Manukau Rail Link – construction underway

Well at long last construction of the Manukau Rail Link has begun. This will be the first new stretch of railway to be built in Auckland in around 70 years (no wonder we’re so auto-dependent), and is a fairly short link between the existing Southern Line and Manukau City Centre. It will fix a bit of an annoying situation where the centre of South Auckland is completely cut off from the railway line that services much of the area – largely due to fairly silly thinking in the 1970s when Manukau City Council decided to build their council headquarters in the middle of a farm, miles from anywhere.

manukau-linkBut anyway, today sees the start of work on this important rail link, that will hopefully result in the new Manukau City station becoming on the busier on Auckland’s railway network. This project has had a bit of a chequered history, and certainly what we’re getting (see image to the left) could be better. For a start, the train station should ideally be a few hundred metres further to the east – so it could be within easier walking distance of Rainbow’s End and the Westfield Shopping Centre. Secondly, it should have a link to the south – so that people can catch trains from Manurewa, Papakura and so forth to Manukau City. Hopefully the southern link will eventually happen. Furthermore, there are plans for a tertiary campus to be developed on part of Hayman Park – so that should be a pretty big patronage generator for the station and should also mean that it’s not quite so “in the middle of nowhere” as it current is.

But for now I guess I can’t be too grumpy, we are at least seeing some investment in the rail network (although the current government certainly cannot take any credit for this, as it’s been planned and funded for many years). It should be a pretty popular link and will hopefully lead to more people using the rail system (and therefore more pressure on government and local councils to further improve it).

Once again, the big question is “when will it be done?” Seems like by the end of next year:

Ontrack project manager Paul Crawford says the rail link is a real milestone for the network.””This is the first new rail route to be built in Auckland in nearly 80 years. It’s also exciting because we’re extending the reach of the network into a community that hasn’t yet experienced the benefits of rail transport.”Mr Crawford says the main construction is scheduled to start in August and trains are expected start rolling by the end of 2010.

2010 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting year for Auckland’s railway system – with Newmarket station opening, the Onehunga Line opening, the New Lynn station project being finished off and now this. It should also be the year we see a lot of the electrification works take place.

Transport Blogosphere Round-up

Apart from Steven Joyce continuing to pander to his Road Transport Forum buddies, it’s been a pretty quiet day in terms of transportation news, so I thought I would direct people to what others are saying around the variety of transport-related blogs that I read:

  1. Auckland Trains details some of the timetable changes that took effect today, and asks whether the Southern Line can cope. It seems like service provision has been boosted without any new trains actually arriving so it’s a good question to ask.
  2. Human Transit looks at how high-frequency bus route maps could be a good idea. I agree wholeheartedly on this issue – as current bus route maps are inevitably a confusing mess as they show each and every route that is run, regardless of whether the service is run once a day or 200 times a day.
  3. The Transport Politic announces the extension of the Orange Line – a bus rapid transit system – in Los Angeles. It seems like public transport is really taking off in LA in recent years, so it’s good to see any improvements. I can’t help but wonder whether BRT or LRT (light-rail) systems will be sufficient for Los Angeles though. It really needs an extensive subway system, and fast.
  4. Cap’n transit analyses why it’s so necessary for public transport to attract the middle-class, not just those too poor to own a car and drive it everywhere. Clearly, in cities where public transport works best (generally European cities) everyone catches the metro, and it is the interaction between a wide variety of people within the public space of the transport system that I think contributes to the vibrancy of these cities tremendously.
  5. And finally, Second Avenue Sagas discusses the rise in subway fares in New York City, with the most important point actually being how damn cheap they still are. $2.25 for a ride that’ll take you anywhere on the subway system – that is surely one of the best deals around.

Enjoy!

Improving the Western Bays buses

I’ve been living in Herne Bay for a few months now, and I use the buses here pretty often – usually return trips into town 2-3 days a week. Occasionally I also go on a bus later in the evening, or at the weekend. For Herne Bay, we are serviced by the 004/005 bus routes during the daylight hours of weekdays, and by the 017 bus route during evenings and weekends. It’s actually a split that works quite well I think – as during peak hour the 004/005 and the 015 provide a wide variety of routes when the higher patronage justifies them, while in the evening and at weekends the routes are all replaced by the 017, which takes a slightly more circuitous route but means that we still get reasonable frequencies (a bus every 20 minutes or 30 minutes).

However, being the kind of person that I am, I’m always thinking of ways in which bus services could be improved for people living in the area. And I think that there’s a pretty obvious way that the frequencies of the buses serving Herne Bay, and also the speed of buses servicing Point Chevalier, could both be improved. I shall explain further, but it’s probably a good idea to set the scene by showing a couple of route diagram maps. First, the Herne Bay buses:

005-routeThe 012/018 buses are pretty irrelevant (although the 012 could also potentially benefit from my suggested changes) as they serve Newmarket, and I’m mainly focusing on ways in which accessibility between the Western Bays of Auckland City and the CBD could be improved. As I explained above, the two main routes here are the 005 and the 017. At peak times there are some 004 buses, which is essentially just a shortened version of the 005 route (I think people travelling to Westmere have an express option that goes via Williamson Ave to choose instead). But basically, the 005 provides a pretty direct link between Westmere and the CBD: via West End Road, Jervois Road and Victoria Street. The 017 meanders a bit more through Freemans Bay, but is still a reasonably good link between the two places.

Now, let’s look at the Point Chevalier buses – most specifically the 045 and 043 routes, which are outlined in the map below:

045-route This is a pretty straightforward service – with the 045 route operating 7 days a week and providing a pretty good service between Point Chevalier and the city. Service frequencies aren’t too bad – a bus every 20 minutes off-peak on weekdays and one every half-hour at weekends, and there are even a few express buses during the morning and evening peak. The 043 bus turns south at Point Chevalier and links with Unitec and Mt Albert shops. The 043 only runs on weekdays and only outside the peak hours. One thing of particular note with the 043/045 route is for the majority of their journeys they run along Great North Road – along with about 20 million other bus routes. In fact, nearly every bus that services West Auckland runs along this stretch of Great North Road. So the service frequencies from Point Chevalier shops into the CBD are fantastic, pretty much no matter what time of day it is – simply because a massive number of bus routes converge along this stretch of road.

Now, for how I would change things. Essentially, I would do away with the vast array of different routes we have through this part of the city and cut it back to two routes – which are shown as the red route and the blue route on the map below:newroutes Now the red route would definitely be the primary route here – and is basically just an extension of the 005 to Pt Chevalier Beach. The blue route allow a link between Unitec (a tertiary education provider for those who don’t know) and the Western Bays, and would also supplement the red route. It also follows the route of the 015/017 through Freemans Bay – so possibly could run on weekends (perhaps terminating at Pt Chevalier shops rather than Mt Albert as there wouldn’t be Unitec students to serve).

Now, if we combine the resources currently used on the 005 and the 045 routes during the weekday interpeak time we could have a bus running along the combined red/blue areas every 10 minutes. At peak times it might be possible to have a bus every 5-7 minutes without actually requiring many (or any) additional resources. Whilst I’m still not sure whether I’d retain the blue route on evenings and weekends, or just realign the red route to more closely follow the current route of the 017 bus, combining the frequencies of the current 017 and 045 routes could also mean a bus  every 10-15 minutes  during these times.

I guess one has to weigh up the pros and cons of making these changes. I think the pros are pretty clear – that with the same number of services as are run at present you could get vastly improved service frequencies through the core of the route – Pt Chevalier to Ponsonby. It would also potentially be much simpler – different routes only, rather than the four or five different routes we have at the moment. It would create a direct bus link between Pt Chevalier and Ponsonby that doesn’t really exist at the moment (only on the pretty pathetic 010 route). I think there’s a pretty good chance that a trip from Pt Chevalier beach to the CBD would be faster along this route than it is at the moment – as the 005 from Westmere to Britomart at peak hour takes around 25 minutes compared to 35 minutes on the 045 from Pt Chevalier Beach to Britomart, and I can’t imagine it taking 10 minutes from Pt Chev beach to Westmere.

If we look at the potential cons, the obvious one is a reduction in services along Great North Road. But as I said right at the start of this – there are already a tonne of buses that go along Great North Road, between the city and Pt Chevalier. So I don’t really think there’s much of a loss there. One other potential issue is a lack of bus lanes along West End Road and Meola Road, whereas they do exist along Great North Road. I agree this is an issue, and could mean less reliable times between Pt Chevalier and the city. However, this could be solved by widening Meola Road (the most congested) a bit and installing bus lanes. Another potential issue is how to deal with the 017 issue – although perhaps that could best be solved by just running a basic 015 service all the time, with some of the resources saved from lumping together the Pt Chev and Herne Bay buses being directed at keeping this service going in the evenings at on the weekend.

I think the main benefits would be improved frequencies and greater simplification, and they would be significant benefits. Once a bus service reaches the point of having “a bus every 10 minutes” then people stop worrying about timetables and just turn up. This generally leads to significant boosts in patronage. Great North Road does not need the extra buses, the Western Bays do.

Queens Wharf – the debate continues

The debate over what to do with Queens Wharf continues, as detailed in a couple of Herald articles today. To refresh the memories, a week or so ago the government and the Regional Council each stumped up $20 million to buy back Queens Wharf from the Ports of Auckland, so it can operate as a “Party Central” for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and then after that be opened up to the public. There was also mention of potential other uses for the site, such as a cruise ship terminal, the location for a theatre and potentially an art space. In the middle of all that, I called out for most of the wharf to be set aside as a public space – to keep it simple, less is more etc. etc.

Since then we’ve seen the Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Council come up with their proposed visions for the site: which somewhat unsurprisingly are completely different. Just another example of why a single Auckland Council is so necessary I suppose. The Regional Council wants to focus on providing a world class cruise ship terminal on the site through demolishing both existing sheds and replacing them with a fancy new building. The City Council wants to keep the two sheds, refurbish them and turn one of them into a cruise ship terminal and the other into possibly a theatre and an art space. Possible sketches of the two options are shown below:

acc-optionLooking at the Auckland City Council option first, I am initially quite drawn to the way that it looks like most of the space has been set aside for a public square. Next to the cruise ship we see one of the sheds, refurbished and not looking too bad. In the distance I can just make out the other shed – although all it seems to be doing is getting in the way of continuing the public space down at the far end of the wharf. It’s a tad disappointing not to see any grass or plantings. It often seems like architects can forget that we live in New Zealand and not in some European country, and that naturally for some reason New Zealanders just seem to prefer grassy lawns and a few trees over and above the vast areas of paved space that Europeans seem to flock to. If you look around the Auckland CBD the large paved areas have often failed: Aotea Square is a bit of an embarrassment for our prime civic venue, while Queen Elizabeth II square at the bottom of Queen Street was so bad nobody complained when it was turned into a bus station. By contrast, Albert Park is usually teeming with people as are the many parks in the suburbs. Get some greenery down there!

arc-optionAs for the Regional Council’s option – shown on the left here, I can’t help myself but scream out “have we learned nothing from the Princes Wharf debacle!” Parallel to Queens Wharf is Princes Wharf, that is covered by the Hilton Hotel and a pile of bars. It should be a public space but has largely been locked away unless you’re willing to pay a few hundred dollars a night to stay at the Hilton Hotel. The ARC’s option seems to pander to the interests of the cruise ship industry so much by building a huge new building (as a terminal, why the heck do we need something so big and grand for old Americans?) above everything else. Whilst the ARC says there’s plenty of room for both a large cruise ship terminal and a significant public open space, why should we need to compromise our open space just to make life slightly prettier for those arriving on cruise ships? Sure, the current situation is pretty unacceptable in terms of cruise ship passengers having to wander through a working port, but I certainly don’t think that the people of Auckland should have to sacrifice too much of this previous public open space just to please a few visitors.

In the end I can’t say I’m particularly happy with either option. Both options involve too much building and too little parkland. There are two things that need to be sorted out here: one is a short-term fix to create a party central for the rugby world cup, and the other is a long-term solution for what to do with the site. We don’t need to hurry into a long-term solution. There’s no need to have a fancy cruise ship terminal by 2011, or to commit to spending tens of millions of dollars restoring two pretty dilapidated sheds. My suggestion is still to maximise the area of public space, minimise the amount of the wharf taken up by buildings. Get some grass out there, a few trees and commission one heck of a stunning sculpture to sit at the end of the wharf. Create a space that people will flock to on a sunny summer’s afternoon.

I think I have to leave the last words to what Joel Cayford was quoted as saying in the Herald today, as I think he’s one councillor who has figured it out:

The idea of a cruise ship terminal dominating the wharf and squeezing out the public worries ARC councillor Joel Cayford. He is determined that the privatisation of public space that happened with the Hilton Hotel and the existing terminal on neighbouring Princes Wharf is not repeated on Queens: “Having destroyed public use on one wharf, do we want to destroy another?”He laments the poor quality of public space in Auckland and believes that rather than an iconic building like the Sydney Opera House, what Aucklanders really want is an iconic public space. “We need to say first and foremost that this wharf is a public space.”The architects the Herald spoke to agree – all pointing to the extraordinary potential of the expansive northern end of Queens Wharf with its openness and magnificent views of the harbour. Several spoke about open spaces like Federation Square in Melbourne and said if a cruise ship terminal was to be part of the brief, that public access should be the prime consideration.

Many pointed to the terminal at Yokohama providing public access over its entire area with undulating timber boardwalks and grass roofs, as an example of how that could be achieved.

Cayford, who has worked with Urban Planning Masters students, says the key ingredients for successful public spaces, especially for families and older people, are very simple – public toilets, public seating and nearby places to buy cheap food like sandwiches, pies and soft drinks.

But finding all three basic amenities in central Auckland public spaces is almost impossible. Or, in places where they do exist, such as the downtown ferry terminal, the public are excluded unless they have purchased a ferry ticket.

Cayford urges more consideration of the potential of the existing sheds too, pointing out that in their original form nearly 100 years ago they had wide verandas on both sides – making them ideal spaces to shelter from the vagaries of Auckland’s weather.

Now if we absolutely MUST have a large cruise ship terminal on the wharf, then doing something like what Yokohama did, by building a grass roof on the top of the building, would be the way to go.

Metrobus for Auckland?

Buses are, by a very long stretch, the most popular form of public transport in Auckland. I think around 80% of public transport trips in Auckland are on the bus. However, generally bus travel is pretty unappealing when compared with travelling either by train or by car – because it is generally so slow. I think this contributes quite significantly to Auckland’s very low level of public transport use. Along various corridors where bus travel has been “sped up”, like Dominion Road and Onewa Road, the results are significant. Around 50% of people using the Dominion Road corridor at peak times are on public transport, while for Onewa Road I think the total is around 40%. Considering that across Auckland as a whole less than 10% of people use public transport, there’s obviously something that these corridors are doing right, which Auckland could learn from and expand to other corridors.

The obvious one is speeding up the buses – both through smart-card ticketing (faster boarding times) and through more bus lanes (allowing buses to bypass congested traffic). Making a route more “legible” (obvious) I think is also important: both the Dominion Road and Onewa Road bus routes are highly obvious – due to the bus/transit lanes and due to a pretty straight arterial carrying the buses along it. Hopefully over the next few years Auckland will expand its bus lanes and we will end up with integrated smart-card ticketing – thereby improving the speed of the buses across the network and making public transport a more attractive alternative to driving.

One further way of achieving improved legibility of Auckland’s buses, as well as making them travel faster, could be to adopt – in some form or another – something similar to what Sydney is doing with their “Metrobus” initiative. Sydney’s Metrobus services differ fairly significantly from traditional bus services in the following ways:

  1. The buses are generally larger than your typical bus, so there’s more capacity.
  2. The buses run at relatively high frequencies throughout the day, so you don’t need to worry about a timetable.
  3. The buses stop less frequently than a typical bus, but have their stops made more obvious – kind of like a train system in this regard.
  4. No tickets are sold on the bus – you buy them “prepay” at bus stops.
  5. The route is made very obvious, kind of like a train system again.

Here’s a map of the first Metrobus route to be initiated in Sydney, route 10:

metrobus-sydney 

Whilst this route has been somewhat criticised as a cop-out to not building the railway line that probably should be built along this route in Sydney, I think that it’s still a model that could be put to work quite well in Auckland. I’m a big fan of the fact that it runs from one side of the city into the CBD and then out to the other side of the city. This means that people who want to make cross-town trips don’t need to change buses. A map showing other proposed Metrobus routes is here, with five different routes – all running into the CBD and then out the other side, being proposed.

So, if we were to implement this kind of idea in Auckland, how could it work? I think to start with we would want a clear north-south route and a clear east-west route. In terms of the exact routes, perhaps it would be smart to be guided by the two potential future metro rail routes identified in discussion on the Regional Land Transport Strategy? This would be a north-south route from Albany to Mt Roskill, probably via the busway, Symonds Street and Dominion Road. Most of this route already has dedicated bus lanes so it could be initiatied pretty quickly (in fact if you just decided to amalgamate the Northern Express with one of the Dominion Road bus routes you could almost do it tomorrow). The east-west route would be a bit trickier as you would first need to decide where to start it in the south/east – Manukau City, Botany or Glen Innes? I would perhaps go for Botany for now, but for it to actually work a lot of bus lanes would need to be built along Ti Rakau Drive and then between Panmure and Remuera Road. In the west I think it could follow Great North Road and then Carrington Road before terminating at Unitec.

Clearly, in the longer run some of these routes should be replaced by rail services: most obviously in the far east between Panmure (or Glen Innes) and Manukau City via Botany, as well as having the Northern Busway eventually turned into a railway line. But in the meanwhile I think having some kind of Metrobus system would provide a higher-quality public transport option for Aucklanders. It’s something that could be relatively easily and cheaply (at least when compared to building railway lines) initiated, and it could be up and running pretty quickly.

May 2009 Patronage Stats – solid growth

The May 2009 ARTA monthly business report has been released and – as per usual – makes interesting reading. Looking at public transport patronage, it says the following:

Patronage
• Total Public Transport patronage for the 11 months to May 2009 was 8.0% above last year.
• Total patronage for the month of May was up by 2.5%, 2.5% higher for bus, 5.2% higher for rail and 2.6% lower for ferry. However, May this year had one less working day than May last year.
• The Northern Express patronage for the month of May increased by 20.5% on last year.

The most important figure is that total patronage did increase from May 2008 to May 2009, although “only” by 2.5%. Growth for rail was highest – as per usual – with patronage on ferries continuing a bit of a long-term (and somewhat worrying) trend of decreasing. Patronage data is detailed below:

may-patronage May is usually the second or third highest month of the year for patronage – equal with August but below March. This is due to a lack of school or university holidays in these months. It will be interesting to see how patronage stacks up over the next few months actually. From around June 2008  onwards there was a big surge – due to the very high petrol prices we saw in winter and spring last year. I think that petrol cracked $2 a litre in early June last year for the first time, and peaked at near $2.20 a litre by July. So if the next few months of this year can merely hold their own against the very high levels of patronage we saw over the winter months of last year it will be pretty impressive.

One other thing that is very interesting to note is the performance of “contracted bus services”. These are services that operate in quite a different way to typical services – in that ARTA simply pays the relevant bus company a fee to operate the service, but collects all the money and so on itself. This is the system that Steven Joyce is likely to destroy by bowing to the interests of Infratil, but the crazy thing is that these contracted services appear to be some of the best performing in the whole Auckland region. Compared to a 2.5% increase in all bus services, we see the following:

bus-services Now growth on the Northern Express is somewhat expected, as it runs along a pretty new busway. But a year ago (which the data compares with) the busway was open and operational. On the 680-681 routes I don’t know if these existed a year ago (they were more fractured) so an increase in patronage is also unsurprising. But Mt Eden Road is interesting, as buses have been running along there forever. However, since the services became contracted we have seen new buses run along that route, frequencies improve and patronage has responded. This same pattern is likely to spread across Auckland as more and more routes become “contracted”. That is, unless Steven Joyce stuffs around with the Public Transport Management Act.

The PTMA seems to be working from my perspective.

Onehunga Line – news at last

It seems as though the funding issues for the Onehunga Line, that resulted from the removal of the regional petrol tax, have been resolved. This follows on from a post I made a couple of weeks ago that related to progress being made between the ARC and NZTA to provide the necessary extra funding. It also appears as though there will be three stations along the Onehunga Branch: one at Onehunga, one at Te Papapa (quite near Mays Road) and one near Mt Smart stadium.

I have included a map of where I think the stations will be located. I’m not 100% sure of the location of the Te Papapa station and the Mt Smart station, but they would certainly not be too far from where I’ve shown them:

onehunga-line The main benefit of the Mt Smart station seems likely to be for events, and it may well turn out that this is and events only station. There isn’t much residential development within easy walking distance of the Mt Smart station – although I guess there is potential for people who live elsewhere on the rail network but work near the station to catch the train. I suspect that wouldn’t be particularly many people though.

I have a couple of hopes for this line, apart from the obvious one that it’s reasonably popular. My first hope is that it gets decent service frequencies. There aren’t that many available peak hour slots into Britomart left (due to the lack of a CBD rail loop) so I am not sure whether, at peak hour, a huge number of trains will be able to be run from Onehunga into Britomart. I think that it’s most likely that trains which currently terminate at Otahuhu will be re-routed to instead terminate at Onehunga. Off-peak I hope that the service frequencies aren’t cut back too much either – perhaps a train every 30 minutes during weekdays and at weekends would be great. And that links in with my second hope: that the service runs on Saturdays AND Sundays, and at reasonable frequencies on both those days. The reason I hope this is because I actually think it could be damn popular. The big white blob just above the Onehunga station is DessSmart Onehunga: an extremely popular shopping centre with very limited carparking. As Sylvia Park has shown, people are very eager and willing to catch trains to shopping malls at the weekend, and I imagine that Onehunga will continue that trend – if a decent weekend service is provided. And finally, clearly the Onehunga services must start and end at Britomart. That’s a bit of a no-brainer.

So the obvious question is “when will it open?” Well, according to ARTA: “services are expected to begin on the Onehunga line early next year.” So not too far away.

Waterview Connection – update

Well it’s been a while since my last post on the Waterview Connection, and there have been a few interesting developments. So it’s probably worthwhile to give a bit of an update on what’s been going on recently. As I mentioned in my most recent post on the Waterview Connection, NZTA have released details of “the other two options” that they decided to not proceed with. I talked about those before (basically outlining how terrible they are), but to refresh the memory (and provide a better quality image), they’re included below:

waterview-optionsWhat I find quite interesting is that option 3, which is what NZTA eventually chose to go with (talk about the biggest no brainer in the world), was originally proposed as a surface route, with the eventual tunnel underneath Avondale Heights merely being “additional mitigation”. I can imagine it would have been quite a challenge (both engineering wise and community opposition wise) to drive the motorway through this area at surface level, so it’s not really a surprise that the additional mitigation option was chosen.

Furthermore, even the stretch of motorway through Waterview was suggested to be built between Great North Road and the Oakley Creek, with the option of instead going underneath Great North Road another “additional mitigation” measure. Now I would agree that it’s pretty unlikely NZTA would have ever chosen to go with any option other than what they’ve finally chosen – as the effects of a surface level option through Avondale Heights would be pretty horrific, while both Options 1 and 2 have significant effects on property and open space in the area. In fact, option 2 is relatively similar to what was being proposed before 2006 (which was soundly rejected by the local community).

One of the most interesting aspects of the way in which NZTA have separated out the costs of the “additional mitigation” is how it gives us an idea about what extra things like a 1.2 km tunnel underneath Avondale Heights, in itself, actually costs. The same goes with the cut and cover tunnel that is to be constructed underneath Great North Road. In the case of the Great North Road tunnel, the cost is actually pretty amazingly low: only $38 million more than the cost of building the motorway adjacent to Great North Road at surface level instead. In the case of the 1.2 kilometre long bored tunnel underneath Avondale Heights, the cost of choosing to go with the tunnel rather than building the motorway at surface level is $212 million. Interestingly, the cost of doing a cut & cover tunnel under Avondale Heights was worked out at $260 million – more than the cost of a driven tunnel (and far more disruption). So no real surprise that the tunnel was chosen – $260 million seems well worth what the effects would otherwise be.

NZTA also analysed the cost of additional mitigation measures that they have decided not to proceed with: mainly those that relate to Allan Wood Reserve. Notwithstanding my opposition to the idea of spending $1.4 billion on another road when state highway traffic is actually declining, I do consider option 3, the one which has been chosen, actually creates a reasonable solution to the north of New North Road (especially if the small surface area between the two tunnels is ‘capped’ as seems likely). However, this is at the cost of effects on Allan Wood Reserve, which in my opinion are certainly the most significant effects of the current proposal. NZTA have analysed the price tag of additional mitigation options for Allan Wood Reserve, although none have been proposed. They are outlined below:

allanwood-mitigation

The costs are in millions of dollars, so it’s pretty clear where the “huge savings” of this proposal (compared to previous options explored by NZTA) have come from. When I discussed the possibility of building a trench through Allan Wood Reserve (the $359 million option) with an NZTA engineer a few weeks ago at an Open Day on the Waterview Connection, he explained that it was so cost-prohibitive because you would need to build the trench directly through a fairly significant lava flow: which means a lot of expensive and very difficult blasting and earthworks. The lava-flow runs between 1 metre and 10 metres below the surface level, and was actually one of the main reasons why NZTA chose to go with the full bored tunnel option a few years back. It was simply cheaper and easier to go well underneath the lava flow.

Now, looking at all this information, it seems like there is a possibility that hasn’t been looked at yet. Why not build another bored tunnel – similar to the one that is to go underneath Avondale Heights – underneath Allan Wood Reserve? The lengths are fairly similar, at around 1.2 km, and you could build the two tunnels at the same time (just have two road-header machines to build them: these machines are relatively cheap). A bored tunnel would be significantly cheaper than the cut & cover option – because it would go underneath the lava flow (and from the Avondale Heights experience it seems like cut & cover tunnels aren’t necessarily cheaper than bored tunnels anyway). It seems reasonable to estimate that a bored tunnel under Allan Wood Reserve might only cost somewhere in the region of $212 million over and above the current cost of the surface level option (that was the difference for the Avondale Heights tunnel). It means NZTA wouldn’t have to purchase land off Ontrack or Auckland City Council through Allan Wood Reserve, it means that NZTA wouldn’t have to off-set the amount of open space land they’re going to take away from the community (potentially a very significant mitigation cost that I don’t think has been taken into account yet) and it means that Allan Wood Reserve would retain its character and not be split down the middle by a giant six lane motorway.

To illustrate more clearly, the two maps below show firstly what is proposed for the Allan Wood Reserve end of the motorway, and second what could be built instead. The small blue (surface area) between the two tunnels would be capped eventually, but I have shown a gap to illustrate that it would effectively be built as two separate tunnels that were eventually linked together.

Current proposal:

allanwood-original
My alternative:

allanwood-altered2

Whilst this would be a better outcome, I’m still not really convinced that it’s worth spending $1.4 billion (or more, if my mitigation was taken up) on a motorway project. As I explained a couple of posts ago, building more roads tends to simply result in further traffic being induced to drive on those roads. Even NZTAs own traffic analysis seems to show this quite clearly, with the map below showing both the expected increases in traffic volumes (in red) and decreased volumes (in green) along various roads in the area as a result of the Waterview Connection being built. While traffic flows on some local roads will certainly be reduced, overall it is clear that more traffic will use the road than simply vehicles diverted from somewhere else. Quite simply, that is induced traffic:

traffic-effects

Furthermore, these only show the average daily flows – not the peak flows. Generally when traffic space is ‘opened up’ and congestion is (momentarily) reduced people will shift from driving during the “shoulder peak” times (just before and after peak hour) to driving during peak hour. This means that the peak flows can actually increase to an even greater extent than shows up when simply using average daily flows.  As congestion generally only happens around peak hour, this further leads to situations where building more roads doesn’t actually do anything to reduce congestion.

Super-City Submissions due Friday

Submissions on the Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill close this Friday, so to make sure that you get your in on time I suggest sending it off by tomorrow at the latest. According to the Parliament website:

The bill provides for the governance structure of the Auckland Council, including the high level framework (structure, functions, powers, duties and membership), and the powers and functions for the Local Government Commission to determine the boundaries of Auckland, the names and boundaries of the wards and local boards, the number of local boards and number of members, and to develop a reorganisation scheme for the division of the Franklin District, and its council, between the Auckland Council and the Waikato District Council. It also proposes amendments to two local government Acts to allow remuneration, allowances and expenses payable to be determined by the Remuneration Authority, and for the Auckland Transition Agency to approve a process for, and oversee, the planning and management of the integration of Auckland’s water supply and wastewater services by Watercare Services Limited.

It is actually surprisingly easy to make a submission on something like this, and you don’t have to go into an extreme level of detail if you don’t want to.

My submission has been finalised, and it is available to read here.

Essentially, I cover the following points:

  1. The fundamental concept of an Auckland Council and 20-30 local boards (or community councils) is a good idea. It creates, in my opinion, a good balance between regional governance and local service provision.
  2. There may be good reason for rural parts of Rodney District and Franklin District to be excluded from the Auckland Council, if the residents of these areas wish to do so.
  3. The loss of the role that the Auckland Regional Council plays, particularly in growth management and environmental advocacy, is a concern and that role will need to be picked up somewhere by the new Council.
  4. All councillors on the Auckland Council should be elected from wards. There should be no at-large councillors.
  5. Ward boundaries should match local board boundaries. These should also match with electorate boundaries.
  6. Maori seats should be provided for, in accordance with the number of people on the Maori electoral role (likely to be 2 seats).
  7. There should be the assumption that a service/function is carried out by the local board, unless there is a good reason for the Auckland Council to carry out that service/function.
  8. The services/functions carried out by the local boards should be enshrined in the legislation, not simply left to the Auckland Council to delegate.
  9. The Auckland Council should be required to “give effect to” the priorities of the local boards, not merely “take them into account.”
  10. Local boards should have dedicated staff and facilities.
  11. The Auckland Council councillors for a local board area should be on that local board as well as the Council.
  12. Local boards should have the ability to apply a targeted rate, and to set their own budgets within a funding cap set by the Auckland Council.
  13. The mayor, the Auckland Council councillors and the Local Board members should all be voted for using the Single-Transferable Vote (STV) system.
  14. Aucklanders should be given the opportunity to validate the final reorganisation proposal through a referendum. It would be simple choice between what is proposed and the current system. If people choose the current system then another vote should be held in the future after changes are made to the proposal.

I will look forward to presenting my submission in person, and I will not be happy if I get shafted into doing teleconferencing again.

Bus Issues

Usually my bus service is pretty reliable. I turn up at just before 8.25 am in the morning – at around 8.25 am a Birkenhead Transport bus rolls along, taking people over the Harbour Bridge to Northcote College. When I drive to work in Avondale I see the bus further back on its route – usually stuck in traffic along Meola Road. But anyway, usually pretty shortly after the Birkenhead Transport school bus has gone by my 8.25 am 004 bus comes. Although it’s a peak hour bus, because the route is pretty short (it starts down at the very posh end of Jervois Road) I can always get a seat – in fact most of the people who catch this bus get on at the two main Herne Bay bus stops (I interchange between the two as they’re almost perfectly equidistant from my house).

But this morning decided to be different. 8.30 rolled by, 8.40 rolled by, and eventually at around 8.45 am we had the next bus come along. Of course it was pretty packed, although I did get a seat. Now I can understand why buses are sometimes late – they get stuck in traffic along some part of their route or whatever. What really annoys me though is when they simply just don’t show up. I know that I wouldn’t have missed the 8.25 am 004 bus this morning – as I even saw the 8.15 am 012 bus depart my stop just as I arrived there. And clearly the bus that I ended up catching was the scheduled 8.40 am bus. Obviously the one I usually catch just simply disappeared.

I suppose that it’s possible that there are staffing shortage at bus companies at the moment, with the normal winter colds etc. going around, but one would imagine that’s pretty standard practice anyway and they ensure they have enough “fat in the system” to cope with situations like that. Sometimes I do wonder whether they just go “ah, who really cares about the 8.25 am 004 service, they’ll just catch the later bus”. Which is not really good enough I reckon.