Northern Gateway Toll Set to Rise

The NZTA has announced that the toll on the Northern Gateway toll road will rise from 1st March 2012. They say:

The NZ Transport Agency says tolls on the Northern Gateway Toll Road (NGTR) on State Highway 1 north of Auckland will increase on 1 March by 20 cents to $2.20 for cars, motorcycles and light commercial vehicles, and by 40 cents to $4.40 for heavy commercial vehicles.

The increases are the first since the toll road opened three years ago.

The NZTA’s Regional Director for Auckland and Northland, Stephen Town, says the increases are regrettable but necessary to ensure the toll road remains viable and on-track to repay its debt as planned within 35 years.

“Although the legislation covering the toll road allows for the tolls to be annually adjusted in line with increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), they haven’t increased since the road opened in January 2009. Inflation and the 2010 GST increase have both impacted on the NZTA’s ability to maintain its debt repayment level, so it has become necessary to adjust the tolls,’ Mr Town says.

Transaction charges introduced in August 2011 to some toll payment methods will not increase. They remain at 40 cents for payment by kiosk and $3.70 when payment is made by phone. Transaction charges apply each time one or more tolls are paid for. For example, from 1 March the total cost of purchasing one toll trip at a kiosk will be $2.60 – a $2.20 toll plus a 40c administration charge – and the total cost of purchasing 10 trips at a kiosk will be $22.40 – $22 for the ten trips plus a 40c administration fee.

There is no administration fee for tolls paid on-line at www.tollroad.govt.nz, or for ‘set and forget’ toll accounts.

‘To minimise cost and time for road users, we encourage customers to pay by toll pre-pay account or via the website as neither of those payment options attract extra cost,’ says Mr Town.

The toll road is a 7km section of SH1 between Orewa and Puhoi which provides road users a shorter, quicker option to its free alternative – SH17 through Waiwera. Borrowing $158M of the total $372.5M construction
cost, meant the NGTR was built ten years earlier than it would have been under traditional funding methods.

As at the end of December 2011, the NZTA had repaid $17.5M of the debt.

I personally don’t have a problem with the cost rising as I think it is important that the toll reflects the benefits that people get from the using the road but I know there will be a number of people out there that will complain about it. I’m sure the question will also be asked of some if this increase is related to the cash flow troubles the NZTA is having at the moment.

They have also put out some FAQ’s on the increase here.

Northern Gateway Toll Road

We now have an official Twitter account

For those of you that use Twitter we now have an official twitter account for the blog that you can use to keep up to date with the latest posts and information about transport issues, previously Admin had this going through his personal account but with his new job it is more appropriate to separate this out to its own account.

You can view it here https://twitter.com/AkTransportBlog

CRL Update

After months of silence, Len Brown has started talking about the City Rail Link again. In an opinion piece in the Herald yesterday he talks about the need for the region to get on with building the transport infrastructure it needs like the CRL and associated with that the funding mechanisms to pay for it all.

The second major issue – transport and how to pay for it – is something we will need to work on for the next two decades.

Our transport infrastructure is already under stress. We must begin work on some key projects such as the additional harbour crossing, access to the airport, transport links to South-east Auckland, upgrading arterial roads and busways, investing in walking and cycling, and upgrading our ferry service.

The level of investment needed to cope with Auckland’s growth is considerable.

One thing I am pleased about is that he has started to articulate some of the benefits of the CRL and why it is needed, there are of course other benefits that he doesn’t mention, things like faster journey times but at least it is a start. The council and Len much more actively selling the project is something I have been suggesting needs to happen for some time.

Unblocking Auckland’s transport system is one of the keys to unlocking New Zealand’s economic potential. We need a much more efficient system for businesses to operate effectively.

As a trading nation, transport is our lifeblood. We cannot afford to have our products and workers sitting on blocked roads. A more efficient transport system is crucial if we are to reduce our carbon footprint, and improve the environment.

Our transport system must be integrated. Yes, we need new roads, but we know from past experience that new roads clog up almost as quickly as the bitumen sets. Unless we are investing in alternatives now – in a single transport system, involving trains, buses and ferries with an integrated ticketing system – perish the thought of driving across town in 2030.

The City Rail Link is crucial to this. It will essentially “complete” Auckland’s rail network, and effectively double the capacity of the rail network across Auckland. By turning Britomart Terminal into the through station it was designed to be, it will allow more trains to move around the entire network more frequently.

Combined with our new, clean and fast electric train fleet arriving next year, it will mean more trains stopping at your local station or transport interchange, with less time in between services.

Considerable analysis has been done on this link. There is significant public support for it. We know we need to get on and build it but what we do not yet know is how we will pay for it. The cost is significant, and we will need to look at a variety of sources.

So far, the Government has declined to contribute to the project, leaving the council to consider other sources of funding for this and other projects. Rates, obviously, are the principal source of funds for local government and will form part of the solution, but they are a blunt option and we need to always be mindful of issues of affordability. We must investigate new funding avenues. I want to consider a range of solutions.

He then goes on to talk about some potential funding options and has this nice little line for the likes of the AA who complain about road taxes being used to fund PT projects.

Yes, as the AA tells us, road users already pay for the costs of new roads, but they also stand to benefit considerably from reduced congestion with any shift towards public transport.

Of course while the funding issue is far from sorted, one thing the government did agree to last year was the council seeking a designation for the project. AT’s Chief Executive report to the board in December had this to say about what was happening.

Preparatory work to support the lodgement of the NoR to protect the CRL route continued in November. This included communications and stakeholder engagement planning to support this process, and a detailed review of the NoR material previously prepared for KRG/ARTA. The Terms of Reference for a CBD Access Study to respond to the Minister’s request was finalised by the Project Team and is now ready to be released to tender. An engineering delegation from CNTIC (China) visited Auckland and Christchurch in November. AT met with CNTIC and discussed the CRL tunnel construction.

Its good to see things are continuing, even if it isn’t as fast as we would like but even so I suspect that over the course of the year we will get a lot more information about both the designation and the funding options.

Intensification and Heritage

A plainly daft piece on the proposed Auckland Plan by Bill Ralston recently appeared in the NZ Listener. In it he claims, completely without any reason, that the plan sets out to demolish where he lives, as well as every other desirable part of Auckland in the name of instensification. This is simply untrue. It is true that the Plan hopes to encourage Auckland to continue to become a more intensive city, but not by demolishing the very best bits, or even very much of it at all. In fact it is decidedly half-hearted about containing the spread outwards, even proposing 140,000 new detached houses be built in the next 30 years under one scenario. All on what is currently productive and attractive distant countryside, and all to be served by endlessly and expensively rolling out new services: From the current 385,000 detached houses to 526,000! Did you actually read the thing, Bill?

In any case, intensification is clearly a matter of degree and the areas proposed for the kind of high density high rise growth that so alarms dear old Bill [but of course not everyone], is all carefully allotted to currently empty or underused commercial ‘brownfields’ sites on transport corridors in areas like the CBD, Glen Innes, and New Lynn. Not Bill’s neck of the woods. Other areas are intended to be encouraged to move from low to medium density. Bill’s place isn’t on this list either.

Ironically, in light of this reaction, the type of intensification that would go a long way to both accommodating Auckland’s growth and greatly improving our quality of life is about trying to help more of Auckland more closely resemble Bill’s very own suburb. His suburb is, in fact, a role model for how much of Auckland ideally could be. But that isn’t by repeating the thing that Bill thinks his ‘burb is all about, the appearance of the buildings, but rather about how they are organised. Not architectural design, but urban design. Really, how?

Freemans Bay is, along with St Mary’s Bay, Herne Bay, Parnell, Devonport, Northcote, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, and Mt Eden, a highly sought after and therefore expensive bit of old Auckland. So it is worth asking what is so good about it?

Well most of the buildings are old. That’s it isn’t it? Most people love old houses, with their mature trees, and in Auckland that means Victorian and Edwardian houses, usually detached wooden dwellings. Unlike Sydney, Auckland isn’t old enough to have Georgian buildings and also unlike Sydney or Dunedin there wasn’t the resource of stone or even much brick to compete with the pillage of the native forests that our forebears felt so entitled to use so completely. Furthermore, in a reversal of the trend of the second half of the last century we have recently been rediscovering the advantages of these close-in old suburbs. So instead of looking on these areas as slums and bulldozing them wholesale in order to build motorways as we did from the 1960s we have recently been turning houses like this one:More and more into houses like this one:

But that isn’t the whole story is it? Properly understood three factors make Freemans Bay such a great place to live, and only one of them is the irreplaceable age of the structures. And this is important because while we can’t time-travel and build real Victorian houses again we can take the best urban design features from these areas to improve what we build next, and even fix other parts of the existing city with these ideas too. The three essential features, in no particular order, that make Freemans Bay so desirable are:

1. Physical Heritage

2. Proximity to the centre

3. Population density

All the things that you may like about Freemans Bay flow from these; for example, great cafés and shops? They are a function of the quantity of people around and the desirability of the place, which in turn is because of the density of the housing and the proximity to the centre of town. Retail businesses need enough customers, and specialised ones need an even higher number going by because their appeal is, by definition, narrow.

But hang on, waddaymean population density?, this is just a suburb with detached houses and some shops isn’t it?, same as Dannemora or Botany? Well it isn’t high density but it is medium density and is considerably higher than most more recent suburbs. And here’s how: As this post by Admin shows, when looked at in detail you can see that the narrow streets and painted shiplap conceal a clever spatial order that maximises private space yet retains public charm. It is in fact this spatial order, and its resultant density of population that sustains the local businesses and other amenities all at close proximity.

Of course old buildings add texture and charm, but it is important urban design features and not architectural ones that make the real structural differences. Let’s look at Bill’s favourite café, mentioned in his article: Agnes Curran.Yes it is in a building pleasingly made of plastered brick and the door to the rooms above are surrounded by Georgian style decoration, lovely. But let’s look at everything else that makes this a really successful streetscape and business. The café occupies a tiny space about the size of two car parks, it is right up to the generous footpath, a footpath separated from the traffic by mature Plane trees [with a new one recently added on the right], the trees also accommodate a limited number of on-street car parks. A small apartment building to the left of the shot is smack up the boundary with the cafe and the footpath, and there are other levels of accommodation above retail spaces on the main road. Thus there is an extremely tight integration of the residential and commercial functions of this neighbourhood; so everyone walks, no need to drive when your destination is already right there. Here it is from above: The cafe is in the alley between the grey and reddish rooves at bottom left. Occupying the space that would have to be given over to off-street parking were this a new building- by current council regulation. Note that the houses are closer than is currently allowed in new subdivisions, and that their garden space is all together in one piece at the rear of each house. Small, but all usable, and private. And Ponsonby Rd is, by Auckland standards, relatively well served by public transport, especially in the form of the frequent new Inner Link bus service, connecting this place to the CBD, the universities, the hospital, everything really.It is easy to see that this is quite an intensely built place, but also pleasantly leafy, and is in fact at the intersection of two pretty busy roads; Ponsonby and Franklin. How can it be of such density but still be so pleasant, it must be the design of the buildings? Well that is of course important, but how much they appeal to you is really a matter of personal taste, no, it has much more to do with what is not visible in this picture. To show what that is lets have a look at a cafe in a more recent part of town:Dunkin Donuts at Botany Downs courtesy of Google [sorry but I'm not going there]. And from above:Well in fact there’s a whole lot of food outlets on in this image, a KFC, a seafood place, as well as Dunkin Donuts. And yup they are all pretty nasty new buildings, built to a price and without any conviction that they mean to stay. But also note  there are no houses or apartments of any kind here and no one walking. But there is the one amenity that is almost entirely absent from the earlier scene. This is a place rich in carparking. Viewed from above or from street level it is clear that this is a place entirely made for the movement and storage of cars. Yes you can argue that that what most distinguishes the natures of these two places is the age and design of the structures, but it is also clear that the spatial organisation is at least as important a difference. Put simply the first is designed for people and the second for cars. The first has a higher density of humans and the second of machines. The first, of course, commands much higher values and is where Bill wants to live. And the first, while more expensive to buy into, is actually cheaper to live in, because the intensity of the place means the costs of movement are much lower. It is a place that you can easily function without a car at all for example [As local resident, Bill, says in this article].

But of course the people living Freemans Bay do still use cars, but unlike those that live in the these new areas, they don’t have to use them just to get to their local café or other common local amenity, like schools, workplaces, or bars. They walk more and they use public transport more. Why? not because they are cleverer than the people in Dannemora but because their area was designed for those choices to be the most obvious, most productive, and most enjoyable things to do. And we can spread more of this simple genius to other parts of our city, even Botany, if can just reverse the insane auto-centric planning priorities of the last fifty years. This means putting people at the centre of the spatial organisation of places. It means repealing the rules that insist that the car must be catered for first. And it means for many of our primarily residential areas mixing the living and working and playing in the kind of intense proximity that Bill enjoys in Freemans Bay.

And it also means that we must provide systems of movement that do not devalue the very places they are meant to serve. Which of course means fast, frequent, smart, public transit. Something lacking in the newer suburb.

Furthermore, if we can get those planning settings right and are able to encourage the kind of spatial organisation that Bill enjoys so unconsciously in Freemans Bay, it is highly likely that we will see the design of the individual buildings in these places improve significantly, because increased intensity of humans also means increased intensity of economic activity. And, of course, because it involves unlocking the land and the resources currently tied up so unproductively in providing so much amenity for vehicles.

We can have Freemans Bay’s qualities of urban design in other places with contemporary design and technologies, after all Freemans Bay isn’t all old buildings and is all the better for it. It isn’t a museum. Here are two quite different and award winning recent detached houses there, The first by Marsh Cook: And the second by Malcolm Walker:Freemans Bay also has contemporary buildings by Mitchell + Stout, Stevens Lawson, Fearon Hay, Andrew Patterson, and more. Along with council pensioner flats, town houses, and apartment buildings.

And remember, while The Plan doesn’t envisage the core of Freemans Bay changing much at all, it does for some other underperforming areas of Auckland. And as the picture below of Freemans Bay in 1877 shows change is always possible, and can be a very good thing indeed……… Anyway, why shouldn’t more Aucklanders get the chance to enjoy their neighbourhood as much as our friend Bill Ralston enjoys his?

Last Post

Tomorrow I start work as a transport planner for the Council, and so ends my stint as a blogger on this site. As I outlined in more detail in this post and this post, this blog has meant a lot to me over the past few years and it has been truly awesome to see it develop from a personal blog that pretty much nobody read into what the site is today – something that is seemingly quite influential and gets around 2,000 views a day during the week.

However, my sadness in ending my involvement with the blog is tempered by my excitement for what I’ll be doing in the new job – and also by my confidence (fully reinforced by this couple of awesome recent posts) that  the future of the blog is in good hands. I have updated the “Contact Us” page – with Matt L generally being a first point of call for news related matters and each blogger being contactable for feedback on their posts. I’ve found this to be helpful over the years, and many links sent through via email have inspired countless blog posts.

It’s been fun.

Bike Racks on Waiheke Buses

A pleasing trial is starting on Waiheke Island which involves adding bike racks to buses to make it easier for cyclists to get around. The Waiheke Bus Company which is owned by Fullers has installed the racks on three buses and each rack can hold up to 3 bikes at one time.  Here’s the press release”

The Waiheke Bus Company has become the first public service bus operator in Auckland to offer bike racks on its buses as a trial and as part of its initiative to help promote cycling as a mode of transport.

Waiheke ferry customers can already take their bikes for free on the ferries and now this is extended to the service buses as well.

Bike racks have been installed on three separate buses, each capable of carrying 3 bikes each. The racks have been imported from the USA where they have been successfully deployed on public services buses.

The aim is to improve the options for cyclists and many commuters who choose to ride to and from the ferry terminal or who want to explore the island’s many cycle tracks, whilst giving them the flexibility of being able to hop on a bus with their bike in order to venture further, get home after dark when cycling can be hazardous, or in the case of cycling visitors, link up with the 360 Discovery ferry service that calls in at Orapiu Wharf and connects to The Coromandel on a regular basis. The Coromandel shuttle bus service from Hannaford’s Wharf to Coromandel Town now also provides bike rack options meaning cyclists can take their bikes even further.

At the launch at Matiatia today, attended by representatives of Auckland Transport, NZTA, Cycle Action and the Local Board, Fullers CEO Douglas Hudson said “Fullers has been committed to carrying passengers and their bikes on their ferry services for a long time and were awarded for being a cycle friendly business by NZTA at the CAN (Cycling Advocates’ Network)Awards in 2009.

We are very pleased to be able to extend this to the buses on Waiheke Island for the benefit of commuters and tourists who visit the island. This may only be a small step but it has taken a lot of effort to find and import the right racks that are sturdy enough to work effectively on the Waiheke roads. We hope that people will see this as an opportunity to explore more of the island and also connect with the 360 Discovery service that carries passengers from Orapiu at the Eastern end of the island to Coromandel, where the shuttle service from Hannaford’s Wharf to Coromandel town now also has bike racks on board.”

The trial, which will run until the end of Easter, will allow the Fullers owned Waiheke Bus Company to gather data and opinion from users before deciding how to adapt the service and how to develop it further.

Last summer the company worked with Cycle Action Waiheke and Auckland to produce a map of Waiheke cycle touring routes. Publicity about the map has encouraged increasing numbers of cyclists to tour the island, enjoying its cafes, vineyards, beaches and accommodation.

The bike racks are expected to be welcomed by local commuter cyclists and visitors alike. Touring cyclists may be encouraged to ride to the vineyards on the Onetangi Straight or even further afield, rather than stopping at Palm Beach, if they know the bus will help return them and their bike to the ferry or accommodation in Oneroa.

Cycle Action Waiheke supports the trial as an important local transport and tourism initiative for Waiheke. Chair Tony King Turner said “We thank Fullers for taking this step and see it as just the beginning of what could be very exciting developments for cycling on Waiheke. It will also be very important as we work towards our goal of getting Waiheke included in the National Cycle Way program.”

Barbara Cuthbert of Cycle Action Auckland is also impressed with the trial. “..having seen the positive impact that cycling initiatives can have on communities and how it can boost tourism, I am confident that when we look back at this moment in 10 years’ time, we will understand how important this launch and trial is.”

Auckland Transport also strongly supports this initiative and sees it as a good example of the private sector delivering outcomes that encourage integration between cycling and public transport. Such projects link very strongly to the work of Auckland Transport across the region in improving safety for cyclists and encouraging more sustainable travel

The bike racks will be used mostly on the Onetangi bus routes and feedback forms will be available at the Fullers ticket office at Matiatia as well as on the Fullers website.

This is obviously quite good for tourists who want to get around the island but don’t want to pedal the whole way but the thing I like about this is that it can really help to extend the reach of the bus system for residents. Instead of a bus only having a catchment of people who can walk to the bus stop it enables a far wider catchment of potential users which should help to make the buses more attractive. Hopefully after the trial is finished we will be see these racks installed by other bus companies in other parts of the region as I think it has the potential to help both boost bus patronage and the number of people cycling around the city and can be done without needing new vehicles or infrastructure to support it.

NZTA wants slice of developer contributions

A very interesting article appeared in Friday’s Bob Dey Property Report, noting how NZTA is keen on developing arguments for them to be able to receive development contributions to help fund state highway upgrades – like Council can use them to fund infrastructure that is required by the new development.

The Government’s NZ Transport Agency wants to muscle in on a rural council’s developer levies, arguing the state-funded road network is a significant part of the local infrastructure.

The agency has lodged an appeal against the Kaipara District Council’s proposed new district plan, which could go to a hearing by mid-year.

The transport agency is tax-funded through levies on fuel sales & vehicle use. Council development & financial contributions levied on property development are intended to pay for infrastructure attributable to new development.

This is quite an interesting prospect. NZTA can only raise money at the moment through fuel sales, registration and road user charges – and as we know, as vehicle use declines (as it has been doing), NZTA’s funding source dries up.

The transport agency made a submission on Kaipara’s proposed district plan in 2009, but the council rejected it. The agency argued: “NZTA considers that, to achieve the long-term sustainability of the state highway network, it is necessary to ensure that growth & development contributes to the cost of any improvements to the network that are necessitated by such development.

“NZTA further considers that it is appropriate that such contributions are secured through district plan financial contributions provisions, particularly where increases in traffic generated by development necessitates the upgrade of state highways.

“NZTA considers that such contributions are particularly appropriate in the Kaipara district, where the state highways are the pre-eminent component on the transportation infrastructure of the district.”

In its appeal, lodged with the Environment Court in November, the agency said the council rejection of its submission “will not promote the efficient use & development of the state highway resource. Subdivision & development can have a significant effect on the state highway network, particularly in the Kaipara district, where the state highway functions as part of the local roading network.

“There is no resource management reason to distinguish between council-controlled & NZTA-controlled roads when levying financial contributions in a district. The decision will restrict the agency’s ability to assist in providing a safe, responsive & sustainable state highway system for the Kaipara district.”

I can sort of see the logic in what NZTA’s saying here. If significant development around the state highway network generates significant traffic levels that lead to an upgrade of a state highway being necessary, then there is a logic to that development contributing to the cost of upgrading transport to support it. If applied in Auckland, this could significantly add to the cost of new urban sprawl if its development had to make contributions to NZTA as well as to the council.

On the other hand, it seems equally compelling to suggest that if NZTA can’t afford new state highway projects because people are driving less and paying less fuel tax, then maybe we don’t need all those new state highway projects after all?

Auckland Density Illustrated I: The Inner City

It’s hard not to get the feeling that for some in the Auckland Plan debate the answer is simply that they just need to get out more. Yes I’m thinking of you Dick Quax. But also Bill Ralston, whose advancing years seem to have settled upon him as a sort of domestic panic; a fear that some one will take his villa away. And the always unreadable and wrong Jim Hopkins. Plus all the other forces that appear to to be running a coordinated campaign against the plan, like the National Party’s pollster David Farrar, who enjoys apartment living himself but whose politics means he has to twist into a funny shape to conjure up bogus arguments against city life, he claims for example that to live in an apartment you can’t have a pet or a family, and imagines Ak turning into East Berlin. So in order to help those who seem to have absolutely no conception that life in Auckland is possible, for some even preferable, outside of a detached suburban 3 bedder I have dipped into my archives. These are simply random examples of the rich variety of lives lived by different people with different interests and different resources already enjoying the ‘absolutely gobsmacking‘ life that so terrifies the good councillor Quax.

I would also add that one area that the recent analysis of the Auckland Plan by Studio D4 and Jasmax did not look at was the inner city itself. There is clearly a great deal of opportunity for increased living in the city as the people pictured below already are. New supermarkets are opening in the city now and of course there is still room for further infrastructure to support and improve living, working and playing in the CBD. But of course I am not, and nor is the Plan, arguing that high or even medium density is to everyones’ taste, but that when given the chance there are many you do seek it. And that these include the young and the old, families with kids, groups of flatmates and people living alone, rich and poor, renters and owners, and every kind of race and outlook, pet owners, new agers and right wingers, strugglers, idlers, and toilers- in short, every kind of person.

First up, meet my mother. Her apartment is in a re-purposed commercial building from the early 20th century. Pretty special and very well placed for public transit as you can see [she can no longer drive]. Also ideal for a single elderly person, extremely secure, all on one level, the building has a concierge and is incredibly handy to both necessities and distractions. The only thing that hasn’t worked well is interaction with health agencies who insist on driving, often just from the hospital, and then of course, parking. They then want reimbursement for these costs although the services are free. Naturally they will happily drive to Albany or Cockle Bay and those costs are clearly buried somewhere in the health budget. Doh! Small problem, but indicative of how deeply imbedded auto-dependency is in our institutions.

The Bolletta family on a very grey evening, for them an apartment offers an affordable way for the young family to live centrally.

The Urale family. OK this is a detached house, but a new one on a tiny Freemans Bay site with no off street parking. Designed for the family by Malcolm Walker Architects, and therefore qualifies as both medium density and urban renewal.

Also a new building, but higher density. Fashion and publishing personality Paula Ryan in her waterfront apartment.

Again High-D, but different location, Newton, and different value. Complete with art loving cat.

The loveliest of Auckland’s far-too-few Heritage apartments: Courtville flatmates.

A return to the original use: Living above the business. Gallerist Michael Lett in his modernised flat over his old gallery space on K’Rd. The first occupants of this Victorian or Edwardian building doubtless did the same. But with as much style?

Another residential conversion. Compact apartment in the old George Courts Building ideal for young couple.

Inner city living is also for the young at heart: Peter Bromhead in his crisp apartment that will soon be looking down on the new Parnell Train Station.

Those genuinely concerned about housing affordability need to understand that even sweeping views of the CMJ is no barrier to successful rental or ownership for many if the price is right. Very serious students with a very relaxed cat included.

I could go on but the post would get too long…

Light metro for the North Shore: a superior alternative to a harbour motorway tunnel?

I’ve recently been involved in casual discussions with Shoreite friends over the merits of a new harbour crossing, hearing many words in favour of motorways and railways and the like. I thought I’d use this post to outline the issues and opportunities of a new crossing to the North Shore as I see them, and outline one possible alternative for rail that might be just what the doctor ordered. Admin has touched on something very similar in the past however it could be worthwhile to take another look.

Requiem for a motorway tunnel

At first glance the NZTA proposals for a new harbour crossing are quite encouraging… that is if we assume the people of Auckland would not settle for a hideous motorway bridge destroying their new waterfront precinct and demand a tunnel instead.

A harbour tunnel certainly has it’s appeal: it would take all that state highway traffic out of St Mary’s Bay and Victoria Park and send it underground on a long invisible bypass of the city centre. We could separate peaky city commuter traffic from traffic going nowhere near downtown. It would allow us to wind back the harbour bridge to something more like a local arterial, probably with walking and cycling lanes too. We could pull down the much despised Victoria Park viaduct and remove half the lanes from St Mary’s Bay, perhaps even renovating it to act something like a western version of Tamaki Drive.

Those would be some great outcomes, but on closer inspection there are several huge issues with the harbour tunnel plan:

The approach motorway to Sydney's harbour bridge and tunnel. Do we want this in Freemans Bay and Northcote?

  •  First and foremost, it would cost around five billion dollars. That is an absolutely huge cost, how can we fund that? What else would we forgo if we did fund it, or rather what better use could we find for several billion bucks? How many intersection improvements, bus lanes and cycleways would that fund? On five billion dollars the cost of capital alone comes in at $750,000 a day!
  •  Secondly, do we actually ‘need’ a second motorway crossing in that same corridor? Do we need six more lanes of motorway when traffic on the existing bridge has been trending in reverse for the last half decade? After all, it only goes from the area around Onewa Rd to the Central Motorway Junction. Beyond that, do we actually ‘want’ a brand new route with plenty of capacity feeding into Spaghetti junction, something that might simply encourage more people to drive more often and create even more traffic and car dependence.
  •  Thirdly, this five billion dollar proposal is for a motorway tunnel only, there is no public transport component. Certainly if a motorway tunnel was built this would allow a pair of lanes on the bridge to be marked for the busway, but if you think about it that wouldn’t be much improvement over the way the busway works already. Same route, same vehicles and capacity, same constraints through downtown, just a little less impact from congestion on the bridge.
  • Finally, would there actually be much improvement to the capacity of the transport system? A six lane tunnel would provide three lanes each way, so in the peak it could move an extra 6,000 vehicles per hour. At our occupancy levels equates to less than 8,000 people per hour. That’s less capacity than the busway, at about twelve times the price!

If we look at it again we really need to go back to the drawing board. Five billion dollars to tidy up the waterfront and duplicate a few kilometres of motorway to move only 8,000 people an hour, I don’t think so. The BCR on a motorway tunnel must be abysmally small given such a huge cost and minimal benefits.

If not a motorway, then what? Are trains an affordable option either?

What we need is something more affordable, something that will reduce traffic rather than generate more, something that has wider reaching benefits and will actually reduce travel times in the long run. Given that we already have an eight lane motorway across our harbour (plus second motorway bridge across the upper harbour), surely the next crossing should be a high quality rapid transit link. One that is cheap, compact and relatively simple to build, but can shuttle tens of thousands of people to where they need to be each day completely independent of traffic congestion.

What we really need is a crossing that can move several times as many people for half the cost. This should be possible with rapid transit: a two lane public transport tunnel would be far cheaper to build than a six lane motorway tunnel (not to mention all the associated interchanges and linkages), yet two lanes of rapid transit could carry at least twice as many people per hour than six lanes of motorway.

If we want a good cost-benefit return then it has to be public transport, the question is which form gives us the most benefit for an affordable cost.

We can probably discount a busway tunnel from the start. A bus tunnel would be relatively expensive due to the demands of ventilation and fire safety (although still miles cheaper than a motorway tunnel), yet the capacity, speed and level of service offered by a busway extension isn’t game changing. The same can be said for ‘light rail’ tramway. A electrified tram tunnel would be cheaper to build than a bus one and the capacity and service level would be better, but it’s probably still not going to give enough bang for buck. To be honest when dealing with public transport in Auckland we’re going to need a huge bang from a small buck to get one over the motorway lobby.

If we want a quantum leap in capacity, speed and service then it seems our harbour crossing needs to be based around a proper ‘heavy’ railway. However the issue once again returns to one of cost. The logical route for a North Shore rail line is to convert and extend the busway, however the grades and curves of the busway aren’t suitable for heavy rail design characteristics. So much of the busway would need to be completely rebuilt if it were to carry suburban trains, possibly with long sections in expensive tunnels. NZTA suggests the entire busway would need to be widened by three metres. The alternative of not using the busway corridor would probably mean building a new line entirely in tunnel. So constructing the train tunnel under the harbour would be relatively cheap (around $1.5 billion according to NZTA estimates), but once we add in the city side connections and North Shore extensions we can start ticking off the billions.

Admin has proposed one solution to this conundrum, suggesting that we could build the harbour rail tunnel and a heavy rail extension to Akoranga and Takapuna while leaving the busway as is. The idea is that bus passengers would continue to use the busway proper but transfer to a fast train at Akoranga for the remainder of the trip into the city, presumably until such time as we can afford to rebuild the busway as a rail line. This idea certainly has it’s merits but I doubt it could ever really work politically or garner much public support. In terms of a radio sound-bite, it is a plan to spend two billion dollars to add one new station at Takapuna. I can hear the words ‘boondoggle trainset’ already.

Driverless light-metro, ticking all the boxes at an affordable price?

What we really need is a rapid transit rail system that can run though a harbour tunnel, but also be cheaply retrofitted to the busway without any major reconstruction. It needs to provide top notch capacity and service with low operating costs, and ideally we should be able to build a whole North Shore network for less than the cost of a motorway crossing if we are really going to win over the public.

Readers of my previous post will know where I am going with this: Driverless light metro could be just the right combination for the North Shore. It’s cheap to build, cheap to run, yet fast, frequent and high quality. I’ve gone into the merits of this form of railway in a previous post, but I’ll quickly recap on what we’re talking about:

  1.  It’s driverless: Computerised operation removes the need for human drivers. This means the trains can run reliably at very fast headways without worrying about drivers missing signals. More importantly the lack of staff massively reduces marginal operating costs, and therefore allows high frequency service to be maintained all day and all night, seven days a week. I cannot stress enough this benefit, in Vancouver for example their Skytrain actually turns a small operational profit despite running every couple of minutes twenty hours a day.
  2.  It’s ‘light': These systems are specifically designed for urban rapid transit only, so the tracks aren’t limited to what heavy rail can handle. The system used in Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur can handle curves as tight as 35m radius and hills as steep as 1 in 10, or in other words tracks about four times as tight or steep as our regular railways. The vehicles themselves are relatively compact and use third rail power supply rather than overhead line, so tunnels and underpasses can be quite a bit smaller. This all makes it ‘light’ on infrastructure and ‘light’ on cost, but not light on performance. This is a huge plus in the North Shore context, tracks could be laid straight onto the busway without modification and new branches and extensions could be built easily in and around the existing urban fabric.
  3.  It’s metro: Again these systems are custom designed just to move people, providing high frequencies, high speed and comfortable capacious trains without delays or interference from freight or anything else. With a train arriving every few minutes at every station on the line it would provide as good a service as the metros of London, Paris or New York.

In summary, a light metro system on the North Shore could be as cheap to construct as a tramway, cheaper to operate each day than buses, yet provide greater capacity and service than even a full blown suburban railway. For well less than the cost of a motorway tunnel under the harbour we could have a whole metro network for the North Shore. Indeed it could also be the perfect mode for other areas of Auckland that have no rapid transit and similar constraints to building it, in particular the northwestern corridor, the upper harbour and southeast through Howick, Botany and Flatbush.

What would a North Shore light-metro cost?

As a benchmark for costs I will use the recent Canada line light-metro that was recently built in Vancouver (which despite the name is actually two lines, a main one and a branch to the airport). The total cost of this project was $2.054 billion in 2009 Canadian dollars, which equates to about NZ$2.95 billion today. This line is actually totally independent of the rest of the Vancouver Skytrain system as it was built using Korean technology that is slightly different to the rest of the network. As such it is a good representation of a complete ‘turnkey’ network like Auckland would have to build.

This three billion dollar sum bought a total of 18.4km of double-track line (comprising 9,080m in tunnel, 7,349m on elevated viaduct, 1,386m at grade and a bridge 614m long), one major junction, 16 stations (8 underground, 6 elevated, two at grade), a operations and maintenance facility, and twenty two-car automatic trains to run on it.

So this represents a cost of NZ$160 million per kilometre for all the track, trains, stations, tunnels, bridges and viaducts needed to build and run the line. As you can see most of the Canada Line was built in tunnel or elevated, so it really represents the top end of what we would pay in Auckland given that we already have most of the corridor available at-grade. Using this rough guide we can get a ball park figure of what light metro might cost on the North Shore.

Lets start with the harbour tunnel itself, a 3.2km link from Wynyard wharf to the vicinity of Onewa Rd interchange. NZTA have estimated this would cost about $1.5 billion to construct to heavy rail standards. For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to drop this back to $1 billion to account for the fact that light-metro can handle steeper grades, tighter curves and would have a much smaller cross section so would require substantially smaller diameter tunnel tubes.

Proposed light metro lines on the North Shore (black). Stars indicate station locations and purple lines are major bus corridors.

Next up is the brand new parts of the line. For the city side connection we’ll assume a 1.4km cut and cover tunnel from the corner of Wellesley and Albert St to the start of our harbour tunnel at Wynyard wharf. This includes two stations, one at Aotea and one at Wynyard. As an aside, the site we dig out for the Wynyard station would be the perfect spot to launch the machine that bores the harbour tunnel. From the northern portal of the harbour tunnel we have a line from Onewa up to Akoranga, then from Akoranga let’s continue across Barry’s Point and the adjacent inlet to terminate our branch at an underground station under Huron St in Takapuna. So that’s an extra 3.4km of track (mostly just widening the existing motorway causeway, but with some viaduct and underground) and two new stations at Onewa and Takapuna. Altogether our brand new track requires 4.8km of track with four new stations, applying the Canadian costing gives us a rough figure of $768 million for this section. Once again I will point out this is the average cost of Vancouver’s mostly tunnelled and elevated line, so probably well above the maximum we could expect running it along the motorway in Auckland.

After this we need to look at the busway. From Akoranga to Constellation is bang on 6km long, with four existing stations that would need some level of modification. To account for the fact that most of our infrastructure already exists I’m going to (somewhat arbitrarily) halve the cost of this section. $80 million per km should be sufficient to install track, power delivery and control systems and modify the station platforms. So my guestimate is that it would cost $480 million to refit the busway proper as a light metro line.

Next would have to be an extension of the line to Albany. For this I’m going to assume a 4km route through Albany to the existing park-n-ride station, mostly elevated with short sections at grade and perhaps a tunnelled section in Albany itself. I’m also assuming two new stations: one at Rosedale Rd, the other central to the Mega Centre/University/Mall. Furthermore we will probably locate our stabling facility in the industrial area somewhere near the new Rosedale station. Once more applying our costing figure gives us a price of $640 million for this extension.

Where next? Well the obvious route would be a branch from the vicinity of Constellation station along the SH18 corridor. For the moment we’ll stop at Greenhithe Rd, but eventually this branch could reach right across the upper harbour to Henderson and the Western Line. So here we’re looking at 4.5km of line, mostly elevated, with three new stations at Unsworth/Albany Industrial estate, Albany Highway and Greenhithe respectively. Using our reference figure this comes in at $720 million. A touch pricey for those few stations but I guess the real value would come with the subsequent extension over to west Auckland.

Right, to wrap that all up we are looking at a system of a three metro lines on the North Shore running through a harbour tunnel from the CBD to Takapuna, Albany and Greenhithe respectively. This is a total of 22.5km of double track metro rail (comprised of a 3.2km harbour tunnel, 13.3km of new route and 6km of refitted busway), with five upgraded interchange stations and ten brand new ones. That’s quite a system really, it should work fantastically with a combination of decent bus feeders, the odd park-n-ride and a little intensification around stations.

But the bottom line, how much would this cost? Well to add up these simple estimates we arrive at a maximum figure of $3.6 billion to cover everything, track, stations, tunnels, trains the lot. I realise this is a very basic analysis, but using these figures that’s only 70% of what is proposed for just a motorway tunnel from the lower North Shore to Spaghetti junction. So instead of a motorway tunnel we might be able to build this whole metro system and still have $1.4 billion left in the budget to upgrade the harbour bridge or extend our metro elsewhere! Of course three-point-six-billion is still a huge amount of money, so we could obviously start with the basics first. If we exclude the Takapuna and Greenhithe branches we get a figure of roughly $2.7 billion for the metro line from central Auckland to Albany, and just over two billion if we stopped at Constellation.

So how would it operate, what would it be like to use?

The figures for Bombardier’s ART light-metro trains show that under normal conditions they operate at a top speed of 80km/h and accelerate and brake at a rate of 1.0ms-1 (the can actually brake much quicker in an emergency, and if they are running behind they can boost speed to 90km/h in catch up mode). If we plug these figures and the spacing of the stations along our proposed lines into a little model we can work out what sort of travel times we could expect.

The main line from Albany to Aotea in the central city would take just 21 minutes from end to end. That’s a full 12 minutes faster than the current timetable of the Northern Express bus to Britomart, which doesn’t even take into account the effects of major traffic congestion in the city. It would be about the same time as driving off-peak, and much faster than driving during rush hour.

What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.

The line from Greenhithe to Aotea would take only 23 minutes all up. Right now the best option is the 956 bus using Upper Harbour Drive and the busway, that takes 49 minutes. So we’ve saved an amazing 26 minutes on this route, and again this is much faster than driving if there is any sort of congestion.

The last line between Takapuna and Aotea would take only 11 minutes from end to end. This is a massive improvement over existing bus links like the 839 and 875 that actually take 30 to 35 minutes to make the short trip! Slashing travel times between Takapuna and the CBD like this would have one very good outcome: it would allow the two centres to effectively operate as a single business district. Getting from Queen St to Takapuna by light metro would take you no longer than walking up to the university or catching the bus up to K Rd.

Fast travel times are all well and good, but not if you have to wait for ages to get a train in the first place. So what are the frequencies we could expect? Well if we again assume an equivalent number of trains as used in the costings we got from Vancouver’s Canada line we arrive at a figure of 24 two-carriage sets included in the price of our network.

Based on the travel times for the three lines above we can work out that a single set can make 1.4 return trips an hour to Albany, 1.3 per hour to Greenhithe and 2.7 to Takapuna. So our 24 sets are enough to provide a train every six minutes on each line, plus have a couple of sets in reserve for operations and maintenance.

A train every six minutes on those three lines is itself is a fantastic level of service, however it gets better. Because the lines overlap there would actually be a train every three minutes between Constellation and the city, and a train every two minutes through Akoranga, Onewa and Wynyard stations! That sort of frequency makes transfers a complete breeze. With computer control maintaining regular spacing you would never wait more than three minutes to transfer between any of the three lines. And if we recall the driverless operation allows us to affordably run the system at these headways all the time, these are the same frequencies and quick transfers you’d get at any time on any day of the week. Transferring to get from Albany to Takapuna would be just as painless at 2am on a Sunday morning as it would be on a weekday at peak hour.

But what about capacity? Could a light-metro system really move more people than a huge motorway?

In a nutshell, hell yes. A motorway lane hits the wall at approximately 2,000 vehicles per hour, so our motorway tunnel would have the capacity to carry only 6,000 vehicles per hour in the peak direction. At the usual levels of vehicle occupancy that’s a maximum of just 8,000 people per hour each way through the motorway tunnel.

So what of the metro? As we worked out above our light-metro system could easily operate under the harbour at one train every two minutes each way. With a comfortable capacity of 342 passengers per two-carriage train that works out to be 10,260 people per hour each way (and quite a bit more if we are happy to crush load people in like sardines).

So just using little two-carriage train sets we can carry more people than the motorway crossing, but as patronage increases we could very simply couple more pairs of carriages together to make longer trains. With four-carriage sets the peak hourly capacity would go up to 20,520 people, and with six-carriage sets we could move 30,720 people per hour. That’s almost four times as many people as the proposed motorway tunnel.

In other words a cheap twin track light-metro tunnel could move as many people as a motorway tunnel twenty-three lanes wide!

But there’s an even bigger gulf to consider. With a motorway crossing all those 6,000 vehicles per hour have to use the same old motorways and streets either side of the tunnel. All that extra traffic will still need to funnel down either the northern motorway, Esmonde Rd and Onewa Rds at one end, and through the to the southern and north-western motorways at the other. On the other hand our light-metro system includes the cost of new tracks right up to Albany, Takapuna and Greenhithe, so we could move tens of thousands more people per hour right across the Shore and the harbour without a single extra car on the motorway. In reality we’d probably see less considerably less cars on the motorway if it were so easy to get around without driving, plus all the buses would be redeployed to feed the local stations so there would be far fewer of them in congestion on the motorway (and some arterial routes) too.

In conclusion: huge benefits at more affordable price

So there we have it, a broad indication that a truly world class metro rail system could indeed be possible right across the North Shore for the sorts of costs that have been proposed for a harbour crossing.

NZTA really should look at realistic alternatives to a hugely expensive motorway tunnel under the harbour, given that a motorway that would only further entrench Auckland into a spiral of traffic congestion and parking issues. If we do want to spend billions of dollars on transport under the harbour then why not spend it on a light-metro system that will have far greater benefits and a lower cost?

Transit Station 26 Jan 2012

As there’s been a lot of discussion about population density here I figure this post from good ol’ Cap’nTransit is on the money. Yes this is my view too, you think more density is needed? Well build the transit and the density will follow [all else being equal], foolish to try to wait for some ideal density then meet that demand with infrastructure. Transit supply is causative. Or as the Cap’n says: ‘The population density to support my ass’

Here are two interesting posts on Twitter and Transit. One beautiful the other more for the quants. Both instructive.

The second is via Atlantic Cities where there is also this argument for High Speed Rail in the Union’s most populous State, California. Newt of the GOP has been banging on about the US heading back to the moon in some kind of pissing contest with China, but frankly if they can’t even get a train to run from SF to LA and any decent speed I think he’ed better dodge that race. *Note for Geoff: These arguments here for HSR are intended as a metaphor for local arguments for urban transit, not as a literal argument for HSR in NZ. Same things apply, land use transformations, economic return not a financial one etc, but at a vastly different scale.

More from the States on gas prices [as they call them] and what to do, and for once this doesn’t involve bombing somewhere else or other wise frackin’ it all up.

Closer to home; no round up from me will be complete without at least a passing note on resource supply issues. As we head to the exciting singularity of peak damn near everything it’s good to see some people have their heads up. Here’s an introductory note from across the ditch, what I especially like about this is that it states a view that I also have, namely that it could just be that a world with less freely available oil may well be a lot better in a number of ways; once we’ve made the adjustment. Like London after the peasoup smog and mountains of horse-shit. I’m also guessing less isolation, more localiasation, more human interaction, less alienation. Perhaps more meaningful lives. Perhaps.

There’s also this guy, Denis Tegg, I know nothing about him but he has been manfully plugging away on this issue in NZ for a while and here he is bringing an important shelved report to the surface. I say manfully because there is a really creepy silence on this issue and Climate Change in the mainstream media and in government in NZ. It’s like if we don’t mention these problems they’ll just go away.

Look away Actoids! Here’s a well reasoned piece on the attractions and limitations of neoliberalism. It’s short too. Relevant how? Transit like our cities need long term planning, by elected bodies. The market is a great tool, but a lousy master, and an even worse god. As I think we’ve just seen.

Those interested in the strange ways that change can happen will like this. Why the US Marine Corp may well lead the US into a solar future.

Back to transit, and more personally; I have new wheels, yay! and loving it, but won’t be going to these extremes to protect them. No.