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Traffic’s fine, free the streets for people

Auckland’s city centre is currently undergoing change on scale possibly never seen before and nowhere more so than around Albert St with the construction of the City Rail Link underway. Streets have been narrowed or in some places cut off completely. As I’ve talked about before, it has felt that the massive reduction in vehicle capacity hasn’t had any negative impact times for vehicles with roads still seeming to flow about as well as they did before the CRL works started. Although it feels that this has come at the expense of pedestrians who now have to wait longer at lights, something I’ll talk about later in this post.

One of the best examples of just how much road capacity has been taken out of the city centre is from the corner of Albert and Customs streets. The layout is being changed regularly and so what you see below from early November is not how it is now, but the level of capacity available is the same. There’s just one each way lane east-west on Customs, one lane southbound only on Albert south of Customs and only northbound lanes on Albert north of customs.

Looking south to the Albert/Customs intersection – via emergingauckland.org.nz

Despite official predictions of chaos for drivers, anecdotal observations from many us suggested this was simply not happening. Now AT have created a report called the ‘City Centre Network Operations Monthly Report’ showing just what the impact has been and it seems our observations were correct. This report is for October 2016 but I also understand this report may become published monthly in the future too.

You can often tell an organisations priorities based on what areas they focus their reporting on, and in this case, the first and biggest section focuses on vehicle speeds and volumes. As you can see below, vehicle volumes into the CBD over the course of the day remain almost identical to what they were in October 2015 which was before the works started, just slightly down in the morning peak. Yet despite the massive loss of road capacity, speeds on the road network have actually gone up. The series of speedo graphs on the right hand side show in more detail the results for a number of major roads. Essentially if the dial is in the blue the route is faster than it was last year and the numbers show that only Customs St was slower.

cbd-monitoring-report-2016-10-speeds-and-volume-dashboard

One aspect I wasn’t aware of is that there is resource consent condition around vehicle delays being no more than 10 minutes compared to what they were before construction. It’s crazy that one mode has conditions like this put on it while the other modes don’t. Especially so to put it on the mode that is the least efficient way of moving people and that is less than half of all AM peak trips. These are metrics looked at on second page of the report. As a note, the report talks about people movement rather than just vehicles so it means with vehicles counting the number of passengers too.

This next page is frankly a jumbled mess, even putting aside the silly clip-art image. We’ve got a graph showing that a breakdown of trips to the CBD in the AM peak by mode. This also shows that the numbers are growing slightly. But by focusing on the people arriving in the city, there is a major omission of the number of people who live in the CBD already and so aren’t counted in these numbers. With the CBD population now over 40,000 and growing rapidly this is an important segment to include as will likely made a big difference on the in discussions on projects like the Victoria St Linear Park that AT want to squeeze up to fit more cars.

cbd-monitoring-report-2016-10-mode-splits

Speaking of pedestrians, one of the reasons for why travel speeds have improved is that in many intersections it appears that the signals have been adjusted to give greater priority to vehicles. We know that the double phasing on Queen St was removed and it appears that pedestrians are now having to wait longer at other intersections too. We need to get this changed and have more priority for people. This is even more important as pedestrian volumes are increasing according to the automated counters that Heart of The City have. As you can see below those counters are showing an 11% increase for the quarter to 30 September over the same time the year prior.

hotc-ped-report-2016-10

Also thinking long term, these results show that AT and the council can afford to be bolder on the future design of our streets in the city. After the CRL works finish, is there really a need to rush roads like Albert St back to unabated vehicle priority. The current construction works, and those in the future, present us huge opportunities to allow us to change the space allocation in the city.

Cities are ultimately about people and so it’s important we build our cities to support people.

40 comments to Traffic’s fine, free the streets for people

  • Nick R

    The ped counts are interesting, 16 million counts in September means upwards of half a million pedestrains a day triggering the counters. Clearly some of those are double counts of the same person making a longer walk, but also its clear there must be many more pedestrian trips each day in the CBD that don’t pass a counter site.

    I wonder if anyone has ever tried to measure or compute the figure? Would love to compare that to vehicle and PT trips, presumably it dwarfs both put together?

    Its not hard to see where the numbers come from. WIth 40,000 people an hour entering the CBD, all those on PT, foot and cycle and most of those in the car will end up making two pedestrian trips (if only from the carpark building to the workplace). That adds up to hundreds of thousands of pedestrian trips across the day. Add in the 40,000 who already live there, presumably they make at least one, if not several, return trips on foot a day around the city.

    • Ari

      The telecom companies that track all our movements could provide that information, but they probably won’t share for business reasons.

      I think AT has done well to manage traffic in the CBD as they have a team looking after the CBD specifically. But it also highlights to an extent that private vehicle traffic just adjusts to the situation and “disappears”

    • There was a vote to recommend support funding of a Smart Cities initiative at yesterday’s City Centre Advisory Board. One of the features of this is lots of sensors and real-time monitoring to capture true pedestrian counts all across the city.

      • zer0

        Is this the joint AC/LINZ project? Do you have links to any resources about it? I’d be very interested to see how they plan to go about it.

        • There was some spoken elaboration and it was partly in response to maintenance issues but also to comments about the plight of pedestrians in the city centre, and that we needed better data , probably to be able to question some of the assumptions around the modelling that is used to prioritise cars, rather than pedestrians.

          p24 of the ACCAB agenda:

          Smart Cities ($500,000): This is a proposal to bolster Auckland City Centre’s capacity in
          integrated information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT)
          solutions, to manage the city’s assets. The primary objective of the Smart City programme
          will be implementing a suite of initiatives that will improve the efficiency of services and allow
          Council and the Community to monitor city infrastructure; what is happening in the city and
          how the city is evolving, to meet business, residents and visitor needs. Through the use of
          sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, data collected, then processed and
          analyzed will assist decision making on:
           operational and tactical coordination,
           strategy implementation; and
           project delivery.
          If the proposal is supported in principle by ACCAB, a full business case will be brought to the
          board in February.

  • Ricardo

    Ask any courier company about your opening statement. It has become virtually impossible to traverse the city in any reasonable period of time. Street closure and restrictions have made delivery of goods more time and money consuming. Next you’ll be telling us that closing all streets is a great idea and then set up traffic counters and claim very few cars use those streets so everything must be ok. Seems a commercial head or understanding is missing in these blogs.

    • Sailor Boy

      So as many cars get through as before and do so faster yet that is bad??

    • *in movie trailer voice*
      In a world where black is white, where the sky is green and the sun rises in the west lives a man named Ricardo*

      Seriously did you not even read ATs info, traffic speeds have increased. As for business, it’s booming. Retail for example is up 9.5% https://twitter.com/pippacoom/status/806323120143409152

    • Alex F

      No it’s about freeing up the roads for traffic that actually need it. In cities with heavy traffic restrictions there are exemptions for service vehicles. The whole point of this exercise is to deter private vehicles that have no business being there in the first place.

    • Haha, I assume it would not be you that would be providing the ‘commercial head’ Richard. You often talk on here about how you have traveled to Australian cities, so presumably you would have seen the proliferation of cycle couriers such as Deliveroo in the Melbourne and Sydney CBDs, this is how you deliver stuff efficiently in a spatially constrained area. Also I’d ask one of the courier drivers you talk to regularly which of O’Connell and High Streets they would prefer to do a delivery on, I think that answer will tell you everything you need to know.

    • This is where smart cities are shifting to first/last mile cargo bike based logistics for more time and cost efficient delivery and offering true door-to-door service.

    • MikeG

      There is also a lot of construction work going on in the cbd unrelated to the CRL that is having an effect on traffic. The Steven Joyce Memorial Convention Centre is a case in point – currently lanes are blocked off on Nelson and Hobson Streets while they dig a vast car park (that won’t help reduce the traffic congestion in the future) and the dozens of trucks to/from the site adding to the traffic.

      • This is a good point. There is an unprecedented building boom going on in the city right now, which inevitably generates unusually high amounts of traffic, often with heavy vehicles, yet still the the very considerably reductions in road capacity have have caused the complete reverse of any problems.

        The traffic engineering emperor is now proven to be completely naked: The answer to city traffic is to take space away from it, it will reduce its the important core. I know this seems counterintuitive, and against the religion of that caste of professionals, but that’s what the evidence shows….

    • Josh

      I’m sure we as a city will grow up, and deal with it like all other major cities. Big parcels may get delivered slightly slower or during service delivery hours, but the urgent (normally smaller doc’s etc) will get delivered by bike.

  • Sailor Boy

    Don’t worry, we get for lanes back on victoria street soon. Never mind the whacking great metro station below.

  • Jon_K

    I’m curious about why the big drop in Federal St numbers. I never used the street much myself, but obviously it was heavily utilised last year… Same thoughts about 261 Queen.

    High St is interesting… Highly constrained thoroughfare with that degree of pedestrians – Come on High St dinosaurs, it’s not about street parking!

  • Sam L

    It might be free flowing for private cars but bus services are absolutely terrible (with the exception of the ones that have been moved from the CBD) – most notably the Link services. Waiting half an hour or more is now routine for a service that is intended to run six times per hour. AT should have the balls to actually free up more space for these bus routes.

  • The Real Matthew

    What we are seeing here is the result of a few factors.

    1. Traffic Auckland wide has never been worse. I have a friend who just this morning took 3 hours 55 minutes to commute from Hamilton to Auckland!! That’s indicative of what is a daily struggle for Aucklanders to just get to/from where they want to go. Auckland is grinding to a halt due to excessive traffic obstructions, the lack of green light corridors etc. I’m not at all surprised CBD traffic is improved, nobody can get to the CBD!!

    2. The University of Auckland semester finished on October 21. The University is a large contributor to inner-city traffic levels. Take out a week and a half of uni traffic and it takes the whole month down.

    3. Some inner-city workers will have switched modes ahead of the impending doom. The cost of this switch is borne on their businesses and themselves and is not reflected in the increase in retail sales.

    • Harrymc

      “nobody can get to the CBD!!” and yet it’s full of more people than ever before. Now how does that work?
      More ‘truthiness’ from planet TRM.

    • 1. Yep your single piece of ancedata is a much better indicator of the state of things than actual data collected (including outside the CBD)
      2. The results compare Oct-16 to Oct-15 so yes a completely different times of year
      3. The data shown only goes back to about a year before works even started, how can it be trusted. And of course switching modes can never result in a benefit to people and businesses can it. For example who would want to catch a quick eastern line train only minutes from the CBD over sitting in traffic for perhaps 30 mins to an hour.

      Lol, is that the best you can do?

      • I think a more realistic scenario goes as follows
        → it takes 20 minutes to drive to town
        → something happens, causing congestion to increase and now it takes 60 minutes to drive to town (*)
        → switch to taking the bus, which takes 50 minutes

        Note how the bus scenario is still 20 minutes slower than the original travel time. For a commuter that will make your working day 40 minutes longer, plus potentially any time you lose waiting for non-frequent services on your journey. I can assure you that having convenient PT service as you describe, is a very expensive luxury these days.

        (*) my observation from living in the CBD the past year: there’s definitely points where delays got worse (Mayoral Drive towards Albert Street during the AM peak for instance) but nothing too dramatic. I think sitting on any bus along that corridor sucks rocks though, as buses are caught up in this delay as well. There were a few weeks of noticeably worse congestion around Hobson Street after the cycleway went in and 2 lanes car were removed in some places, but that mostly returned to normal. Overall, given the apparently huge reduction in capacity, it’s quite impressive how little extra congestion there is, and it’s indeed a telling sign that the streets in the CBD are [to put it politely] a little bit overbuilt.

        I don’t know where the extra travel time coming in from outside the city came from, but a likely suspect is all the residential developments going on at the edge of the city (Warkworth, Millwater, Long Bay, etc in the north)

    • Your right about Auckland traffic never having been worse, but I think it has more to do with there being too many cars on the road at once more than anything else. Presumably green corridors in one direction would simply create more red corridors in the direction running perpendicular, it’s hard to defeat the realities of time and space.

  • So in the AM peak AKL in 2016 has a 46% driving modeshare and falling
    In Sydney in 2012 it was 14% and falling.
    It’s pretty clear that AKL has only just begun the shift away from the car as City Centre access mode, this is a clear function of scale, growth, and city-ness. I expect it getting down to 20% fairly quickly, especially once the CRL is running, so say mid 2020s:

  • Jeff T

    The respondents to the AA’s recent survey on issues related to the construction activities were predictably concerned about vehicle movement. I hope the street work’s being managed well. The lower Albert Street section to the right in the top photo I walk past most mornings seems to be nothing more than a depot and worker carpark. But I guess the gear has to go somewhere.

  • The great news with all this traffic chaos in Auckland is that the government’s priority is to build a motorway somewhere near Wellsford. The ramification is that most Aucklanders will be able to travel to Wellsford faster than they will to the airport. If only as many people wanted to go to Wellsford as go to the airport this would be a perfect outcome.

    I note that the man who has come up with this wondrous project now has control over a huge amount of unallocated capital expenditure.

    And 7 billion for roading projects. With tight controls over carbon omissions how will this help the country meet its targets?

    I assume that when we build roads now we price in the carbon tax ?

  • The recent vast increase of people using the NEX service suggests that many from the North Shore have concluded that it is too hard to drive into the city. The fact that these people seem to be coping just fine suggests that maybe we don’t need as many inner city roads for private cars as we thought we did.

  • Thanks for that information about the resource consent and the ten minute rule for vehicles. Its a disgrace that this applies to only one mode and it is evident in many areas that AT has a disdain for public transport.

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