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Monte Cecilia (car) Park

With housing such a hot topic right now this article in the Herald on Sunday highlights a situation of the council removing houses for that most Auckland of things, a carpark.

About 40 residents of Auckland’s council-owned properties face being kicked out of their homes to make way for 44 carparks.

Residents of a quiet Royal Oak cul de sac in Auckland have been told their council-owned flats and houses backing Monte Cecilia Park could go, possibly by December.

Eight properties – including blocks of flats – will be cleared to make way for 44 carparks to access a new playground, shown on plans for the reserve. Currently park users have to rely on streetside parks.

Letters have been sent to residents in homes and flats in Korma Rd telling them their properties will feature on park maps.

“Inclusion of this property on the map does not imply the public has access to your property but as the land has been purchased by Auckland Council and will become part of the park in the future it has been included in the map,” said the letter.

“We don’t have a firm date for the house removals but it is likely to be at the end of 2015 or during 2016.”

Auckland Council sports and parks manager Mark Bowater said the council had bought homes in Korma Rd between 2006 and 2011 under a strategic plan to develop the park. He said it could be some of the properties would be needed for carparking and a new playground. All residents would receive formal notification from the council to move out either later this year or next year.

It baffles the mind that the council would even consider doing this and given the size of the park at over 11 hectares even a playground should easily be able to fit within the existing footprint without anyone feeling like space is being taken away.

Monte Cecilia Park

I suspect there’s much more to this than the Herald have just said in their article however I did want to point out a couple of specific aspects that caught my attention.

If parking is such an issue then instead of demolishing homes then why not come to an agreement with the church across the road to use their car parking when it’s not being needed. That would help get better utilisation out of that space. Of course there’s the issue of the church wanting their own parking but I’m sure arrangements can be made (also even if the council did build a carpark what’s the chance they too would they be used up by church goers?)

Korma Rd - church parking

On the other side of the park, car parking was added a few years ago. How much parking does this park need?

Monte Cecilia Park new parking

I understand some consultation about the park has only just closed – and unfortunately the council have taken the documents down already so it’s hard to see just what they are proposing for the site but at a first look it seems crazy to even think of demolishing those houses for a (presumably free) carpark.

Terror, resilience and cities

An article in the Herald on Sunday by academic and so-called resilience expert Dr Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor really raised some questions for me:

You might be reading this in an Albany cafe or a Wellington hair salon. You might be in the Sylvia Park food court, a Riccarton outlet complex, a Westgate supermarket, waiting to bungy-jump off a bridge or even at the airport.

It has probably already occurred to you that, while doing these activities, you could be placing your life in the hands of terrorists.

Questions such as:

wtf am I reading

And also some more technical questions about how much we should be willing to pay for “insurance” against unlikely or unpredictable events. Dr Sullivan-Taylor continues:

Black swan extreme events — those that come as a surprise — have a major effect and are often inappropriately rationalised with the benefit of hindsight. The challenge is to be prepared for them…

Examples of this are the cyber threat to banks and other global systems from such things as Ed Snowden’s classified information leak from the National Security Agency over the past two years; Fonterra’s Chinese milk crisis that threatened our major primary market; and the Germanwings disaster a few weeks ago in which a suicidal pilot flew a plane with 150 people on it into the French Alps.

So basically, she strings together a small number of totally unrelated events into an argument that we’ve got to be prepared for the next low-probability event. In other words: the world’s a scary place, and you’ve got to be frightened wherever you go!

Dr Sullivan-Taylor argument seems to be that we have to be “resilient” to any possible threat, no matter how unlikely. That’s an interesting, if unrealistic, assumption that I want to revisit after looking at her recommendations for not getting victimised by terrorism at your local mall food court.

So how might this affect New Zealand consumers? Hardening or toughening soft targets could mean that if you are going to the mall, you might have your bag checked at the entrances, and there might be restrictions on how long you can stay in the carpark. Employees might require security passes, and purchases might be checked on leaving the mall.

If you’re going to the cinema, there could be more security screening, including bag-checking machines. You might see more CCTV or facial recognition software being used inside the mall and in carparks that are watching all your movements. Security or police staff might ask for proof of identification, carparks might be occasionally restricted directly under or on top of the mall, and we might see more information in the media informing customers about raised security threats at particular locations.

There are two problems with these recommendations.

The first is that there is almost no way that Dr Sullivan-Taylor’s recommendations would stand up to a cost-benefit analysis. For comparison, here’s a review of a recent paper on the costs and benefits of protecting airports from terrorist attack:

Mark Stewart and John Mueller are here to alert us about the security at our airports. They want to warn us that it is too good. Or, at least, there’s too much of it. Their new paper is titled “Cost-benefit analysis of airport security: Are airports too safe?” The answer, the authors say, is most likely yes…

Stewart and Mueller calculated the cost of traditional airport security measures and compared it against the risk of an airport attack, the cost of the damage an attack would cause (in lives and property), and the efficacy of particular security measures in preventing an attack. Their finding: “Many of the assessed security measures would only begin to be cost-effective if the current rate of attack at airports in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific increases by a factor of 10-20.”

In other words, the benefit-cost ratio for measures to protect airports from attacks is in the range of 0.05 to 0.1. That’s shockingly low even by the standard set by the RoNS. Given that airports are more tempting and systemically important targets than shopping malls and tourist attractions, it’s likely that costly measures to secure everything will be even less worthwhile.

According to Mueller:

“What’s your chance of being killed by a terrorist if you’re American?” he says. “It’s now about one in 4 million per year. Maybe that’s enough, maybe that’s not enough. Some people might say we can save some money and make it one in 3.5 million. What I’m trying to do is just apply standard analytic techniques to the hazards of terrorism.”

If we assume that New Zealanders are equally at risk of terrorism as Americansa pessimistic assumption, I hope – we’d expect one Kiwi to be killed by terrorism every year. We could probably save as many lives by upgrading half a dozen dangerous intersections or curves in the road as we could by totally preventing terrorism. In other words, the expected value of total “resilience” against terrorism is quite small, and dwarfed by other risks we face.

Professor Ramesh Thakur from the Australian National University made this point quite well in a Radio New Zealand report on the subject:

“Think of the attention that was given to the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Of course it was a serious incident. But, as I said, in terms of people who are killed on the roads in India and in India it is pedestrians and cyclists who are killed much more than people in the cars, or any other way you look at it, in terms of the real threats to people’s safety and security terrorism should rank way down in the scale.”

The second problem with Dr Sullivan-Taylor’s proposal is that the resulting cost, time, and hassle would dismember our urban life. Cities, by their very nature, concentrate people and bring them together in unpredictable ways. There have always been risks to doing so – consider the burden of disease in Victorian-era British cities or the impact of violent crime in mid-century American cities. Terrorism, or the perceived threat of terrorism, is just the latest high-profile risk.

People have chosen to accept a few risks from urban life because the benefits are far, far greater. Living around and interacting with other people gives you more choices about employment and more consumption options. It gives you better transport choices and more places to go. Frequent, incidental human contact makes us happier.

SHARED SPACES_6243

Putting a security checkpoint everywhere humans might gather together – from malls to the waterfront to buses to art galleries – will cost society much more than it will ever deliver in benefits. The added friction will make the economic life of our cities less efficient and productive and our social lives stultified and hesitant.

In short, Dr Sullivan-Taylor seems to be massively over-estimating the value of “resilience” and vastly under-estimating or ignoring the costs of her preferred solutions. We certainly shouldn’t ignore the risk of terrorism, but as with any other public policy issue, we need to address it in a cost-effective and considered way. Her sensationalised statements about the risk of terrorism at your neighbourhood cafe, and associated claims about the need to secure absolutely every public place, do not amount to a rational risk assessment.

Finally, while the Herald on Sunday never should have printed such an ill-considered take on a serious issue, it did raise the issue of how we value resilience against low-probability events in our cities and urban transport networks. How much should we pay for resilience? I’d like to say more on that topic, but it’ll have to wait for a future post…

@thehappycity Auckland Conversations talk

If you missed Charles Montgomery’s great Auckland Conversation talk last week – of if you want to see it again then it is now available online. He covered a range of topics as well as giving some insights on what he had learned from Auckland so far.

Charles Montgomery Talk

Western Line Timetable padding

Regular users of the western line will know that in the services have been struggling in recent months and that’s even when trains aren’t breaking down. It’s especially noticeable in the morning peak when and while there’s been a little bit of relief during the school holidays, with schools back today I’m expecting services will have been chocka again (I say that having written this post on the weekend).

Over the last few years patronage has been growing strongly and in the last 12 months trips up over 16%. That’s increase is not quite as high as the lines which have been electrified but is still a very significant rise. This is even more so considering that there hasn’t been an increase in peak frequency since 2008 despite during that time double tracking has been completed. The timetable changes that have occurred over the years have extended the length of the peak and improved off peak frequencies which only a few years ago improved to half hourly.

2015-03 Western Line Patronage

The yearlong bump was due to the Rugby World Cup

 

One little side note is that based on a patronage per service measure the western line carries about 60% more passengers on each train than what is seen on the other lines. I suspect that this is in part due to the Western line having a higher number of trips to destinations along the line rather than just to Britomart. This is kind of shown in the great visualisations put together by Aaron Schiff

Aaron Schiff Visualisation - away from Britomart

 

While increasing patronage is a good thing, at peak times the lack of improvements in capacity – with the exception of a few extra carriages – has had some negative effects. Now trains are regularly crowded with some passengers sometimes standing from as far as Glen Eden or even Henderson. Those from even closer in such as Kingsland sometimes aren’t able to get on at all – and before anyone mentions it, the buses going past on New North Rd or Sandringham Rd are also full. This is obviously bad for customers but it’s also bad for operations. It means more time needs to be allowed at each station for people to push their way to the doors or find a space to squeeze on while they wait for people to reluctantly move away from the doors and down the aisles. This slows the trains down and therefore increases chance that the service will run late.

Poor punctuality frustrates people and in some cases will put them off using the service altogether. In recent months punctuality has declined and in February it was less than 80%. In other words more than 1 in every 5 trains will run late. The performance results for February are below

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

When delays are occurring due to busy services – or “heavy customer demand” as Transdev would say, there aren’t always that many solutions. The most obvious would be to increase capacity but that isn’t frequently something that can happen quickly. I’d also point out that it was promised that the western line would move to 10 minute services in the peaks in 2010 when double tracking was finished but numerous excuses have continued to be created as to why that can’t happen. The latest excuse is the Sarawia St level crossing and I suspect that once that’s sorted I’m sure they will find another one such as capacity constraints at Britomart or Newmarket or perhaps the CRL works.

A shorter term solution is to simply extend the timetable by padding it out further and it appears that’s exactly what AT have done. This poster started appearing on trains last week.

Western Line Timetable increase poster

The new timetable is here and as it says, travel times are extended by up to three minutes. Below is a quick comparison of travel times between the December 2014 and April 2015 timetables and as you can see a minute has been added between:

  • Sturges Rd and Henderson,
  • New Lynn and Avondale
  • Mt Albert and Baldwin Ave

Western Line Timetable increase num

 

I have a few issues with this approach. While the timetable might more accurately reflect the times that customers will see it does so by making the services slower and therefore less attractive to potential new customers. It also improves AT/Transev’s performance results by simply shifting out the measurement.

Of course this isn’t the first time the timetable has been padded out. The graph below shows the travel times from Swanson of a few of the different timetables that there have been on the Western Line since Britomart opened. In total the new timetable is up to 8 minutes slower than was achieved back in 2003.

Western Line Timetable time changes

Despite what’s been mentioned above the timing of the change suggests there’s possibly another reason for the timetable increase and it’s one I certainly hope I’m wrong about. AT have said recently that they now intend to have electric trains running on all services by August. From what we’ve seen on other lines that should mean we start seeing electric trains running off peak shortly and given that it would seem odd to increase the timetable now. That is unless the testing of the trains has revealed that they’ll be even slower than the old diesel units they’re replacing. It would be seriously disappointing if this were the case as times should be going the other way. As I said, I really hope I’m wrong (and that AT clarify this).

Toil and trouble; economy burn and housing bubble #1

Auckland’s house price “bubble” has been in the news a lot lately. Stories such as this one suggest large profits are being made in Auckland’s property market. And this one, which suggests growth in house prices is outstripping growth in salaries.

The first story suggests that if you’re an investor, then you’d be a mug not to invest in property in Auckland. The second story suggests that if you’re looking to buy a home, then don’t delay because you will only see you get left further behind. Either way the message is the same: Get out and buy now.

Even if I find it unconvincing, many people do seem seem to believe this narrative. House prices have almost doubled since 2006, and the rate of increase has accelerated since circa 2012, as shown below. This also highlights how it’s a uniquely Auckland phenomenon.

unnamed (1)

The Reserve Bank seems to think this is an issue, and I tend to agree with their judgment. The reason the RBNZ are concerned, of course, is because rapid escalation in asset prices can be followed by rapid falls, which can in turn threaten financial stability.

In this post I want to look at some of the fundamental drivers of Auckland’s house prices. The key question is whether price rises are being driven by demand, supply, or both?

In this recent video John Key suggests that the Government views lack of supply as the primary issue. That is, the escalation in prices is being driven by a lack of new house supply, partly due to local government restrictions. Someone close to him may want to show him the graph below, as I think it might prompt a rethink (credit to Peter Nunns for pulling this together).

unnamed

That is, we do not find a relationship between the elasticity of housing supply and changes in house price for 17 OECD countries in the period from 2000-2014. This suggests that increasing the responsiveness on the supply side hasn’t necessarily been able to reduce prices elsewhere in the OECD.

Now don’t get me wrong: I think a more responsive house supply is worth pursuing nonetheless, because it will result in more houses being brought to market when they’re demanded, and vice versa. But there’s going to be a lag between this policy changes designed to increase supply side and that supply becoming available. So while I support efforts to make our house supply more responsive in the future, this does not seem unlikely to keep a lid on prices right now.

Instead, it seems fairly clear that if (and it’s a big “if”) we want to prevent house price escalation now, then we need to address the demand side of the equation. In a future post I’ll look at potential policy measures, but let’s first identify and discuss some of the different demand drivers:

  1. Population growth is driving increased demand for owner-occupied dwellings: Auckland’s population is growing rapidly and this is largely good news, i.e. more locals are having babies, fewer locals are leaving (or coming home), and more migrants are choosing to live in NZ, especially Auckland. Reducing population growth is not really a viable proposition, as it basically means either making it less desirable to stay here and/or harder to migrate here. And it seems likely to be the sort of thing that risks over-shooting and heading into negative territory. Population growth does cause problems, but from what I can tell a lack of population growth would be even more problematic, and harder to turn around once it got started.
  2. Investment this seems to have two components, domestic and international. Domestically it seems like Auckland is attracting capital from around the country. This might be caused by some capital flight from Christchurch and/or a lack of population growth in many rural regions. International investment is likely being driven by increasingly liberalisation of capital flows, NZ’s open economy, low rates of property taxation (see below), and Auckland’s persistently high ranking in international liveability indices. Reducing demand for investment properties really requires policies that reduce the investment returns from property. This applies equally to domestic and international investors.
  3. Renters: The demand for houses is also affected by the number of people who are prepared to rent. Data suggests more people are opting to rent, which is indirectly serving to take demand out of the market for houses. In comparison to other countries NZ seems to lack long -term protections for tenants. It may be that increasing protections for tenants, or creating a more long-term market for tenancies, would make renting more attractive and in turn help to take heat out of the house market. In this context, it seems to be an odd time for the Government to use KiwiSaver to deliver subsidies to first home buyers (and thereby stoking demand).

For now it looks like the Government is not prepared to make a move on demand; I find their reluctance perplexing for one main reason: New Zealand collects a relatively low share of tax revenue from property compared to other OECD countries. Research by Arthur Grimes and Andrew Coleman (usefully summarised by Interest.co.nz) suggests New Zealand collects 5.7% of our taxes from property versus 8.3% for the OECD. In this context, it seems highly plausible to suggest that some of the demand Auckland is experiencing may stem from relatively low rates of taxation on property.

In my next post I’ll look at potential demand-side policy responses in more detail. But for now I’d like to hear your thoughts; these issues are complex and I don’t pretend to have a monopoly on knowledge and ideas, in fact far from it.

 

Sunday reading 19 April 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Bernard Hickey, “Opinion: A city unmoored“, Hive News:

…the Government and the Auckland Council have to consider more aggressive measures on both sides of the ledger, including supply and demand. Prime Minister John Key has always left open the option of tweaking migration settings if the pressure on infrastructure and the economy generally becomes too much. Auckland’s housing pressure cooker is getting closer to that point.

The Reserve Bank is likely to force banks to progressively hold more capital to back rental property mortgages within a few months, which could push up interest rates for landlords. It is also expected to keep agitating quietly behind the scenes for more Government action to reduce the tax advantages for rental property investors. A brave Reserve Bank would be much louder.

Ultimately though, the bigger fixes on the supply side will take much longer. They could include introducing new types of leasehold agreements and long-term tenancies that make long term rentals more attractive for tenants and institutional investors alike. They could include removing many of the restrictions around building heights, parking and view shafts that reduce the density of housing in the ‘leafy’ suburbs around the centre of Auckland such as Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Mt Eden, Remuera and Parnell.

Kristy Wang, “Getting to Know Your In-Laws“, SPUR:

Since the Department of Lands and Buildings erected 5,610 “refugee cottages” in camps all around the city after the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco has often relied on flexible housing types to meet the needs of residents, families and workers. Accessory dwelling units (or ADUs; also known as secondary units, in-laws or granny flats) offer a way to increase density while respecting neighborhood character. [1] Given the Bay Area’s housing crisis, in-law units are an important strategy for helping increase the supply of “naturally affordable” housing…

Jolisa Gracewood, “7 Ways E-Bikes May Surprise You (They Definitely Surprised Me“, CAA:

You don’t have to go fast on an e-bike, of course. You can just use the motor for that little bit extra when going uphill. But this was a revelation: at certain times of day, an e-bike can get you there in half the time.

Not just half the time of a regular bike – half the time OF A CAR. Or even a bus. Not to brag or anything, but: the other day I had a meeting in Ponsonby. I was running late, and set off only five minutes before the meeting was due to start. I got door to door from the Pt Chev shops to Ponsonby (4km) in ten minutes.

Angie Schmitt, “Calculating the Big Impact of Sprawl on Cities Bottom Line“, Streetsblog:

When someone builds a new home, does it make the city stronger and more fiscally sound? Or does it drain public resources? The answer depends a lot on where it’s sited and, more specifically, where it lies in relation to other homes and businesses.

Smart Growth America has developed a fiscal impact model that helps predict how developments will help or hurt the municipal bottom line. The tool they developed [PDF] takes into account how density affects the cost of delivering city services, from streets and sewers to fire protection, school busing, and garbage collection…

According to SGA’s model, the higher density development scenarios would have a far better effect on the city’s budget [PDF].

Glen Koorey, “Neighbourhood Greenways: Invisible Infrastructure for Walking and Cycling“, paper presented at 2012 2 Walk & Cycle Conference:

Neighbourhood greenways (aka “bicycle boulevards”) are a form of street treatment where simple measures such as lower speeds, traffic restraints, wayfinding and crossing treatments are used to create an environment that is friendly for walking and cycling.

They are particularly useful for connecting people to community facilities such as schools, parks, shops and other key destinations in a neighbourhood and beyond. Neighbourhood greenways (NGs) are a popular tool in North America (especially on the west coast) but have yet to catch on here in New Zealand, despite many similarities in street environment…

Enrique Martinez, “American cities are designed for cars – which makes life worse for everyone“, Quartz:

Walking, one of the most natural of human activities, has become shockingly rare in the lives of many Americans: Only two-thirds of adults report walking for more than 10 minutes at any time in the previous week...

Our choices about how to get around are largely shaped by our environment and our perception of what it will be like to get from one location to another on foot, in a car, on a bicycle, or via some other vehicle. The main geographic factors that influence people’s transportation decisions are proximityhow close the start and end points of their journey are—and connectivityhow fast and convenient it is to move from one to the other…

Proximity requires a compact mix of a variety of buildings types, so that the spaces for living, working, shopping, entertainment, and other activities are close together.

While proximity is about the location of places in relation to one another, connectivity is about the routes for traveling between those places.

Connectivity increases as there are more—and more efficient—transportation and route options for moving from one point to another. Grid street layouts (i.e. sets of parallel vertical and horizontal roads that intersect at right angles) are ideal for connectivity, since they offer numerous short segments, in the form of city blocks, and frequent intersections for moving from one segment to another. On the other hand, the “suburban spine” pattern common on the outskirts of many sprawling cities—with major roads connecting enclosed residential areas cut off by cul-de-sacs and dead ends—makes moving from place to place more complicated.

Sam Judd, “Opinion: Aucklanders are bad drivers“, NZ Herald:

Never have I seen so many aggressive drivers as here in the city of sails. I agree more with the Danish consultant who called it a ‘City of Cars’. So much of the infrastructure is set up for cars, rather than pedestrians or cyclists, that drivers think that they own the road…

Auckland averages about 50 injuries to cyclists from vehicles each year and the memorial white bikes that are dotted along Tamaki Drive in particular pay homage to wasted lives at the hands of accidents. It is no surprise at all then, that aggressive driving is to blame for the lack of uptake of cycling as transport.

The stupidity of this situation is that (as I have said before) we suffer from road rage, from air pollution and our waterways receive heavy metal pollutants from car use, but if Auckland drivers weren’t so bad, cycling would be an excellent solution.

The fact is that on average, over two thirds of car journeys are less than six kilometres and a third of them are under two.

Colin Marshall, “Subway station toilets: a surprisingly accurate measure of civilisation“, The Guardian. Even if our driving’s bad, our public toilets seem to be pretty decent:

The size of the economy, the quality of the architecture, the activity on the sidewalks, the cleanliness of the streets: we can evaluate a city in any number of ways. But in my travels through North America, Europe and Asia, I’ve found no more telling indicator – and at times, no more important one – than the state of its subway station toilets, the true measure of urban civilisation.

Of course, to use this marker at all presumes a certain degree of development: not only must the city in question have a subway system, but that system must have toilets…

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels“, The Telegraph:

Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.

Roughly 29pc of electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar, rising to 100pc even in Massachusetts and Vermont. “More solar has been installed in the US in the past 18 months than in 30 years,” says the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). California’s subsidy pot is drying up but new solar has hardly missed a beat…

For the world it portends a once-in-a-century upset of the geostrategic order. Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani, the veteran Saudi oil minister, saw the writing on the wall long ago. “Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil,” he told The Telegraph in 2000. Wise old owl.

[John, who suggested this article, also gives it credit for teaching him the word “ineluctable”. This means exactly the same thing as “inevitable”, but people will probably be impressed when you use it.]

Noah Smith, “Bigotry is expensive“, Bloomberg View. Not about transport or urbanism per se, but it makes some excellent points about how a society that offers people more equal opportunities can be a wealthier society as well as a fairer one:

So if a society bases its decisions of who gets which job on race and gender, it’s going to be sacrificing efficiency. If women aren’t allowed to be doctors, the talent pool for doctors will be diluted, and wages will be pushed up too high, choking off output…

Just how big of a difference does this make? A team of top economists has recently studied the question, and their results are pretty startling. In “The Allocation of Talent and Economic Growth,” economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago Booth Business School and Charles Jones and Peter Klenow of Stanford estimate that one fifth of total growth in U.S. output per worker between 1960 and 2008 was due to a decline in discrimination. From their abstract:

In 1960, 94 percent of doctors and lawyers were white men. By 2008, the fraction was just 62 percent. Similar changes in other highly-skilled occupations have occurred throughout the U.S. economy during the last fifty years. Given that innate talent for these professions is unlikely to differ across groups, the occupational distribution in 1960 suggests that a substantial pool of innately talented black men, black women, and white women were not pursuing their comparative advantage.

And finally, for the Auckland-based readers, the inchoate hivemind on Reddit has compiled a list of Auckland’s secret urban treasures. Full of stuff like:

Yesterday I took the train out to Te Papapa to this ridiculous/amazing Japanese warehouse with hundreds of silk kimono for about $25 a pop, as well as amulets, antiques, etc. (This place, in case you wondered: https://www.facebook.com/asiagallerykimonomegastore)

It was insane, and made me wonder what other bits of Auckland beyond the city centre most people who don’t live in your area don’t know about.

Got any secrets to share about your neck of the woods?

Matt and I can second the recommendation for the Mahurangi Cement Works, a flooded quarry / popular swimming hole near Warkworth.

City Centre Investment Map

The last five years have seen Auckland change dramatically for the better. If you were in the city then you wouldn’t have found any of the shared spaces, much of the area surrounding Britomart was still run down and unused and Wynyard Quarter as a people place didn’t exist. While we’ve already seen a lot of change the next 10 years promises even more and much of it – such as the CRL – will fundamentally alter Auckland for the better.

In fact there is so much going on in Auckland’s City Centre right now that it’s starting to resemble a sand pit. There are a huge number of publicly and privately funded improvements happening. Importantly they are leveraging off each other to make Auckland a more liveable and attractive place. That’s good for Auckland’s economy which in turn is good for the entire nation. It also bears reminding that the changes and growth that’s occurred in recent years hasn’t spelt doom on the regions roads as all the growth in travel to the centre has happened not on in cars but via PT and active modes.

To highlight all of the known changes that are planned or desired for the next decade the council have created a map showing all the ones they know about (there are bound to be more appear over that time – especially private developments). Note: not all of these projects have funding confirmed yet so not all might happen. Click to enlarge the images or go here for the PDF version (2.6MB).

City Centre Projects April 2015

City Centre Projects April 2015 Legend

There are of course a few things missing from this map. A few I noticed quickly are AT’s Light Rail plans, Cycle lanes on Pitt St as part of the Nelson St Cycleway and cyclelanes on Karangahape Rd as part of the city centre priority routes.

The major criticism I can see in all of this is that the map is focused on the city centre. That’s understandable seeing as it’s come from the city centre integration group however perhaps the council should create an interactive version for the entire region. It could show what’s going on and how projects like the CRL benefit the entire region.

I’m looking forward to the changes that planned. It should make the city centre a much more vibrant and interesting and liveable place.

Council Transport Survey Results

As part of the Long Term Plan the council received thousands of submissions however on the topic of transport, to ensure they also had a representative sample of the views of all Aucklanders – not just those interested enough to make a submission they conducted a phone survey. The survey canvassed the views of 5,022 people and was carried out by Colmar Brunton with the entire process was peer reviewed by the University of Auckland. Yesterday they released the results of that research. Overall they are interesting but I think they have some major flaws.

The survey had three main aims, to measure:

  1. Aucklanders’ support for increased investment in the Auckland Plan transport network (APTN)
  2. Which of the two proposed funding options Aucklanders prefer
  3. How perceptions differ by travel behaviour, local board, and key demographic groups

Overall results for the preferred transport plan and how to fund it are below.

Just over half of people preferred the Auckland Plan Transport Network which is about building everything regardless of whether it helps improve the transport situation or not. As you can also see support for that plan increases with income so those who earn the most want the most spent.

2015 LTP Colmar Brunton Preferred Transport Option

Now it’s not surprising that this is the result when the council only presented such binary options to people. Below is what the participants were asked.

“Auckland’s population growth means Auckland’s transport issues will get worse over time. There are two options to address this: a basic transport network and a more comprehensive transport network. I’ll explain each and then ask which one you support.

The basic transport network covers the completion of current projects, some priority new projects such as the City Rail Link, and also spending to maintain current roads and the current public transport network.

The more comprehensive transport network also includes the City Rail Link and everything else in the basic network, with many projects being completed earlier, plus a range of new projects. These include new roads, rail, ferries, busways, ‘park and rides’, and cycleways, as well as school and community travel plans and safety programmes.

Over the next 10 years, the comprehensive network will cost around $300 million more than the basic network each year. The additional funding needed each year would either come from a motorway user charge, or from higher fuel tax and annual rates increases.

So, in summary, the basic network will result in greater traffic congestion than the more comprehensive network, but will cost less. On the other hand, the more comprehensive network will result in less traffic congestion than the basic network, more public transport options, and greater economic benefits, but it will cost more.

Do you support the basic transport network or the more comprehensive transport network?”

While I don’t expect the council to consult on the likes of Generation Zero’s Essential Transport Budget, there’s no indication that effectively the council are only presenting the extreme ends of the spectrum. I think it’s inevitable that a more balanced middle ground will have to be found and as we learnt recently, it’s not just us that think that with both the AA and the NZCID also saying the same thing (although without specifying what exact projects they prefer).

When it comes to funding a similar percentage of respondents preferred the extra funding needed to come from motorway tolls and as you’d expect the more people used the motorway the less keen on this option they were.

2015 LTP Colmar Brunton Preferred Transport Funding

The issue I have with the funding option is that I suspect most people vote for it thinking that they’ll be able to minimise their costs either though shifting their travel time (a good thing) or more likely finding alternative routes which will inevitably mean clogging up local roads and hampering any effort to make them better for active modes, PT and local connections.

The report breaks each of these results down by a number of measures and while there are some differences in the numbers across the different measures the overall trend is similar to the results above.

The final decision on what transport plan will be chosen and how the council would prefer to fund it won’t be decided by councillors till next month. However if they do go for an option that requires more funding they will have to go to the government who have so far not been keen on the idea. Today Transport Minister Simon Bridges is reaffirming that scepticism. He too seems to share the belief that the plans presented aren’t effective enough – something he’s said to us too.

Mr Bridges said, the question of funding tools did not arise until there was an effective transport programme.

Perhaps it’s time the council presented a middle ground version that delivers the benefits in the area’s Aucklanders say they want focus on i.e. PT and Active modes.

What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
RTN + LRT
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
CFN
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Reeves Rd back down?

Auckland Transport appears to be backing down on one of their best and boldest decisions – to defer the Reeves Rd flyover and use the money to bring forward the construction of the AMETI busway. This is after what I’m aware has been intense lobbying directly to the government and minister from politicians like Dick Quax and the local MPs. I understand they’ve even been pushing to try and have it declared a State Highway so the NZTA can pay for it.

reeves-rd-flyover

Here’s AT’s press release:

Chairman, Dr Lester Levy, wishes to clarify the Auckland Transport Board’s position on the Reeves Road flyover, part of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

An AT media release dated 12 February 2015 implied that a Board decision had been made to accept a new delivery strategy, which included deferring the flyover and opening the full South Eastern Busway (to Botany) earlier. Dr Levy says the board of Auckland Transport has not made any decision to accept the proposed new delivery strategy including the deferral of the flyover. Rather the board simply noted a report presented to its December meeting which suggested a delay in the timing of the flyover, subject to further technical and funding feasibility work.

“That work to assess the feasibility of busway route options through Pakuranga town centre and how funding can be secured for Reeves Road flyover to be delivered earlier continues,” he says.

“The Board has not agreed to the proposed new delivery strategy at this point in time, as it still awaits the technical and funding feasibility. When that work has been completed the Board will be able to give this matter further consideration.

“It is regrettable that this AT media release resulted in stakeholders and the community receiving a mixed message, but I want to be very clear that no firm decisions have been made at this time” Dr Levy says.

As a comparison here is the press release they now say was wrong which clearly talks about using the money to bring forward the busway, the challenges of consenting the project and the extra cost to fix more bottlenecks created by the flyover. I’ve added some emphasis of these points but perhaps I too have read it wrong. What do you think?

Major new public transport improvements will arrive earlier for people in Auckland’s south east.

Auckland Transport is aiming to open the full Southeastern Busway to Botany sooner than the 2028 completion date earlier proposed, and AT is investigating extending bus lanes to Highland Park.

Recent work on the Auckland Manukau Transport Initiative (AMETI) has identified that the busway can operate through Pakuranga town centre without the need to build Reeves Road flyover first.

This allows funding to be used to deliver more public transport improvements sooner by deferring the $170 million flyover until next decade. Targeted traffic improvements will also be made to relieve congestion at the intersections of Ti Rakau Drive/Pakuranga Road and Ti Rakau Drive/Pakuranga Highway.

Auckland Transport AMETI Programme Director Peter King says the change means better transport choices for people in the area sooner and supports the roll out of the new public transport network in 2016.

“The recent decision on the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington shows the challenges of consenting a flyover that has impacts on an urban area and the potential for long delays. This decision allows us to extend the AMETI transport improvements made in Panmure to Pakuranga and Botany as soon as possible while continuing to build the case for the flyover.

“Large numbers of passengers are expected to be attracted by quicker, frequent and more reliable bus journeys on lanes separate to traffic. About 7.4 million trips a year are expected on the busway.

“There are time savings from opening the busway between Panmure and Pakuranga, however they are much greater when the full busway to Botany is open. For example catching the bus and train between Botany and Britomart will take 38 minutes, 17 minutes quicker.

“The change to timing reflects Auckland Transport’s prioritisation of rapid, high frequency public transport and will not require extra funding.”

Work to develop the flyover showed its congestion benefits would be limited until further significant investment along the South Eastern Highway. It also indicated a likely increase in costs with the need to create a quality urban environment beneath it.

Auckland Transport will update the community in early March on the new delivery plan for AMETI and a potential change to the busway route through Pakuranga town centre. Following further feasibility work there will be consultation on any change to the busway route.

Consultation will be carried out on the latest design for the next construction stage between Panmure and Pakuranga, before a Notice of Requirement is lodged in April.

The Panmure to Pakuranga projects include:

  • Replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights and more direct pedestrian crossings.
  • Panmure to Pakuranga busway on lanes separate to traffic congestion.
  • Panmure to Pakuranga shared cycle/foot path separate to traffic.
  • Second Panmure Bridge for busway and shared path.