As Auckland develops I find it’s always useful to compare how Auckland performs in relation to other similar cities around the world. It allows us to see what they do well and what they don’t and use that information to guide us in making our city better. There are two cities we frequently use as examples Vancouver and Perth. Both cities are larger than Auckland – 2.4 million and 1.9 million respectively – on average have less population density (not that I particularly like that measure) and have similar levels of CBD employment as Auckland. Both cities have also invested quite a bit in public transport over the last 30 or so years. Vancouver has built their Skytrain system after having no rail network at all while Perth started out with a diesel network carrying about the same number of passengers our network currently does, it has electrified and expanded the system considerably and patronage has grown. They even managed to find a city to sell their old trains to (us).
But with this post I want to suggest a new city we should be adding to the comparison list – Calgary.
So why Calgary? Well first of all unlike the two cities already mentioned which have larger populations than Auckland- and therefore are useful to compare where Auckland might be in 20-30 years’ time, Calgary’s population is slightly smaller at about 1.15 million. Yet over the last 30 years the two cities have shown remarkably similar growth with Auckland’s population having increased by 81% while Calgary’s increased by 85%.
Like the other cities mentioned, on average Calgary is also less dense than Auckland and being on a river plain there is little geographically to stop development from spreading in all directions. It does seem to have a slightly higher share of its population work in the CBD but the numbers are on par Auckland if you included the fringe areas like Newmarket, the Hospital etc. Further if you look at the CBD from satellite maps you can see massive amounts of car parking on otherwise empty sites all around the city. So by most measures you would expect that Calgary would perhaps perform fairly similarly to Auckland when it comes to public transport – and by similar I mean poorly. But it doesn’t as you can see from the graph below (note the big dip in 2001 was due to an almost two month strike).
When you combine the population and PT boarding’s you can see that the key difference between the two cities is that Calgary managed to slightly increase its per capita PT boarding’s while in Auckland the number more than halved in the 10 years from 1984 to 1994.
What was different between the two cities that meant Calgary was able to keep its PT system performing and improving while in Auckland things went through the floor? I’m sure there are quite a range of reasons however one of the most obvious has been the effort that has been put into developing a rapid transit network for the city. Starting in 1981 the city built its first light rail line and have expanded it quite a bit since then. But this isn’t just an old school street running tram system, like the one that used to exist in Auckland but a rail network that runs on exclusive right of ways through much of the urban area with occasional level crossings. In many parts it runs in the median or to the side of motorways, much like the Northern Express. The only place that the system runs in the street other than a level crossing is through the CBD where the route is only shared with buses and emergency vehicles. The Calgary Transit site has a useful history of the system showing how it has been frequently been extended.
1978 – construction of the first leg of the CTrain began.
1981 The 10.9 km south line from Anderson Road to 7 Avenue S.W. was officially opened on May 25.
1985 – Service commenced on the northeast leg of the CTrain. The northeast, 9.8 km line extends from the east end of 7th Avenue, across the Bow River and northeast to Whitehorn Station.
1987 – The third leg of the CTrain system was completed in the northwest. The northwest line extends from the west end of 7th Avenue, across the Bow River and north to the University of Calgary.
1990 – The northwest leg was extended to Brentwood Station, increasing the line to 6.6 km.
2001 – The south CTrain line was extended to Canyon Meadows (2.0 km) and to Fish Creek Lacombe (1.4 km.
2003 – The northwest CTrain line was extended to Dalhousie (3.0 km).
2004 – The southwest CTrain line was extended to Shawnessy and Somerset/Bridlewood (3.0 km).
2007 – The northeast CTrain line was extended to McKnight-Westwinds (2.9 km).
2009 – The northwest CTrain line was extended to Crowfoot (2.2 km).
2012 – The northeast CTrain line was extended to Martindale and Saddletowne (2.9 km).
2012 – The West LRT CTrain line opened, between downtown and 69 Street W (8.2km).
The map below shows the reach of the system with each colour representing one of the extensions above, the most recent of which was less than a year ago.
Calgary Transit doesn’t break down the patronage by mode but some figures they do release suggest that the LRT system accounts for 50-60% of all PT trips. The LRT network is also supported by a bus network that has a similar design to what Auckland Transport is about to roll out with buses that connect into stations and allow transfers rather than try to be everything to everyone.
But it hasn’t just been a case of extending the LRT network as Calgary has also focused a on a number of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs). The one in the image below is a place called Saddletowne, a greenfield site at the end of the North East line. The satellite images cut off half way the centre through however you can quite clearly see the beginnings of a town centre (looks like a strip-mall though) next to the station. Houses radiate out from it. The LRT line was extended to the town centre just over a year ago and a recent study suggests that over 8,700 begin or end at the station every day with 63% of people getting to the station by walking. To put it in perspective, that is busier than Newmarket. What’s more you can quite clearly see that the city has planned for potential future expansion by leaving a corridor of development heading north for the next sprawl suburb.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Calgary is how they are planning for future PT expansion. They have just completed a 30 year plan called Route Ahead which looked at exactly how they will expand and improve the PT system. But this wasn’t just planners deciding how they will develop the system but they involved the public all the way along, including what corridors and modes would be used. Most of the plan is fairly typical including stuff about how people will access the system, what the customer experience will be etc. As part of the process they have created and published a future RTN map showing how they intend to connect the rest of the city up with a comprehensive system of LRT, BRT and Transitway (Bus Lanes).
Now this on its own isn’t unique and many cities have these types of plans however the thing that interested me the most was that the city is planning to fast track a large proportion of the network over the next 10 years. That plan also includes starting to build the patronage on what will be the third pair of LRT lines but starting off initially with a cheaper BRT solution. The future RTN and the 10 year fast tracked system is below.
Why this is so interesting is that it is a similar approach we have suggested that needs to be taken in Auckland with the Congestion Free Network. We have shown a vision for how we could develop a high quality RTN network that covers much of the city that is a fraction of the price of the massive roading spend up planned and have said that we should fast track it to really reap the benefits. By doing so we could quickly get a much greater balance in out transport system giving Aucklanders some real choice in how they get around.
The development of places like Saddletowne – while not perfect – also provide an example of what we should be doing with the greenfield Special Housing Areas recently announced. If we have to sprawl then we should at least be trying to do a much better job of it than we have in the past by designing them right from the start to be easy to serve with public transport.
The one thing that is clear from the example of Calgary is that the on-going development of an RTN quality service has been absolutely critical in the performance of their PT network and making it attractive to use by a large number of people. Auckland didn’t really start developing its RTN until 2003 with Britomart, over 20 years later. Further, to get to where they are now (and what they are doing in the future) they have put effort into creating an easily understood vision and getting the public on-board. I firmly believe that if AT/the council were to present a comprehensive vision for PT in Auckland like we have done with the Congestion Free Network then many of the conversations and arguments we as a city would be having would be quite different. They would largely turn away from bickering about individual projects to discussions about how we get if built sooner.