Parking and hamburgers

An exceptionally kind blog reader bought me “The High Cost of Free Parking” byDonald Shoup recently. This is a book that I’ve flicked through on a number of occasions in the past, but I’m incredibly grateful of the opportunity to read through it properly, particularly at a time when it seems that Auckland Council is fundamentally reassessing the way it handles parking policy. Page 16 of the “Urban Auckland” chapter of the Auckland Plan says some pretty optimistic things about how the council will be relooking at parking policy matters:

Inappropriate regulations and inflexible standards can impact on good design. These can act as impediments to the development of intensive housing and mixed developments. One factor that can affect the affordability of such projects is unnecessary parking requirements. Sometimes traditional parking standards (minimum numbers of car parking spaces) have been imposed in areas where alternative options (for example parking buildings or investment in public transportation) would imply that such minimums are counterproductive to delivering the goal of intensification, mixed use and affordability. The Council intends to review its approach to parking as part of the development of the Unitary Plan.

Minimum parking requirements have a number of flaws, but a fundamental one is that they effectively force you to spend a lot of money (particular in inner urban areas) to provide for one particular mode of transport (car storage), regardless of whether you actually want two spaces, one space or perhaps even no spaces.

The High Cost of Free Parking outlines a really good analogy between parking policy and hamburgers that’s useful to consider:

Suppose cities required all fast-food restaurants to include french fries with every hamburger. The fries would appear free, but they would have a high cost in money and health. Those who don’t eat the fries pay higher prices for their hamburgers but receive no benefit. Those who do eat the fries they wouldn’t have ordered separately are also worse off, because they eat unhealthy food they wouldn’t otherwise buy. Even those would order the fries if they weren’t included free are no better off, because the price of a hamburger would increase to cover the cost of the fries. How are minimum parking requirements different? Minimum parking requirements force people force people who are too poor to own cars to pay for parking spaces they don’t use, and they encourage others to buy more cars and drive them more than they would if they had to pay separately for parking.

Just as the only people who would really do well out of forcing hamburger purchases to include fries would be potato growers, arguably the only people who do well out of minimum parking requirements are those who build cars, roads and parking buildings. The rest of us, regardless of how many cars we own, are either worse off or at best, in the same position as we would be without such requirements. The sooner we get rid of them the better.

Observing Fort Street

During my lunch break today I headed down to see how the Fort Street shared space is working. The weather was good so I spent around half an hour watching how the place works. Overall I was pretty impressed by how the area works. People generally have the confidence to walk down the middle of the street, the cars generally travel at a slow speed (around one in four went a bit fast for my liking) and the mix of pedestrian and cars, a kind of glorious chaos, actually seems to work. It’s also interesting to see how the area is starting to change as a result of the shared space. The Kebabs on Queen and Sumo Sushi stores you can see in the photo above have pushed seating out onto the street.

What the Fort Street shared space highlights though is how bad pedestrians have it in other parts of the city. Not far behind where this photo was taken is the corner of High Street and Shortland Street, an incredibly busy intersection for pedestrians but with no traffic calming measures for vehicles zipping down the Shortland Street hill. It’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong there. Plus the bizarre nature of High Street, with its narrow (and generally overflowing with pedestrians) footpaths so we can provide a handful of on-street parking spaces.

For future shared spaces there is one thing that I think could make them better, and that is a noisier road surface. Not only would this slow drivers down (nothing like a rough noisy surface to slow you down) but it would also ensure that when you’re walking down the middle of a shared space in the same direction as vehicles you’d actually be able to hear them come up behind you, rather than feeling somewhat unsettled and constantly looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anything behind you. I’m not quite sure how you could achieve such a surface that’s still comfortable to walk across – while ensuring the noise isn’t so loud as to annoy people in the area, but I think it’s worth looking into.

I think the shared spaces will be really popular as the weather improves. It certainly felt like a really nice place to enjoy my lunch.

Sprawl in the Auckland Plan

As I noted in yesterday’s post about the Auckland Plan, there is a lot of focus in that plan on Auckland growing through intensification rather than through urban sprawl. If you look at the map of where development is likely to occur, certainly the ares for development through urban sprawl (which I’ve highlighted in yellow for ease of reference) actually look fairly small: 
However, if you read through the Plan it becomes clear that a fairly significant number of additional dwellings will need to be provided in these greenfield areas over the next 30 years.

The Development Strategy contains policies to maintain our rural and urban distinction. It promotes urban intensification and carefully managed peripheral growth.

A high growth scenario of an extra 1 million people living in Auckland in 30 years, means an extra 400,000 dwellings. Of these, 300,000 dwellings can be accommodated within the 2010 Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) through intensification. This equates to a 75:25 split between growth in existing urban areas and growth in new greenfield land (currently classified as rural land) and rural satellite towns. Existing greenfield areas are already identified (“in the pipeline”) or under development within the 2010 MUL. This will provide capacity for around 30,000 new dwellings. These areas will generally be developed before new greenfields are released.

To accommodate the shortfall of 100,000 dwellings and business and employment growth by 2040, around 5,000 – 6,000 hectares of new, undeveloped greenfield land will be needed. Areas for greenfield development are identified for further investigation (see Maps D.1 and D.2, red dotted lines around areas for investigation), and will fall within a new Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) that will replace the MUL.

The release of greenfields land will be staged within the RUB to meet market demand, and is supported by policies to ensure:
• there is always 5 years’ available land which is zoned for residential development and serviced for water and waste water (“unconstrained capacity”) and a further 15 years capacity planned
• there is a forward supply of unconstrained business land capacity, earmarked for particular purposes (especially Group 1 industrial land).

Future growth and development will be supported by a suite of tools to enable the desired change and ensure delivery is timely and well-executed.

Combining the 30,000 existing additional dwellings that can be accommodated within the existing MUL and the 100,000 outside the MUL, we have a pretty significant number of additional dwellings proposed to be located outside the existing urban area. So how does 130,000 dwellings compare to existing parts of the city? Well, in  2006 the former North Shore City had around 72,000 dwellings, Manukau City had around 95,000 dwellings and Auckland City had 145,000 dwellings.

Also, if you shift the yellow squares in the above picture around you start to get an idea about how big these areas actually are: On the one hand I do find myself a bit worried by the prospect of 130,000 additional dwellings on Auckland’s urban periphery over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of eaten up farmland, a lot of additional roads, pipes, schools and so forth. But on the other hand I also see the need for these additional houses, especially if we are going to make a dent into housing affordability. As I have also said previously, if we are going to let Auckland sprawl then these are pretty reasonably places to allow that: south in areas close to the railway line; north in places close to an extended Northern Busway and northwest potentially in places close to a Northwest Busway.

What this clearly does show is that people like Nick Smith and Don Brash who are criticising the plan for banning all urban expansion, thereby forcing up house prices, probably haven’t actually read through the Plan. Or they have and they’re just wilfully ignoring this aspect of it while laying into Auckland Council.

Actually making intensification happen

One of the toughest challenges facing the Auckland Spatial Plan is ensuring that the city builds enough housing – most particularly ensuring that it builds enough housing through intensification. The plan’s goals in this respect are pretty bold:

The Development Strategy contains policies to maintain our rural and urban distinction. It promotes urban intensification and carefully managed peripheral growth. A high growth scenario of an extra 1 million people living in Auckland in 30 years, means an extra 400,000 dwellings. Of these, 300,000 dwellings can be accommodated within the 2010 Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) through intensification. This equates to a 75:25 split between growth in existing urban areas and growth in new greenfield land (currently classified as rural land) and rural satellite towns. Existing greenfield areas are already identified (“in the pipeline”) or under development within the 2010 MUL. This will provide capacity for around 30,000 new dwellings. These areas will generally be developed before new greenfields are released.

300,000 new dwellings within the MUL over 30 years represents a level of construction that we just haven’t got close to meeting over the past few years, particularly in terms of the amount of intensification that has been happening. So where are all these extra houses going to go, and perhaps more importantly, how can we actually ensure intensification happens?

This is an important issue to resolve because the drums are already starting to beat about how having a fairly fixed “rural urban boundary” is going to drive up house prices. This may be true, if we don’t built enough houses inside the urban limits. Having an urban boundary will undoubtedly drive up land prices, but if we also see an increase in density that should offset the issue as we make more efficient use of our land. Logically, the higher land values get, the more financially viable it becomes to undertake intensification – to make the best use of your valuable dirt. The problem comes when we both chop development outward and development upward, something that I would argue has clearly happened in Auckland over the past decade.

The red areas in the map below highlight where Auckland Council envisages most intensification occurring over the next 30 years, although obviously a lot will also happen in the city centre, city fringe and the various centres around Auckland: The corridors are also proposed as areas of intensification, but generally at a later stage of the plan’s implementation.

An interesting map to compare the one above with is outlined below (although it doesn’t go as far south as would be ideal). My fellow blogger Stu Donovan put this map together, and it quite interestingly shows the average value of land in various parts of Auckland:In general this map tells us the parts of Auckland where intensification is most likely to make sense. These are the city centre and its immediate surrounding suburbs, the central isthmus and coastal areas to the north and east of the city centre.

Suitability for intensification also relates to other issues, such as heritage constraints and the location of transport (and other) infrastructure. The map above clearly highlights that proximity to the city centre is a key factor in determining land values. This means that intensification is most likely to be attractive to the market the closer to the city centre the particular site is. Combining these matters leads to the following locations being obvious priority areas for intensification:

  • The City Centre
  • Takapuna (already proposed as a metropolitan centre)
  • The City fringe area, particularly in areas with less heritage/character constraints such as along Great North Road, New North Road, around Newmarket and the inner parts of Dominion and Mt Eden Roads.
  • Onehunga (proposed as a town centre)

Significant infrastructure projects outlined in the Draft Auckland Plan are likely to change the map above once completed. For example the City Rail Link will bring sections of western isthmus within a much shorter train trip of the city centre, likely resulting in a boost to land values and thereby an increase in the market viability of intensification.

Development to higher densities may become viable in places further out from the city centre in the longer term, probably first to the north and east and later to the west and south, as land values increase to the point where it makes sense. But one would certainly think that if we really want intensification to happen, we need to be more mindful than has happened in the past about where it will work for the market, and where it won’t. Where market-attractive areas coincide with other factors, like good transport infrastructure and less heritage/character constraints, then I think we really need to take these “low-hanging fruit” opportunities and ensure there are minimal constraints to this development happening, obviously as long as it happens in a high-quality way.

It is essential that intensification actually happens in Auckland if housing affordability is to be improved, therefore it is necessary for a greater level of alignment between where the Auckland Plan envisages intensification and where there is a market demand for intensification. Simply put, if there is no market for intensification in an area, then it will not happen, housing supply will not be increased and house prices will continue to go up (and thereby the pressure for urban sprawl will increase).

July NZTA Board Papers

NZTA continue to refuse to publish their board papers online (even though they spend around $3 billion of taxpayers’ money a year), so in the cause of increased transparency I have been doing Official Information Act requests for their board papers for a while now. Here are the papers from the latest meeting, with a short comment where I think they contain something interesting. A list of the documents is included below: Attachment 1 – Chief Executive’s Report. Quite a lot of the “progress on RoNS” information has been withheld, which is quite disappointing. Aside from that, there’s an interesting snippet about NZTA’s concerns over the Rugby World Cup opening night. More detail is provided in attachment 11 on this matter.

Attachment 2 – NLTF cashflow and programme management. This document is really interesting, as it details some of the significant cashflow problems NZTA is facing at the moment, which has led to a complete moratorium (and potentially even further measures) on new state highway projects for quite some time. This is summarised below: While some of the extra expenditure has obviously been unavoidable, it is somewhat concerning to heard about the discrepancies due to MoT not recording expenditure (further investigation showed that this was around $180 million, not a small amount!)

Attachment 3 – Quarterly Report on Borrowing. This seems a fairly standard and repeating report showing NZTA’s cashflow position. As per the previous paper, it’s clear that NZTA is really pushing their debt limits at the moment.

Attachment 4 – Refreshing the Investment and Revenue Strategy. This document outlined some possible changes that NZTA will be making to the way they prioritise transport projects, as a result of changes to the Government Policy Statement. The proposals are quite worrying, particularly in terms of focusing more emphasis on ‘strategic fit’ (which means little more than what is the Minister’s pet project).

Attachment 5 – NLTP activity funding class allocations. This gives us some hints about the level of funding NZTA is going to give to various types of transport over the next few years – it largely reflects the roads-obsessed Government Policy Statement, so is fairly depressing.

Attachment 6 – Proposed changes to funding assistance rates. This outlines some changes to the level which NZTA helps subsidise the different councils around the country in undertaking their work. It’s worth noting that Auckland gets a relatively low level of subsidy compared to most of the rest of the country.

Attachment 7 – Draft State Highway Asset Management Plan. I just glanced over this largely – it’s interesting to note how much property NZTA owns but isn’t currently used for state highways.

Attachment 8 – Pricing and Operation Principles for National Integrated Ticketing. A very interesting paper that confirms NZTA will take over the running of all public transport ticketing systems in New Zealand in the future, to enable interoperability. Snapper made quite a detailed submission raising concerns about the proposal but (thankfully) these have been dismissed by NZTA who note the importance of having independence the processing system from any bus operator. This is summarised below: 

Attachment 9 – Establishment of NZ Transport Ticketing Ltd. This seems to be the necessary legal requirements to establish the entity that will look after the integrated ticketing system referred to above.

Attachment 10 – Western Ring Route, pre-award review. This paper relates to the process NZTA have undertaken (or were about to undertake when the paper was written) to decide who would win the contract for constructing the Waterview Connection process. It’s an interesting insight into how these decisions are made.

Attachment 11 – General Business. This has a wide variety of information, although as noted under attachment one, it’s particularly interesting to see what was said about the concerns NZTA had about the Rugby World Cup opening night: Overall there’s a bit more interesting stuff than you normally get from an NZTA board meeting. Particularly in relation to integrated ticketing and the financial issues NZTA is currently facing.

The modernist approach to pedestrians

The excellent Pedestrian Observations blog has a fascinating post up about the experience of being a pedestrian in Central London. We often think of London as a pretty good example of what to aim for in transport terms: an extremely comprehensive network of trains, buses, an increasing network of cycle lanes and of course the famous congestion charging scheme. However, as Alon Levy’s post highlights, that doesn’t necessarily mean Central London is a particularly friendly environment for pedestrians:

As I got off the Underground, I was greeted by a fenced roadway without easy crossings. I found the way around a roundabout and started to walk toward the hotel where I was to meet my family, on the wrong side of the street. Although traffic was relatively light and the street was not very wide by New York standards, a fenced median required me to cross at one crosswalk, a Z-crossing with beg buttons and different pedestrian signal phasing for the two halves of the road. About five minutes after I first emerged above ground in London on foot, I realized: this city hates pedestrians. 

The interesting thing about London is that you certainly don’t think it’s a deliberate effort to make life crap for pedestrians – at least not in the way that Auckland seems to go out of its way to treat pedestrians like scum, even in very busy parts of the city. Yet somehow there’s an over-riding, almost subconscious, sidelining of pedestrians in Central London. Alon’s post explores the thinking behind this situation:

None of this comes from a deliberate attempt to destroy alternative transportation; it’s just an unintended consequence of modernist planning.

In the view of the modernist planner, pedestrians and cars should always be strictly separated with fences if necessary, all crosswalks must be signalized, and it should be impossible to have any spontaneous crossings, or spontaneous anything for that matter. Ideally, crossings should be in pedestrian underpasses or overpasses, to eliminate all conflict. There can be delineated zones for pedestrians – side streets or some busy pedestrian malls, such as Covent Garden – but those should be placed away from the main streets.

A classic outcome is shown in the picture below (photo credit to Alon): I imagine if you talked to most traffic planners, they would think that most of these pedestrian measures are good things, to ensure safety, to provide pedestrians with car-free areas, in short – to separate what they see as largely incompatible uses of street-space: people and cars. However, inevitably this turns into a “how can we ensure pedestrians don’t get in the way of cars” approach. Alon contrasts how London approaches this matter with what’s done in Paris and New York:

This contrast between New York and London’s style of planning is jarring. New York’s grids are meticulously planned, without much variation except in the parts of Brooklyn and Queens where two separate grids meet. London is nothing like that – its street network is famously labyrinthine, and walking there with one’s roaming function turned off in order to save money requires hopping from one public map to another. But on the level of the individual street, this situation is reversed: London’s streets are meticulously traffic-engineered, while New York’s avenues are chaotic. It’s true even on the level of stereotypical cabbie behavior: for one, London’s cab drivers tend to obey traffic laws.

More fundamentally, it shows just why car-centric planning is so incompatible with urbanism: it tries to impose order on something that resists it. According to Christopher Alexander and the rest of the traditional urbanists, I’m supposed to shun the mechanistic design of New York (or Paris, which is as planned) and gravitate toward the traditionalism of London. In reality, my reaction is the exact opposite – on the micro level, New York is much more emergent and chaotic, and, at the level that is relevant to a local who doesn’t feel the need to constantly look up, vastly more human-scaled. London may appear to succeed on grand urban design principles on a map and in diagrams, but on little things that matter, it fails. It may have little pockets of success, and enough activity on the streets that I’m willing to spend 3 minutes crossing them when necessary, but it has nothing on its peer Western megacities.

Perhaps what I most like about aspects of the City Centre Master Plan is the way in which it takes the direct opposite approach to the handling of pedestrians to the traditional ‘modernist’ ideology that still rules in London. You can see this in what’s proposed for many streets, from Fanshawe to Queen to High. It is the chaotic nature of cities that makes them so interesting and attractive, and we shouldn’t try to regulate this chaotic nature away (as is the way of the modernist approach to traffic planning) but rather embrace and celebrate it. Let’s mix uses, let’s mix pedestrians and vehicles (in a way that’s safe), let’s narrow streets down so there’s more “friction” between different users of the space, let’s let our cities be cities.

Independent RWC transport report released

Auckland Transport have just in the last hour or so released the independent report into what went wrong on opening night of the Rugby World Cup. The report was prepared by Chris Moore of Meredith Connell and is a fairly extensive document at 48 pages.

Here’s the executive summary:

 It’s worth noting a number of points here, but in particular I did find myself chuckling about the point that if Britomart was a through-station it would have far more operational flexibility. An excellent point.

Further detail on what went wrong is provided throughout the rest of the report, much of which seems to have simply been the result of vast overcrowding on the rail network. The report makes some quite sensible conclusions: While this leads to the obvious question of “would things have been completely different if we’d known so many people would turn up?” the fact that the event was on a Friday, you had both a match and a huge event downtown, makes this issue somewhat questionable as well: I think generally this report seems to back up the two fundamental reasons for the problems that I identified a week or so ago:

  • ATEED didn’t communicate correctly to Auckland Transport the increase in expected numbers to the downtown area. Even though both ATEED and Auckland Transport had (independently it would seem?) both initiated contingency plans before the day, they still seemed to be operating on a “it probably won’t be that big” mindset.
  • The system, even with the best planning possible (which didn’t happen) would have struggled with the numbers of people on that Friday. Combining getting 60,000 people to Eden Park, 200,000 people into downtown and a Friday (with its own commuter and school demands) was probably too much for even the best drilled system possible to cope with. This is largely due to our historic under-investment in public transport.

I have only really glanced over the report so it would be useful to see what others think of it.

The end of motoring?

An in depth Guardian article highlights an issue that has been commented on a few times recently, the question of are we reaching peak travel? Or perhaps more specifically, is the golden age of the car over?

In Britain, the percentage of 17- to 20-year-olds with driving licences fell from 48% in the early 1990s to 35% last year. The number of miles travelled by all forms of domestic transport, per capita per year, has flatlined for years. Meanwhile, road traffic figures for cars and taxis, having risen more or less every year since 1949, have continued to fall since 2007. Motoring groups put it down to oil prices and the economy. Others offer a more fundamental explanation: the golden age of motoring is over.

“The way we run cars is changing fast,” says Tim Pollard, associate editor at CAR magazine, “Car manufacturers are worried that younger people in particular don’t aspire to own cars like we used to in the 70s, 80s, or even the 90s. Designers commonly say that teenagers today aspire to own the latest smartphone more than a car. Even car enthusiasts realise we’ve reached a tipping point.”

Certainly if you look at traffic volumes on state highways across New Zealand over the past few years you can see a similar ‘levelling off’ of the previously constant increase.  The article goes on to discuss some of the possible causes of this levelling off:

David Metz’s account of underlying transport trends is simple: ultimately, we don’t want to travel more. “Look at the [Department for Transport's] National Travel Survey, an annual poll of 20,000 people, dating back to the early 70s. The average travel time has not changed over that period. The number of journeys that people make in a year hasn’t altered. It’s about 1,000 journeys a year, and about an hour’s travel per day.”

This figure for daily travel is remarkably consistent. Look at Tanzanian villagers in 1986 or Britons today, and we all seem to travel, on average, for about 66 minutes a day. What did rise, in Britain at least from the 70s through to the 90s, was the distance people covered. “In the early 70s, it’s about 4,500 miles per person per year, which includes all modes of travel except international travel by air, which is a different story,” says Metz. “It rose to about 7,000 miles per year by the mid 1990s, and it stayed steady at about that level since.”

Metz also thinks a general satisfaction with the number of places people can go has lead to this levelling-off; he calls this the saturation of demand.

“What is the benefit of travel?” he asks. “It’s about getting more choices of places to go – the choice we have of jobs, doctors, hospitals, schools for our kids. My hypothesis is that the growth of daily travel has come to an end because now we have quite good choice.”

It is certainly an interesting concept to think of the demand for travel now being somewhat saturated. Obviously where you still have population growth you will theoretically also have an increase in travel demand, but perhaps on a per-capita basis the inexorable increase is no longer happening.

Metz isn’t the only academic to think that the demand for ever more travel may have finally been satisfied:

Other analysts agree. “There are these models used by international agencies, and oil companies and the like,” says Adam Millard-Ball, assistant professor at the department of geography of McGill University, Montreal. “They say as we get richer, we’ll want to travel more. There’s no limit. Our hunch was that this might not be the case.”

Working with the late Lee Schipper, a senior research engineer at Stanford University, Millard-Ball examined travel figures dating back to the 70s, from as many industrialised countries as possible. “The data that we have shows fairly clearly that the growth in travel demand has stopped in every industrialised country that we looked at,” he says. Schipper and Millard-Ball published their work last November in the paper Are We Reaching Peak Travel? Trends in Passenger Transport in Eight Industrialized Countries, adding to a growing body of work, all drawing similar conclusions. If these trends continue, it is possibly foresee a decline in car travel and a stagnation in total travel per capita.

Though he doesn’t have any firm evidence to back it up, Millard-Ball thinks infrastructure plays a big part. “During the 70s and 80s we were building a lot more roads, allowing people to go further and faster. That era has come to an end, especially in Britain and America.”

Unfortunately here in New Zealand we seem somewhat determined to keep building motorways, despite traffic volumes not increasing over the past five years.

Demographic change, and the increasing popularity of urban areas is also given as a possible cause for what’s been happening over the past few years:

Break down the figures further, and other tendencies arise. Metz says the proportion of men in their 30s who drive has remained steady, while twenty somethings appear to be putting off getting behind the wheel until it’s absolutely necessary. “It’s partly the cost of ownership, the cost of insurance,” he says. “Other factors that are more speculative are that there are more people in higher education, which typically takes place in urban centres where the car isn’t part of the mix. Then people stay on in these urban centres.”

He also says retirees often give up driving once they begin to suffer from minor disabilities.

“If you retire to a place with high population density, then mobility scooters come into their own.” These electric vehicles haven’t been thoroughly researched, and mass production hasn’t quite brought automobile-industry standards. Yet he believes they could become a viable transport option for many people, even if they can only do 8mph, “and that’s a bit fast for pavements”.

I tend to think that there are a large number of different reasons for the trends we see for traffic volumes in New Zealand in recent years. These include shorter-term issues like a fairly stagnant economy and rising unemployment, fluctuating issues like petrol prices but also perhaps these longer term, cultural shifts. If you’re really keen on staying connected with the world via your iPhone, iPad or whatever, it’s much easier to do so while catching the bus or train to university/work than it is while driving. If your trip is an hour each day, then the ability to spend that hour doing something more worthwhile than avoiding driving into the car in front of you is perhaps becoming more and more attractive.

Which does all make it seem rather strange that that government wants to spend over $36 billion on land transport (mainly building more roads) over the next decade.

Airport rail advances

It has been a while since we heard anything about progress on another of Auckland Council’s key rail projects: a rail link to Auckland Airport from Manukau and Onehunga. The agenda documents for Wednesday’s board meeting of Auckland Transport highlight that quite a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes over the past few months – analysing at a broad brush level which transport solutions are needed in this corner of Auckland in the short, medium and longer terms. The result is a fairly short, but quite informative report that is probably backed by a much larger study that will hopefully also be released to the public in the fairly near future.

The study made the following conclusions:

– Packages incorporating rail connections in the airport corridor will be the most effective in delivering the project objectives in the long term
– The Rail Loop package would provide the best network resilience and highest benefits, while the package associated with a rail connection to the South is the most economically efficient
– The rail options would be expensive compared to a package incorporating bus services operating mainly on the existing state highway network, however the latter option is likely to be much less effective in the long run
– However, the packages are not mutually exclusive and the way forward is likely to be a combination of more than one package, involving a progression between the different elements of the packages over the study period. For example, the
improved public transport services might initially be started using buses on the existing state highway network, with a rail connection to the South or North being added later, ultimately leading to the completion of the rail loop as demand continues to grow.

At first glance they seem to be a fairly logical set of conclusions. The ultimate goal is, of course, rail connections to the airport from both Manukau and Onehunga. Without both links the line can never really function as a proper southwest rail link, connecting people from all over Auckland to the employment hub of Auckland Airport (and its surrounds) as well as offering extremely time competitive trips from the Airport to the city, Newmarket and other important nodes.

But at the same time it’s also pretty clear that this is a project that can be staged, and it’s likely to be sensible to adopt such an approach. Just as I think Puhoi-Wellsford is a road that should be staged (starting with a Warkworth bypass and safety upgrades, then seeing what problem is left after they’re implemented) it makes logical sense to stage development of rail to and around the Airport. The first step is obviously running better bus connections in the area – aimed at people who work at the airport as much as those travelling between the airport and the city centre. It seems crazy there’s no regular bus link from Onehunga to the airport, for example.

While the full “rail loop” (why are we always so obsessed with loops?) will require further investigation to determine its exact alignment, a broad overview of what’s proposed (including station location) is outlined in the map below: Once again at first glance there seems to be some logic to both the alignment and the station location – although I imagine with the alignment there will be some changes, probably mostly to bring it closer to the state highways and therefore minimise the amount of property that needs to be acquired (and limit the damage to Mangere). What is quite clear from this map is the potential for the line to really revolutionise this part of Auckland, offering a really high-quality transport option into the industrial estate around Auckland Airport (as well as the airport itself), but also offering Mangere and Mangere Bridge high quality transport links to the rest of the city. Mangere would seem ripe for comprehensive redevelopment as a model transit-oriented development, for example.

In coming to the conclusion that what’s highlighted above is the best eventual transport solution for the area, the study looked a number of different options.

Package 1 – Rail loop. This would comprise rail links from the airport through the northern corridor and southern corridor (connecting to the existing passenger rail network at Puhinui and Onehunga), plus the common elements (state highway, arterial road and local transport improvements)

Package 2 – Light rail to north. This would comprise dedicated light rail link from the airport through the northern corridor to Onehunga (connecting to a light rail network running into the CBD or to a rail station at Onehunga), plus the common elements (state highway, arterial road and local transport improvements)

Package 3 – Busway to north or south. This would comprise dedicated busway from the airport through the northern and southern corridor connecting to the existing bus and rail networks through interchanges, plus state highway, arterial road, and local transport improvements.

Package 4 –Rail connection to the south. This would comprise a rail link from the airport through the southern corridor connecting to the existing passenger rail network, plus State highway, arterial road, and local transport improvements.

Package 5 –Rail connection to the north. This would comprise a rail link from the airport through the northern corridor connecting to the existing passenger rail network, plus State highway, arterial road, and local transport improvements.

Package 6 – Bus lanes on the motorway shoulder. This would comprise express bus services from the Airport through the northern
 corridor and southern corridor using motorway hard shoulders, plus state highway, arterial road, and local transport improvements.

Package 7 – Rail or dedicated busway through Otahuhu. This would comprise rail or busway links from the Airport through the eastern corridor, plus state highway, arterial road, and local transport improvements.

Each of the seven options were run through an initial assessment of their effectively at ‘tackling’ particular issues, and their alignment with broader goals, such as land-use change:  Once again I guess there are no real surprises here. The most comprehensive (and expensive) option would have the biggest effect. The ‘cop out’ option of shoulder bus lanes would have very little impact. The more detailed economic assessments of the different options highlight something of a correlation between the level of cost and the level of benefit, although a few of the busway options probably start to drop out here because they’re expensive, but don’t provide the extent of benefit to justify their high cost. No actual cost-benefit ratios are provided, which is quite interesting: After looking at the cost-effectiveness and qualitative assessment of the various options, the study made recommendations on each of them – narrowing things down to four options, which would serve as something of a staged approach, shifting over time from a bus-on-motorway solution to an eventual full rail connection from both the north and east: 
I had been somewhat worried that this study might end up somehow recommending a busway option. Now I have absolutely nothing against busways (bring on the Northwest Busway!) but if we’re fundamentally trying to achieve a “one seat ride at rapid transit quality” between the Airport and the City Centre, which is something I had always thought this project was about, then a busway simply isn’t going to cut the mustard. Where are you going to put it between downtown and Onehunga? In effect we already have half the line to the airport – it’s called the Onehunga Line, so it makes sense to utilise the existing infrastructure rather than duplicating it or having to compromise on a fundamental goal of the project.

Overall I am pretty satisfied with where things are at with this project. The next steps will look at more detailed alignments and integration with other transport modes, undertake a more detailed business case and comparisons with non-RTN options (which seems a bit weird as the route is a designated RTN in all the planning documents) and provide a way forward to the third stage, which should be preparation of designation documents so the route can finally be protected.

Aligning our plans

There are a huge number of very important plans for Auckland’s future out for consultation at the moment, as I commented on in this previous post. However, one key thing will be to ensure they align with each other – as it’s pretty silly for one plan to be promoting something that would completely undermine what another plan is trying to achieve. Within the Auckland Plan alone I have some concern that the many roading projects proposed will undermine efforts throughout the plan to contain urban sprawl. Widening the Southern Motorway seems like a recipe for sprawl to the south, building Puhoi-Wellsford seems like a recipe for sprawl to the north – and so forth. I often think that perhaps the biggest reason we’ve struggled to properly implement the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy over the past 10 years is because much of our transport policy has promoted roading projects completely at odds with the goals of that strategy.

The one project in the Auckland Plan that I think has the potential to most undermine what the rest of the plan is trying to achieve, and certainly is at risk of undermining what the wonderfully exciting City Centre Master Plan is trying to achieve, is a duplicate road-based harbour crossing – a project I discussed in some detail here recently. The Auckland Plan notes that another harbour crossing is definitely a while way, but seems to buy the argument put forward by NZTA that a road crossing should happen before a rail crossing. What that means is a huge increase in roading capacity between Takapuna and the city centre, as shown in the map below:

What I find of most concern with this project is the potential for there to be a fundamental conflict between what it’s trying to achieve – more roading capacity into the city centre – with what the City Centre Master Plan is entirely based upon, reducing the domination of the city centre by cars, removing a lot of roadspace and making the city far more friendly to pedestrians.

As part of NZTA’s detailed study of the additional harbour crossing project, one of their specialist reports looked at the impact of the project on local roads at either end of the new crossing. One of the primary concerns even their study had was this effect of increased capacity on the city centre:

The issue is decribed in a bit more detail further on in the study:

The scenario agreed for this study (for both bridge and tunnel options) includes the following lane allocation on the existing bridge:

  • One lane for walking and cycling;
  • A bus lane in each direction, but with general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp sharing the southbound bus lane; and
  • Five general traffic lanes in total, assumed to operate with three southbound and two northbound lanes in the weekday morning peak, with the reverse in the evening peak.

This scenario would provide three southbound lanes for general in the weekday morning peak plus additional capacity, equivalent to around half a lane, for general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp. This scenario also provides the opportunity for a significant increase in the rate of flow from Esmonde Road (and Akoranga Drive) onto the Northern Motorway, thereby increasing the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour and reaching the Auckland CBD. A range of options could be used to limit the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour, including changes in the lane allocation. However, for the purposes of this assessment it has been agreed that the effects of the additional crossing will be assumed to be restricted by some means and that this should be reflected by modelling ramp signals on the important Esmonde Road southbound on ramp.

Capacity constraints are already predicted to exist on the approaches to or on the other on ramps during the morning peak, and providing ramp signals at Esmonde Road will therefore further constrain the rate of flow able to pass across the harbour and into the Auckland CBD.

When you think about it, the fact that this project mainly provides for more capacity from Takapuna to the city centre is obvious – as that’s the only place where more lanes will be added. It’s certainly impossible to add more lanes through spaghetti junction to the south, so any additional crossing won’t actually reduce traffic pressure through that part of the motorway network (plus isn’t that what the Western Ring Route’s for?)

You get an idea about the level of change to traffic volumes due to the project from looking at the table below:

Shelly Beach Road and Cook Street are the two streets that experience the most significant change. The impact of the project on Cook Street traffic flows are simply massive, almost a triping of traffic compared to if the project didn’t happen – not exactly consistent with the vision of the City Centre Master Plan which is to reduce the number of cars downtown. You can see why Cook Street’s volumes increase so dramatically – as it becomes the main on and offramp for vehicles in the southern part of the CBD:

There are many situations where I am concerned about mismatches between the different plans – for example making Warkworth a growth node doesn’t really equate with other policies to reduce auto-dependency (the only point of it seems to be to help justify the holiday highway). With there being so many plans, and the plans being so comprehensive, it’s somewhat inevitable that we will see contradictions – but their existence is something that I think exemplifies why previous large-scale plans in Auckland haven’t quite delivered their promises.

It will be interesting to see what changes end up being made to these draft plans as a result of submissions. One would hope that many of the contradictions within the plans and between the plans can be highlighted and hopefully resolved. But then one has to have faith that the politicians (who will be making final decisions on what changes are made to the Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan etc.) want to resolve the differences, rather than being the cause of these contradictions in the first place.