as students head back to their studies, schools are in term and lower numbers of people are on leave. It’s known as “March Madness” and since March last year we’ve worked hard to get more services on some of our busiest routes.”

Mr Main says last March some peak time trips were crowded and these are the services being targeted with extra buses this year.

“We will have more than six and a half thousand extra spaces on buses and trains, this will go a long way towards meeting demand.”

Bus capacity has increased by close to 5400 spaces and timetable changes for trains from 12 March will mean an additional 1200 spaces are available in the morning peak.

Mr Main says double-decker buses are also coming to Birkenhead to help with the demand.

From next Monday, 27 February, four double-decker buses will commence services on routes between Beach Haven, Glenfield and the central city providing much needed additional capacity along Onewa Road.

New routes for double-decker services are 970, 973, 973B, 974 and 974B between Beach Haven and the CBD and the section of routes 950 and 955 between Glenfield Mall and the CBD.

Mr Main says public transport will be busy but Auckland Transport and its service providers will be closely watching the situation. “You might not always get on the first service but we want to ensure wait times are acceptable and, on some routes, better than last year.”


Here is where the additional capacity has been added, most of occurring late last year which is likely why, for me at least, February doesn’t feel to have had the same trouble indicators as previous years.

AT also say that the change to the rail timetable on 12-March will see 1,194 spaces inbound during the morning peak, split between the Eastern Line (796 spaces) and Southern Line (398 spaces). The western line had a capacity boost last year when it moved to 10-minute peak frequencies and the services I catch have been busy but not crushingly so.

The table AT provided raises a few other interesting aspects.

  • In March last year, Dominion Rd and the Northern Busway had similar levels of capacity but my understanding is that ridership is notably higher on the Northern Express.
  • You can also see the impact that the double deckers have on operations. Both routes had capacity for just over 4,000 people but the NEX did that with 43 buses compared to 63 buses on Dominion Rd. That means Dominion Rd needs additional drivers and buses to move the same number of people and with so many buses down the corridor, on which the bus lanes aren’t continuous, it can lead lots of issues of bunching, slow services and ultimately a worse experience for passengers. This is ultimately why AT want to put Light Rail down Dominion Rd but given that’s some time away, they really need to improve the bus lanes now and that could also help reduce operational costs.
  • Given many of these services have been in place for a few months, they will already be reflected in the very peaky nature of our services.

Let’s hope that this year services handle the PT pilgrimage better than they have in the past and we don’t have people being left behind.

Govt silly to reject Regional Fuel Tax

Last Thursday Finance Minister Steven Joyce announced that the government was “ruling out” using a regional fuel tax as one way to fill the $4 billion transport funding gap that was identified by ATAP. He noted a few reasons for this decision:

And second, I stress that we are not interested in introducing a regional fuel tax. I have reiterated to Mayor Goff this morning that we do not see regional fuel taxes as part of the Government’s mix for transport in Auckland because they are administratively difficult, prone to leakage and cost-spreading, and blur the accountabilities between central and local government.

In some respects it wasn’t particularly surprising that the government made this decision. They have long had a somewhat bizarre hatred of regional fuel taxes, not only cancelling Auckland’s proposed fuel tax in 2009 that was going to pay for the electric trains (a decision that probably delayed electrification for a year or two) but then also changing the Land Transport Management Act in 2013 to remove the possibility of Councils even applying to the government for such a tax.

Many of these “concerns” were addressed in a report (page 15 onwards) that the Council commissioned in 2012 to inform their submission on the LTMA changes. Looking first at the issue of cost-spreading (which basically means the risk that petrol companies will raise prices around NZ rather than just in Auckland to pay for the regional fuel tax):

With the level of scrutiny in this sector it seems pretty unlikely that we would see this happening. Furthermore it seems like there are good checks and balances that could be put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen. So, not really a valid excuse.

Now for “leakage”, which is the likelihood of people travelling outside Auckland to “fuel up” and therefore avoiding the regional tax:

Once again it seems like these issues are marginal and can be easily addressed. This led the commissioned report to conclude that concerns that were raised in relation to a regional fuel tax at the time (which seem very similar to those mentioned by Joyce last week) can be easily addressed.

Of course Joyce’s final point – about accountabilities between central and local government, is probably the real reason for the opposition. Essentially government doesn’t want to give up the power it has through collecting fuel taxes. But this seems a bit petty and I’m sure in relation to such a high profile issue in Auckland (the funding of transport) and the broad agreement between Council and Government on what the priority investments are, there would be clear accountability with the public.

This rejection of the regional fuel tax now puts the ball back in the government’s court to come up with some other ideas for addressing the funding gap. They’d better hurry up as the clock is ticking to get this sorted in time for the 2018 transport funding plans.

Draft Government Policy Statement 2018-28: Roads Roads Roads

Yesterday the Ministry of Transport released for consultation the Draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) for 2018-2025. The GPS is refreshed every three years and as the name implies, it sets out the government’s policies and spending for transport over a 10-year horizon.

The single most important aspect of the GPS are the funding ranges for each of the 10 activity areas. The funding ranges set an upper and lower limit of how much money will be spent on each activity every year. These ranges are then used by the NZTA in conjunction with regional councils in setting the more detailed National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) and Regional Land Transport Plans (RLTPs) which will list specific funding levels. This is how the various transport documents are tied together and as you can see, other regional and national plans have to be consistent with or give effect to the GPS, meaning there aren’t a lot of options to stray from what the government wants.

In total, over $11 billion is expected to be spent over the six years from 2018 to 2024 but depending on circumstances that could be as high as over $12 billion.

And importantly, here are the individual funding ranges as a graph. This looks at the total range over three years and I’ve included the 2012-15 and 2015-18 figures as a comparison to show how they’re changing. Some notable things you can see:

  • There is another significant increase for state highway improvements. Many of the big Roads of National Significance projects will be winding up over that 3-year period but other expensive projects, such as the East West Link and Northern Corridor are expected to getting underway.
  • They’re lowering the bracket for local road projects saying it was consistently under spent but that the opposite is true of local road maintenance.
  • On top of the State Highways fund, there is a separate activity for regional projects which they admit are mostly state highway projects too.
  • Public Transport gets some improvements in range but it’s worth noting that this covers both services and infrastructure. Also with NZ’s weird funding rules, it isn’t allowed to be spent on rail infrastructure.
  • Walking and cycling does get a little boost but not a significant one.

To give an idea of where investment has been in the past, this shows the funding ranges for the 2015-18 NLTP and where within those ranges funding was allocated.

Much of the text within the document feels like it has just been copied and pasted from previous versions of the GPS but I went through (most) of it anyway and a couple of things stood out.

The document states that the GPS takes into consideration a range of government policies relevant to transport, this includes the Kaikoura earthquake and tsunami recovery. But oddly it makes multiple references to the fact it doesn’t fully take into account the ATAP work agreed between the government and the council as it’s waiting on funding decisions. This makes me nervous that the government are planning on picking and choosing from ATAP.

30. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project is a collaborative exercise between Auckland local government and central government officials. It has provided analysis to inform the development of the GPS. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project identified four key strategic challenges and a strategic approach to investment for Auckland. The strategic approach looks to make better use of existing networks, target investment to the most significant challenges, and maximise new opportunities to influence travel demand.

31. The draft GPS 2018 recognises the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and Kaikoura earthquake but does not fully take the funding implications of Auckland Transport Alignment Project into account. There is expected to be changes to the final GPS 2018 once funding decisions have been made.

Previous GPS’ have talked a lot about getting value for money from transport investment while at the same time promoting programmes like the RoNS and other government initiatives that assessment has shown to perform poor economically. Now they’re starting to drop the charade government projects will be good value and saying they’ll be done anyway, simply because the government like them. This is a massive double standard from the government who have for years berated Auckland for projects they claim have a low economic value.

36. It is expected that maximising value for money will automatically advance economic growth and productivity and road safety. However, there will be investments with a low benefit cost return that are necessary to advance Government policies. In these cases there will need to be a strong policy alignment (as expressed in the GPS) with Government policies and transparency about the reason for the decision.


61. For many investments it will be possible to obtain good benefit cost returns while providing the right infrastructure and services at the best cost. However to sufficiently advance some government policies, investments may require a lower than normal benefit cost return (i.e. less than the average Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP). Even in these cases, in general it is expected that the benefit cost ratio will at least exceed one.

One thing to remember about the GPS is that it only covers some areas of transport which seems short-sighted, even if they claim there will be integration with other modes.

39. Investment in movement of freight by road is covered by the GPS, but investment in movement of freight by rail, sea and air is not. However, coordination between the GPS and those responsible for different modes of transport can help to maximise the benefits of transport to the economy.

There are a few positive things to say about public transport and the role it has to play, such as:

115. Significant increases in public transport capacity have seen more people using and relying on public transport in the main metropolitan areas. These increases have occurred alongside increasing fare box recovery, indicating that the investment is resulting in more efficient outcomes.

116. The GPS will support this result by:

  • continuing to invest in public transport, including modal integration where appropriate
  • continuing the momentum set by GPS 2015 to increase the efficiency of public transport investment

Yet at the same time, they make some odd statements such as that forecasts are overly optimistic.

Passenger numbers have increased recently and are forecast to increase in Auckland and Wellington over the short term (and in Christchurch in the medium term). Although forecasts of increased passenger numbers have typically been overly optimistic. Auckland and Wellington public transport plans are based on an increased public transport task.

Fare box recovery rates have improved in Auckland and Wellington. Currently expenditure is in the middle of the funding range.

The proposal is for a gradual increase in the funding range to cover forecast passenger growth and for some public transport infrastructure work (such as park and ride facilities).

There is a need to keep focus on value for money, and ensure fare box recovery rates are at the expected levels.

Over optimistic forecasts, that’s a bit rich coming from the MoT, for example remember this graph showing actual vs forecast vehicle travel.

Of the big investments in PT in the last decade, the rail network and the busway, in both cases they are performing ahead of expectations. In the case of the rail network, we are ahead of those expectations despite the trains taking about 2 years longer to fully enter service like the earlier assessments had identified. We’re also performing ahead of the MoT’s expectations when it comes to ridership for the CRL. At one point, they claimed we wouldn’t meet the 20 million trips by 2020 yet at current rates, we’ll hit it this calendar year.

Consultation on the GPS is open till the end of March.

Lightpath couldn’t stand the light

Lightpath is just over a year old but it quickly reached iconic status and feels like it has been part of the city for a lot longer than it has. As of the end of January, over 228k people had cycled along its magenta surface. But that surface is not as bright as it originally was, having been faded by the elements. It has also been cracking and blistering in places.

To fix these issues the NZTA are closing this important connection for just over a week starting next Wednesday to fix it.

Auckland’s Lightpath cycleway will get its own special sunscreen application next month, to protect it from the elements and make its colour even more vibrant.

The magenta surface will be refreshed and UV protected as part of ongoing maintenance.

The work means the shared path will be closed to all users between the 1st and the 9th of March.

“This UV coating is marine grade and is used on cruise and container ships, so the paint surface will now live up to the harshest possible conditions and will be far more fade resistant,” says Brett Gliddon the NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager.

“We’re delighted with the popularity of the Lightpath and apologise for any inconvenience its closure will cause, but along with Auckland Transport and Auckland Council, we’re committed to keeping it well maintained so that many more thousands of people can continue to enjoy it.”

The estimated cost of the refresh and UV protection is $115,000, which will be funded through money previously set aside by Auckland Council from the City Centre Targeted Rate.

The UV coating will involve a base coat being painted on to the existing surface, which will look a little redder than the current surface, the final magenta top coat will then be applied which will create the vibrant magenta colour again.

The work can only be carried out during dry weather and so the closure dates may be shifted.

Very wet weather at the time the original surface was laid is believed to have caused some bonding issues with the existing surface which is made of recycled glass and this will be fixed during the maintenance work.

This from Stuff shows the difference between the original surface and what it will look like after this work is done.

I’m a little conflicted over this. On one hand I can appreciate that this work needs to be done and the weather narrows down when this can happen. But on the other hand, this is also the time of the year that is most conducive to cycling and closing it for over a week leaves people who want a safe, protected option for accessing the western side of the city without one. Can you imagine the NZTA accepting a motorway being fully closed for a week for works?

It’s also disappointing that this needs to happen, why wasn’t weathering factored in when the surface was originally laid or were corners cut in order to get it open on time?

Let’s hope the NZTA and AT get this work done as fast as possible and that there are no further delays.

Level Crossing Removal Feasibility

A few times every year we’re unfortunately reminded of the lack of action there has been on removing rail level crossings across Auckland. Removing these crossings have numerous benefits such as increased safety, reduced delays for drivers and allowing for signalling improvements which will trains to run faster. Removing them from the western line in particular will become even more important after the completion of the City Rail Link when frequencies will be able to be further increased and trains could be running in each direction every few minutes. In that situation, crossings will probably be closed more than they’re open.

Across the electrified network there are currently 45 level crossings, 31 are road/pedestrian crossings while a further 14 a pedestrian only crossings. The majority of level crossings are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.

Yet despite the need to remove level crossings, the last ones to be removed were about seven years ago as part of the New Lynn trench construction, but there has been nothing since then. Looking to the future, Auckland Transport are hoping to remove the Sarawia St crossing and their latest board report suggests they’ve come to an agreement with those who appealed the consent so hopefully work will start on that soon. We also know that the Normanby Rd and Porters Ave crossings will be removed as part of the City Rail Link works with the latter replaced by only a pedestrian and cycling bridge. Other than those crossings, AT have previously told us some crossings will need to be dealt with as part of packages and the packages with the highest priority are: (not in any particular order)

  • Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
  • Western Line – Morningside Drive
  • Western Line – Woodward Road
  • Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
  • Western Line – Glenview Road
  • Western Line – Bruce McLaren

One of the challenges with the level crossings across Auckland is just how they might be done. Some crossings, such as St Jude St, appear to present significant technical challenges to grade separation.

Harriet has been doing a great job requesting up a storm of information recently and one of the items she received from AT was a feasibility study of grade separating the level crossings that involve roads. The report says of the 31 crossings, AT first identified the crossings that, from primarily a road operations perspective, it might be feasible to just close the crossing. They found ten could potentially be closed and a further five which could possibly be closed leaving 16 crossings to look at, although more work would likely be needed to confirm if crossings could be closed. The report doesn’t separate out what the feasible and possible closures are but includes crossings such as Fruitvale Rd, both Rossgrove Tce and Asquith Ave, and George St – which would likely be removed when the New North Rd interchange is torn down.

For the remaining 16 crossings, the study looked at three options for each one:

  1. Road bridge over rail on existing road alignment with the railway retained at its current level (Road Over)
  2. Rail trench under road with the road retained at its current level (Rail Under)
  3. Hybrid of 1 and 2 consisting of partial raising of road and lowering of rail to achieve required train clearance beneath road bridge

The study is only really a high level look at the options so doesn’t state which of the three options is preferred or even rule any options out, although based on the results, options at some locations would almost certainly be ruled out. The potential costs for each option a have been blacked out so we can’t see those. I’ve only looked at the Western and Southern Line crossings so if you want to see the ones on the Onehunga Line, or more detail about all of them, take a look at the report.

Morningside Dr – This is one of the most common level crossings that gets discussed as it’s also the one that probably appears the most frequently in the news. Option 2 of rail in a trench really seems like a no starter as they say it would require significant regrading of the rail line including having to lower Kingsland Station as well as the New North Rd bridge and the road underneath it.

Woodward Rd – Option 3 seems the most likely here as Option 1 would require raising the New North Rd intersection by 2m and Jersey Rd by 6.5m although they say it could be closed too. Option 2 here is also effectively ruled out here as it would be restricted by the Mt Albert station

St Jude St – St Jude St is one of the busiest crossings for road traffic in the country with almost 20,000 vehicles per day passing over it. On top of that, the crossing is effectively on the side of a steep hill. They say that for a road bridge to get back to ground level by Gt North Rd, it would need to have a gradient of a very steep 12.5%. It’s also worth noting that during double tracking the rail line (Project DART) was already lowered once, a missed opportunity to do things properly as part of that project?

St Georges Rd – As rail is already at the maximum gradient for freight an changes to the rail line would require option 2 or 3 for St Jude St.

Portage Rd – Any options for lowering the rail line have already been ruled out due to the close proximity of the New Lynn trench and Whau river crossing, both of which would otherwise have to be lowered. Again this appears to be something that could have, and should have been tied in with DART.

Glenview Rd – AT seem to be stuck with this crossing as no option is considered feasible. Option 1 would require raising the West Coast/Glenview Rd intersection by a whopping 8.5m, above the height of most of the buildings in Glen Eden. Meanwhile Option 2 would require regrading 1.2km of track and Option 3 would need 1km of track regraded. AT will have to look for other options here but once again, I can’t help but think this could have been done as part of DART when the whole line was being dug up.

Bruce McLaren Rd – The close proximity of the intersection to Railside Ave to the east of the crossing and access to industrial properties to the west makes Option 1 difficult while Options 2 or 3 would interfere with plans to add additional rail access to the stabling yard also next to the crossing.

Metcalfe Rd – Given all the other road connections to Metcalfe Rd on either side of the crossing, it makes Option 1 difficult while options 2 or 3 would require redevelopment of the Ranui station and have potential impacts on the ponds to the east.

Walters Rd – This appears to be one of the least difficult of all the crossings.

Taka St – Option 1 would likely require closing access to Takanini Rd. Option 2 would require Takanini Station to be rebuilt but given it’s never been upgraded, that’s probably not a bad thing. It would also require lowering the tracks at Manuroa Rd

Manuroa Rd – This is similar to Taka St

As mentioned earlier, other than a few crossings, most have no time frame for removal. ATAP identified level crossing removals as an important item and in their costs suggested spending $203m in the first decade and $385.3m in the second decade on addressing them. I’d certainly much rather we focused on these kinds of projects rather than mega projects like the East-West Link.

Goff’s Busway Tunnel

Yesterday Stuff published what is frankly an odd opinion from Mayor Phil Goff regarding public transport and a future harbour crossing.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff would prefer the city’s second harbour crossing to be built with a busway instead of a rail line.

Goff said the $4 billion tunnel under Auckland Harbour, planned for about 2030, should be built with a busway to begin with.

“Busways are easily translatable to light railways, so the two are quite compatible. You may sequence it in that order. That’s my preference,” Goff said.

Goff said he was keen for a rail line to Auckland’s North Shore, eventually, but a rail line to the airport was a higher priority.

There are quite a few things that spring to my mind from just these few lines.

The busway is an outstanding success and use of it has grown dramatically in the nine years since it opened. It now carries over 4.6 million trips annually which is not all too different to what our rail lines do.

One of the big transport issues facing Auckland and especially the city centre is how we cope with growth in public transport. As it is now many streets in the city centre have too many buses on them and are struggling to cope, let alone what would be needed if public transport use keeps growing like it has been. This is of course the main reason AT were looking at Light Rail in the Isthmus. On top of this is the city’s desire to become more walking and cycling friendly.

The NEX is popular and there can already be too many in the city with not enough space for them all

The northern busway itself still has capacity left for a while, at current rates probably till some time in the 2030’s, but even that means we’re likely to need to look for further ways of improving capacity within the next 20 years which is exactly the timeframe we’re going to be discussing the next harbour crossing. If we’re going to the trouble of spending possibly billions on another harbour crossing it makes no sense to build it as a busway if we’re only going to have to upgrade it again in few years time.

This is becoming an increasing sight on the busway

Goff campaigned on light rail down Dominion Rd and he’s quoted as saying that rail to the airport is a higher priority. I agree with him on that but it doesn’t mean we don’t discuss it for the North Shore. In fact, the two could even link up together to deliver a light rail rapid transit line from Albany to the Airport. That’s a vision I bet a lot of the city would get behind.

I also suspect Goff is underestimating the impact of converting a busway to light rail, especially the disruption it will cause. This won’t be a quick few weeks job but would likely take months or even over a year depending on how it was done and during that time the busway will be out of action. While I’m sure some of the smart people in our transport industry will find ways to minimise that, it will still be incredibly disruptive and we wouldn’t want to have to do both the existing busway and a busway harbour tunnel, even if it was possible.

It’s important to remember though that the timeframe listed, of a harbour crossing “planned for about 2030” is actually incorrect anymore. The recent ATAP work pushed the project back to completion in the 3rd decade (2038-2048), in part due to the work showing it as having a very high cost while having little impact on congestion. The current plans for the next crossing envisage a combined tunnel with road and rail combined. I can’t imagine that would be too save with buses though it and certainly not double deckers.

We believe there’s a strong case to separate out the PT and road crossings and build them separately, starting with the mode that doesn’t currently exist. This is also because a PT crossing would have considerably more capacity than any road crossing would. We also think it’s time we reconsidered the option of that new crossing being a bridge. Like the new Tilikum Crossing in Portland it could be for PT and active modes only, and would considerably cheaper than tunnel options.



Let’s hope someone tells Goff that a busway tunnel is a bad idea

Improving EMU Travel Times – LGOIMA

Back in January I made a request to Auckland Transport asking what had been done/planned to improve travel times on the rail network, the response I received was very positive and if able to be implemented fantastic for rail users. You can view the entire response here.

The highlight is the section on dwell times, which remarked that CAF have been hard at work testing different options to reduce the dwell times with one option possibly allowing 20 second dwells. Whether this option is feasible outside the depot however is to be seen.

CAF have recently undertaken timed tests in the depot for different opening and closing options – for the time from wheel stop till power is back onto the traction motors. It can be achieved in 20 seconds, plus the actual door open time depending on the open and close method. A modification has been implemented that has further reduced the time required to make the traction loop by 2 seconds – which is a good improvement to bank.

AT also asked KiwiRail and Siemens (signalling company) to look at improving network travel times by optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) signalling to allow increased line speed. The sections reviewed looked to be centred around the Westfield – Newmarket – Britomart section of network. As someone who uses the Southern Line I can understand this with line speeds feeling very slow considering the track alignment, zero level crossings & geometry. In a section where next the southern motorway you feel you should be putting the pedal down leaving traffic in the dust, instead you find yourself limping along.

Full Speed Ahead

The areas AT believe line speed can be increased are (up – towards north, down – towards south)

  • #3a: Line Speed Increase NAL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 10 sec Up, 15sec Down)
  • #3b: Line Speed Increase OBL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 15 sec Both)
  • #3c: Line Speed Increase NBL (Newmarket to Britomart) – (saves 20sec Both. But addition of Parnell station will negate.)
  • #8: Sarawia St in-fill balise (Reduction in delays approaching 203 signal) – (saves 10 sec per train crossing to Platform 1)
  • #9a: 304 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminates risk of Up EMUs stalling at Neutral section).
  • #9b: 204 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminate the need for trains to slow to 20/km).

Overall the time savings of this could result in travel time savings for

Southern Line – Up Main Services of 70sec & Down Main Services of 35sec
Onehunga Line – Up Main Services of 65sec & Onehunga Down Main Services of 35sec
Western Line – Up Main Services of 30sec & Western Down Main Services of 20sec

However some of travel times may be negated by the opening of Parnell station, however Southern Services will of course have that offset by the closing of Westfield.

They are also looking at adjusting the level crossings to allow higher line speeds, this will be very useful if implemented for Western Line users.

Modifying the level crossings to support higher speed operation will result in the level crossing alarms operating for longer until the trains start running at the higher speed.

It mentions the potential reports to be done in the future for other sections of the rail network, hopefully we will see further optimisation in the future.

Agreeing with Joyce

Last week Finance Minister Steven Joyce gave a speech to Massey University and Auckland Chamber of Commerce about the economy and this year’s budget. There were some notable elements related to transport in it worth highlighting, especially those in relation to demand management.

The demand management part of the speech came after a decent amount of chest puffing and back slapping over all the major transport projects underway in Auckland including motorway projects, local road projects and the CRL.

However as this work comes to fruition over the next five years, Auckland as a city is going to come up against a hard constraint, and that’s one of geography.

There is no getting away from the fact that central Auckland is built on a narrow isthmus which makes it hard to get around – and the available land transport corridors are rapidly being used.

So beyond the current building programme we are going to have to look at demand management to reduce the reliance on the road corridors, in favour of buses, trains and ferries.

That was one of the conclusions of the joint Government/Auckland Council ATAP process last year.

To have this being acknowledged by Joyce is hugely positive given many of the comments he’s delivered over the years about transport issues in Auckland, especially during his time as Transport Minister. Quite how he’ll act on it could be another thing entirely though and so we’ll need to wait to see if as Finance Minister he delivers any money for PT projects.

If in the future we were to look back on what ATAP achieved, getting the government to finally acknowledge that we can’t just rely on more roads in Auckland will surely be near the top of the list.

Another big outcome from ATAP was the general acknowledgement between government and the council on the need for demand management, including the use of road pricing to achieve that. One positive of ATAP was that it assessed the need for road pricing outside the need to raise additional revenue to pay for infrastructure but even so, it found that just in the next decade alone an additional $400 million per year is needed.

The Government is developing a work programme to look at demand management tools including electronic road tolling in the medium to long term.

But to be clear, we see this primarily as a way to make the roading system work better – and not as a revenue raising exercise.

And today, I can confirm the Government’s position is:

First, we would expect that any road pricing initiative on existing motorways and highways would predominantly be a replacement for petrol taxes and road user charges not in addition to them.

We’ve suggested for many years that if introduced, road pricing should initially done so in a revenue neutral manner by replacing existing rates and/or taxes. While some would pay more and some less than they do today, the idea is that overall revenue gathered remains about the same which would help improve acceptance of any road pricing scheme. So in this case too it feels we’re roughly aligned with Joyce. This isn’t to say there still shouldn’t fuel taxes though, we still want to encourage moves to more fuel efficient vehicles after all.

The next part to note relates to his response to Mayor Phil Goff who had been pushing for a regional fuel tax.

And second, I stress that we are not interested in introducing a regional fuel tax. I have reiterated to Mayor Goff this morning that we do not see regional fuel taxes as part of the Government’s mix for transport in Auckland because they are administratively difficult, prone to leakage and cost-spreading, and blur the accountabilities between central and local government.

However we are keen to have a more detailed discussion about demand management tools, and explore further options for longer term funding for new infrastructure, including the use of private finance for certain projects, such as Penlink for example. Mayor Goff and I have agreed to work together on those.

Finally something to disagree on, I honestly can’t see how regional fuel taxes would be administratively difficult. I’m sure fuel companies know how much they sell at each of their stations and how many people are realistically going to drive outside the Auckland to get fuel. With the exception of a few people, most would probably spend more on the fuel to get out of the Auckland region than they’d save on petrol prices. Fuel taxes certainly may be a raising additional revenue in the short term till other solutions are put in place – and remember ATAP suggests we need to raise $400 million extra each and every year on top of what we’re already spending.

This announcement disappointed Mayor Phil Goff who claimed that without a new funding source, rates would need to rise by 16% – although that also includes covering for the special transport levy which we (and the AA) feel should be retained.

The last comment quoted above is concerning though, Penlink has long been proposed as a toll road but the problem with it has always been that tolls would only cover a small fraction of the costs. Waiving the PPP phrase around doesn’t suddenly make it more viable, in fact it is likely less so as PPPs require significant contracting work by agencies and are ultimately just a private loan which ratepaters would be paying back.