Waterview Connection – submissions open

A week or so ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified NZTA’s application for consent to build the Waterview Connection and to widen State Highway 16. Submissions are now open until October 15th. It’s possible to download a submission form here, and then email it to both waterview@epa.govt.nz and waterview.connection@nzta.govt.nz. There are effectively two parts to the project: the Waterview Connection, which links the Mt Roskill end of State Highway 20 with the existing Northwest Motorway (SH16) and also a significant widening of State Highway 16. All up the two projects will cost around $2 billion – by far New Zealand’s largest ever transport project. Here’s an aerial photo of where significant parts of the project will be located: The documentation that has been prepared by NZTA is pretty massive, and really needs some breaking down in order to make sense out of it. We have:

  1. A general overview of the proposal – including all the application forms. This is a pretty boring section that isn’t really worth reading.
  2. The various assessments of effects. A lot of this is either quite technical, or a summary of the various specialist reports that I will mention later.
  3. The plans, maps and diagrams. There is a huge amount of information here, though some of the more interesting plans include operational scheme plans (keep an eye out for the green bus shoulder lanes and how they abruptly end at every onramp and offramp), a plan of the rail alignment and how it is being protected and some of the urban design and landscaping plans (though they are pretty big files!)
  4. The specialist reports. Here is where the real grunt work behind the application lies, with a large number of specialist reports being prepared. Perhaps of most interest to readers of this blog will be the transport assessment and the traffic modelling information.

I have blogged extensively on both the Waterview Connection and the SH16 widening in the past – and I’m pretty familiar with the project due to the various iterations it went through last year. One particularly interesting aspect of the documentation is the transport assessment, and how it addresses what is my main remaining issue with the project – and that is whether widening State Highway 16 is a complete waste of money because it will just “induce” traffic and quickly become congested again (just like what has happened with every other motorway widening project in the history of Auckland).

While the transport assessment is over 180 pages long and requires some serious effort to read through (something I certainly haven’t done in any detail). It has a very useful summary of the findings – in particular on the matter relating to whether widening SH16 will actually have long term benefits or not. To start with, it is worth noting the transport benefits the project will almost certainly have – particularly on the local road network that through-traffic will now be able to avoid: In order to realise many of the benefits to Great North Road, Carrington Road and Mt Albert Road it will be necessary to reallocate some of the road space to more “people friendly” uses – such as bus lanes, footpaths, cycleways and so forth. It will be interesting to see whether this happens or not, as both NZTA and Auckland City Council seem to have been pointing fingers at each other saying “your problem” over these matters for the last couple of years.

Getting on to the traffic effects on the actual motorways themselves, it’s a little bit wordy – but well worth having a dig through: In short, we see the motorway widening inducing an additional 25-35% of peak hour traffic by 2026 than was the case in 2006 (I do wonder what the “do nothing” for 2026 is – might have to have a dig through the documentation). That’s a quite significant amount of extra traffic that will need to get to and from the motorway along arterial roads that are generally around capacity at the moment. Looking at the peak hour eastbound direction (AM peak), it seems that there will be a slight improvement in travel times compared to the 2006 baseline. But for the peak hour westbound direction (PM peak), traffic in 2026 will actually be more congested than it is now – even though much of the westbound motorway will be widened from three lanes to five lanes. It seems that NZTA have finally acknowledged that widening motorways does not fix congestion. (Actually perhaps not, they’re still proceeding with the project).

The cost of the SH16 upgrade is not insignificant. When the whole Westgate to Western Springs widening is added up, an NZ Herald article from last year suggested that the cost would be $860 million. That seems an awfully huge amount of money to spend on a project that seems like it won’t actually make things much better at all.

The public transport benefits of the project are talked up a bit in the section below – and sure there will be some benefit from the longer bus shoulder lanes. But it’s pretty marginal compared with the project as a whole – perhaps a million or two out of the $2 billion budget. I look forward to seeing how the public submission process, and the eventual Board of Inquiry hearing proceeds. It feels like it has been so long in the “preliminary” stages of this project that it’s quite hard to believe we’re actually now right in the middle of the actual submissions process.

In general, I find myself probably supporting the SH20 section on balance – as it should take significant pressure of SH1, should take traffic away from local streets (as long as we reallocate road space to ensure the streets don’t fill themselves up again) and will “complete the motorway network”. However, with the SH16 section, while I can understand one additional westbound lane (to avoid a merging nightmare between SH20 and SH16), the massive widening of the motorway seems completely pointless – as NZTA’s own traffic analysis shows that it will make little or no difference to congestion in the longer-run. Surely a big chunk of that $860 million could be spent more usefully elsewhere?

Density and Public Transport

It’s always fun having debates about city densities and public transport. A post by Jarrett Walker at Humantransit.org makes an excellent contribution to the debate – as we seek to answer the age old question of “does density matter when it comes to the viability of public transport?” As I noted in a blog post a while back, there’s an ugly myth that perpetuates thinking in Auckland, the myth being that we are one of the lowest density cities in the world, and therefore public transport won’t work.

In that particular post, I had a good dig through a very detailed set of statistics on city sizes, both in terms of area and population (and therefore obviously in terms of density). Some of the results were probably quite surprising for some. Here’s the list of selected cities by density: While obviously Auckland’s density is well below many of the large developing world cities like Mumbia and Dhaka, somewhat surprisingly our density is higher than Sydney, Vancouver, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and even that of greater New York. Yet all of these cities have public transport systems that function far better than Auckland’s and are far more popular – even Brisbane with its population density of less than half of Auckland’s.

Melbourne based transport academic Paul Mees used this data in his excellent book Transport for Suburbia to argue that “density is not destiny”. I wrote a blog post on that matter earlier this year outlining Mees’s argument that, while population density might have some effect on public transport use at the extreme ends of the scale (in that it’s utterly essential for somewhere like Hong Kong to function, and damn near impossible to operate effectively somewhere like Atlanta), in the middle where most cities are other factors – such as the simple quality of the public transport system – are likely to have far greater impact on whether or not people use the system than density will.

While one could be negative about such a finding, wondering whether it removes one of the big arguments for trying to contain sprawl, there’s also the big potentially positive point-of-view that “we can still have a great public transport system, even when our city isn’t enormously dense“. This is basically why Mees has written Transport for Suburbia, to show cities like Auckland that we shouldn’t wait around for another 50 years, hoping that our city will end up looking like a dense European city, before finally getting around to properly improving our public transport system. I fully agree with this and it annoys the heck out of me when people like John Banks continue to go on about Auckland being the “second most spread out city in the world” (presumably Los Angeles in the first, even though the statistics actually show LA is the densest city in the USA) to help justify why we need to complete the road network before getting around to focusing on the public transport system.

However, there’s also something in the “density is not destiny” argument that doesn’t quite feel right. Visiting one of the densest places on earth, Manhattan, and seeing the tremendous number of public transport users such an urban environment generates (due to lack of space for parking, building roads and so forth) does make it difficult to believe that the relationship between population density and public transport use isn’t significant. But if that’s the case, why do we get such weird numbers like this: Looking at those numbers, one would just about have to conclude that there seems to be absolutely zilch relationship between density and transit mode share for work trips. Yet that seems illogical – so what’s going on here?

This is where Jarrett’s post comes in to make some excellent points – including asking some very necessary questions.

But emotions often hide inside things that look like facts, and density “facts” are a great example. In transit arguments, people say things like “the net density of Toronto is ###/hectare,” because this sounds like a fact and therefore conveys some authority to their argument. In reality, though, there are several possible meanings of “density” in that sentence, as well as several possible definitions of “net” and ”Toronto.” Briefly:

  • “Density” in an urban planning context is always some kind of quantified human presence divided by some kind of land area, but it can be residential density (residents or homes per acre) or it can be total development density — including homes, businesses, schools etc – or it can be an economic density such as the number of jobs in an area.
  • “Net,” as opposed to “gross,” means that the human presence is being divided by a smaller unit of area instead of a larger one. In calculating the area, for example, you might take out undevelopable land, and bodies of water, and the land taken up by streets and highways — or you might not. There are arguments for or against excluding each of these things from “net density,” and an opinion about each of them is hiding inside the word “net.”
  • “Toronto,” of course, can be the City of Toronto, or the Toronto Transit Commission area, or the whole urban mass of greater Toronto. These obviously have utterly different average densities.

So the statement “the net density of Toronto is ###/hectare” is really as subjective as the statement “I think that cities should have more open space, narrower streets, and should have single governments covering the entire urban area.” Because each of those opinions can affect how you choose to define “net,” “density,” and “Toronto,” which in turn determines the number that you declare, with cold factual authority, to be the net density of Toronto.

So really how do we know whether we’re comparing apples with apples? This is a point that Mees makes quite strongly in his book though, that many of the past analysis of population density have been flawed through inconsistent measurements. He has certainly tried very hard to make sure his statistics don’t fall into the same trap, but it just goes to show something seemingly as simple as calculating the population density of the a city is actually very complex indeed. A corollary to this of course is the question of “how much does the density of outer outer New York really matter when assessing the city as a whole’s suitability for public transport? Isn’t the fact that it has hugely dense inner suburbs vastly more important?

This leads on to the question of whether the reason we’re getting such weird results is actually because we’re using the completely wrong measuring stick – in the form of average density. This is what Jarrett argues:

To me, Mees’s table proves that average density over a whole urban area is the wrong kind of density for understanding transit. The impression you probably have of the densities of these cities is actually closer to the kind of density that matters.

Transit reacts mainly with the density right around its stations. It is in the nature of transit to serve an area very unevenly, providing a concentrated value around its stops and stations and less value elsewhere. So what matters for transit is the density right where the transit is, not the aggregate density of the whole urban area.

Of course, what matters even more precisely is how much stuff is within walking distance of a station, so it’s not just density (the amount of stuff in a fixed radius) but the completeness of the pedestrian network. A poor connected pedestrian network can ensure that much of the stuff that’s within a 400m radius is not in a 400m walk. Consider Las Vegas, which Mees finds to be denser than highrise Vancouver. The Las Vegas economy is based on hospitality and entertainment, labor-intensive industries with low average wages. So the city needs a lot of housing suited for lower incomes. The Las Vegas way is to build utterly car-dependent apartment buildings on a vast scale, achieving all of the disadvantages of density with none of its benefits.

I completely agree. What matters is not what the density of a city is, but it’s how that density is structured. Do we have higher areas of density clumped around train stations – like you see in Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver – or do we see the uniform densities of Auckland and Los Angeles? Furthermore, how conducive to public transport are our street patterns? What is the environment like for someone wanting to walk to public transport from their house? It is highly arguable that all of these issues matter far more to the success or failure of public transport in a city, than average density does.

So, returning to Mees’s question – is density destiny? I would certainly argue that average density has nothing to do with our public transport destiny: just compare New York and Los Angeles for your answer there. However, urban densities around public transport – particularly around rail – will determine the success or failure, the destiny, of that public transport system. Park and rides, feeder buses and so forth can all help in making public transport work better in low density areas, but ultimately if you want a situation where people don’t feel as though they have to own a car to live a meaningful life – I really do think you’re going to need some density.

Herald finally ending its ignorance of rail?

You would think that when a survey of voters in the Auckland region highlights that transport is the most important issue in their minds, and then also highlight various rail projects as those considered most necessary by voters to “fixing” the transport problem, our main newspaper might actually do a bit of investigation into the projects being talked about? Well, up until now you’d be absolutely wrong.

As I noted in the blog post I wrote on the results of a survey undertaken by the NZ Herald into what local government voters thought were the most pressing issues, it was pretty amazing to see rail projects score so highly – as one of the options was simply “improve Auckland’s roading system”. Furthermore, I noted that the higher score of rail to the airport compared to the CBD rail tunnel was probably the result of not many people knowing that the CBD tunnel is probably necessary to enable airport rail to happen – because of Britomart’s capacity constraints. You would think that Auckland’s leading newspaper might be interested in exploring these big transport projects that people are saying they really want. After all there are plenty of interesting points of debate – the kind of thing that newspapers generally love:

  1. What are the costs of the various big rail projects (CBD rail tunnel, rail to the airport, North Shore rail and so on), how might they be paid for and what other projects might need to be delayed in order to build these ones (such as the holiday highway)?
  2. What progress has previously occurred on the big projects – where are they at and how realistic are the timeframes that are being bandied about for completing the projects?
  3. What do each of the projects actually entail – what stations would we have on an airport line, how fast would a trip from the airport to Britomart actually be?
  4. What are the likely benefits of each of the projects – the capacity improvements of the CBD tunnel, the speed improvements of a North Shore railway line, the wider economic benefits of an airport line?
  5. What other cities around the world have recently done similar projects – Brisbane airport rail, Vancouver’s Canada Line and so forth, and how are these projects working out?

It seems as though the Herald generally measures the success of its stories by the level of feedback and discussion it gets. If there are heaps of letters to the editor on an issue, then they’ll generally follow it up with other articles. One would think that an analysis of the pros and cons of the various big transport projects would generate significant debate – especially if a few opinion pieces and perhaps an editorial, even if it’s written by John Roughan and rubbishes rail as per usual, would stir up huge debate. Kind of odd that they haven’t done such a thing over the past few weeks.

Well, perhaps the Herald has finally come to the realisation that people are interested about improving our rail system and want to know a bit more about these big rail projects that everyone is talking about – as there’s quite a detailed article in today’s paper about the Airport Line: its likely cost, its possible benefits and where things are at.

There are a number of useful extracts, which seem uncannily similar to a blog post I did a couple of days ago.

Six organisations including the Transport Agency, KiwiRail, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and Auckland International Airport Ltd are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding to begin detailed planning investigations for airport rail services through both Onehunga and Puhinui.

Auckland Regional Council and Manukau City Council have also agreed to sign the document, even though they are about to be supplanted by the Super City.

This agreement has been in the works for quite a while, and I have blogged about it previously. A bit of last-minute fixing was required as the MoU was not specific enough about the airport connection being a railway line (even though previous studies suggest that a busway or light-rail would be stupid) but now that is fixed up, one hopes that we will see a similar study and phasing of the project as what is happening with the CBD rail tunnel (which reminds me, when is the Business Case for the CBD rail tunnel being released – I thought a preliminary study was due out in September??)

The article continues with some useful information on the details of the Airport Line – sourced from the same Beca report that I referred to a couple of days back:

In 2008, consultants recommended to the transport authority an airport loop costing about $1.5 billion and a $729 million heavy rail link between Onehunga and the western line at Avondale as offering greater connectivity than light rail or busways.

They estimated that a double-tracked railway from Penrose to Onehunga with bridges or tunnels replacing the sector’s eight road level-crossings would cost $271 million, and that running a line to the airport – across Manukau Harbour and then parallel to State Highway 20 and George Bolt Drive – would cost $707 million.

A 6.5km link west to the airport from Puhinui Station would cost about $471 million, providing greater initial cost-effectiveness but longer trips from Britomart.

Getting some further detail on the costs and benefits of this project is critical so we know where it should rank in terms of transport priorities for Auckland. Furthermore, getting the route protected as soon as possible is utterly essential – both to ensure there aren’t buildings erected in the way and also to ensure any future NZTA upgrades to SH20A are future-proofed to make it easier for rail (such as longer bridge spans if they ever get around to grade-separating Kirkbride Road).

The article also talks a lot about the difference between John Banks and Len Brown in terms of where they see the Airport Line in a list of transport priorities. I won’t dwell particularly much on that, as we’ve heard it all before. I’m just happy to finally see a NZ Herald article offering a bit of detail on these big rail projects everyone keeps talking about. Hopefully they’ll get around to doing an article on the necessity of the CBD rail tunnel some time soon.

Auckland City Council: more bus lane stupidity

Auckland City Council really has gone out of its way to make stupid decisions on matters relating to bus lanes in recent times. There was its frustrating stubbornness to refuse to accept the fact that its signage was inadequate and confusing, there was its bizarre championing of Tamaki Drive’s conversion from a bus lane to a T2 lane as a success when its own analysis suggested otherwise, and there was of course the Dominion Road debacle, where thankfully it seems as though all ideas of a T2 lane have been banished.

It seems as though the Council isn’t quite yet satisfied about being stupid enough when it comes to bus lanes though, with a most recent decision made at the September Transport Committee meeting going against all logic, and the advice of its own staff, to once again undermine bus lanes along key streets in Auckland’s CBD.

Item 8 of the agenda to the September Transport Committee meeting was a rather odd read – an analysis of whether the 24 hour bus lanes in parts of Auckland’s CBD really ought to be 24 hour bus lanes. I guess the most logical reason for questioning this is the fact that buses generally don’t operate between midnight and 6am – so it’s pretty pointless having a bus lane (although there’s never any congestion then either so it’s not like you really need the road space).

The agenda item analysed the issue, assessing a number of different options:

The response of the council to this recommendation is quite staggering in its stupidity. Here are the resolutions, as recorded in the minutes of the meeting:

  • That the Transport Committee note that Auckland City Council operates five 24-hour bus lanes that provide reliable bus services to Aucklanders. These bus lanes are located in highly congested areas within and around the CBD to ensure dedicated access and service reliability for critical regional services.
  • That the Transport Committee note that the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) are major funders of the 24-hour bus lanes and that any changes to the council’s funding contract to provide the bus lanes would require at least a three month process and a review of the funding contract and may result in repayment of grant funding. It would not, therefore, be possible for the council to implement any changes before the change in governance.
  • That the Transport Committee note that bus lanes also provide for motorcyclists and cyclists to encourage these forms of transport and ensure cyclists experience as little conflict with general traffic as possible. The council will investigate improving signage on bus lanes to notify road users that the bus lanes also provide for motorcyclists and cyclists.
  • That the Transport Committee note that 24-hour bus lanes do not require regulatory signage showing operating times. However, the council will investigate improving 24-hour bus lane notification signage to clarify that the lanes operate at all times of the day.
  • That the Transport Committee note that bus lane enforcement is focussed on peak daytime operation of the bus lanes to encourage bus lane compliance. Outside of peak times, monitoring is undertaken and bus lane enforcement is only carried out when required, to address disruption to the operational running of the network.
  • That the Transport Committee approve in principle bus lanes in Fanshawe Street, Symonds Street, Anzac Avenue and Park Road to operate as clear ways after 7pm and before 7am and that officers prepare a submission to ARTA seeking their endorsements of the change.

The first few of the resolutions are obvious and effectively just parrot back what was in the report, but the staggering one is the last one – that all 24 hour bus lanes should become clearways after 7am and before 7am. Let’s count the reasons why this is stupid:

  1. There are potentially large numbers of buses travelling along some of these core routes (Symonds Street and Fanshawe Street) after 7pm and just before 7am. They’re now going to all get held up by general traffic.
  2. The council will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on changing signage to indicate the new hours of operation of the bus lanes and clearways.
  3. The roads themselves are generally uncongested during night-hours, meaning that there is little gain for drivers.
  4. There is a clear contradiction between the fourth resolution and the sixth one.
  5. ARTA and NZTA funding for the Central Connector was provided on the basis that the bus lanes operated 24 hours a day (apart from Grafton Bridge). The council was made aware of this, but still pursued with the stupidity above.

Perhaps Auckland City Council knows that they won’t ever have time to implement such a stupid change, and were just looking for an opportunity to “bash the bus lanes” after their public humiliation over both the poor signage issue and the Dominion Road T2 debacle. It’s the only logical reason I can think of for making such a daft decision.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this stupidity and the Council even hints at it in the final few words of their resolution. ARTA need to not provide Auckland City with endorsement of the change, but rather go tell them to take a flying leap. Come on ARTA, stick up for the bus lanes.

Operation Lifesaver – where things are at

A month or so ago I helped present, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport, what we considered to be a more cost-effective and safety conscious option for upgrading State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford than the offline four-lane highway – often called the “holiday highway” – that is NZTA and the government’s current preferred option. The full document is available within the September 2010 agenda of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee meeting.

At the August meeting of the T&UD committee, the following resolution was passed:
An item in the September committee agenda responds to this request.

The most interesting part of the agenda item is included below:

The letters sent to the Minister of Transport and NZTA are quite clear: that cost-effective staged improvements, along the lines of what is suggested by Operation Lifesaver, should be preferred. Both letters also state that around 45-50 deaths may be prevented by more immediate safety upgrades. It will be very interesting to see what the responses of NZTA and the Minister are.

In response to this particular item in September’s agenda, the ARC made the following resolutions:
It will be particularly interesting to see where Auckland Council and Auckland Transport sit with relation to this project. I have heard John Banks openly support the project “because the government wants it done” at the CBT’s annual meeting. Len Brown hasn’t said much about the project at all – either in support or opposition. If Auckland Council and Auckland Transport end up opposing the project, then it might be quite a challenge for the government to get it built in such a hostile environment.

In the meanwhile, I will be keeping an eye out for the responses to the ARC’s letter, from both NZTA and the Minister. It will also be interesting to see the results of NZTA’s more detailed analysis of the cost-effectiveness of the project – which is due to be released later this year. One hopes that they are undertaking a more robust analysis than what SKM did last year.

Huapai Rail – a worthy next step?

The ARC’s most recent Transport and Urban Development Committee meeting looked at the options for extending some services on the Western Line to Huapai. After the unfortunate (but not altogether unforeseeable thanks to the slowness of our trains) failure of the Helensville rail service, it seems as though some more realistic options are being looked at to extend some rail services from Waitakere township out to Huapai – a growing settlement to the northwest of Auckland.

The ARC report outlines a number of different options as well as their cost, for running trains to Huapai:
First things first, I think it’s very promising to see that we’re not likely to go with the failed Helensville model of only one train a day each way. That unfortunate experiment gave people only one option, and only catered for one type of passenger (someone working in the CBD). Having a number of different services should give people more confidence to use the service, as they know they have a range of options to get home.

As shown in the table below, adding more services vastly increases the number of people likely to use the train – because of the greater flexibility offered. It would be pointless to go to all the trouble to just attract 26 passengers, as estimated by Option 1:
As you can see, all the options require a fairly hefty subsidy (the costs are net of income from fares). But remember at the same time these are likely to be pretty long trips – so the benefits through reduced congestion are likely to be at the higher end of the $17 peak hour benefit to road users that typical rail trips provide. Taking that into account, the proposal might well have a positive benefit-cost ratio – and it would be interesting to see such an analysis undertaken.

The ARC report discusses the merits of the different options, and comes to a conclusion that I find myself agreeing with:
However, one thing that requires careful consideration is the fact that the Western Line has now lost its express train – which used to be non-stop between Newmarket/Grafton and New Lynn. This express train was the Helensville service, when that service operated. The lack of such a train means that rail trips from Huapai to Britomart are likely to be well over an hour in length – potentially reducing its attractiveness to commuters. It makes me wonder whether the decision to remove the Western Line express train was somewhat premature.

Looking through the minutes of the meeting, there is an interesting addition that I think deserves comment.
Resolution (c) adds an interesting new idea into the mix, the idea of a rail service that enables west-to-south trips and doesn’t add to the growing problem of a maxed-out Britomart in terms of its train capacity. As I have noted previously, by early next year (once Western Line trains are bumped up to 10 minute peak frequencies) Britomart will be at capacity, so it will not be possible to add any further capacity to any of the rail lines (in terms of more trains, we can of course still make the train longer) until we build the CBD rail tunnel. However, a Huapai to Tuakau (or wherever) service that doesn’t enter Britomart doesn’t add to this problem, so could be in addition to the 10 minute frequencies on the existing lines that we will be having by early next year.

It would be interesting to see how many people do change between the Western and Southern lines at Newmarket at the moment, to get some sort of gauge on the attractiveness of such a service. With a lot of workers in the west and a lot of jobs in the south (and vice versa to a lesser extent) I imagine there is the potential for such a service to be useful. But, as I noted above, the real benefit is that such a service can add capacity to the Western and Southern lines even when Britomart has been maxed out. With a train every 4-5 minutes between Newmarket and Britomart (western line plus southern line plus Onehunga line services) and an integrated ticketing system that doesn’t require extra fares to be paid, perhaps the thought of changing lines at Newmarket won’t be so horrible either.

It’s good to see some thought going into the long-term future of Auckland’s rail services, and a bit of creative thinking into how we might get around the Britomart capacity problem in the medium term while we build the CBD rail tunnel. It will be interesting to see whether this proposal advances.

New York transport – photos

I will write more detailed blog posts soon, but here are some photos taken of interesting transport related things in New York City. This is 103rd Street on the line (the Broadway-Seventh Ave Local). Note the real-time information display showing the next couple of trains’ arrival times. Not all stations had this information, although it seemed to be rolling out across the network. In any case, often the trains were regular enough that it didn’t matter much. The outside of Grand Central Terminal. Around 140,000 commuters a day use Grand Central Station, which interestingly enough is less than a quarter of the 600,000 commuters who use Pennsylvania Station each day. The current East Side Access project will link Grand Central with the Long Island Railroad, and should shift a lot of passengers from Penn Station to Grand Central.Here I am in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal. The train station is just everything a train station should be – huge spaces, fantastic architecture. Could not be better.

Wall tiles at 86th Street station on the Lexington Avenue Line, one of the world’s busiest – carrying 1.2 million rides per day: more than the combined patronage of San Francisco and Boston’s systems. While generally the subway stations came across as a bit neglected and in much need of some upgrade work, there are some fantastically beautiful elements to many of the stations. As well as its extensive subway system, Manhattan has bus lanes along many of its main streets. From memory, this is on Fifth Avenue, quite near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here’s 42nd Street/Grand Central station on the  train. The station design is somewhat unusual for New York, with the narrow island platform. The low ceiling did make for a somewhat claustrophobic feeling. The recently refurbished South Ferry Station on the  line. Where New York has refurbished its subway stations, the result have often been fantastic. It would be great to see the stylishness of this station’s design extended throughout the system.

I have many many more photos, but I think that’ll do for now.

The Airport Line Issue

While the fact that transport has become the number one issue in the current Super City elections doesn’t surprise me, one thing that has surprised me a bit in recent times is the level of focus on getting rail out to Auckland International Airport. In particular, it was very interesting to see in a recent NZ Herald article, more people considered the Airport Line to be Auckland’s number one transport priority than any other project. Support for the Airport Line was even ahead of the exceedingly all-encompassing “improving the roading system” – by 23.5% to 18.4%. With both major mayoral candidates (Len Brown and John Banks) supporting the CBD rail tunnel project, Len Brown’s support and John Banks’ opposition to, Airport rail is shaping up as a reasonably defining difference between the two candidates. I must add that it’s a bit odd to see Banks now opposing both Airport Rail and a North Shore railway line when he trumpeted the idea of both to the Campaign for Better Transport back in July.

So what do we know about this Airport Line project? Is is likely to be economically feasible? Will it go bust? What previous work has been done to analyse its cost, its benefits, whether it should be light-rail, heavy rail or a busway? And how about whether it should link to the east, to the north, or both? Perhaps most importantly, what is a reasonable timeframe for the project – and what else needs to be done first, if anything, before such a project can go ahead? These are the questions that I will try to shed some light on in this post.

In terms of concrete background work already undertaken, there are a couple of things that are probably worth noting. The first is that as part of their Manukau Harbour Crossing Project, NZTA build the new section of the Mangere Bridge strong enough to carry a railway line across it in the future – even if they did so reluctantly and only because the Campaign for Better Transport took them to the environment court over the issue. I’m not exactly sure of the detail about where the line would go – presumably it would be slung underneath the main roading deck – but a potentially very significant cost (that of building a new bridge) has been avoided thanks to something highly unusual in Auckland – some future proofing.

The second thing that has happened so far in terms of previous work is a study undertaken by Beca for ARTA back in 2008. The study looked at alignment options, it looked at the question of busway, light-rail or heavy rail, it looked at whether the line should link to the east, to the north or both, and made a number of recommendations. It’s well worth a look through. In short though, the study recommended heavy rail, even though it was the most expensive option – because of the ability to link in with the rest of the rail system and also the ability to carry many more people than either a busway or light-rail. The busway option was the cheapest, but was considered to have minimal benefits over and above what we have now (plus there’s always the question of what the heck to do once all these buses get to Onehunga, it’s not like we can build a brand new busway across the isthmus easily). Light-rail was calculated to cost nearly as much as heavy rail, but only offer benefits similar to a busway: the worst of both worlds. This is shown in the table below: Three different heavy rail options were analysed: with access from the northeast (via Onehunga), access from the east (via Puhinui) and a loop that gives access from both. The preferred option was both, with the route shown in the map below (the aqua coloured line) – including the Avondale-Southdown line that could be constructed separately. Now of course such a significant project will not come cheap. The whole line shown above (including the Avondale-Southdown section) is estimated to cost in the region of $2.2 billion. The Onehunga to Manukau via the Airport section makes up around $1.4 billion of that total (why does every big transport project cost $1.4 billion???) So we are talking some serious money here – even if the airport paid for its own station and a reasonable chunk of the cost of building the line within its land boundaries. Vancouver Airport paid $300 million of the $2 billion construction cost of the Canada Line (Canadian dollars), so it seems reasonably likely there would be a case for the Airport to chip-in.

So what sort of “bang” do we get for our buck with this project? Well this is the difficult one to calculate. If we look internationally, there has been mixed success with lines to airports. Even in Australia, the railway line to Sydney Airport has under-performed, whereas the line to Brisbane Airport has just reported a massive increase in its profit: yes, it makes a profit. Given that Sydney is a much bigger city than Brisbane, and has by far the busier airport – the argument that “Auckland isn’t big enough to warrant rail to its airport” may not necessarily be relevant to the debate. The cost of different sections, and their cost-effectiveness, is analysed by the table below: Looking at the “Peak Section Demand” column, the numbers are fairly significant when you consider that at the moment around 6000 passengers arrive at Britomart during the AM peak. Also remember that each rail trip in the Auckland region generates $17 of benefits to road users, and the numbers start adding up. Furthermore, many of the trips most likely to be taken by rail: those for business travellers, would be the exact trips where the time savings, greater reliability and CBD destination would be most valuable. Other major users would be tourists, and I must say as a recent tourist myself I really did appreciate being able to catch a train from the airport into whatever city I was visiting (possible at times, not possible at other times). There is also, of course, always the question of what the wider benefits would be, does rail to the airport make Auckland a “proper” world-class city? What are the flow-on benefits of making travel between the city and airport easier for tourists, business-people and various others? I don’t know, but they could be quite significant.

Furthermore, airport travellers would only be a part of the potential patronage of the line shown in the map above. The airport area has over 10,000 workers – one of Auckland’s greatest employment concentrations. The line would also offer a rail option to those living in southwest Auckland, whose current bus services are some of the worse and most complex in the city.

However, one thing that I cannot stress strongly enough is that we have to build the CBD rail tunnel first. Britomart is nearly at capacity, as by the time the Western Line’s peak frequencies are increased to one train every 10 minutes Britomart will be at capacity. This means at peak times you could only run a train to the airport every half an hour (basically as an extension of Onehunga Line services). I think this would be insufficient, particularly considering future increases in rail patronage.

So do I support rail to the airport? Well I would like to see some further information – both in terms of analysing its projected use a bit more, but perhaps more interestingly, an analysis of the wider benefits to Auckland of having such a link. I’m fairly confident the numbers would come out to be reasonably good, so I do support the project. The big question to answer though is “when?” and “what priority should this have?” In my opinion the CBD rail tunnel has to come first. Not only is it essential to make the airport line operational, it is probably a more justifiable project. Airport Line would be number two for me though – and I see no reason why we shouldn’t aim to have it under construction within the next 5-10 years, and certainly complete before 2025.

Back in NZ

After a marathon three flights (New York to LA, LA to Sydney and Sydney to Auckland), we finally made it back to the country this afternoon. I’m obviously pretty exhausted still, and it’ll be a while until I can complete both a full rundown of my thoughts on the holiday – and in particular what lessons I think would be useful for Auckland to learn from the public transport systems of the various cities I visited – as well as a bit of a catch up on what’s happened, and is still happening in the world of transport in Auckland.

For now, here’s a photo of a Washington DC Metro train: The DC Metro is, for some reason, very photogenic.

GG loves PT

Governor General slams Auckland’s traffic congestion

Photo / Richard Robinson 

Auckland’s traffic congestion was decried by Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand yesterday as a “deadweight” on the region’s productivity.

Sir Anand, who grew up in Auckland, said heavy investment in motorways and the decline of public transport after trams were taken off the roads in the 1950s had led to severe congestion to the detriment of both individuals and the economy.

His comments came as he opened New Lynn’s $36 million railway station and bus interchange.

“Aucklanders lose valuable time through sitting in long traffic queues – the frustration to them and cost in time lost and petrol and diesel converted into fumes for no purpose has been immense,” he told 200 people at the opening.

“That cost is not simply borne by individuals who could have been at home enjoying time with their families. Congestion means that it takes longer for goods and services to get to their destination and onward to export markets.”

“All of this has been a deadweight on productivity for Auckland and, given the size of the region’s economy, the whole of New Zealand.”

But Sir Anand said new investment in Auckland’s public transport was beginning to pay dividends, evidenced by an increase of almost two million boardings last year to more than 60 million passenger trips on buses, trains and ferries.

Although that was still well below a figure of about 100 million trips in the 1950s, when as a child growing up in Ponsonby he enjoyed catching trams and trains, “it is good to see the trend heading in a northwards and correct direction.”

Sir Anand’s leadership of yesterday’s event, as a politically-neutral figure, came as politicians of the left and right congratulated each other on the realisation of a vision for the transformation of what retiring Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said had been a “very tired” town centre.

The station has been part of public investment of $300 million, on which his council has spent $91 million on surrounding road upgrades and a contribution to the railway trench, on which the Government spent $140 million.

I now think it’s quite possible that Steven Joyce, Bill English and John Key are the only powerful politicians left who think motorways are going to solve congestion in Auckland and create economic growth.

This is a NZ Herald article: