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50 Years of waiting for an Auckland Rapid Transit system.

Ian Reynolds 1946 by Brian Brake

My father, Ian Reynolds 1922-2005, was an architect (as was my mother). He was also a what was then called a Town and Country Planner. After returning from working in England after the war he spent the rest of his career as partner in a big multidisciplinary practice in Auckland (missing the city of his youth: Wellington. Office in Wakefield St, where the AUT business school is now). There he was responsible for a chunk of our post-war modernist heritage, as well as a lot of planning work. Especially at the University of Auckland, master-planning the campuses and involved in the campaign to retain the city one, which thankfully won out. Notable design work includes the School of Engineering and the Thomas Building both on Princess St, his practice also designed the School of Architecture while he was head of the architectural division.

In 1967, which is of course now 50 years ago, he was interviewed by the Herald about transport in Auckland (in full below). And it makes for a pretty interesting read, surprisingly relevant still, perhaps alarmingly so. I’m pretty sure his 1967 self would be very surprised that we are only now getting round to building the Rapid Transit Network he describes from the De Leuw Cather report. Although later of course he witnessed the defeat of Robbie’s Rail, and much else that should have given life to the 1960s plans for balanced transport networks. The interview shows a clear vision of that possibility, and how that would have led to a different more urban pattern of development for Auckland than we currently have:

Readers will no doubt feel that indeed; some apples don’t fall very far from the tree, yet re-reading this I am amazed now at how little I ever discussed these issues with Ian. I think on his side that was because of a sorrow felt by the idealistic modernists of his generation about the development of Auckland in the later part of the last century. Interestingly for many there was a move into environmentalism from urbanism (not that either phrase were current at the time) as centrally directed motorways and private land speculation took over completely from state planning and housing investment. Perhaps that is where this generation’s lasting legacy can be seen. Especially evident in the careers of two of Ian’s colleagues; captured perfectly in this obituary of planner FWO Jones (known even to us kids as ‘Fwo’) and the just recently deceased KRTA partner Dave Thom, who was very active in the national parks programme, and in making the theoretical case for environmentalism as a core practice of engineering internationally.

But it must be remembered that the denser city was always considered the necessary corollary to the protected wilderness, as this keeps the city from spreading so much into the country. The term sprawl is after all the shortened version of urban sprawl. His generation did achieve much in protecting key wild places, but I think Ian keenly felt that on urban form they suffered a life long defeat. So it would be good to show him Auckland now, the last ten years since his death have seen a profound change. I think he would be gratified by many of the trends; the full return of the university to the city, the strong revival of inner city living (though not so much the design of many of the buildings), the rail revival (he was a dedicated train user; taking the overnight train to Wellington regularly instead of flying, which he loathed, he was also an equally dedicated pipe smoker; which got him in the end).

There is so much that is still accurate in the document, both happily and otherwise, I think he is right both about our relative lack of corruption and waste, but also the dominance of political expediency over good policy in transport and urban form:

Here he refers to the ‘Morningside Deviation’ the 1940s version of the CRL suffering the same fate (see here for earlier schemes):

It is important to remember that at the time of the interview the population of Auckland was around half a million, so the arguments then are even more pressing now there’s another million souls living here. And some concerns have disappeared completely, such ‘inner city decline’. Of course had the described bus/rail system been developed alongside the motorways the pattern of the city’s development would be different; less sprawl, more complexity, not radically different just less monotone. A city of greater variety and one less entirely dominated by traffic. One that pushes less aggressively into the surrounding countryside… Instead we have built one network entirely, the motorway system, and largely one developmental typology, low density dispersal, and the city is poorer for it. And now we must urgently add the missing complementary Rapid Transit Network, as those 1960s planners quite correctly foresaw would be required to prevent a road only system choking to death on its own overuse. At least as the city is three times the size it is so the cost is now affordable; if only we would stop so expensively adding to the one now complete system….

Sketching in Kendal 1950

32 comments to 50 Years of waiting for an Auckland Rapid Transit system.

  • Brian

    Lovely post Patrick.

    I think that for some it is only sinking in now how crucial the rapid transit network is to Auckland’s future and how the lack of investment in strategic PT corridors sits behind the vast transport problems that we face.

    Much of our investment to date has either been in corridor specific no-brainers or for rail network upgrades that required a somewhat partisan/nostalgia approach to get over the line.

    Much of this partisan divide on PT seems to have gone now as its need is so obvious. Sadly it still pops up occasionally, like the sad opposition to LRT.

  • Waspman

    Reading your last paragraphs conclusion is so very logical and blindingly obvious to anyone who takes an interest in transport, as it has been since the failure of our motorways only policy had showed us even by the 1970’s.

    Which begs the question, what the hell is this current government thinking and why can they not learn from what your father spoke of way back then?

  • Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington Wellington

    Corn flakes corn flakes corn flakes cornflakes…

    Can NZTA become more open please ;-D

  • mfwic

    Thanks for posting that Patrick, it was very interesting. He criticised the motorway ring as leaving too tight a city centre. 25 years ago one of the people involved at the National Roads Board at the time told me De Leuw Cather wanted a much wider ring running through Eden Park built to motorway operating speed. It was the local Wellington people who opted for the final result of a tighter ring with reduced motorway ramp speeds. De Leuw put it in the final report for them.

    • My understanding was that DLC recommended that what is now SH20 be built first and designated SH1, ie a city bypass, and that is consistent with theory of the period, but fear that ‘no one’ would then use the tolled Harbour Bridge was one of the main reasons for directing SH1 up the middle. As well as for ‘slum clearance’ (Freeman’s Bay!), and because city retailers, daft as ever, thought they would prosper on car uses (which of course completely failed).

      And he’s is surely right that the city centre suffers terrible severance and constraint from the motorway noose. It’s tighter than the old medieval city walls that so many cities demolished for that very reason: Paris, Vienna, London.

      • mfwic

        Maybe. I think the slum clearance was a major driver for the Auckland City Council. That was in vogue at the time. They wanted rid of houses that were seen as poorly built, many of which still used the old night soil system. But I also think there was a fear that an outer ring would kill the city centre. The ring we have does sever the areas just outside but it also gave the inner part the best accessibility of anywhere in the region. Remember they were planning for a population of 1 million in the region and they wanted shoppers in the cbd. The old Auckland City Council (pre 1989) always had Councillors who were shop keepers. People like your High Street friends who were not always focussed on what was best for the region but on options they thought would keep their tills full. Their fear was the malls and new suburban centres, so their strategy was access the existing cbd and parking buildings.

        • Yes, but those retailers were (and those that still repeat that mantra remain), wrong, as driving and parking very nearly killed the city, in fact did kill most of the retailers, with the remarkable exception of Smith and Caugheys; the only one without a dedicated and subsidised car parking structure… I know this was the zeitgeist, but by being so extreme in AKL, ripping out the trams, running down the rail (no city stations at all) to invisibility, and running buses badly and stuck in traffic (banned from Queen St), the city suffered from the worst of the side effects of low productivity auto-only dispersal. And subsequently the inevitable traffic congestion.

          It is important not to judge the past too much with hindsight, but above you can see it being outlined at the time. Also we must move on, so the important issue is what to do now? How about we stop doubling down on the this big mistake of only one system? Ok so we didn’t build the two systems together and thereby shape the city differently, but it did still densify, massively, so isn’t it even more urgent to add the missing mode now, if for no other reason than to keep our existing one moving?

          We did’t do it concurrently, so we need to do it serially. And please do it consciously, so urgently, without delay, by no longer diverting $billions into low return motorway boondoggles like East/West, simply because thats what our transport institutions and the private sector are used to doing…

          • mfwic

            I agree with everything you have written there. Rail has always needed funding and political will at the same time and this is the first time it has had both at once. When I was at Auckland City Council we were not allowed to remove any carparks from Queen St (as if any customers actually parked there). The Council also opposed any additional buses in Queen St as the Councillors thought the fumes and noise would do more to degrade the shopping than any advantages the buses in Queen St would bring. Neither of those policies came from officers they were from Councillors. My only point is we have what we have because elected people wanted it that way.

          • Yes, which is why I am enthusiastic about the local gov amalgamation; it has pushed the local idiots in charge further from the detail in a mostly beneficial way. Given scale and connected thinking to region wide issues such as land-use and transport. One example; we now have one organisation in charge of streets and running the buses, this is surely a wild improvement. Previously we had the regional council to manage and pay for the buses and the Councils, run by shopkeepers and used car salesmen, controlling the streets. Result; useless, slow, and expensive to run buses and lots of daft on street parking that did not achieve what the petit retailers imagined; booming businesses. Just a failing and inefficient people-less city.

            Also; just cos we got dingbats in Council it doesn’t mean they did what the people wanted. Banks was a disaster for the city; sold assets at the bottom of the market, the C+R years largely were a catalogue of missed opportunity, mismanagement, and miserablism….

    • Peter Nunns

      Good conversation. Always good to have a link with the past, especially when there’s so much of importance that’s not written down in the published reports.

      John, if you’re ever interested in writing a post about the odd outcomes from a past decision that most people wouldn’t be aware of, drop us a line. Could be quite interesting.

  • Bigted

    Great post Patrick but I can’t help but wonder what Auckland would look like had the same councils that restricted sprawl had not made the infill housing so difficult and expensive to produce. Rapid transit would have been easier to implement within a more compact city.

    • Cars are faster than PT, so a spread out city definitely penalises the latter.

      Someone posted an example of commuting between Glen Eden and Manukau a while ago. That’s a 30 km commute, and since ‘rapid transit’ still only moves you at about 30 km/h that commute is always going to take an hour or more on PT.

      I have commuted from the city centre to the lower North Shore for a while. It was about 10 km, but since my office is some distance away from the NEX, the last leg is either a 20 minute walk, or a connection onto an (infrequent) local bus. Even in the best case, it takes 30 to 40 minutes. By car, it takes perhaps 15 to 20 minutes without congestion, up to 30 minutes given the congestion during the PM peak. Even in the worst of congestion it would never become slower than the best-case time on PT.

      Maybe more important is to have your businesses and other destinations clustered in places which can be served by PT. I guess that’s the pattern you see on the isthmus, where all the old “main streets” are where the tram lines used to be. If all those businesses and shops are scattered all over the place (which is the case on the North Shore), its game over for PT.

      • ‘Cars are faster than PT, so a spread out city definitely penalises the latter.’

        Only if you neglect to build a Rapid Transit Network, and if there is no traffic congestion. And in the absence of the former we are guaranteed the later.

        Here is what RT offer now fro Panmure, I guess that’s why people are using it in increasing numbers. On the Eastern Line, which the MoT predicted in its dismissal of rail and the CRL, ‘would never reach capacity’.

        • That graph assumes you’re already in Panmure station. That assumption is usually wrong. More likely you have to add, what, 30 minutes on top of that green and blue graph, to account for how long it takes to reach that station without a car. Those graphs will then end up well above that red graph.

          That’s what’s happening on Onewa Road. Local buses are really, really slow. For most of that area, despite the bus lane, driving to the CBD is faster than taking the bus. This is especially true if Britomart is not the final destination. And there’s no hope at all to reach either Takapuna or Albany in any reasonable time.

          Note also we in fact have rapid transit between Glen Eden and Manukau. Still slower than driving.

          As for improvements, there’s one thing we can do which is relatively quick and not monstrously expensive — making cycling more mainstream. Reportedly well underway on the isthmus, but in other areas there’s a long way to go.

          • Sailor Boy

            Your comment was “Cars are faster than PT”. One only needs to find one case where that isn’t true for your comment to be falsified.

            While your further points are spot on, it is important to qualify that statement as “[Currently, for the vast majority of trips in Auckland], Cars are faster than PT”

          • ‘what if’ you add half an hour and $40 dollars finding and paying for a car park in the city… we can play the ‘what if’ game all day, but it’s silly. Panmure works; look at the data.

            And as for Glen Eden-Manukau City; that’s why we campaign for a full Network, not just a few lines.

            I am arguing for what we should build and provide, you constantly complain about what there is now. I agree! It’s nowhere near good enough now, but there are parts that are working because of recent improvements and Panmure is surely exactly one of those. Does the bus and bike connectivity there need improvement? Yes, and it is coming, and should their be TODs around the station yes, and should the train service be consistently more frequent and for longer spans, including on weekends, yes. But those things can happen, especially if we fight for them, and, one of the most powerful means of doing this is to celebrate success from recent investment, is there a better argument?

          • Bigted

            roeland that always depends on where you are coming from and going to. As Patrick said about parking, if you know you have parking close to where you are going the car may be quicker but if you don’t it often won’t be. I live less than 10 minutes walk from a train station and up until 18 months ago worked less than 5 minutes walk from another but as I had guaranteed free parking outside the door of my workplace and it required a train change so I drove, had it been a single seat trip (like to the CBD) and I had not had parking provided it would have been likely to be quicker on the train.

      • Sometimes cars are faster than public transport. I used to walk 20 minutes to Akoranga to catch the NEX to Britomart and then walk 10 minutes to the office. Invariably this was quicker than driving as Esmonde Road is a huge obstacle. Certainly it was more healthy.

        Does Auckland need to have intensification around rapid transport stations? Yes it does and it is going to happen. Smales Farm is a classic example of what might be achieved.

      • “And there’s no hope at all to reach either Takapuna or Albany in any reasonable time.”

        I have absolutely no idea where you are coming from with this comment. At peak buses leave about every ten minutes from the Civic to go directly to Takapuna. Is the trip as fast as it should be -no. One lane of Esmonde should be T3. The travel time is still acceptable.

        If we are talking Takapuna to the Civic the trip is normally no more than 20 minutes only held up by lights at the corner of Burns; 50m of missing bus lane; and the strange decision to allow Napier St as a through way. (All of this is just rubbish and if AT had a reasonable commitment to public transport it would have been fixed. Compare with the current work on Fred Thomas Drive where the only purpose of this road seems to be as a motorway feeder. Yes it is the route to Akoranga Station but current bus lanes result in a poor outcome.

        Should there be better transport to Takapuna ? Definitely there should because predictions are that the population will triple and 140k odd people will simple be unable to pass out of the area in a car along Esmonde Road.

        • Sailor Boy

          I think Roeland was meaning Onewa Road area to Takapuna or Albany which I can confirm is hopeless having lived near Highbury shops for about 6 months and in Bayview for about the same.

          • Yeah that was unclear. I meant the area around Birkenhead.

            AT really dropped the ball there. We’ve got planned intensification but no frequent bus line in Northcote. I’m not sure how quickly that new network can be changed, but if that intensification goes ahead it will be needed soon. Birkenhead – Northcote – Smales Farm – Takapuna seems the perfect route for a north shore link. There will be some pain figuring out how to cross the motorway during rush hour though. The Northcote road overpass becomes more or less impassable.

          • Sailor Boy

            Generally Passing across that bridge is OK, it’s getting onto the motorway that is terrible.

      • JimboJones

        I doubt there are many people in Auckland that could get to work quicker by PT than by car.
        But there are other benefits like:
        * Cost savings
        * Ability to do other things (read a book, go to a pub)
        * Fitness (from walking to / from services)
        But hassles like:
        * Cant easily go out during work (e.g. if you need to pick something up)
        * Expensive for multiple people going to the same place (e.g. families)
        * Anything run by a council is bound to be bad

        Personally I think Auckland is a long way away from having usable PT where you are better off without a car.

        • Buttwizard69420

          You’re missing the biggest one: time. The start of a car journey looks like this: 1) Get in the car. PT journey times need to be measured by the time spent on the whole journey, not just the time you get on an actual service, and that includes time taken from the front door and waiting for the bus/train, not just from when you get on.

  • JDELH

    The best thing is the quality of prose in Reynolds Snr’s piece. No waffle.

    • You’re not wrong; he could write almost as well as he could draw; and he really could draw.

      And I’m assuming these were written answers to submitted questions rather than a verbal interview transcribed…seems more likely.

      • Warren S

        Transport policy itself has a bigger impact on transport patterns and urban quality than many earlier urban planners realized. Suburbs don’t have to be totally reliant on the car and with the proper provision of alternative public transport many families may be able manage with one car instead of one car for each family member as is frequently the case.

        If you are interested to read a case study of how Auckland got itself into this motor vehicle congestion mess I recommend the book “Transport for Suburbia – Beyond the Automobile Age” by the Australian academic from Monash University, the late Paul Mees. He outlines in detail the conspiracy engineered by Professor Kenneth Cumberland, head of Geography at Auckland University from 1946 to 1980 and the Chairman of Auckland City Council’s Town Planning Committee plus the Auckland City Engineer to ensure that motorways took absolute priority.

        Mees book was reviewed some two or three years ago on this blog and has been referred to from time to time by Peter Nunns. It is a great companion read to Patrick’s post above

        • Linz

          “with the proper provision of alternative public transport many families may be able manage with one car instead of one car for each family member as is frequently the case.”

          A major factor in exacerbating inequality. Transit-poor, far-flung suburbs condemn our poorest communities to a poverty cycle by requiring families to run multiple cars, often paid for by borrowing while depreciating to worthlessness.

      • Linz

        Handsome bugger, too 🙂

  • Paul

    I’d have to say here that Wellington got an efficient public transport system largely by accident. If it was a flat expanse it’d be just as poorly served as Auckland Christchurch or Hamilton. Thankfully Auckland will eventually get something half decent. The CRL is a start interesting to read all of the above habits of travel will change with time, now if we could only stop the sprawl in every direction…..

    • Dave B (Wellington)

      I don’t think Wellington got its good public transport by accident, except perhaps for parts of the rail network which were a legacy inheritance. The good public transport was implemented by far-sighted and conscious decision on the part of policy-makers in the past. Auckland also had good public transport at one time, but a catalogue of retrograde decisions by policy-makers more recently ensured that much was lost and from then on, only roads got developed.

      In common with hundreds of cities over most of the English-speaking world, Wellington also suffered this mismanagement, but to a lesser extent than Auckland, Christchurch or Hamilton. Even this fact I don’t think can be put down to accident. The evisceration of public transport could easily have been worse in Wellington also, had a few far-sighted decision-makers not stood their ground.

      Unfortunately the current major push for highway-expansion in Wellington, and the continual avoidance of making more use of rail, are likely to set Wellington back, just as Auckland is finally moving forward. Again, no accident

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