When it comes to improving the share of commuters and general travellers who use public transport, what matters probably more than anything are employment densities. People do go on about the need to improve the density of households, and while that’s important to increase the number of people within walking distance of railway stations, bus stops and so forth, employment density is MORE important. That is because people can drive to a bus stop or train station, or they can catch a feeder bus to a train station. But at the other end of their trip they really need to be within a short walk of their place of employment – otherwise public transport is just all too difficult for them and they will drive instead.
We see that pattern hold true throughout most cities. New York City is well served by public transport because its employment densities in Manhatten and part of Brooklyn are exceptionally high. At the other end of the scale, in Auckland our employment densities are actually really really low – as was detailed in a rather strange New Zealand Herald article that I posted on a few weeks ago. In Auckland we have 11.7% of the region’s jobs in the CBD, while two-thirds of all jobs are outside of any employment hub. While it’s probably a bit of a generalisation, I don’t think I would be too far off by estimating that about 95% of people whose jobs are outside any employment hub probably drive to work. Parking would be free, public transport probably doesn’t go anywhere close to where people need to be, and so on and so forth. In contrast, I think about 40% of people working in the CBD use public transport (a figure which could definitely be higher). For other employment hubs I imagine the figures vary from being quite close to that of the CBD (for Newmarket) to probably much closer to that of areas outside any hubs at all (for Albany basin & East Tamaki).
Before I go on to “what can we do about this?” I just want to make the point that I do not think residential densities are irrelevant to encouraging public transport use, and reducing auto-dependency. In fact, as the table below shows a surprisingly small percentage of trips are for work commuting:
This tables shows the expected number of trips around the Auckland region (per day) in 2041, but the numbers aren’t what’s significant, what is significant is that Community (shopping/recreation) trips make up almost half those projected to be taken, while work commuting is barely 20%. So, a low density residential area with a high-density core (kind of like the outer suburbs of New York) will only really be able to provide quality public transport for work related trips – and therefore won’t actually reduce auto-dependency for other trips. To truly reduce auto-dependency you need to make it easier for these “community” trips to be made without a car. And that means higher-densities and mixed-use developments. This means people don’t have to travel as far to undertake their necessary activities, and therefore don’t need to use their car to do all these community trips.
Once again, if we look at New York City we see this result quite clearly. In the dense inner suburbs people don’t need to own a car, in fact I think 70% of Manhatten residents don’t own a car, because the urban areas are dense enough and mixed-use enough to make it possible for the community trips to be undertaken without a car. Further out into the outer suburbs of New York, public transport use remains reasonably high for work commuting, but falls away for these community trips. As a result, more people need to own cars and the places are still fairly auto-dependent.
Anyway, getting back to the issue of employment densities in Auckland, the ARC has looked at this issue in quite a bit of detail in the analysis of forming a “where should we grow” plan to follow on from the 1999 Regional Growth Strategy. The different “growth scenarios” are outlined below:
Scenario 1 takes a compact urban form approach, based on high density centres and corridors. As a general theme, this scenario focuses future growth in centres that are located on or near the current and future Rapid Transit Network (RTN). This recognises the importance of leveraging off existing and planned investment in the transport network. In this scenario all projected future growth is provided within the urban area (as of 2008). This includes all future residential growth, Group 2 (retail, business services, offices etc) and Group 1 (manufacturing, transport and storage, wholesale trade, construction) business land. This scenario gives particular prominence to the Central Business District (CBD) and CBD fringe and four centres (called regional centres) recognising that these centres will have a strategic role to play in terms of scale and function to meet a range of housing and employment needs. A number of centres play a supporting role for growth and change (called principal and town centres).
Scenario 2 also takes a compact urban form approach, through high density centres and corridors, in locations on the current and future RTN, but it provides more dispersed growth than Scenario 1. Most future growth is provided within the 2008 urban area; however this scenario also provides for the expansion of some existing rural towns and the development of some new large transit orientated towns i.e. new towns on the RTN, and outside the current Metropolitan Urban Limit (MuL). As with Scenario 1, this scenario gives prominence to the CBD and CBD fringe, four regional centres, and a range of principle and town centres play a supporting role for growth and change. However, all centres tend to provide less capacity than those in Scenario 1.
Scenario 3 is based on information provided by the region’s territorial authorities. It provides an opportunity to test local ideas about growth management to 2050. It is similar to Scenarios 1 and 2 in that most growth is focused in a network of centres and corridors aligned to the Rapid and Quality Transit Networks. Additionally, Scenario 3 includes some “Intensification Areas” in Manukau and North Shore cities. These are broad corridor-like areas outside centres that have been considered appropriate for greater intensification. Further capacity is provided by suburban infill and in a proliferation of Local and Neighbourhood Centres, of which there are considerably more than in Scenarios 1 and 2. It is therefore a feature of Scenario 3 that whilst growth is directed into centres, there is a significant amount of capacity dispersed elsewhere within the metropolitan area into smaller centres and general suburban infill. The CBD remains the pre-eminent centre and it is supported by the six regional centres of Manukau City, Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, New Lynn, and Westgate. These 6 regional centres vary greatly in size and potentially therefore in role and function. Supporting these are numerous principal and town centres.
Scenario 4 is based on Proposed Plan Change 6 (PC 6) of the Auckland Regional Policy Statement (ARPS). PC6 is based on Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) principles. Scenario 4 varies from the other three scenarios in that it has different centre categories from those advocated in the Regional Classification Project. However, it is generally consistent with the other scenarios in that, it promotes the compact urban growth approach with strong residential and employment growth in a pre-eminent CBD, and also in sub- regional centres and town centres. In contrast to the other scenarios, Scenario 4 does not identify any growth capacity in lower tier local centres and neighbourhood centres. It is therefore strongly reliant on a large amount of future capacity being achieved in higher level centres, in general infill, and in the development of remaining vacant land.
Scenario 5 was designed to test the implications of significant urban expansion. As such, Scenario 5 has a spatial form that is generally inconsistent with RGS policy of compact urban form and containment within the MUL. Scenario 5 represents a dispersed urban expansion scenario based on knowledge of existing development pressures, land ownership and market priorities and sequencing. Approximately 50 per cent of new growth occurs outside the current MuL in the expansion of rural towns, more countryside living, and development of greenfield land with 50 per cent in the MuL in existing centres.
Ruling out Scenario 5 because it’s a return to the days of sprawl and thankfully won’t happen, it’s interesting to compare the other four options – which seem like a gradual progression from the most centralisation (scenario 1) to the least (scenario 4).
It’s interesting to analyse which of the options might be best from a public transport perspective – obviously scenario 1 would involve almost all future growth being built around the current and future rapid transit (railway lines and busways) network, while scenario 2 would offer something similar but also have the potential for new transit-towns to be developed (which may or may not be a good thing, not quite sure myself yet). Scenario 3 in some ways seems the most realistic – a nice compromise on many levels. Scenario 4 is a bit strange in that instead of developing local centres it simply focuses on infill housing – so probably wouldn’t be as supportive of public transport as the other options.
So what to make of all this? Bringing things back to where I started this post, I do worry that too much focus is being placed on the concentration of new dwellings rather than the concentration of new jobs. Personally, I think we need to build Auckland’s urban future around creating a number of employment nodes that are easy to serve by public transport, rather than focusing all our efforts on creating communities that can access public transport easily. While of course the latter is important – people can drive or catch a feeder bus to a train station. They are less likely to put up with catching another bus or having a very long walk at the other end of their trip. So I think a greater focus on ensuring that the new development of employment opportunities is carefully managed is perhaps more important than the careful management of residential areas.
So putting it all together, I have come up with my vague plan for Auckland’s future urban development, which focuses on existing employment areas and the links between those areas. As detailed in an excellent post on humantransit.org the other day, we needn’t write off public transport for Auckland just because we have dispersed employment. What we need to do is focus on linking up our growth areas, and ensuring that future businesses develop within these hubs. Hopefully we’ll end up with something like this:
With good public transport links (the blue lines) between our employment hubs (the red circles) I think that we most certainly can become a city where public transport is extremely popular and viable. (Please note that I do want a CBD rail loop, this is just a very broad picture). By focusing most new employment within these defined areas, and encouraging a mix of higher density residential development and business within those nodes too, I think that we can break our auto-dependency in the future. And I also think that public transport will become useful for a wider section of people than simply those who work or study in the CBD.