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Parking and St Lukes

There’s a particularly large planning application (in the form of Private Plan Change 8) working its way through the Auckland City Council system at the moment, which relates to the possible expansion of the St Lukes shopping centre. The proposed expansion is pretty damn big – upping the possible size of the mall from around 45,000 m2 of floor area to a maximum of 92,500 m2, of which some would be office rather than retail. Similarly, the already rather large 2,018 space carpark would be increased to match the growth of the mall – to something near 4,000 spaces.

Along with 1100 others, I made a submission on the proposal – supporting some aspects of it but opposing others. I noted that some improvements would occur, such as enhanced integration with the surrounding area (the plan proposes to open up the mall to the street more, so it’s not just a big white box in a carpark) and attempts to improve walking/cycling/public transport access. However, I felt that overall these improvements were absolutely not counter-balanced by the negative effects that the enlargement would have – most particularly in terms of its traffic effects.

As someone who has lived near St Lukes for most of my life, and someone who still visits it fairly regularly, I’m aware of the well-known fact that the street network that surrounds the mall is pretty much at capacity during busy times. The traffic report with the plan change did not dispute this fact.  Furthermore, the traffic report confirmed the extremely low proportion of visitors to the mall who use public transport (under 5%), and the relatively low proportion of visitors to the mall who walk or cycle there. As I’ve noted in my recent attempts to improve the bus routes along New North and Sandringham roads, St Lukes is located in an extremely poor and downright annoying place when it comes to public transport. Compared to just about every other shopping mall in Auckland, it is much more difficult to serve well. There’s no train station nearby (unlike Sylvia Park, Henderson, New Lynn and Newmarket), there’s no bus hub nearby (unlike Henderson, New Lynn, Manukau City, Newmarket and in the future Albany) and it’s not even in a location that’s easy to serve with a logical bus route (unlike pretty much every other mall in Auckland). Somewhat bizarrely, the Booz Allen report which accompanied the plan change had this to say about the level of public transport service for St Lukes: Geez, I’m utterly terrified to think what their standard would be for a shopping centre poorly served by public transport. In the real world, bus services aren’t particularly frequent along New North Road & Sandringham Road (at least not the ones that divert to St Lukes), while the railway line is so distant that not even 1 per cent of visitors to St Lukes use it – which means that it can effectively be deemed irrelevant.

So ultimately, it is going to be a big challenge to significantly improve this 4% figure – which means that at St Lukes grows it is inevitable that unless something pretty drastic is done, most people will continue to drive there and the streets will be clogged up more and more. This will be particularly exacerbated by roughly doubling the amount of on-site carparking. To avoid this traffic nightmare, my submission proposed a cap on the amount of parking, and a cap on the amount of additional floorspace that could be developed until the modeshare of public transport, walking and cycling was increased (in other words, put the ball in Westfield’s court as to how they’d go about reducing their own car dependency).

In assessing the plan change proposal, Auckland City’s planner has recommended approval, but with a number of potentially quite interesting alterations. I’ll talk about the amendments that relate to public transport first, and then get on to the parking issue. This is what’s said about public transport:   I disagree with the final paragraph that it’d be impossible to propose a restriction – as in my opinion a District Plan rule can say whatever council wants it to say. Overall, it seems as though the planner’s report clearly recognises the problem that the plan change does nothing much to improve public transport – but then the planner backs away from actually trying to remedy that issue. A pity.

Looking at parking now, this is where things start to get quite interesting. The current mall has around one parking space per 22 m2 of floor space, and Westfield were proposing to retain that sort of ratio – although as a minimum rather than a maximum. However, perhaps as a result of my submission – and certainly it would seem as the result of pressure from ARTA and NZTA – the council wants to propose a maximum parking rate of 1 space for every 25 m2 of retail floor space. This is a step in the right direction, if a small one. However, Westfield are exceedingly grumpy about not being able to build as many carparks as they’d like (I often joke that they’d build a carpark over their grandmother they’re so keen on them). Westfield’s transport expert has this to say about why restricting parking is, in their opinion, the worst thing possible in the whole wide world: Let’s work through these points one by one. With regard to the first point, well the whole entire idea of restricting parking is to make it more annoying to drive and park there, and therefore encourage people to use alternative transport options. You only need to get stuck in a carpark for half an hour trying to find a carpark to learn that perhaps next time you should catch the bus or train there, or go at a more off-peak time. All of which are good things for the surrounding road network, as they reduce the peak-time loads on it. If restricting parking supply didn’t cause frustration and on-site congestion then there wouldn’t be any point to doing it!

In terms of the second point, that’s a complete red-herring as a District Plan rule or resource consent condition could require a certain amount of parking spaces be set aside for staff. Furthermore, isn’t it a good thing to encourage staff to use transport methods other than driving in order to get to work?

In terms of the third point, once again – discouraging those extra road trips to St Lukes at peak times is the whole point of restricting parking supply. I disagree that it would necessarily involve people travelling further to other shopping centres, as one could equally argue that people from afar would travel a long way to St Lukes (and therefore clog up the roads) if its parking was unrestricted. Nobody knows for sure which argument is stronger, so I think it should remain a moot point. What is obvious is that restricting parking would restrict the number of shoppers (unless Westfield actually got serious about trying to attract more people via public transport, walking and cycling rather than paying lip-service to it) and therefore hurt Westfield’s bottom-line. But, at risk of repeating myself, that is the point of restricting parking: to restrict the number of people that can drive to the shopping mall and therefore encourage more sustainable transport options.

There’s actually quite a lot of support for restricting parking supply from various agencies. NZTA’s planning expert has this to say:

ARTA’s planning expert has this to say: In my opinion even a 1:25m2 maximum is pretty tame compared to what is probably really necessary to help ensure St Lukes doesn’t just become a bigger traffic generating monster than it is now, and doesn’t make traffic jams around it even worse than they currently are. I remain enormously sceptical of the traffic modelling outputs that say (with a straight face, unbelievably) that doubling the size of the mall will not have a major impact on traffic, and will only require a few upgrades (like one more lane on Morningside Drive and one more set of traffic lights to access Exeter Road). One does wonder how a full 4000 space carpark will not create a lot more congestion than a full 2000 space carpark on the surrounding road network.

I still remain of the opinion that the development should be ‘capped’ at certain levels of additional floor area until the percentage of people accessing the mall via private vehicle can be reduced. This would ensure that effects on the road network are minimised and to ensure that St Lukes can be a step in the right direction in integrating transport and land-use – rather than a continuation of the extremely horrible “predict and provide” status quo that has led to Auckland being one of the most auto-dependent cities in the world. It would also force Westfield to be a bit creative about encouraging more people to use public transport to get to the mall (like providing them with free tickets with every $20 purchase perhaps?)

However, shifting to maximum parking rates is a step in the right direction, and it’ll be interesting to see what the outcome is on that matter. Hopefully one day Westfield’s thinking on this issue will be dragged into the 21st century out of the dark ages, and they’ll realise that it’s actually in their own best interests to promote public transport, walking and cycling – after all it’s probably damn expensive building carparks!

33 comments to Parking and St Lukes

  • Man you are right about it being a downright annoying place to service with public transport, you couldn’t design it much worse. I mean the place is just far enough from Morningside rail station and the buses on Sandringham and New North Roads to put them out of reach for the most part(600-800m), but not so far as to need its own routes. You end up having to make dicky detours from the main routes or run four minute long shuttle buses. Grrr!

  • 1

    Could a bus service along Morningside Drive be a good idea?

  • Brent C

    A cross town route would benefit St Lukes. But at the same time, the distance isn’t quite enough to bother transfering.

    There is no mention of installing parking prices. The Plaza in Palmerston North (biggest mall between Wgtn and Akl) charges after 1 hour. This would be a way of reducing cars that move into the mall. Surely the council could put a levi on all car parks. Do any malls in Auckland have a parking charge? (I do remeber buying a fizzy drink to get free parking in Newmarket a couple of years ago)

    The fact that their “traffic expert” states that extra parking will reduce congestion over christmas is laughable! I cannot imagine any shopping mall being congestion free over christmas, no matter how much parking they have. Also, council could just stick up parking restrictions on local streets if they become too crowded.

  • The Trickster

    If you want a laugh I suggest going and looking at Brett Hewitt’s companies homepage – http://www.tdg.co.nz

    They call themselves ‘Traffic Design Group’ and I quote:

    “Each day we live our lives through a progression of journeys. Whether by car, bus, train, ferry, cycle or on foot, our journeys begin and are realised on an intricate network of road, rail or paths linking departure to arrival”

    Hmmm…. then why are the display pics there:

    60% hulking great carparks
    20% motorways
    10% some people sitting at a bus stop… still a car in the photo though, no bus either.
    10% one lone cyclist on the Tamaki Drive ‘bikepath’ which was created by painting a line down the middle of a footpath (as an aside, the improvements the council have made recently are quite good – the bike lane is still in the doorzone, but hey, it was better than status quo)

    So… based on that I think I should correct their quote:

    “Each day we live our lives through a progression of journeys. Whether by car, car, car, non-existant bus or a bike (so long as you gtfo the road), our journeys begin and are realised on an intricate network of roads, roads, roads and carparks departure to arrival”

  • Brett Harries is the guy’s name.

    Having worked as a consultant myself, it’s difficult to know to what extent the experts end up deserving some criticism and to what extent it is because their client has said “we want to do this, make it happen or we’re going elsewhere”. I know some very good and onto it people work for TDG (though I have never met Mr Harries himself).

    One thing that is interesting, particularly in the council’s proposed alterations, is a big focus on a “we’ll let you do a little bit, then we’ll assess its impact, then we’ll let you do a bit more and then assess that”. I quite like that approach, as we’ll be able to see the real results, rather than modelled results, which I have had described by transport experts as about one-third science, one-third art and one-third guesswork.

  • Why don’t the council require St Lukes to provide a free bus to the railway station and Sandringham Road? If Dressmart can provide a free bus to town, then surely Westfield can manage a minibus to travel short loop of 1-2km. No one is claiming Westfield are poor – running a mall is essentially a recession proof activity – high rents can be charged no matter how well individual shops are doing.

    Some malls have become so large its almost worth putting a free rail system/tram inside the mall, kind of like what we now see in large airports. Such a system might better suit the layout of say Sylvia Park, but an in house transport system that looped around the mall and linked with the railway station outside would be an interesting point of difference.

    See
    http://www.china.org.cn/living_in_china/life_in_pictures/2008-06/25/content_15884451.htm

  • Joe, that was kind of my thinking behind the idea of capping the amount of development that can occur until the modeshare of PT/walking/cycling was increased. It effectively gave Westfield a giant incentive to look at things like free shuttles to improve the uptake of PT.

  • They’d be crazy to let any parking increases happen, it’s already a nightmare with all those traffic lights, it would shut down and people would just head to Lynn Mall, Dress Mart or *gasp* the CBD…

  • Jon C

    @ Jarbury A very good thoughtful piece. I have attended part of the hearings of the independent commissioners, who are hearing submissions and evidence on Westfield’s application, and, while I actually welcome improving and expanding the mall, feel very strongly about not just the appalling public transport but Westfield’s complete abdication everywhere to including PT and to making the mall entrances in any way pedestrian friendly.
    At St Lukes, it’s even dangerous for people walking out to car parks and avoiding those cars tearing around desperately looking for a park. Heaven help them when more car parking is allowed. Every Westfield I have been to in NZ, Australia and the US have been based around everyone arriving at the mall in a car.
    Compare this to Sylvia Park and Lyn Mall which I went to by train today to take photos of the transport interchange.
    Opposite St Lukes, the rapid expansion of a major shopping area to the other side of the road (where JBHIFi, Warehouse etc is) was a disaster and it took several old people being knocked down before even traffic lights were put in between the two areas on St Lukes Rd. The council seems to let these big mall owners get away with anything.
    Those traffic lights are a joke- it takes most people two phases to get across and so people go halfway and then dash across the last part hoping not to get bowled. Since the relatively recent arrival of JB and the Warehouse, parking has increased in Wagenar Place and is inadequate, a fact acknowledged by the Warehouse having to reduce the size of its planned shop because there was only limited underground parking available nearby.
    Those crossing from Wagenar back into St Lukes mall using those lights are then confronted with a roadway, not pedestrian entrance and cars roar left into the mall from St Lukes Rd leaving nowhere for pedestrians to safely walk.
    A few years back, the St Lukes carpark was extended to allow the building of the Cinema multiplex.
    Again Westfield was allowed to do this on the cheap, ignoring residents’ demands.
    I attended a very lively protest meeting which demanded at least a multi-floor car parking building. Westfield somehow managed to just extend its single floor which means on some weekends and during mad-rush December, cars spill out into those residents’ streets. Having said that, many of the residents’ other claims at that meeting about other effects of a cinema complex there never eventuated but that may be because cinema audiences have dropped since the figures projected at the time. Those projections of numbers going to the cinema were based on the era before pre-internet downloading and home theatre purchasing took hold.
    The hearing seems to have ignored the fact a large Asian shopping complex is presently being built on the former site of Kumfs shoe factory opposite Sainsbury Reserve along Morningside Drive just up the road from the complex and that will also see cars spill into residents streets and bring more traffic. From my observations, I hope there is some carparking underneath that complex being built but it is park of a business park so there is no visible extra parking available.
    That Morningside area has now become a desirable and sought after area, only recently discovered by real estate agents and it’s not fair to say that residents knew there was St Lukes there when they bought. They did not know the mall would expand to such an extent even though it has been on the cards for years nor that other shopping complexes appear around them – without those complexes also dealing to providing adequate parking and more importantly finding ways to provide adequate PT to discourage cars.
    As for PT, there is the 233 New Lynn to Vic St which stops outside the mall but this is not enough.
    Out of this hearing, I would love Westfield to get the message they need to sort out encouraging public transport by having to put money into it (which would hurt their money hungry owners) and commit to some way of an underground rail connection to Morningside before they are allowed to expand. And the design needs to be pedestrian friendly to encourage people to walk to the mall and walk safely. Those are conditions I believe should now be put on all malls now we have examples of rail stations outside malls and Botany which has won awards for encouraging walking and cycling. (Try to find cycle racks at St Lukes!)
    St Lukes mall itself has been added to over the years only because Westfield has been angered by rival malls building bigger ones that St Lukes which used to be the country’s largest but there has never been any commitment by Westfield to anything other than charging higher rents to retailers and squeezing more and more retail into the building.
    I will be very interested to see where this goes but am overall disappointed with the depth of submissions I have seen or heard. I applaud yours.

    • Cheers Jon, that’s right you’re a Morningside local aren’t you? Ultimately I think there’s a very strong and valid argument that St Lukes is simply in the wrong place. Unlike most other malls it is not in a town centre, and unlike almost all other malls it is terribly located for PT.
      Personally I think that should be good grounds for declining any expansion. But short of that, yes something major needs to be improved. Heck, and underground realignment of the western line would be perfect!

  • rtc

    If they provide a parking maximum of 1:25 m2, how many additional carparks could they build? Do they currently have a free hand to build as many as they wish?

    • I’m not sure of the exact numbers, and it woukdn’t be too great a reduction. The critical thing is that it would be a maximum, because – as you say – at the moment Westfield “could” put in as much parking as they liked.

  • Matt L

    I don’t know how you could even do a realignment of the western line, it is just to far away and would only add the journey time not to mention being hideously expensive.

    Looking at a map the only real way to do it and keep the timetable similar would be to keep the line following New North Rd from Mt Albert, this would probably require the removal of numerous houses and some large embankments before the diving into a tunnel. It would of course would remove the Baldwin Ave and Morningside stations (not such a bad thing).

    It would probably be cheaper just to move the entire mall up next to the Morningside Station and sell off the land it currently occupies, now that I think about it more its not such a bad idea actually. Most of the area is light industrial or warehouse type site and the only residential on the southern side of the station is those townhouses next to the station and they are all leaky anyway, perhaps even let them build over the top of the rail line as an incentive to move.

  • Jon C

    @admin No I have no vested local interest. My interest is in getting shopping malls to realise the day of the car is about to end and they need to start planning for it!

  • JT

    Guys are you all that lazy or have a walking issue, it takes me 10-15 minutes to walk from the train station (morningside) to St Lukes…..Hardly a dent in your day

  • JT, I have walked/cycled from Morningside to St Lukes many times, as I grew up in the area. However, the fact that not even 1% of shoppers catch the train shows to me that it’s too far to warrant much consideration.

    I do find it laughable that the application states that it is improving the PT situation by spreading the mall slightly closer to the train station. What a joke.

  • Nick R

    But it would still be a good 650m away, thats almost but not quite close enough. At the least they could maybe design the new northern Morningside Drive entrance as a walking, cycling and public transport entrance. Make it open right onto the footpath, have cycle racks and stuff and keep the carpark entrances a good hundred metres away. Relocating the bus stops up the road a bit would help, plus a signallised crossing.

  • ingolfson

    Admin, the new main entrance on the north is supposed to be at Exeter Road. That reduces the distance from ca 950 m to 750m, a reduction of more than 20%, and with a much more inviting entrance point.

    What do you expect them to do? Westfield to follow the witty suggestion that they should bodily pick up their mall and rebuild it along the railway line? Yeah, right.

    I know you feel this is the wrong place for a mall, okay. But I have heard you talk a lot more positively about reducing walking distances by 200m on other issues!

    • There already is an entrance from Exeter Road for pedestrians. Sure it’s hopeless, but so are all the pedestrian entrances!

      Actually that’s one real benefit the plan change would create, improved pedestrian access. Although that’s not a particularly difficult to achieve benefit, as it couldn’t be worse than what we have now!

  • San Luca

    Although I somewhat agree that it is poorly serviced by public transport I do walk through St Luke’s on the way between Morningside Station and Sandringham twice everyday. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Morningside station. If you really got to shop, that’s not too far

  • Matt L

    Ingolfson – For the record, I’m not advocating they just uplift the mall and move it next to the train line. I was mainly just pointing out it would be far cheaper to do that than to move the line closer to the mall.

  • Luke

    Would be great if the council made Westfield give up some strips of land so a bus terminal, bus lanes and wider pavements can be built which would improve things somewhat.
    If I was KIPT(Sylvia Park owner) I wouldnt be to happy if I had to build a railway station for my new mall, and Westfield didnt have to do anything.
    Surely a precedent has been set with Syliva Park?

    • Sylvia Park is right next to the railway line, so it was a complete no-brainer. St Lukes isn’t, which in a way makes it even more imperative that Westfield does everything they possibly can to make bus passengers not feel like third-rate citizens, like they do now.

  • DC

    The 007 bus does stop at St Lukes, BUT it’s only every half an hour off peak??? It needs to be at least every 10 minutes (5 minutes more like). It’s such a good service as it connects so many transport corridors.

    The transport corridors / point of interest it stops at is. Pt Chevalier Beach / Selwyn Village retirement home / Great North Road / Unitec / Mt Albert Railway Station / Mt Albert Grammer School / St Lukes Shopping Mall / Sandringham Road / Dominion Road / Mt Eden Road / Manukau Road / Green lane hospital / Auckland Show Grounds / Cornwall Park / Greenlane Railway station (the bus stop needs to be moved closer to the station)/ Ascot Hospital / Ellerslie Racecourse / Remuera Road / Glen Innes Railway Station / Sacred Heart College / St Heliers Bay road & St Heliers Bay Beach.

    It is such a good service dissecting most (if not all???) of the PT routes into the CBD from West East and South. Integrated ticketing will be so good along with this service if it was really frequent. Most patronage would not see the whole route as it would very much be a link service to other PT so it would be a quick hop on hop off service so buses like the low floor with more room for standing up? These are new in London and work well for this kind of service. http://www.woolybus.co.uk/image.php?object_type=product&image_id=292

  • Al

    Simple solution. Tax private car parking – across the city. $1 per space per day. No parking minimums or maximums for new developments, but developers know the more parking they put in, the more tax they have to pay. So there will be incentive to keep parking low, to encourage mode share and most importantly to locate in areas of good non-car accessibility.
    Money collected goes to a “transport improvement fund” which can be used across the city, including residents parking schemes where problems start to occur with overspill parking from uses not providing sufficient parking.
    This would mean mall owners like this would pay a small fortune. 4000 spaces? you would pay $4000 x 365 days = $1.46 million in car park tax each year. that would surely be an incentive to do something about your mode share. CBD and other well connected centres suddenly become very attractive places to locate your business.

  • Nick R

    A ‘no holds barred’ parking levy in the CBD, Manukau, Henderson and Takapuna was considered as one option when they were looking at road pricing a couple of years back. If I remember it fared quite well, being cheap to implement, generating good revenue and have strong effects on demand for car parking.
    It might be hard to implement such a thing outside business districts however.

  • Al

    Nick R. I didn’t realise this had been considered, but thankfully it did not happen! whilst i understand the difficulties of implementing this, you almost need to do it outside the business districts more than inside. if you do the business districts but not outside, you make the suburban out of centre locations even more attractive, in complete opposition of what you are trying to achieve. the whole point is to stop huge private car trip generators outside of good strategic locations.
    If you map Auckland isthmus’ biggest trip generators, you find a whole line along the St Lukes / Balmoral corridor. The zoo, Western Springs, Motat, St Lukes shopping, Alexandria Park, ASB Showgrounds, Green Lane hospital, Cornwall Park. It makes the idea of a a cross town mass transit route a no brainer, particularly if it is tied back to the CBD….an obvious “Circle Line”!

  • Nick R

    The first step would be to abolish minimum parking requirements outside the CBD (already none in the CBD), then perhaps consider a levy.
    I agree that singling out the CBD would be problematic, one should really aim to reduce the glut of ‘free’ parking region wide.

  • DC

    Make the 007 bus free until the inter-grated ticketing is up and running. Please see my comment above June 30 9.46pm as to why. This would help St Lukes mall traffic problem a lot.

  • ingolfson

    Removing minimum parking standards (or maybe halving the minimum required) should be one of THE main goals when the new SuperCity district plan is created in a few years. That will be the point where one can get real change – or cement our past practices for another generation.

  • Nick R

    I think the easiest thing to do would be to change the minimum to the maximum. If I remember correctly the current minimum is calculated as enough parking to cover 80% of the people visiting the location *at maximum capacity*. So in the case of a mall at a minimum they must provide enough parking for 80% of the huge crowds expected in the lead up to Christmas, or in other words more than enough parking for 350 days of the year. Flipping this to a maximum would mean places still have enough parking for almost any day of the year, while removing the extra glut of parking that insidiously subsidises car travel.

  • I’ve only just discovered this discussion via google after reading about the St Lukes proposal in the Herald today (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10675209) and finding the details online – http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/council/documents/district/updates/008.asp .

    There’s quite a bit to digest, but my initial reaction is that they appear to be creating a monstrosity that is even worse than the blight of Westfield malls in Australia. It looks like the overall approach is to shoehorn as much revenue generation into the available space as they legally can, rather than consider how to create the most livable environment for the community as a whole. I pity the residents.

    As a former long term Mt Albert resident, now expat and living happily in the suburbs of Chicago (clean, green and spacious), all I can say is that this approach to managing Auckland’s development gives me absolutely no reason to ever consider moving back to the city I lived in for 30 years.

    markmthomson.net

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