Pukekohe and Waiuku new network consultation

After holding off on any major consultations while the election campaign was in full swing, Auckland Transport have hit the ground running this week by starting consulting on the new bus network for Pukekohe and Waiuku. It’s good to see the new network progressing and adds to the Hibiscus Coast and South Auckland networks that have been consulted on. In addition the West Auckland network is due to start consultation next month.

Public consultation on changes to bus services for Pukekohe and Waiuku are now open. Residents have four weeks to give feedback on the changes proposed by Auckland Transport (AT).

Andy Baker, Chairman of the Franklin Local Board, says “Improved bus services connecting to trains are something people in Waiuku and Pukekohe have been demanding for a long time so it is really pleasing to see this consultation. This is the opportunity for those who want to see better public transport to have their say on what the best services will be. I challenge them to take advantage of this opportunity so we get the services that are best able to meet those needs whilst being efficient and effective.”

To help get the message out to the community, AT have revamped a Mercedes 305 bus into a mobile roadshow.

The AmBUSador as it is known, will make its first appearance at the Franklin Markets, this Saturday from 8am to midday. It will be at other information events in the area, including the Blast to the Past event in Waiuku, in October.

AT New Network Manager, Anthony Cross says, having the AmBUSador gives AT more flexibility.

“We can drive to where our customers are, park it and invite people on board to look at maps and displays and chat with staff. On sunny days, we can put up the awnings and a few chairs. It will be quite a pleasant way to interact with our customers,” he says.

All are welcome to drop in, anytime at the following information events:

Date Location Time
Saturday 27 September Franklin Market: Massey Ave Car park, Pukekohe 8am to 12 noon
Tuesday 30 September Waiuku Drop in Day: Waiuku Community Hall, King Street, Waiuku 3pm to 7pm
Saturday 4 October Blast to the Past: Waiuku Town Centre, 40 Queen Street.  The AmBUSador will be there. from 6pm
Thursday 9 October Pukekohe Drop in Day: Franklin Room, Franklin:The Centre, 12 Massey Ave, Pukekohe 3pm to 7pm
Saturday 11 October Franklin Market: Massey Ave Carpark, Pukekohe 8am to 12 noon

The public transport proposals for Pukekohe include replacing the current Pukekohe loop bus with three new circular bus services. These would run every 30 minutes throughout the day and connect with trains at Pukekohe Station.

A bus between Pukekohe and Wesley College/Paerata will be retained. However it is proposed to remove the bus route between Wesley College/Paerata and Papakura.

Later this year, a new hourly weekend train shuttle to Papakura will commence, and a later evening train during the week from Britomart will be added to the current timetable.

At Waiuku, residents are offered three different bus routes to choose from. A service to Papakura through Kingseat, running every two to three hours and every hour in peak times; a service to Papakura through Drury running every two to three hours and every hour in peak times; or a service to Pukekohe running every one to two hours and every 30 minutes at peak times.

Feedback on the Pukekohe, Waiuku New Network is open until October 17. For more information or to share your views, visit AT.govt.nz/NewNetwork

As the press release above notes, the proposal for Pukekohe is to replace a single large loop service with three new smaller ones that all run at a much higher frequency. The image below shows the current route with the loop only running Monday to Friday extremely infrequently.

Pukekohe Existing route

And here’s what is proposed with the map also showing the areas gaining and losing service as a result of the changes (which is a nice touch for the consultations but probably only practical on a small area like Pukekohe).

Pukekohe proposed routes

One of the first things that’s noticeable is that for the first time there will be some form of service to the east of the railway tracks. In addition AT have obviously been thinking ahead with this plan too to take account of future developments.

What happens with the trains in Pukekohe is going to play a big part in how this network works together with the rest of the region and AT have indicated what we can expect to happen with them in more detail. They say later this year they will add four services a day on weekdays and the big change will see the introduction of hourly weekend services. They say all services from Pukekohe will travel via Newmarket which presumably means they also plan to bump up services to/from Manukau to cover the eastern line. When the electric trains are fully operational on the Southern line next year the trains from Pukekohe will turn into shuttles between there and Papakura like has long been planned. They will then run with a 20 minute frequency in the peak and hourly off peak. Lastly AT say they plan to increase the off peak frequency in mid to late 2016.

With the change to a diesel shuttle it will be very interesting to see what happens with patronage – both for the buses and the trains. Someone wanting to catch PT all the way to Britomart would need to catch a bus to the train station, the diesel shuttle to Papakura and then an electric train to Britomart. One of the benefits of extending electrification to Pukekohe would be the removal of one of those stages.

In addition to the Pukekohe services residents of Waiuku are being asked to select their preference of three options for future bus services. The options are either one of two services between Waiuku and Papakura with a low frequency or a higher frequency service to Pukekohe.

Waiuku options

AT expect the third option to be over 10 minutes faster than the trips directly to Papakura and combined with it having a higher frequency it seems like it will likely be the preferred option.

As mentioned earlier it’s good to see more and more of these consultations getting out

Rail and congestion relief

A conference by the Traffic Institute – a group primarily made up of councillors and officers from a number of local authorities around the country to represent views on road safety and traffic management – held its annual conference earlier this week. There have been a few articles emerge from the conference and the one I’m going to focus on today is one titled Metro Rail won’t fix congestion which relates to a talk at the conference by Dr Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

Metro rail systems such as Auckland’s proposed $2.4 billion link from Britomart to Mt Eden do nothing to reduce congestion in the long run, says a visiting international transport expert.

“With metro, all you do is create extra capacity,” Dr Dinesh Mohan told the Traffic Institute at its annual conference in Auckland today.

“Then, after two years, all the roads are congested again – and the metro is full.

“You just increase transport, you don’t reduce congestion.”

More total travel with the same amount of congestion/car use is exactly the point and primary purpose of the City Rail Link. The CRL network will move a lot more people around the region regardless of traffic. It’s also why we need greater investment in bus infrastructure both in the city centre and across the region as it allows us to get more use out of our road networks. The table below shows this, it comes from the City Centre Future Access Study released at the end of 2012. Regardless of the solution investigated (the integrated CRL and surface bus option was chosen as the best) vehicle traffic didn’t decline – although I think this is in part due to poor transport modelling.

CCFAS - City Centre Access
Of course it also means that if projects that don’t reduce congestion long term are not worth building then you can say goodbye to any future road widening programmes. Instead we’d look at getting a better outcome from the existing road resource, which leads us to this point.

“The only way to reduce carbon dioxide is to reduce road area, there is no other way.”

One way to do that was to allocate a lane along every road for buses, and another for cyclists and pedestrians.

Great we agree again, so when do we start? I look forward to a network of bus and cycle lanes made from reclaimed traffic lanes. Projects like painting new bus and cycle lanes often have very high economic returns due to being comparatively cheap to construct (often just some paint is needed) and benefiting a lot of passengers.

He also addresses climate change

Only 25 per cent of the “life-cycle” energy costs of underground passenger trains went on running them, but that left the production of concrete, steel and other infrastructure components contributing the remaining 75 per cent.

“Putting anything underground increases carbon dioxide,” he said.

I guess it’s a good thing then that the vast majority of the other ~90km of the Auckland Rail network ins’t underground.  As mentioned the point of the CRL is to unlock the latent capacity in the existing network so we can use it better. If we were building a full underground metro from scratch then he might have a point. But the City Rail Link is a mere 3km of tunnel turns that whole 90km legacy rail network into a highly efficient regional rapid transit system. To achieve the equivalent outcome with buses would similarly require a bus tunnel of some 3km, given that all the surface corridors are  busy carrying hundreds of buses already. But that’s not the end of it, a bus solution would also require the construction of three or four new busways, in addition to those already planned, to do the same job as the rail network with the CRL.

I’m pretty sure that a bus tunnel and three brand new suburban busways will result in a lot more emissions that a rail tunnel alone.

Also from this article he talks about his figures for carbon emissions being based on coal fired power plants which is something we have very little of.

So, he reasons, if you have a transport system that operates underground or is elevated there are huge amounts in investments in tunnels, bridges and so on. Much more cement, concrete, electricity (for air-conditioning, lighting and so on) gets used, all of which is related to life-cycle costs in which “anything that uses more infrastructure comes off worse”.

Therefore, since most of energy in India is from coal, the carbon emission and energy consumption per passenger in the metro is higher than a bus

He then suggests that deep down everyone wants to drive.

“You must have congestion for the public to use public transport – if you don’t have congestion, you would be very stupid to use public transport, because you could get there faster by car.”

I guess someone better tell the thousands of people who catch PT off peak when the roads are flowing that they are stupid.  The reality is that many people will happily use PT if it’s fast, frequent and reliable (not necessarily in that order). Increasingly people are just fed up of driving, parking and congestion, whatever the time of day. Classic examples of this are on the Northern Busway where there are often queues to get on even after hours as this tweet from the other day highlights:

And lastly

Told about Auckland Transport’s goal of making trains circulate through the central business district rather than having to back out of Britomart, he wondered whether the planners had considered running buses in a circuit instead.

Asked where London would be without its Underground, he said that was an unfair question as the system was built in the 19th Century when there were no buses, which did not become efficient people-carriers until the 1950s.

Well yes buses have been considered in depth, in fact buses featured strongly in the 46 different options considered as part of the CCFAS and enhanced bus operations are part of the preferred option together with the CRL. Bus options included the options below and multiple variations of each one:

  • Best use of existing infrastructure
  • Enhanced Bus operation – this builds on the previous options with additional bus priority through things like double bus lanes, bus priority at intersections etc.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – both surface BRT options and ones elevated through the city.
  • Underground Bus – various tunnel alignments and operating patterns.

Overall it seems like his quoted comments are a case of him making a judgement about solutions for Auckland without having looked at any of the details. On the positive side it seems the Herald are finally calling the CRL a Metro Rail system rather than a just a rail loop.

Our love affair with personal mobility

We often hear that New Zealanders have a love affair with their cars. Some people argue that driving is an essential element of our national psyche: even if we succeeded in providing good walking, cycling, and public transport options, Kiwis would doggedly insist upon taking their cars. Even if it didn’t make any sense to do so.

There is some basis for this idea. We do, after all, have an unusually high rate of vehicle ownership. We’re the eighth-most vehicle-owning nation in the world, with 712 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2010. If you take out the anomalously wealthy micro-states – San Marino, Monaco, etc – we’ve got the fourth-highest rate of vehicle ownership, behind the US, Iceland, and Australia.

Let’s set aside the question of whether Kiwis are freely choosing to own loads of cars, or whether car ownership is required by our poor public transport system, and take a look at the cultural aspects of car ownership.

As it turns out, if we take a historical perspective, New Zealanders do have a real preference for personal mobility. But that hasn’t always meant owning cars – the preferred means of getting around have changed as technology and society changed. We expect this process of change to continue – New Zealanders will get rid of their cars as better options become available. (In fact, they already are.)

So let’s take a look at the history of personal mobility in post-European settlement New Zealand.

te ara waka 2003

People also had some pretty awesome means of getting around before the Europeans arrived (Source)

In his brilliant history of the New Zealanders, Making Peoples, James Belich comments that the relatively sparse population density of early European settlements was associated with a surprisingly low rate of social isolation. This was because pakeha New Zealanders tended to travel faster than their forebears in Britain, as a result of extremely high levels of horse ownership:

Horses were expensive in the early 1850s; bullocks were cheaper and preferable on poor roads. There were 115 horses per thousand Europeans in 1851, and some of those were actually owned by Maori. But by 1858, there were 254 per thousand, much of the breed stock having been imported from Tasmania. By 1867, despite the large inflow of people, there were 302 horses per thousand, and 333 by 1878. The equine ratio peaked at 400 per thousand in 1911, and declined slowly thereafter with the development of the petrol engine.
[...]
One horse for every three people was a vastly higher ratio than in Britain, and, from the 1860s, New Zealand horses were cheaper to buy. Mild winter and more easily available grazing meant they had always been cheaper to keep. Easier access to horse ownership, like house ownership, had interesting social implications… [p 354]

I note briefly here that it wasn’t the petrol engine that did in horse transit in the early 20th century. It was actually a combination of the urbanisation of the NZ population, which meant that it was increasingly hard to clear away manure piling up in cities, and the invention of the humble bicycle, which was cheaper to own and run while enabling similar levels of mobility.

Back to Belich – he argues that horse ownership enabled relatively high levels of social interaction even in seemingly isolated rural areas:

Further out of town, high access to horses must have increased the power to associate. In 1881, New Zealand had about six times more horses per thousand people than Britain. Roads were often very bad, but roads and tracks impassable to wheeled traffic were sometimes still traversable by riders. Poor roads were more of an obstacle to economic transport than to social transport. ‘The attitude to travel and distance of the rider or [coach, trap or buggy] driver was totally different to that of the pedestrian or dray driver.’ Riding was several times faster than walking over substantial distances. Even if allowance is made for bad roads, widespread horse ownership must have significantly reduced the social effects of geographical isolation. [p 419-420]

A few decades later, the technology had changed but the social dynamics of transport remained the same. After bicycles were invented and commercialised in the 1860s, they swiftly spread across New Zealand. A few technological innovations later – chain-driven safety bicycles, brakes, etc – the price of bikes was coming down and ridership was on the way up. Personal mobility was still king – but two wheels were now preferred over four hooves.

The book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand, written by the Kennett brothers, provides an interesting window into New Zealand’s “golden age” of mass cycling in the first half of the 20th century:

Between 1900 and 1950, New Zealand imported nearly 800,000 bicycles and manufactured thousands more. By the late 1930s, an estimated 250,000 bicycles were being ridden in New Zealand – one for every six people. [p 21]

Cycling, unlike horse ownership, was most heavily concentrated in urban centres, where it was taken up in massive numbers:

Christchurch, nicknamed ‘Cyclopolis’, was the centre of New Zealand’s cycling boom. In 1924, the Christchurch City Motor Inspector estimated that there were 40,000 cyclists in the city – almost half the population. There were 56 cycle dealers and no fewer than 33 cycle clubs. On 4 March 1936, a Christchurch traffic census recorded that 11,335 cyclists had passed the BNZ corner of Cathedral Square between 8 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. – a rate of 19 per minute…

Despite the huge popularity of cycling in Christchurch, a cycle workers’ representative claimed in 1938 that many more bicycles were being imported into northern cities and that “twice as many are absorbed by the North Island as in the South in proportion to the distribution of population”. This suggests that while most people already had bikes in Christchurch, many North Islanders were still taking up cycling in the late 1930s. [p 32-33]

The bicycle’s egalitarian nature was a good fit with New Zealand society – bikes transported the young and old, men and women, and people of all social classes. The book provides all sorts of interestingly suggestive examples – Palmerston North’s cycling fire brigade, Christchurch’s wheeled female nursing corps, bushmen and deer-cullers outfitted with bicycles to make it in to town, etc.

Christchurchs's Atalanta Cycling Club combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women's lib (Source)

The Atalanta Ladies’ Cycling Club in Christchurch combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women’s lib (Source)

As we know, bicycles didn’t remain the mode of choice. After World War II, rural New Zealanders replaced their horses with cars and urban New Zealanders replaced their bikes with cars. We now define personal mobility as the possession of four wheels and a ton of metal and plastic. But it’s important to realise that car ownership itself is not necessarily the be-all and end-all here. It’s just a means of getting around.

History teaches us that New Zealanders will eagerly embrace new and better transport options. We’re less attached to individual technologies, including the car, than we are to mobility. Why would we insist upon travelling in a certain way, regardless of how costly and inconvenient it becomes?

At this point New Zealand is an urban nation, and urban transport solutions are different. Urban transport systems based solely around the car suffer from congestion and the need to spend increasing amounts of money on roads in a Sisyphus-like effort to reduce it. Fortunately, public transport networks can be excellent at offering personal mobility if they are designed well. Transport consultant Jarrett Walker, who helped design Auckland’s New Network, is a big proponent of this idea. His slogan is “frequency is freedom” – meaning, essentially, that buses or trains that turn up every few minutes and connect to other frequent services allow people to get to wherever they’re going, whenever they want.

Frequency is freedom

Frequency is freedom!

Finally, as someone who bikes to work, I can vouch for the speed and ease of urban cycling. When I bike down Symonds St in the morning, I am usually the fastest-moving thing on the road. I often beat the cars back up the hill at the end of the day, too. So I’ll give the last word to the Kennett brothers, who recall an idea that we should perhaps get started again:

Publicised races to work, from the suburbs to the centre of NZ cities, were common around 1980,”with bicycles usually winning hands down. [p 51]

Where is the Heart? Critical Public Space in the City Centre

Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.

Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canalis still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without  building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.

These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.

And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.

The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.

Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.

Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.

It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.

This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.

So the plan is a good one:

1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances

2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]

3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square

4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.

Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.

This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.

Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:

Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre

Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could  ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.

 

The Alternative Mode Commute

Yesterday I decided I would complete what I call the Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute. In essence I managed to combine walking, cycling, a bus, a train and a ferry trip into my commute between Henderson and Takapuna.

Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute 2

 

I started by riding along Northwest cycleway in to town including down the newly opened Grafton Gully cycleway. It definitely made things quick for getting from upper Queen St to Quay St although I did manage to get held up for a long time at every single set of lights between Grafton Rd and Quay St. I’m not sure if that was just me being unlucky or if perhaps AT had the cycling phases permanently on during the weekend in anticipation of lots of people using it. I’ll probably ride my bike home tomorrow however I normally do that via Upper Harbour.

I managed to time my run to the Ferry perfectly and turned up just as it was unloading. I used the route that Peter outlined in this post. Of course while ferries do have some limitations, the views they offer on a nice day aren’t one of them. One big frustration I have though is the absurd situation that monthly passes doesn’t cover the use of ferries.

Ferry View to CBD

For my trip home it was a walk to the Akoranga to catch the Northern Express (NEX) back to town. I could have also just caught the bus from Takapuna which would have been faster but I’m trying to add a bit more walking into my daily routine so have been doing this walk more often recently. Catching the in both directions has also really highlighted to me that while it’s an awesome service, it does need some improvements to it’s counter peak frequency. Buses are only every 10 minutes on the runs back to the city in the afternoon. For most Auckland bus routes that would be fantastic however for the NEX it’s clearly not enough as the bus was at bursting point which is a fairly regular occurrence in the afternoons. It is probably time for AT to make use of some of the buses which provide extra peak capacity to bump up the counter peak frequency.

A short stroll from the corner of Customs St and Queen St provides a connection to the train which would take me my local station.

Lastly from my local station it’s only about an 800m walk along quiet back streets to my house and which completed my alternative mode commute.

I’m guessing I’m fairly unique in that I’m actually able to combine all of these modes in a semi logical way – albeit one that’s definitely not going to break any speed records. At the very least it’s a n idea I can cross off a bucket list hidden somewhere. It’s also a commute I’m not likely to do again as if I’m riding it’s quicker and cheaper (because it’s free) to us the Upper Harbour route.

The question for readers is what’s the most number of modes you have used as part of your commuting and if you had to, how many could

Freeing us from traffic

Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”

We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.

Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.

Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.

But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.

Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.

If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.

In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.

The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.

If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.

This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.

In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.

If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.

We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this

before

to this

cheonggyecheon

The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.

One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.

Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.

Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.

Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.

That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.

I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.

So yes let’s start focusing on people.

NW Busway update

Along with information about the Downtown open space options, the agenda for the councils Development Committee (19 MB) contains an update on the Northwestern Busway. This seems like especially good timing considering the NW busway is something that has been suggested would be cut as part of the next Long Term Plan.

The busway is currently listed in the Integrated Transport Programme as being built sometime between 2021 and 2031 however the report highlights that it is likely to be needed sooner than that. This is primarily a result of the council’s decision to allow for a lot of greenfield growth in the Northwest. They say that up to 80,000 dwellings could be in the area by 2041 which would equate to over 200,000 residents and that’s just the greenfield growth. On top of this the local board for the area (Henderson-Massey) were perhaps the most progressive of all boards when it came to the Unitary Plan and pushed for many areas to be up zoned above what was originally in the plans. This will likely see a lot more people also in Te Atatu and other locations near the SH16 corridor.

NW Development area

In addition to the residential growth the council expects that up to 60,000 jobs will be in the area by 2041. While that’s a lot it’s nowhere near the amount of people who would be in the area so most people are likely to still need to travel for employment or study and that will put huge pressure on transport networks. All of which means that the busway is likely to be needed even sooner that the current plans suggest. It’s also correctly noted that the North West is quite a distinct corridor to that served by the rail network.

The report notes that modelling suggests that by 2041 there will be 30,000 trips across all modes from West Auckland to the city centre and fringe areas in the morning peak alone. That’s an absolutely massive number and as a comparison only around 20,000 are expected from the North Shore.

The NZTA is currently building upgraded shoulder lanes between Te Atatu Rd and Waterview which will come in to use in 2016 and apparently the NZTA will also build bus shoulders between Lincoln Rd and Westgate by 2018. However it is expected a full busway will be needed and AT believe the best place for that to happen is on the Southern side. The graphic below shows the busway as proposed and the shoulder lanes planed for SH16 in the meantime. It also shows bus lanes on eventually on SH18 as well.

Busway schematic

Based on this the busway would be almost 7km which is similar in length to what the Northern Busway is. One difference to the Northern Busway though is the number of stations, many of which would likely be similar to Sunnynook and provide for local access rather than being large interchange stations (those are likely to be Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd and Massey North). Speaking of Te Atatu it appears to confirm that any future bus interchange would be on the South Western side of the interchange.

The ITP has the project listed at $376 million however AT say they are now working on a business case to understand the full costs and benefits of the busway.

I think it’s great that the busway is being progressed but I can’t help but feel like we missed a golden opportunity to get it implemented as part of the SH16 project.

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out – often for its comedy value – and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

Stuart’s 100 #15 Understanding the City Link Bus a s a Tram on Rubber Wheels

15: Understanding the City Link Bus as a Tram on Rubber Wheels

#15

What if the red city link bus was more like a tram on rubber wheels?

Ok, so trams do have wheels, steel ones on rails. But bear with me, they also tend to be used for short intra-city trips like the City Link Bus route, and therefore have different seating layouts compared to longer haul trains and buses. Anyone who regularly rides the City Link Bus must have noticed how busy it is, often with very little standing room.

Wouldn’t it be great if this bus was designed more like a tram, with inwards-facing (longitudinal) seats creating much more standing room and supporting the hop on, hop off nature of short trips?

Inner Link ext

Inner Link int

(Image Credit: Craig https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd)

 

Deferring Transport Projects

So what do you do when you’re told you have to cut some of your $826 million budget for capital projects and that in choosing what to cut it can’t apply to public transport projects?

Well it seems if you’re Auckland Transport you start by cutting PT and active mode projects.

Back in May when the council was discussing their budget for this year it was decided that Auckland Transport should reduce capital expenditure spend. At the time Chris Darby managed to get this amendment passed saying that the cuts won’t impact on PT.

MOVED by Cr C Darby, seconded by Cr PA Hulse:
Cr Darby moved by way of amendment, seconded Cr Hulse.
That the Budget Committee:
i) agree that the $5.1 million transport opex increase is dedicated to public transport and the $50 million reduction in transport capex will not be applied to public transport.

But it seems the $50 million isn’t enough if the council wants to keep to Len Brown’s goal of having rate rises next year average 2.5%.

  • On 26 March, staff provided the results of financial modelling in response to the mayoral direction for the LTP 2015-2025. One conclusion from this analysis was that it is not possible to reduce the average rates increase for 2015/2016 down to 2.5 per cent solely by reducing or deferring capex in that particular year.
  • The lagged impact of changes in the capital programme on operating budgets means that reducing or deferring capex in 2014/2015 will have a greater impact on rates for 2015/2016. The Budget Committee therefore agreed on 8 May 2014 to request the Chief Executive undertake an immediate review of 2014/2015 capex programme with a target of reducing or deferring $300 million of capex.

The cuts mean Auckland Transport has to find $100 million (which goes up to $150 million once NZTA subsidies are included). They don’t say all the items they’ll cut but the ones named are all PT projects.

The targeted reduction can be achieved via the reduction of budget across all transport activities. Projects such as Parnell Station, the Pukekohe Station upgrade and bus and transit lane improvements may have to be deferred to the LTP period. The Auckland Transport Board will consider the current capital programme to confirm which projects may be stopped, reduced or deferred to the LTP in order to minimise negative impacts on Auckland Plan outcomes. An updated 2014/2015 capital programme will be provided to the CCO Governance and Monitoring Committee in November.

It seems the only projects specifically named as being deferred are those that PT projects which goes against what the council asked for in the first place. Further projects like bus and transit lane improvements are often some of the cheapest and highest benefit projects. An example of this is the recent extension of the Fanshawe St bus lanes resulted in lots of full buses being sped up in the evening for what I understand was a fairly minor cost. In saying that I can live with the Silverdale Park and Ride (which is having issues of it’s own to sort out first) and can also live with Parnell to a degree.

Here’s the total list of capital projects in the current annual plan.

AT Funding - 14-15 - PT

AT Funding - 14-15 - Parking

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 1

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 2

It seems to me there are a lot of other projects on the list that should be being cut before $2.5 million bus lane improvements, for example Lincoln Rd or Penlink.

For their part the council passed a (much weaker) resolution saying that AT should take into account the councils priorities around PT and active mode outcomes however based on past performance I wouldn’t hold up hope of AT actually listening to that.