Small-steps towards a Northwest Busway

Last week the Regional Transport Committee confirmed the final form of the 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy – the culmination of a couple of years’ work in creating Auckland a guiding 30 year transport document. As I have said before, the strategy is an overall excellent document, and really shifts Auckland’s transport thinking in the right direction – to a more balanced and sustainable future.

One alteration to the RLTS that I strongly pushed for, the inclusion of provision for a Northwest Busway along State Highway 16, was specifically mentioned in the minutes of the RTC meeting – and although it hasn’t been added as a part of the Rapid-Transit Network for now, it certainly seems as though there is now an awareness of the idea – which will hopefully filter through to influence the widening of State Highway 16 that is currently being proposed. Here’s the resolution made by the Regional Transport Committee:

Whilst ideally the NW Busway would have been detailed specifically in the RLTS, having this resolution is very helpful as it places great emphasis on the ARC really pushing NZTA to provide quality bus priority along SH16 as part of its upgrade, and – perhaps even more importantly – gives strong direction that whatever gets built now does not compromise the ability to build a busway or railway line along the corridor in the future. This is very important because I think there’s a great risk the upgrades to SH16, including the Waterview Connection interchange, will make it extremely difficult to thread a busway or railway line through them in the future.

One only needs to look at Britomart, or even at Newmarket station, to realise the dangers of not properly future-proofing. Hopefully we won’t make that mistake again.

Quote of the Day

Like a gambling addict, Auckland fools itself into thinking it doesn’t have a problem. “Just one more bet or win and then I can finally quit.” “Just one more motorway will relieve congestion and then we can stop building them.” But one motorway leads to another, then another, until you’re building motorways to fix the problems caused by other motorways.

This is from Green MP Gareth Hughes’s excellent article on Auckland’s transport situation in Auckland University student magazine Craccum.

Mr Hughes is exactly right that our continuing focus on building motorways to fix congestion is like a gambling addiction – that although we know it didn’t work last time (or the time before that, or the time before that), we constantly hope that next time around we’ll hit the jackpot and congestion will be fixed once and for all. Steven Joyce talks about making a “step change” in fixing congestion in Auckland through the massive motorway investment, but what makes us think that building motorways will fix the problem this time, and not just shift it elsewhere like all previous motorway projects in Auckland?

MAXX website bizarreness

About a month ago I posted about the completely nonsensical results that the new MAXX website was giving to me when trying to make what seemed to be relatively obvious and simple journeys. On that occasion, somehow one of the suggested options included three different Link Bus trips for a simple “Herne Bay to CBD” trip.

But that’s nothing compared to the bizarreness of trying to get MAXX to tell you how to get from Hauraki, near Takapuna, to Ponsonby. Now I realise that’s a somewhat unusual trip, but not impossible to come up with an option would would think. Here’s the approximate trip we’re looking at here: A pretty obvious couple of options would be a walk to Akoranga Station and then a 962 bus to Ponsonby or a bus into the city and then a Link Bus or 005 up to Ponsonby (or a walk) from Victoria Park.

But is that what we get, if we give the relatively easy request of “arrive before 9am”. Nope. This is what we get instead as the number one option:

Yes that’s right, the number one suggested option includes riding a school bus, then another bus in the wrong direction to not the nearest busway station, but the one further north, then a Northern Express bus into town and then a bus from the CBD up to Ponsonby. What on earth????

Now I would show a map of how stupid this suggestion is, but MAXX’s mapping system shows this when I click on maps: Still having technical issues with the maps? Come on.

Oddly enough, none of the options suggested by MAXX include the idea of someone walking to the Akoranga Busway Station, but rather suggest catching buses up to Smales Farm Station. What’s up with that? Is Akoranga Busway Station really completely inaccessible to pedestrians? (I wouldn’t be that surprised actually).

I generally don’t use the Journey Planner, instead relying on the uploaded timetables on MAXX’s website. This post might help explain why.

The magic one-hour travel limit

Following somewhat from the discussion on slow transit and travel times, I coincidentally happened to read a paper today that sheds some light onto the ‘magic one hour limit’. This idea that people are willing to travel up to an hour each way to work is more or less considered a fact in transport planning literature, but why is this so, and has it always been that way?

The paper I read was entitled “Anthropological Invariants in Travel Behaviour”, written by an anthropologist named Marchetti almost two decades ago. Marchetti claims that travel patterns are determined by basic animal instincts, innate behaviours of survival and prosperity-seeking that have remained constant across aeons of technological development.

According to him there are two competing instincts that influence travel behaviours: the first is the instinct for territorial animals such as humans to strive to increase their territory. This in order to maximise access to resources and expand the powerbase, a strategy that promotes long term survival and prosperity. The second instinct is the drive to limit exposure to hostile forces and remain within easy reach of a defensible ‘nest’ such as a cave, or in modern terms, a house. This strategy promotes short term survival and the maintenance of existing resources.

So what does this mean? Well according to Marchetti the trade off between these two instincts results in people feeling the need to travel on a daily basis, but not wanting to stray more than one hour travel time from home. So there we have it: commuting an hour each day to hunt, gather or otherwise work for a living is a basic survival instinct we’ve had since we were cavemen.

This concept suggests that settlements will naturally spread up to one hours travel across, much more than that and our animal instincts fall out of balance. People can typically walk around 5km per hour across good terrain, so back in the days when travel was almost exclusively by foot functional cities could only be approximately 5km across. Marchetti claims this is exactly how big they got, apparently ancient walled cities were almost all 5km across while the core of the modern day walking city of Venice is the same size. With the introduction of horse travel, railways, cars and then airplanes, the distance one can travel in an hour has successively increased. With the car and motorways people can live their lives in a city a hundred kilometres across, as we see in Auckland and other places today. For people that commute via air shuttle or high speed rail, their ‘home town’ becomes three or four hundred kilometres across. Indeed the Paris commuter belt now extends from the Belgian border half way to the Pyrenees thanks to the TGV network.

One interesting thing to consider is that when travel distance increases linearly, the area accessible increases exponentially. For example, the 5km wide one-hour-walking city covers around 20km2 (about the area from Ponsonby to Parnell) the 100km wide one-hour-driving city covers 7,800km2 (about the size of the greater Auckland region) while the 300km wide one-hour-by-high-speed-rail city could cover a staggering 70,600km2 (about the size of Ireland!).

The one-hour city by foot…                                                                                          and by car.

This leads to the question, do we need to live our day to day lives over such a great distance, what are the pros and cons of having such a great area within one hours’ travel?

The arguments against are much the same as the arguments against sprawl. Things like the waste of energy and resources spent travelling such great distances, the huge expense on infrastructure and the consumption of natural environments or productive rural land for urban uses. The arguments for are largely from the economic sector, suggestions that a city covering a larger area can have a much larger population as part of the single economic unit. This give people greater access to jobs and services, while conversely businesses have a wider pool of labour from which to select the most appropriate staff. Furthermore there are economies of scale to be had with large cities giving them a competitive edge in the global marketplace, and wider cities mean more people without super cramped conditions.

Marchetti raises the prospect that once 500km/h+ maglev technologies are deployed in regular usage conurbations will become immense, with places like the Tokyo-Osaka corridor functioning as a single city of over 100 million people. The prospects of a city that size are both terrifying and amazing at the same time.

Applying the “Network Effect” to the Auckland isthmus

A few days ago Nick R wrote an excellent post in which he applied Paul Mees’s “network theory” of bus routes to Auckland’s North Shore, to come up with a basic “grid” structure that could serve the whole area effectively, and potentially in a way that would use the same or less resources than are currently required. There have been enough posts about the network effect recently that I probably don’t have to explain the idea too much, other than to reiterate that it’s based around transfers between routes, simple route structures and high-frequencies – to create a system that can actively compete against the car for speed, cost and convenience in cities with dispersed residential and employment patterns.

I’m going to look at the Auckland isthmus area. Out of all parts of Auckland this is the area where I think a “network effect” approach could have the most advantages, because there is a basic grid street network structure throughout at least part of the isthmus, and there are a number of employment nodes – meaning that the current “suburb to CBD” route focus has its limitations.

First of all, let’s not forget that we have a three line (plus Onehunga, to be opened soon) rail network within the isthmus. Usefully, where a strong grid street-network is least evident (in the eastern part of the isthmus) the rail network offers an excellent line to base bus routes around. So let’s look at the rail network first:

If we had the Onehunga line extend through the Avondale, as well as the CBD rail tunnel of course, then we could run loop trains around the whole isthmus – which would be quite useful. Maybe some day I suppose…

Turning to bus routes now, I have added to the map what I think are the eleven key suburb t0 CBD bus routes throughout the isthmus. I suppose if I were creating a true grid I would make these ‘north-south routes’, but as a significant number of public transport users really do want to get to the CBD, I think it’s useful to have these routes, which are significantly simplified versions of the majority of the existing bus network (and very reminiscent of the old tram system). Each route would run at 10 minute frequencies, seven days a week, plus more frequent during peak times. They would be supplemented by less frequent feeder routes to main interchanges (Local Connector Networks according to ARTA). Hopefully some of the routes could be “through-routed” from one side of the CBD to the other: Obviously some of these routes would extend further, into Waitakere and Manukau cities. However, generally I would want to avoid the routes getting too long where avoidable, as hopefully most people travelling from the west and south would be using trunk RTN services such as the railways or (hopefully) a future Northwest Busway.

The key to making this a network is in the next step, where we supplement all these suburb-to-CBD routes with cross-town services, to truly create a system where people can go from anywhere to anywhere. Cross-town routes are less likely to be profitable that the red-routes shown above (at least in the shorter run), but they are critical in making the system more attractive and useful as a whole. Four main cross-town routes, plus the Link Bus, are shown in the map below: The inner-most cross-town route (aside from the Link) was probably the most difficult to settle on, but I think that the route I have ended up picking makes a decent amount of sense: being Westmere to Mission Bay via Newmarket. It would integrate well with the railway station planned under the intersection of Newton Road, Symonds Street and Khyber Pass Road as part of the CBD rail tunnel.

Put everything together and you have, what I think, is a fairly simple yet comprehensive network. I absolutely recognise that you would need to supplement these base services with local connectors – generally linking under-served areas with the nearest railway station or high-frequency bus route interchange. The system certainly works best in the western half of the isthmus than the eastern, largely due to the street structure I think. There might well be room for a north-south cross-town service in the eastern part of the city, although to some extent the railway line achieves that purpose, so having all the bus routes running east-west could be said to supplement that quite well.

Overall there are eleven red routes, four blue routes plus the link bus. That’s 16 routes to run at 10 minute frequencies (higher at peak times). I reckon that’s possible using a similar level of resource to what we have now. It’s got to be more easily understood than what we have now: Simplicity is important I think. Simplicity, better frequencies, easier transfers and more direct routes.

Changes to “Auckland Transport”?

On May 24th (delayed from an original report back date of May 4th) the select committee analysing submissions on the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill, more commonly known as “the 3rd Super City bill” will report back to parliament, with any suggested alterations that have arisen from the submissions process. Given the extremely negative public response that the bill has generally had, particularly on the subject of “Council Controlled Organisations”, it would be surprising if there weren’t some fairly substantial changes made to the bill. This was hinted at in a NZ Herald article last week, which said this:

Concerns that council accountability and transparency will be reduced in the new Auckland’s Super City will be addressed when relevant legislation is finalised, the parliamentary committee considering the law has told Local Government NZ…

…Committee chairman and National MP John Carter told Mr Yule, LGNZ chief executive Eugene Bowen and governance manager Mike Reid the committee had “taken on board your submissions along with others about the issue of accountability and transparency”.

“Those points that you have raised will be addressed as we move forward.”

Mr Carter said the committee accepted “there has to be cohesion, there has to be transparency, there is also the need for the Auckland Council to be the final decision maker”.

However, he was unable to go into further detail “because of confidentiality of the parliamentary system”.

These are promising words. As I outlined in an earlier post, a lack of transparency about the workings of Auckland Transport is one of my biggest objections to the structure of this organisation as currently proposed, with their meetings (and their agendas & minutes) being held in secret – effectively killing off the public’s knowledge of what is happening around the decisions being made about our transport system. Hints that further changes will be made to ensure that Auckland Council is the final decision maker are also promising, as hopefully this will mean that Auckland Transport will have to act in accordance with its Statement of Intent and the wishes of its shareholder – the Auckland Council. Hopefully this will also clarify the ability of Auckland Council to replace Auckland Transport’s board members when and where it sees fit – after all this agency is meant to be Auckland Transport, not the Steven Joyce Transport Agency.

However, debates in parliament yesterday suggest that more fundamental changes to the structure of Auckland Transport (such as doing away with it altogether) won’t happen:

Hon Phil Goff: Why is he imposing on Auckland the requirement to have council-controlled organisations, when every other council in this country is able to make that decision for itself?

Hon JOHN KEY: Because we believe that that is the right structure for Auckland. Council-controlled organisations have been in operation for quite come time and have widespread support, including from the Opposition.

Of course it was always very unlikely that the government would completely back-track on the idea of establishing Auckland Transport as a CCO, so this is no surprise. This ultimate decision to establish a separate agency in charge of everything to do with transport, right down to the colour of your footpaths has the fundamental problem, in my opinion, of creating further separation between land-use planning and transport planning – when what we actually need is better integration. Unless Auckland Transport and the Council become extremely good at communicating with each other, I very much worry that the result will be both poorer land-use and poorer transport outcomes for Auckland as a result of this split.

Even with these hints about what changes we can and can’t expect, there are still a number of unanswered questions that I await with interest to find out more about:

  1. Will KiwiRail get a non-voting seat on the board of Auckland Transport? If not, how come NZTA do?
  2. Will Auckland Council get to choose the chairperson of Auckland Transport’s Board?
  3. Will there be further clarification on the ability of Auckland Council to replace members of the board it does not want?
  4. Will any changes me made to ensure the mayor and council really can achieve their transport goals, if elected? What might those changes be?
  5. Will the local boards have any say whatsoever over what Auckland Transport does?

I’m also curious about any changes/clarifications made surrounding the part of the bill that refers to the creation of an Auckland Spatial Plan. It will certainly be interesting to see the select committee’s report, and then to follow the various debates that follow before this bill finally becomes law.

Could slow PT be good?

A recent post on ponders an argument, put by Professor Patrick M. Condon of the University of British Columbia (UBC), that public transport doesn’t actually need to be “fast”, and in actual fact there are some benefits from it being slow. Sounds strange when you first consider it, but here’s how it’s explained by Professor Condon:

The question of operational speed conjures up a larger issue: who exactly are the intended beneficiaries of enhanced mobility? A high speed system is best if the main intention is to move riders quickly from one side of the region to the other. Lower operational speeds are better if your intention is to best serve city districts with easy access within them and to support a long term objective to create more complete communities, less dependent on twice-daily cross-region trips.

In essence, if you really want to constrain sprawl in your city and encourage intensification along public transport corridors, might it actually be a good thing to keep the transit slow along those corridors? Jarrett at humantransit explains the idea a bit further:

Professor Condon is interested in the urban form implications of slower transit, for which his paradigm is the Portland Streetcar, a tram in mixed traffic, stopping every 500 feet or so, that glides attractively but slowly (averaging 15 km/h, 9 mph) through the redeveloping Pearl District. Clearly, the Portland Streetcar drove not just a dramatic densification of the inner city areas it served, but a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use urban form where many of life’s needs are within walking distance. That much is undeniable. In Todd Litman’s terms, which I explored here, the Portland Streetcar may not have provided much mobility but it certainly improved access.

In a way I see the argument here. If we’re using transport as a “place-shaping tool”, which we absolutely should in order to encourage an integration between transport and planning that results in better outcomes for both, then having a slower transport system is likely to result in everything locating closer to everything else. There is a very long history showing that people are willing to commute for up to an hour (shorter for cycling and walking obviously) before the numbers really start dropping off. As we have made transport systems faster over the years, all we have really done is made it possible to travel further within that hour, and as a result our cities have spread like crazy – which has led to huge sustainability problems associated with urban sprawl.

So should we look to go the other way? To not focus on making our transport systems faster, but rather to focus on slowing them down, so that the places shaped by transport projects are compact, fine-grained and more sustainable? Such an approach would be the ultimate rejection of the concept of mobility, but if accessibility was enhanced by it – who really cares? What the idea also takes into consideration is the outcome where fast public transport can actually encourage urban sprawl in a similar way (although generally more sustainable and clearly less auto-dependent) to what motorways do.

There are a few matters to take into consideration, one of which Jarrett spends much of his post focusing on, and another which is pretty obvious but obviously critical. Let me start with the point that I think the remainder of Jarrett’s post hammers home – that such an approach will only work for transport projects whose purpose is to shape urban form. Professor Condon proposes that slow transit would work best along the Broadway corridor in Vancouver that is currently being assessed for a possible subway project, while Jarrett points out that this is really most probably the wrong corridor to push the idea – as the land-use patterns in the area are relatively stable and established, while one of the main reasons to upgrade the route is to improve access to the university that sits at the western end of it. In short, it’s not a place-shaping project and therefore the benefits of “going slow” are most probably outweighed by the costs. I would agree in that case, and note that Professor Condon actually says that fast transit is best with projects designed to “…move riders quickly from one side of the region to the other”, exactly what happens along the Broadway corridor.

The second, and perhaps most fundamental issue is the question of whether we’re talking about just slowing down public transport or slowing down all transport. In my view if we just slow down public transport all we’ll do is give people greater incentives to get in their cars and drive everywhere – completely undermining what we’re trying to achieve. So for the “go slow” approach to make sense, it has to be across all motorised transport modes.

It’s somewhat difficult to think about how this concept could be placed in the Auckland context, but perhaps along corridors such as Dominion Road the advantages of a slower, more people-oriented tram line over a faster underground heavy rail line in helping to shape the development of that corridor would be the best example I can find. It’s certainly an interesting idea I reckon.

Regenerating Auckland

In late January, the government announced it would be establishing a group to look into housing affordability and the Metropolitan Urban Limits (MULs) in Auckland. The basic argument is that houses cost too much, so allowing sprawl will reduce house prices Auckland wide.

But what is driving up house prices? Why isn’t intensification happening? Is allowing sprawl a good idea?

The basic answer is that sprawl is undesirable due to economic and environmental factors (which are covered later in the post) and we should try everything in our power to limit it until we have sensible district plans and parking requirements that will allow intensification to happen in an affordable and agreeable way.

In a city like Auckland where so much development has taken place after 1960 surely there are ample opportunities to use land more effectively. A while ago Admin posted about how much land is taken up in the Manukau CBD by parking and roads, this seems like as good a place as any to examine how to increase productive land use.

To understand where we want to end up, we need to understand where we’ve come from and where we are. Originally towns grew up around rivers and harbours as ships were the fastest means of transport around the country and globe, especially for freight, the port (work), your shop and public spaces all had to be within walking distance of your home. This lead to urban forms such as this:

Incredibly walkable? Yes, but not desirable today for three reasons; firstly the private motor vehicle is a very economically productive vehicle if available in moderation, (my general rule is, 1 car per family: an economic miracle, 4 cars per family: an economic disaster), this urban form has almost no provision for cars even in a fully user pays society, secondly unless there is a subway under there it is going to be hard to provide good public transport – there is no obvious grid system or room for public transport vehicles and finally we moved away from town planning such as this for a good reason: the tenement, the slum, the ghetto, whatever you want to call it the requirement to live within walking distance of provision for all of life’s needs led to some very cramped and unsanitary conditions.

The rise of railways then cars delinked walking and urban form and in true human style, fear of the tenement meant we took things a little too far, went car mad and ended up with this:

Now on an individual level, this is a very desirable place to spend your time and to live, but sprawl such as this is a disaster for a city environmentally and economically, it is hard to provide public transport and cycling for, walking is almost non-existent, land is needed for parking city wide pushing up land costs, it uses far too many resources, has high costs to provide utilities and leads to chronic congestion on main thoroughfares.

So what is desirable? I’d suggest a city where there is roading and parking provision for a motor car for every home but where if your household has more than one, the use of the second vehicle will require user pays parking and road use in almost every situation, this can be achieved by amending minimum parking requirements to maximums, good council monitoring of on street parking use which sets prices responsive to demand and congestion charges/COE permits. An urban form where there is a clear grid road system and a hierarchical public transport corridor every 1 km is also desirable.

So how could we amend the Manukau CBDs district plan to achieve this?

Here is the Manukau CBD as it is currently:

Quite simply a triumph of forgetting the importance of urban form, the tiny amount of land actually used for buildings is remarkable and the provision of parking makes catching public transport a unattractive prospect.

So what shape should the changes to the district plan take to achieve the kind of city outlined above? We can convert much of the land used as parking to multilevel, mixed use development and public space:

The white boxes are new buildings that the district plan allows to be between 3 – 5 stories, with retail on the street level and offices and apartments above, the red is the area retained for parking which is all metered and priced so it remains at 80% – 90% occupancy, the blue line in an extension of Osterley Way completing the grid in the CBD, the green area is a new park for the eastern CBD and the grey square is a new public square, pedestrianisation of streets such as Karoro Ct and Putney way from the new blue street to Wiri Station Rd could be implemented.

You’ll notice that new buildings all “front” the surrounding streets improving walkability and public transport access, public spaces are introduced as havens from cars and to further encourage public transport use and walkability. The key is that we start building our cities around people and not cars, that we create spaces where people want to be, not just where people want to go through. We don’t have to remove the car, we just need to tame it.

Transport Blogosphere Roundup

Who’s talking about what in the amazing world of the Transport Blogoshpere?


Early Link Buses

A rather odd bus experience going on at the moment.

Usually I catch the 004/005 bus to work, but today I was already in Ponsonby for breakfast so the Link Bus was the next one into town. While I waited forever at traffic lights to cross College Hill I noticed a Link Bus sitting at its stop for a good 3-4 minutes with the driver outside having a smoke. I figured the bus must have broken down and asked him that question, although it seemed odd as people were still on the bus. He replied that they were running “early”.

Cue another couple of minutes while he finished the cigarette, before I got on the bus and we were on our way. Then we reached the usual waiting point at Victoria Park, bus driver says “three and a half minutes and we’ll be on our way” and jumps off the bus again to have another smoke. Passengers look bewildered, passengers wanting to get on the bus look even more confused when they see no driver.

Apart from the oddness of the situation, it does make me wonder how we should deal with “early buses”, especially on the Link route where they will naturally catch each other and bunch. I see the logic for sticking to timetables, but those poor passengers whose bus sat there going nowhere for around 7-8 minutes all up are hardly getting a good experience.

Ideas? Better solutions?