Pedestrianising Queen Street

The NZ Herald (on the front page of the print version too!) has an article today on a few of the things that I mentioned in a blog post last week the new Auckland Council was thinking about when it comes to improving Auckland’s CBD.

New Zealand’s premier retail street could be blocked to vehicles and turned into a mall in a move reminiscent of New York’s reclaiming Broadway for pedestrians.

Banishing cars from Queen St and reclaiming the inner city for pedestrians are uppermost in a 20-year city centre masterplan being drafted for public release in March.

Other ideas in the document are creating a downtown Chinatown, building public spaces over motorways and providing playgrounds for children.

As I noted last week, this is exciting stuff. Auckland’s CBD has gone through a revival over the past 10-15 years as more and more people are living there, but it still struggles to capture employment numbers and retail market share. A lot of that is because Auckland’s public transport system isn’t good enough to encourage people to use it to get to the CBD instead of driving to the shopping mall. But I think part of the reason the city centre also struggles to get people to “go in there” is because it’s simply not a particularly inviting environment. There are a few nice areas – like around High Street and the waterfront – but many other parts are quite hostile to pedestrians and therefore somewhat off-putting compared to the ease of the shopping mall.

I think the idea behind many of the efforts to improve the CBD is to focus on both these matters: improving the public transport system so it’s easier to get into the central city without having to drive and also making the central city a nicer place to be once you’re there. The article continues:

The “city centre masterplan” will canvass some long-talked-about projects, such as light rail, turning Quay St into a boulevard and converting Hobson and Nelson Sts into two-way roads.

Aucklanders will also be asked for comment on the future direction of the port and creating a continuous waterfront edge, possibly from the Harbour Bridge to St Heliers.

Auckland Council’s future vision committee will consider a preliminary report on the masterplan tomorrow.

It might be well worth getting along to tomorrow’s meeting of the future vision committee to hear what the councillors have to say and how much support the masterplan gets for some of its ideas.

As I noted in my previous blog post on this plan, there are a number of similarities between many of these proposals and some suggestions that formed part of the Campaign for Better Transport’s “next five years” presentation that I helped present in December last year to the Transport Committee. In particular is the proposal to think about pedestrianising Queen Street, which the CBT plan thought could be best achieved by trialling closing the street off to cars on weekends and seeing how things went. The article discusses this matter:

Although the paper talks of turning some central-city streets into malls and of pedestrian improvements to Queen St, the Herald understands senior council planners are keen to turn part or all of Queen St into a mall.

Lower Queen St is the obvious starting point, but a mall could run up to Mayoral Drive, or even as far as Karangahape Rd.

I don’t think there’s be too much gained from pedestrianising further up than Mayoral Drive, even in the long-run: as the wholly retail nature of Queen Street pretty much ends by that point. However, between Customs Street and Mayoral Drive would be a great goal to aim for in the longer run.

The main question is probably “how do we get to that point?” One option is to do it all in one hit – close the street off permanently at some point and redo it, potentially like Queen Street in Brisbane which is a fantastically successful pedestrianised main street. The other option might be to do things in stages: start with weekends and see how things go, perhaps move on to longer periods during summer, perhaps turn parts of the street in shared spaces that give priority to pedestrians while retaining vehicle access. Auckland Council Transport Chairman Mike Lee is in favour of the second of the two options – the careful step by step approach:

Transport committee chairman Mike Lee floated the idea of trialling a pedestrian-only area of Queen St from Customs St to Victoria St at weekends. Turning the whole street over to pedestrians only was not sensible or practical, he said.

Mr Lee said there was a lot to be said for humanising the inner-city streets, but said the central business district was reasonably fragile in terms of competition from the malls and careful planning was required to support a healthy, thriving retail sector.

A sensible approach, he said, was the work being done to create shared spaces in the central city, where pedestrians and vehicles share a road surface. Work has started on the first, in Darby St and Fort St.

I agree with Mike Lee that we need to be careful about how we make major changes to the CBD, because it is fragile in terms of attracting shoppers and employers. I think that pedestrianising Queen Street at all times in one go would probably be a mistake at this point in time. We probably need to give the perception of Auckland’s public transport system enough time to improve (plus obviously the system itself) before retailers would feel comfortable enough with such a proposal. The last thing we would want is what happened in Onehunga where the main street was pedestrianised and it just about killed off the place before cars were allowed back in.

But that’s the beauty of the proposal to trial it at weekends, potentially only weekends during summer to start with. If it works and is super-popular, the retailers and other important stakeholders will start to realise their customers are generally pedestrians rather than motorists (after all, it’s difficult to buy stuff from a car). General users of the CBD may also really enjoy how removing cars has created a massive new public space in the very heart of Auckland. We might see little cafes start up in temporary carts along the street, we might see markets and performers and all other kinds of people and activities using the space. At the same time, if it doesn’t work – if people are discouraged from the city centre or if the place just feels a bit too eerily quiet without vehicles – then a cheap trial can easily be ended. We might reckon that Auckland isn’t quite ready for such a thing, at least not until the CBD rail tunnel is completed. But at least we would have given it a go.

Furthermore, New York City has shown how it’s pretty cheap, easy and reversible to pedestrianise an area – as a trial of closing off parts of Times Square (which has since become permanent) was done quickly and has become a huge success. There was no expensive repaving, no expensive relocation of services (why is it that every time you need to repave something all the service need to be relocated?) This is shown in the image below (from the CBT’s presentation): Wouldn’t it be nice to relax on a seat like this on Queen Street on a nice sunny summer’s afternoon?

So overall I support the step-by-step method, although it would be great it we had full pedestrianisation as a long term goal. I wonder whether doing some temporary road closure during the Rugby World Cup might be a good opportunity to give it a first crack, followed by weekends throughout next summer?

Monthly Recap – January 2011

This is the start of a new feature on here, a quick recap of all of the posts we have had from throughout the month. I think most post titles are fairly self-explanatory but any that aren’t I will try and give a brief description. Let us know what you think and if there are any other things you would like to see.

General

What does 2011 hold in store for public transport?

We could have integrated ticketing in place tomorrow – Why we don’t need a smart card to get integrated ticketing.

The importance of perception – How people’s perception of PT greatly impacts how they feel about it and how much they will use it.

Defending Westfield – Westfield looking to introduce fines for parking too long

Your help needed: making NZTA accountable – NZTA delaying and obstructing OIA requests

Flat fares?

Measuring PT success – How bus patronage has fared over the last 8 years.

Further patronage analysis – A broader look at patronage across the entire PT system over the last 8 years.

Why not just buy them a dishwasher? – Questioning the benefits of transport projects.

Len Brown on CBD rail tunnel

Q&A with David Warburton – CEO of Auckland Transport

Frequent Network Mapping – Is there a better way to display our PT maps?

Auckland’s Public Transport Network in Action

Dare I hope for better buses? – Are there some simple things that could be done to really improve buses?

Real time bus tracker Chicago using technology to better inform people when their bus will arrive

Don’t forget the public transport users

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Planning

Forcing urban sprawl – Our current planning rules have actually forced sprawl rather than tried to contain it like many believe.

Planning controls and urban sprawl

London’s Spatial Plan

Transport and the Auckland Spatial Plan

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PT Developments

Trams are actually on their way back The Wynyard Quarter heritage tramway starts to take shape

Onewa Road’s extended T3 lane The “T3″ lanes on one of Auckland’s busier bus routes get an important extension.

Cleaning up Otahuhu bus station

Changes to monthly GoRider passes

Bus changes: simplification or just confusion? Is it really route simplification when you just change the numbers?

More secrecy from NZTA – The NZTA’s true thoughts on Puhoi to Wellsford

Integrated ticketing: the real work begins

Auckland Council’s submission on Puhoi-Warkworth

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Thinking Ahead

More Northwest Motorway Widening – Widening of SH16 around Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd and that there is no RTN being built.

Just how fast will our Electric Trains be?

Northern Busway extension a reality? – The NZTA is investigating extending the Northern Busway

150m public transport trips by 2021? – Is Len Brown’s vision for Auckland’s PT patronage realistic? How might we achieve it?

Expanding the ferry network – The most commented on post this month

Puhoi-Warkworth: my submission

Puhoi-Wellsford videos

Thinking differently about ‘rail to the airport’ – The future of Auckland Airport

K Street Transitway A proposal in Washington DC for median bus lanes.

Improving the CBD section of the Northern Busway – Improving the CBD section of the Northern Busway

Council’s expectations of Auckland Transport

Improving the bus system – without breaking the bank

Council’s exciting CBD vision

B-Line on weekends too? – The advantages of high frequencies for PT off peak

Keeping it lean and mean: getting the maximum ‘bang for buck’ from the CBD tunnel (Part 1)

Keeping it lean and mean: getting the maximum ‘bang for buck’ from the CBD tunnel (Part 2)

A Beach-Haven to Greenhithe bridge?

I don’t often propose new roads on this blog, but there are a couple of possible new bridge connections around Auckland that I think could be very useful additions to our roading network and would potentially be more useful ways of spending our roading budget than on forever widening motorways. The first is the possible Whau River bridge between Te Atatu South and the Rosebank peninsula that I discussed last month. The second possibly useful additional bridge is one between Beach Haven and Greenhithe on Auckland’s North Shore. Effectively, the idea would be to build a bridge somewhere along the blue line’s alignment below, which would mean that vehicles and people (including buses, cars, cyclists and pedestrians) wouldn’t need to take the very long way around any more (indicated in red): The stretch of water the bridge would go over is only around 500 metres wide, and as I don’t think there are particularly many boats which head up this arm of the Waitemata Harbour, the bridge wouldn’t necessarily have to be that high. So I don’t see it as being a massively expensive project.

In terms of its benefits, probably the main one is the reduced travel times (real time savings benefits!) Of not having to go the very long way around via Glenfield. This would save around 15 minutes off each car journey and obviously more for pedestrians (not that there would be any at the moment) and cyclists. It would also bring Greenhithe much more obviously into the North Shore and provide better access for those in Beach Haven to areas like Albany, Westgate and west Auckland in general. The map below shows how long a trip from Beach Haven to Greenhithe currently takes, according to Google Maps (probably on a day without any congestion):You need to drive almost 11 kilometres as a detour just to go in a straight line what is well short of one kilometre. That’s pretty inefficient.

There would also potentially be many public transport benefits arising from such a bridge too. Making the trip shown above on public transport is nigh on impossible:


It seems crazy that it would take so long for a trip that’s barely a kilometre as the crow flies. Now obviously there aren’t too many employment opportunities in either Beach Haven or Greenhithe so getting exactly between the two places isn’t a massive concern. However, there are employment hubs like Albany, Westgate and Henderson that people living in the Beach Haven/Birkdale corner of the North Shore may want to have somewhat reasonable access to – and a bridge like this, with a bus transfer point at Greenhithe onto the 130 route (which would hopefully be straightened up a bit) would provide the kind of connection sorely lacking at the moment. You could end up with something like this: The blue line indicates the current 973/974 buses, which run fairly frequently between Beach Haven and the CBD. The red shows part of the 130 route that potentially offers a great cross-town connection (though I have straightened it up in line with a discussion in this blog post).

There would obviously be some negative effects of the proposal. There would be a street in Beach Haven that’s very quiet at the moment which would become very busy. There may be difficulties in “landing” the bridge at its northern end. There may be environmental effects as this seems like a fairly sensitive corner of the harbour and there would obviously be the cost of the proposal. But at the same time I think there would be quite major benefits: for all type of potential users (drivers, bus riders, cyclists and pedestrians). Perhaps most useful it could link Beach Haven and Greenhithe better with each other and better with Auckland as a whole as they’re two quite strangely isolated parts of the city at the moment.

Don’t forget the public transport users

We are heading for an interesting situation in the next few months along Dominion Road, as plans to improve the bus system along that road are further developed. As I noted in a fairly recent post, Auckland Council’s transport committee has specifically requested that median bus lanes be analysed as the potential solution for providing far better public transport along the road. At the same time, the council is also worried about effects of the road upgrade on businesses and residents in the area – quite justifiably so. To refresh our memories, here’s the resolution the council passed at last month’s transport committee meeting: I guess one of the inherent problems with improving public transport at the street level (rather than building super-expensive underground rail systems which probably isn’t the best solution for this corridor even if money wasn’t a problem) is that you’re always going go have competing interests for the road space. For every winner there will be a loser, as you increase the amount of roadspace dedicated to public transport you will have to decrease the space available for general traffic – or remove parking spaces or you will have to take more land. If you also want to provide cycle lanes then that’s further land you need to take or further parking you need to remove or further general road space you need to reallocate away from cars.

Probably the most helpful first thing to do in such a situation is recognise the conflicts between the different groups who want to use the space for their purposes. There’s not really much point trying to please everyone as that’s simply impossible – the goal should be to prioritise what you really want to prioritise and try to ensure effects on everyone else are minimised to as great an extent possible. Where there are “win-win” options available, you should take them – but I think it’s unrealistic in the case of Dominion Road to think the upgrade will provide better public transport priority, cycle lanes, on-street parking and more roadspace for cars. Without bulldozing a 60 metre wide corridor through the heart of the Auckland isthmus such an outcome is simply not possible. So we need to prioritise and ask ourselves a few tricky questions:

  1. How important is improving public transport priority against maintaining or increasing the existing number of general traffic lanes?
  2. Where do we really need on-street parking to support local businesses? Where does on-street parking rarely get used? Where are there good alternatives?
  3. Is Dominion Road the best route for a north-south cycleway connection across the Auckland isthmus? If Dominion Road simply isn’t possible as the main route, what other nearby routes could act as a reasonable replacement?
  4. What parts of the road can widening be undertaken without tremendous cost and/or community effects? What parts of the road are much more sensitive to any widening and need to be retained at their current width?

As you can probably guess, in such situations clearly not everyone is going to be happy with the outcome. If it’s decided that Dominion Road simply doesn’t have enough room for cycle lanes along with everything else, then cycling advocates will be grumpy with the outcome and quite legitimately so too. If on-street parking needs to be removed in some places then business owners will probably not like that. If public transport priority needs to be cut back in certain areas then that will have an impact on bus travel times, which needs to be recognised as well.

Auckland’s not the only city in the world struggling with situations like these. The “K Street Transitway” in Washington DC that I blogged about the other day has been delayed for many years and remains highly controversial. Efforts to build a similar (though not identical as the transitway is on one side of the road rather than down the middle) project for buses along 34th Street in New York City have also been difficult to implement. I guess if the upside of bus projects like these is their far lower cost compared to rail projects, the down side is the difficulty in making them become a reality as for some reason community opposition often tends to be quite significant.

The excellent “Second Avenue Sagas” blog has a recent post on the difficulties faced in implementing the 34th Street Transitway. In particular the blog post focuses on the (often irrational) opposition the project faces. To get our bearings, here’s an image of what the Transitway is proposed to look like: The buses that use 34th street in New York City carry over 40,000 riders a day and the current lack of bus priority measures mean that these crosstown buses are amongst the slowest anywhere in the city. So there’s clearly a need for the project in terms of speeding travel up for a vast number of people. But that hasn’t  stopped there being some huge opposition to the transitway project, as the blog post explains:

In reality, improving bus service — a laudable goal in New York City where buses are known not for speed but for their snail’s pace — riles up a vocal minority of residents who feel threatened by improvements to what they view as a second-class means of transportation. It brings out the worst in NIMBYism and leaves planners struggling to defend clear improvements they shouldn’t have to struggle to defend.

Over the last few years, Community Board members have come up with every excuse in the book to bemoan the Transitway. The underlying complaint — one that doesn’t come out much anymore — involves direct car access to buildings. Originally, residents complained that taxis wouldn’t be able to provide door-to-door service if the Transitway removed two lanes of traffic. When that sounded selfish, residents started talking about the blight a row of buses would cause (as opposed to, say, bumper-to-bumper traffic). They talked about how the Transitway would be bad for trees, how emergency vehicles would get stuck on 34th St., how unsupervised children would stray into the path of an oncoming bus. You name it; they said it.

While I have more sympathy for local businesses along Dominion Road and their complaints than I do for those along 34th Street in NYC, there are similarities in terms of how difficult it can be to give effect to projects like this (it remains to be seen to what extent the huge community opposition to the previous iteration of the Dominion Road upgrade was as a result of the stupid decision to make the bus lanes T2 lanes).

I don’t have a problem with people raising objections to big transport projects. In fact, it has often been the silencing of those objectors which has led to some of the worst transport decisions being made (like all of the freeways Robert Moses bulldozed through New York or the bulldozing of many Auckland suburbs to build vast motorway junctions). However, in the case of public transport improvements there tends to be a voice completely missing from the debate – and it’s actually a very important voice.

The public transport users.

In the case of the 34th Street Transitway, many potential users come from outside Manhattan but it would seem they’ve largely been ignored in the debate over whether the project should proceed. This issue is picked up on in another New York based transport blog – this time Cap’n Transit:

If you read pro-transit blogs and tweets, you would know that the buses contain thousands of bus riders: about 33,000 trips per day. Apparently there has been some representation of these riders by the Straphangers Campaign, but the meetings seem to be completely dominated by people who identify as either drivers or taxi riders.

Other than the Department of Transportation staff themselves, no one has acknowledged that the majority of these riders don’t even live in Manhattan. There are more than twenty express bus routes from central and eastern Queens, and a little bit of southern Brooklyn, that bring thousands of riders into Midtown every day. They travel down the Long Island Expressway through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, west on 34th Street, north on Third or Sixth Avenue, east on 57th Street, back across the Queensboro Bridge, and down Queens Boulevard…

…There have been at least five meetings about this project in Midtown Manhattan, but to my knowledge there have been no meetings in Queens. There is a Community Advisory Committee for the project, but are there any representatives from Fresh Meadows or Bayside? I certainly haven’t heard from them in the news, the blogs or the Twitter feeds.

In the debate over Dominion Road, once again the quietest voice seemed to be that of the bus rider. I’ve heard that at peak times over half the number of people travelling along the Dominion Road corridor are on the bus – and these people are the ones who will benefit most from the public transport improvements. But where is their voice? Who is asking the bus riders what they think of various options to improve public transport along Auckland’s busiest bus route? When Auckland City Council made the decision to prefer T2 lanes rather than bus lanes along Dominion Road, did they ask any bus riders what they might think?

In the middle of the debate last year, a few fellow public transport advocates and myself handed out flyers at the bus stop in the CBD where Dominion Road buses leave, encouraging bus users to write in and “save the bus lanes”. A number of people were very interested in the whole thing once I’d explained it to them, but in general I realised that the demographic that catches buses along Dominion Road: highly ethnically diverse, often students, sometimes with relatively poor English, hardly seemed the type to make their voice heard loudest on such an issue.

So, bringing this all together, my point is that in all transport debates (and when it comes to bus improvements that inevitably take road space away from others there will be loud debates) it would seem that a very important voice often gets ignored – or is barely heard. That voice belongs to the bus rider, the person who often puts up with exceedingly slow and long trips to work or university because of a lack of PT priority. They probably don’t have hundreds of dollars to print off leaflets, the time to organise petitions, the confidence or language skills to stand up at council meetings and put forward their case. But they are a very important player in the transport debate and we should make sure their voice is heard. We must not forget the public transport users.

Keeping it lean and mean: getting the maximum ‘bang for buck’ from the CBD tunnel (Part 2)

This post is part two of a collection of affordable and effective ways to get the most out of the proposed CBD tunnel, see part 1 here.

5) Modify the Britomart throat crossovers to maintaining the ability to terminate long distance trains.

One of my greatest concerns about extending Britomart into a CBD tunnel is that is compromises the ability to terminate intercity trains at Britomart. The problem is that even once a tunnel is built out the western end of the station and up through town, all trains will still have to vie for space through the existing eastern tunnel. The problem is compounded by the fact that the platforms at Britomart face the eastern tunnel, and of course that diesel powered trains could not run through the new CBD link. So any diesel powered intercity train will have to enter Britomart from the east and exit out to the east again, which means each terminating train passes over the crossovers at the head of the platforms not once, but twice. Obviously this would be an issue if we are trying to run sixty suburban trains an hour through the same pair of tracks!

It’s not so much of a problem right now as we really only have one train to terminate, the Overlander, and this runs only once a day. But thinking forward a few decades and we could have a lot more regional and intercity trains to accommodate. With any luck we will have a Waikato service within the next year, and once that proves successful the logical progression is to improve the frequency of service and to expand to new destinations such as Tauranga, Rotorua and perhaps Whangarei. Fast forward twenty years and we could need space for six or eight long distance trains an hour at peak times.

The real problem here is not so much the Britomart throat tunnel, but rather the crossovers that sit inside the tunnel. These crossovers are the sections of movable track that shift trains between the two tracks in the tunnel and the five tracks at the stations platforms. With a line under the city we would have trains whizzing into platform one city bound, trains coming from the city whizzing through platform five and at the same time trains going in both directions on platforms three, four and five… all passing through the same diamond of track work. The crossovers simply couldn’t handle this kind of traffic. The end result is a similar constraint to the flat Quay Park junction, but without the opportunity to grade separate.

One way around this is to build a new terminal station somewhere else, or perhaps rebuild the old Strand station to take these intercity trains. I think this is a far inferior option, we have an amazing, custom designed underground rail terminal right in the CBD. This terminal is right were it should be, and it has the unique ability to accommodate diesel powered trains unlike just about any other underground station… so lets use it!

Luckily, there is a bit of space in the tunnel area to overcome the problems at Britomart. If you look closely out the window when catching a train into Britomart you can notice there are actually a pair of unused stub tunnels just before you get to the platforms that were designed for the long abandoned light rail bypass of the station. They only go a few metres before ending in a wall of dirt but they do provide an amazing opportunity for a bypass. The fortuitous thing here is that these little tunnels were designed to allow a track each side to branch off just  before the crossovers, which is exactly what we need! A little extra track and a modified wall each side would mean electric trains headed to platform 1 and on to the CBD tunnel could branch off before the crossovers, and likewise on the other side trains coming from the CBD tunnel and platform 5 could merge back into the tunnel without passing through the crossovers either. The end result is that those super frequent city tunnel trains could fly in and out of Britomart without having to use the same crossovers that would be doing double duty shuffling terminating trains onto the three middle platforms. (if this all sounds a bit complicated, check out the diagram which I hope will explain things better than I can with words).

Top image shows the existing layout of Britomart, where all trains in either direction must pass through the same crossovers in the tunnel to the right. The bottom image shows a way to utilise the light rail stubs (pink marks) to allow CBD tunnel trains to bypass the crossovers of the terminal platforms (red lines)

6) Design new stations and modify Britomart according to the ‘Spanish Soultion’ platform layout, to move big crowds of people quickly.

If some of the previously mentioned fixes are put into place it should be perfectly possible to run sixty trains an hour through the two track CBD tunnel. However running trains this quickly brings us to another problem: the stations would need to be able to support several hundred people each minute moving on and off the platform!

Obviously the stations will each need a high capacity arrangement of escalators, stairs and lifts to move people, but in my opinion we need to go one step further and implement the ‘Spanish soultion’. This is a special arrangement of station platforms that is was to great effect on the Barcelona and Madrid metros, hence the name. Basically this works by separating passengers getting off a train from those who are boarding it. At a regular station there is only one platform on one side of the train and people enter and exit through the same doors on the same side. The main problem with this is you have one mass of people heading out of the train and across the platform at the same time you have another mass of people trying to push through them the other way to board the train. At busy stations this causes major delays and the train has to stop for a minute or two just to get everyone off and on. Obviously this is no good if we want to run a train every two minutes.

The Spanish solution solves this problem by having platforms on both sides of the train, one for boarding and one for exiting. As a train arrives at the station the doors on the exit-only side open first and people hop off to that side. A few seconds later the doors on the other side open and people from the entry-only platform board the train. The effect of this is everyone is moving in the same direction. As there is no jostling of crowds and no waiting for people to hop off before you can hop on, dwell times at stations can be cut to a third of what they would be with regular platforms.

The Spanish solution in action: People wait to board the arriving train from the centre platforms to the right of the picture. The exit platforms to the left sit empty in order to clear the crowd quickly.

In fact the efficiency of this design extends to the whole station. The usual arrangement for a two track station is to have one wide island platform in the middle that is used by people boarding trains in either direction. This is fed by escalators that go down only, and because people may wait here for trains this is usually where they have seating, vending machines and the like. This is supplemented by two smaller platforms on the outside of each track which are only used by people exiting. These are serviced by escalators that go up only, and because people only use them to exit there is no need for seating or anything else. Effectively having separate boarding and alighting platforms turns the whole station into a conveyor belt system efficiently funnelling people in one way and out the other.

If the CBD tunnel is to support the proposed two minute headways, then I believe platforms of this design will be simply essential to move people through quick enough. In the case of the new stations at Aotea, K Road and Newton it should be no problem to build them like this from the start. All it requires is a slightly wider hole for the station to be built in.

However once again we need to consider the weakest link, which in this case will be Britomart. As it is there is no way Platforms 1 and 5 could handle the passenger flows in and out of trains coming through every two minutes. It would be a perpetual human logjam on the platforms and at the escalators. If we build the new tunnel stations with super efficient high pedestrian capacity platforms, we will need to modify Britomart accordingly. Luckily once again there is some scope to do this. As I mentioned previously Britomart was designed to allow a light rail track to bypass either side of it down at platform level. While none of this was actually built, it does mean there is some space between the interior station walls and the structural box of concrete that encloses the whole station (if you look closely at the coloured walls either side of the platforms you can see a few metres between the interior and exterior walls). This unused space is exactly what we need to build our exit-only platforms either side of tracks 1 and 5, allowing the existing platform faces to be used for boarding only. This could be done fairly simply and cheaply without any major structural changes. All it would require is the interior walls to be removed, relatively narrow platforms to be built in place, and exit-only escalators added to take people up to the concourse level at either end of the station. So not only is this a way to add another six or eight escalators to Britomart, it also means the existing ones can be used much more efficiently.

Keeping it lean and mean: getting the maximum ‘bang for buck’ from the CBD tunnel (Part 1)

As a long time advocate of public transport in Auckland I feel a certain sort of glee at the huge groundswell of support for a CBD rail tunnel in Auckland. With the likes of our new mayor Len Brown pushing hard it seems we will soon have unstoppable political momentum for the project. After a hundred years or so of waiting it seems Auckland will kick start the 21st century with a city rail tunnel.

The benefits of this project are many: new underground stations within walking distance of anywhere in the CBD, a faster route for the western line, improved interchange opportunities and of course relief of the capacity constraints at the current Britomart terminus of the rail system. Another oft-overlooked benefit is one of ‘prestige building’, a process that has already started with Britomart. Once we have new shiny new trains zipping through flash new underground stations at speeds of over 100km/h, the old perception that public transport is for ‘losers, cripples and dole bludgers’ will be left behind faster than a driver sitting in gridlock on the motorway.

Taken together these all mean much faster door to door trips, far better service frequencies and greatly improved reliability across the network, which all leads to massively improved desirability. With a CBD tunnel the rail system won’t merely offer peak hour travel times that are competitive with the car, it will blow them out of the water. In short, patronage on the rail system will skyrocket once the CBD tunnel is built.

This however leads us to one very important question: Will it be enough?

This question has been an ongoing debate on the CBT forums for years now. Will extending a two track CBD tunnel from Britomart to the Western Line provide enough capacity to meet the growth it is bound to cause? Should be we aiming to spend more and build it bigger to start with?

On one hand we have the ‘do it right the first time’ camp. These guys point to past planning failures like the four lane harbour bridge, and suggest that we should double or triple the budget for the city tunnel to ensure it has at least four tracks and decades of room for adding new lines and growing patronage. On the other hand we have a ‘step by step’ camp, who see the CBD tunnel as relatively affordable and realistic option that can be added to in the future to meet growth, perhaps with new links and additional tunnels.

Personally I lean towards the second camp. I certainly would love to see a four track mega tunnel under Auckland central but to be realistic we are lucky to see even the proposed two track one funded and built. The idea of doubling the budget to three or four billion is simply ludicrous given the political climate, plus there isn’t any need to build everything the city will ever need in the first instance. In fact to spend a lot of money to build infrastructure that isn’t actually going to be used for ten or twenty years is akin to setting money on fire. Ten years of compounded interest payments on a billion dollar loan for an empty pair of tracks is a disastrous waste of public funds.

Next train departs in two minutes

However, the point about needing to meet the growth in patronage still stands, so the answer needs to be somewhere in between. To be realistic we just can’t afford anything more than a two track tunnel, so we need to maximise the benefits of those two tracks to the very last drop. I’ve previously posted a concept of having the new tunnel bypass Britomart rather than join to it, and extend all the way to Quay Park junction. This way the entire capacity of the new tunnel would be in addition to the existing capacity of Britomart, and rather than mixing all trains in Britomart we get to keep a terminal station separate to the new metro style one.

I still think this would give a very good outcome for a relatively small extension to the project, but at the end of the day it would still require several hundred million dollars more funding. In the current climate this option seems pretty unrealistic. So with this in mind I have gone back to the drawing board to see what could be done very cheaply to maximise the capacity of the proposed CBD tunnel once Britomart is one of its stations. Based on the idea that we will only get a two track city tunnel, here are a few ideas that might make the tunnel as lean and mean as it can be:

1) Maximise frequencies of trains through the CBD tunnel

Designing the tunnel for very fast headways is a great way to maximise the capacity of the system without the need to build extra tracks or lines at great expense.

Right now the best a rail line can achieve in Auckland is about twenty trains an hour each way and at this level the CBD tunnel could support forty trains an hour in total. That’s not bad compared to the current capacity, but this tunnel is going to be the backbone of the public transport network for many decades to come so the more train capacity the better. Luckily the recent CBD tunnel report suggests that with the right signalling system the same tunnel could support thirty trains an hour each way, or one every two minutes. Basically this means a 50% increase in the capacity of the entire system from a small additional expenditure on superior signalling. Even if they install regular signals to begin with a little attention to the design of the tunnel would allow these to be retrofitted once they are needed.

2) Grade separate Quay Park junction

Flat junction (left) has inefficient conflicts between trains. Grade separation with a flyover (right) removes the conflict.

Sixty trains an hour through the tunnel would be fantastic, but this wouldn’t be much use as long as the flat junction at the start of the tunnel can only handle half that.

Right now Quay Park junction is a bit like a crossroads with traffic lights. If traffic coming down from Newmarket has the green light then traffic coming from Orakei had to sit stopped at a red light. Likewise once Orakei traffic gets the green, the trains from Newmarket have to stop and wait until the track is clear for their turn.This is actually the weakest point on the network and we will never get much more than 20 trains an hour each way with a flat junction.

The answer is to grade separate, which is the rail equivalent of turning a traffic light intersection into a motorway interchange. As Quay Park is like merge between two motorways heading the same way, this is actually pretty simple: it would only need one track elevated over two other to remove all conflicting connections. A simple viaduct could carry one track heading out of the Britomart throat tunnel, up over the Eastern Line tracks and then curve around to join the line heading to Newmarket again. This would be essential once the CBD tunnel is built, but it would also help get a couple of extra trains an hour into Britomart in the mean time. They should really look into doing this cheap viaduct now.

3) Level boarding on CBD tunnel stations

Having the platforms of the CBD tunnel stations at the same level as the train floor would be a very simple way to boost efficiency. Level boarding makes it a lot faster for people to board en masse as there are no steps to negotiate or trip over, and no unwieldy gap to leap. Furthermore it would allow people with bikes, prams or luggage, or those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters to board themselves rapidly with a minimum of fuss. They current wheelchair system where the train driver has to park the train, hop out of the cab and muck around with a folding ramp simply will not cut it in the city tunnel with super frequent trains.

From what I understand perfectly level boarding is not possible on some suburban platforms due to issues with freight train clearance, as full height platforms would foul the wagons as they passed through the station. But in the tunnel there will be nothing but shiny new electric multiple units, so there no reason why the platform edge can’t line up with the floor of the carriage to the millimetre. This is one solution that will cost nothing to implement, it just means the new station platforms need to be designed accordingly.

4) Lighting and identification

A very simple trick to boost efficiency would be to have lighting in the tunnel on the approach to each station. If this is designed such that the light appears about ten seconds before the train makes it to the station, it would provide an effective cue for people to make their way to the doors to be ready to disembark quickly and easily.

A further application would be to have these lights on only one side of the tunnel when approaching underground stations, so it signals which side of the train the platform will be on. People getting ready to exit the train will instinctively turn toward the source of light. Guessing which side the platform is on can be confusing, and in the case of people with prams, bikes or luggage, getting it wrong can end up delaying the whole train. A little bit of attention to the lighting would cost basically nothing, but add to the efficiency.

Similarly, having a colour theme for each city station will help people navigate and work out where they are. For example Britomart might be lit in cool blue, midtown a warm yellow, Newton in Green and K Rd could be the, er, red light district. Little touches like this cost basically nothing, but could improve the ease and efficiency of the system to no end.

To be continued in part 2

Auckland Council’s submission on Puhoi-Warkworth

The next meeting of Auckland Council’s Transport Committee is at 1.30pm next Tuesday in the Reception Lounge of the Town Hall. Compared to past meetings, the agenda for this one is fairly small – not surprising given that they had a meeting just before Christmas and most of the time in between has been holidays. There is one particularly important item on the agenda though – and that’s the Council’s submission to NZTA on the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the “holiday highway”. For most people, submissions on this close tomorrow (so get yours in), but the Council has a small extension to ensure that the submission can be given ratification by the Transport Committee.

The agenda for the council meeting is quite difficult to follow, as various items are spread across three different files. So I’ve simplified the documents on the agenda that relate to Puhoi-Warkworth for greater ease of access. A couple are submissions made by former councils (Rodney District and the ARC) that were lodged around September last year to a more general call for feedback that NZTA made at that time.

  1. The agenda item itself – which summarises the draft submission.
  2. The ARC’s submission – which was supportive of improvements to the road more along the lines of what is proposed by Operation Lifesaver.
  3. Rodney District Council’s submission – which unsurprisingly was generally supportive of the holiday highway.
  4. The draft Auckland Council submission, which of course is the most important document.

The draft submission generally takes a neutral viewpoint on the road – not generally supporting or opposing it. However, the submission does identify a large number of shortcomings in the information that NZTA has provided so far in relation to the project and certainly provides NZTA with an awful lot of work to get on with. An overview of the submission is shown below: Reading between the lines a bit, it’s very interesting to note that the submission stresses that the council supports cost-effective improvements to safety and travel reliability along the road. It also wants to see all the matters raised in the submission adequately considered so that the fundamental question of whether a new road should be built or whether the existing road should be upgraded, can be properly answered. It also points out a few tricky issues like whether there should be a Puhoi/Mahurangi access point, how the new road would tie in with the existing road network and that there are serious concerns about the project’s environmental effects.

The draft submission talks a bit about timeliness and cost-effectiveness further in, when discussing the merits of an offline versus online solution: There are a couple of things that I think the submission could highlight more clearly in this section. The first is that surely NZTA must settle on a particular cost benefit ratio for the project. The SKM Business Case from December 2009 noted a BCR of 0.8-1.1, but a review of that by SAHA International found the BCR to be only 0.4.

To refresh our memories, this is what SAHA said about Puhoi-Wellsford: Maybe the council submission could ask NZTA to clarify what the BCR of the project actually is, given that different reports have indicated different numbers.

The second thing that the council submission could make clearer is the need for urgent upgrades along bits of the road. There is an urgent need to bypass Warkworth, there is an urgent need to undertake safety improvements through Dome Valley in particular and there’s also probably an urgent need to undertake a deviation near Schedewys Hill. As Operation Lifesaver pointed out, if we can solve 80% of the problem for 10% of the price, surely that’s a good thing. With the Warkworth-Wellsford section of the upgrade put off potentially until 2030, I don’t think it’s acceptable to have another 20 years of people dying in the Dome Valley before there’s any improvement.

Another interesting thing the draft submission notes is the potential for the highway to increase the demand for countryside living around the beaches east of Warkworth at a faster rate than previously envisaged – potentially undermining growth strategies that Auckland has (or will soon have in the form of the Auckland Plan): The submission goes on to talk about environmental concerns, which for this project are pretty significant. There’s also mention of potential concerns about traffic impacts of the proposal on the existing Northern Motorway: particularly the congested parts as the motorway extension could lead to more demand on those sections of motorway.

All up I think it’s a good submission – which could become a very good submission if the Transport Committee makes a few little tweaks. If anyone can make it along to Tuesday’s meeting it will be great to know what happens.

Transport and the Auckland Spatial Plan

As I noted last week in my blog post on the London Spatial Plan (known as the “London Plan”) a lot of emphasis is being put on the Auckland Spatial Plan (known, surprisingly enough, as the “Auckland Plan”). This was further reinforced by Auckland Transport CEO David Warburton, who in response to a question I asked about “how are we going to integrated land-use and transport when our planning and transport staff are in two separate agencies?” had this to say:

The Auckland Council is responsible for delivering a spatial plan (essentially a regional land use plan and at times referred to as the Auckland Plan), for the region. Auckland Transport has the subject matter knowledge and expertise to input into and advise on that plan. Auckland Council staff have agreed that the development of the plan is a partnership with Auckland Transport (and others) and we are actively involved in its development. It is a collaborative and inclusive process, as it should be and once this is agreed the problems you refer to will be minimised.

So it definitely seems as though the “Auckland Plan” will be critical in ensuring we have good alignment and integration between land-use planning and transport planning. We only need to look at the public transport wasteland that is southeast Auckland, east of the Tamaki River, to learn what disasters eventuate from not integrating land-use and transport planning.

Clearly then, a big focus of the Auckland Plan will be on ensuring there’s alignment between transport (particularly public transport, given Auckland Council’s stated priorities) investment and where the council prefers to see urban growth happening in the future. If the council chooses to continue the growth concept developed under the 1999 Auckland Regional Growth Strategy, then the spatial plan will hopefully identify and prioritise transport projects to support that – which I would assume means the CBD Rail Tunnel, rail to the airport, big improvements to the bus system and so forth. Pretty much what’s already the focus – at least for the Council (getting NZTA to abide by the council’s transport priorities might be a whole different story).

So at a broad level, the Auckland Plan could simply be a combination of two maps. The first being the “2050 Growth Concept” map which formed the key part of the 1999 Regional Growth Strategy. This is shown below: The second map is ARTA’s (and now presumably Auckland Transport’s) long term RTN/QTN map – showing the corridors it wants to develop as rapid transit and quality transit networks:


Theoretically, unless you wanted to reinvent the wheel in terms of answering the question of “how should Auckland grow” you could throw these two maps together, put some dates and prices on the projects needed to complete the transport network shown above and call it a Spatial Plan (at least in terms of how it deals with transport matters).

That’s what I somewhat expected the London Plan to look like when it came to addressing transport matters. But actually I was somewhat surprised to see how few maps and diagrams there are in the London Plan and how many instructions, objectives, policies, requirements and – generally – words there are in that plan.

Whilst I’m the first person to moan about the overly wordy nature of most planning documents, as I noted about the London Plan, it is the words used within that plan that really make it a very useful document. It truly delves into the important day-to-day decisions which decide whether land-use and transport planning are integrated or not. For example, it specifically notes that high trip generating developments should only be supported if they’re located in areas with high public transport accessibility. Policy 6.3 of the London Plan is perhaps most clear in how transport and land-use planning need to be integrated at all levels:

Policy 6.3 | Assessing transport capacity

Planning decisions

A) Development proposals should ensure that impacts on transport capacity and the transport network, at both a corridor and local level, are fully assessed.

B) Where existing transport capacity is insufficient to allow for the travel generated by proposed developments, and no firm plans exist for an increase in capacity to cater for this, boroughs should ensure that development proposals are phased until it is known these requirements can be met, otherwise they may be refused. The cumulative impacts of development on transport requirements must be taken into account.

C) Transport assessments will be required in accordance with TfL’s Transport Assessment Best Practice Guidance for major planning applications. Workplace and/or Residential Travel Plans should be provided for planning applications exceeding the thresholds in, and produced in accordance with, the relevant TfL guidance. Construction Logistics Plans and Delivery & Servicing Plans should be secured in line with the London Freight Plan and should be coordinated with Travel Plans.

LDF preparation

D) Boroughs should take the lead in exploiting opportunities for development in areas where appropriate transport accessibility and capacity exist or is being introduced. Boroughs should facilitate opportunities to integrate major transport proposals with development in a way that supports London Plan priorities.

E) LDFs should include policy requiring transport assessments, travel plans, construction logistics and delivery/servicing plans as set out in C above.

6.14 Allowing development, either individually or cumulatively, that would place an unacceptable burden on either the public transport network and/or the road network would be contrary to the objective of sustainable development. Phasing development (where this is appropriate), the use of travel plans and addressing freight issues may all help reduce the impact of development on the transport network and reduce emissions of gases that contribute to climate change.

6.15 In practical terms, this means ensuring that new developments that will give rise to significant numbers of new trips should be located either where there is already good public transport accessibility with capacity adequate to support the additional demand or where there is a realistic prospect of additional accessibility, or capacity being provided in time to meet the new demand. This principle should be reflected in the documentation submitted by applicants and in decisions on planning applications, with appropriate use made of planning conditions, planning obligations and, in due course, the Community Infrastructure Levy to ensure a joined-up approach to transport demand and availability of capacity.

Something like this in the Auckland Plan would ensure that, in both the policy (District Plan preparation – LDFs are the London equivalent of our District Plans) and consenting branches of planning, the impact of proposals on the capacity of the transport network would be well known, and mechanisms would be in place to ensure proper alignment between public transport and developments.

Auckland has tried to head down this pathway – through what’s known as “Plan Change 6 to the Auckland Regional Policy Statement“. Areas with growth capacity were identified (generally around town centres) and the level of additional dwellings they were meant to eventually contain was identified. But the ARC always had to battle the other councils to give effect to its policies every step of the way, not to mention the fight put up by developers of one kind or another.  Plan change 6 hasn’t even settled its appeals yet: over six years after it was mandated by the 2004 Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act. So in some respects this pathway to integrating land use and transport hasn’t seemed to me to be particularly successful. As part of the lengthy appeals process the true intent of the plan change has been compromised to such an extent that I sometimes wonder whether it now does more harm than good. For example – St Lukes ended up being designated a “town centre” even though it has utterly terrible public transport accessibility.

To cut a long story short, I think the Spatial Plan provides an opportunity to finally achieve the integration between land-use and transport planning that we’ve tried – and generally failed – to find over the past ten years or so of planning. Importantly, the Spatial Plan can’t be appealed to any court: it’s just something that the Auckland Council comes up with. This means that the general principles of the plan can’t end up being endlessly compromised through the court process until it becomes meaningless like what has happened to ARPS Plan Change 6. Once the spatial plan gets “given effect to” by the details of Auckland’s future District Plan then of course there will be court processes: and that’s fine when it comes to the nitty gritty details – but I think it is preferable for the overarching strategy to be ‘pure’ in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible through lengthy court processes with the likes of Westfield and various other property development companies.

In the end, when it comes to transport matters, the spatial plan clearly needs to include maps that show what projects will need building, when they’ll be needed by, how much they’ll cost and potentially how they might be paid for. It will also have maps shows how this connects with where – and how – the city is going to grow over the 20-30 year timeframe the plan applies. But, critically, it can’t simply stop there. The spatial plan also needs to provide instructions on how – on a day-to-day basis – each little planning decision has the integration of transport and landuse at the forefront of its thinking.

B-Line on weekends too?

The B-Line initiative on Dominion Road and Mt Eden Road bus services has apparently been quite successful. For a minimal resource investment (just a few stickers and a marketing campaign) patronage has apparently increased quite markedly on these two bus routes. Hopefully Auckland Transport will share information on the increase shortly so we get an idea about how many more people, on average, are riding these two bus routes now compared to the months before B-Line was launched.

I was initially a bit sceptical of B-Line: not because I didn’t think it was worth doing (in fact quite the opposite), but because the “a bus every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday” undersold the actual quality of both the Dominion Road (which has a bus every 5 minutes) and Mt Eden (a bus every 10 minutes) bus services. I do still wonder if they’d advertised it as “a bus at least every 10 minutes” whether we might have seen even bigger patronage increases.

But that’s a bit beside the point. The reason B-Line has been a success is pretty obvious: the services are marketed (and deliver) as being a high quality service run at better than normal frequencies with better than normal buses enjoying better than normal bus priority. In effect, it gets around the general perception of Auckland’s buses as being crap, slow, infrequent and unreliable by distinguishing these routes from the “dirty masses” of other bus routes throughout Auckland. These are sold as superior routes – and people have flocked to them.

Auckland’s not the only city in the world to adopt this kind of approach to improving buses. New York has its “select bus services” and Brisbane has its “BUZ routes” (which I became aware of thanks to a comment from BrisUrbane). The principles of the BUZ routes are somewhat similar to the B-Line: a service quality/frequency guarantee: One thing that I really like about the BUZ is that way that it can be shown on a map – as is outlined above. I’m very hopeful that as Auckland’s B-Line system expands we can create a map showing all the B.Line routes on it – similar to the map above. The other thing that really impresses me about BUZ is that Saturday, Sunday and evenings are included in the “timetable guarantee”. That means pretty much no matter when you want to catch a bus along these routes, at worst you’ll have to wait 15 minutes. By comparison, Auckland’s B.Line only offers its “a bus every 15 minutes” guarantee 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday.

The network features show a focus on integration with the rail network and looking to serve trips made outside the traditional commuting hours. The results of the BUZ initiative are really interesting. Patronage along all the routes has increased dramatically, but perhaps even more fascinating is which particular times of the week that have enjoyed the greatest patronage gains. Weekends and evenings. The results indicate a percentage increase on patronage in the 2003 base year before the initiative was introduced:

The beauty of having massive growth in off-peak patronage is that generally this won’t cost anywhere near as much compared to having to cater for increased peak time patronage. That’s because you already own enough buses and probably employ enough drivers to operate a peak time timetable: the extra operating costs for the off-peak services are minimal and therefore you can effectively get patronage gain for very little cost. By comparison, if peak time patronage had gone up by 250% on the 130 route listed above the transport agency would have needed to buy a massive number of new buses.

Looking at the figures above, the immediate thought that came to my mind was that the Sunday and evening increases probably look so big because they came off a very low base. While this is true to some extent, as the graph below shows along a lot of routes more people now travel on Sundays than previously did on weekdays. That is quite spectacular growth in weekend patronage: It would appear that people are very willing to catch public transport on weekends and in the evening if they are provided with a service that they know is high quality and frequent.

So my challenge to Auckland Transport is to extend the hours where they provide the “B.Line guarantee” beyond just 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday. Make it seven days, make it all evening. Judging by what has happened in Brisbane, the results should make the effort well worth it.

Council’s exciting CBD vision

The agenda to the February 1st meeting of the Auckland Future Vision Committee contains a paper on the “Proposed International City Masterplan”, which seems to be a holistic look at how to transform Auckland’s CBD over a 20 year period into a much nicer place.

There are some exciting proposals included in the initial thinking behind the Masterplan, which seems to be taking its cue from a Public Life Survey undertaken by Gehl Architects last year. This had led to early thinking on the Masterplan identifying some very interesting and exciting propositions. The masterplan is proposed to be based around three core objectives. These are outlined below:

  • A well connected city centre
  • A waterfront city centre
  • A lively and desirable city centre

Ways in which these objectives can be achieves are also detailed. Starting with connections:
Well there’s some pretty interesting possibilities listed here. Along with the predictable (city centre rail link, additional harbour crossing etc.) we also have some smaller projects that could be achievable in a shorter timeframe: including a number I have championed before. Of particular note is the mention of two-waying Nelson and Hobson streets – which has become my pet project of late. It’s also great to note that there’s strong consideration of light-rail: in the form of extending the Wynyard Quarter heritage tramway (currently under construction) initially to link with Britomart and then perhaps even further in the future (up Queen St?)

In terms of having a greater focus on the waterfront, a number of measures are proposed:
It’s good to note that pedestrian improvements to Quay Street definitely seem on the cards, and that there would be a particular focus on improving the pedestrian experience of the waterfront. Parts of Quay Street are pretty hostile to pedestrians at the moment.

Finally, in terms of creating a “lively and desirable city centre”, the following projects are considered:
In my mind definitely the most potentially exciting of these is the consideration of covering sections of the motorway ring road the surrounds our city centre to create new public spaces or mixed use development opportunities. The area between the Upper Queen Street and Symonds Street bridges might be a good place to start – though it would obviously be necessary to ensure this could be done feasibly from an engineering perspective and that it would make financial sense (ideally the development space on top of the covering would pay for the engineering works).

Looking at these lists of projects, the number of familiar ones makes me wonder whether the team at council putting this together regularly read this blog. Not that I mind them taking on the ideas of course: in fact that’s the whole entire point of me sharing them!