Ka mua, ka muri: Looking back in order to move forward

‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol

Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.

It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.

We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:

1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?

People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.

Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.

2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.

However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.

This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.

3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).

There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic].  For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.

This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.

Same as it ever was.

Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work

 

 

 

City Math

There was a good article a few days ago by Brent Toderian in Toronto’s Metro News highlighting that if you use the “math of city-making”, which is often at odds with the way cities have developed over the last 60+ decades, you can build a better city. Brent has visited Auckland a few times to work with the council on planning issues and has talked at a number of Auckland Conversations events including here in 2013 and here a year later.

Here are some of the examples he uses in his article.

  • A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.
  • Another study in Copenhagen (where the full cost of transportation choices are routinely calculated) found that when you factor in costs like time, accidents, pollution and climate change, each kilometre cycled actually gains society 18 cents!
  • A recent American study suggested that compact development, on average, costs 38 per cent less in up-front infrastructure and 10 per cent less in ongoing service delivery than conventional suburban development, while generating 10 times more per acre in tax revenue. Many cities overbuilding the suburbs are putting their fiscal future at risk — and that’s before the bigger picture costs are even included.
  • Over the last decade, Canadian cities like Calgary, Edmonton, London, Halifax, Regina and Abbotsford have been doing the hard math on the real costs of how and where they grow — not just up or out, but how smarter design choices save costs. The resulting math has been powerful — tens of billions of dollars more of public cost for car-dependant suburban growth than for smart infill — and I haven’t even yet seen such a study that includes all the full and life-cycle costs of our growth choices. Once these shocking numbers are revealed, municipal leaders can’t “un-know” them, no matter what political ideology they live by.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

There are of course many others we’ve seen and covered over the years, including many local studies that have shown the same results as above. Do you have any city math favourites?

Video of the day: Future of cities

Here’s an interesting short documentary on the future of cities – if you look closely, you can see a few shots of Auckland (and a few ideas on what we could do next):

 

Wheely suitcase in Europe #8: Santiago de Compostela to Lisbon — Where dwell-times are short

Earlier this year I undertook a rather long and splendid journey starting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and ending in Lisbon, Portugal. In seven previous posts I document our progress as follows:

  1. Amsterdam to Annecy
  2. Annecy to Cassis
  3. Cassis to Llanca
  4. Llanca to Zaragoza
  5. Zaragoza to San Sebastian
  6. San Sebastian to Gijon
  7. Gijon to Santiago de Compostela

The routes we took are also illustrated in the map below. At various stages in our journey we used different transport modes, including combination of plane, car, bicycle, train, bus, and ride-share.

At first glance this may seem like a strange route. After all, the natural line of travel from the south of France is to continue south along the east coast of Spain. Two seasonal factors influenced our decision to head west instead (NB: We were travelling in July and the end of August), namely 1) the heat of the Spanish summer and 2) the influx of summer tourists. Spain’s Atlantic coast is both milder (20 – 30 degrees) and receives fewer summer tourists. So if you do go to Spain in the summer, then I’d recommmed heading north-west.

In this post, I document the final leg of our journey, which us from Santiago de Compostela, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. We travelled by BlaBlaCar to Porto, and then caught the train to Lisbon. Combining two transport modes enabled us to save us both time and money. More specifically, the train from Santiago de Compostela to Porto runs infrequently (every 3 hours), is slow (4.5 hours), and relatively expensive (35 Euro per person). In comparison, BlaBlaCar picked us up from our door, took 2.5 hours, and cost only 16 Eur per person.

An apt way to end our journey, I thought. One of my fellow bloggers (a’hem, PATRICK) expressed bemusement that we didn’t use the train to travel everywhere. I freely admit rail is nice, where it exists, is frequent, fast, and affordable. On our journey, however, not all these criteria were met all of the time. The two reasons I gave to Patrick for using non-train transpot modes, which I think is worth repeating here, are:

  1. If you want to travel off the beaten track in Europe, ***then*** sometimes you will need to make use of transport modes other than rail. This is especially true when travelling in countries with less well-developed rail networks; and
  2. If you are travelling in Europe at peak times, e.g. summer and/or oevr Christmas, ***then*** you can expect that the high-speed trains will be expensive if not completely full on some days.

For these two reasons I’d strongly suggest that people add buses and BlaBlacar to their list of back-up transport modes. When combined with rail, they make it really easy to travel in Europe without hiring your own car. Of course, neither of these modes is perfect either, hence the need to be flexible.

There, multi-modal sales pitch over. Having arrived in Lisbon, we then set about enjoying ourselves even more than we did on the train. Being late August, the temperature was pushing 30 degrees. I must say that we had 5 days in Lisbon, and it wasn’t enough. Two things strike you almost immediately about Lisbon: 1) the city is extremely beautiful and 2) the geography and topography is spectacular, albeit something that makes it harder to get around.

From a transport perspective, the most interesting aspect of Lisbon has to be the quaint trams that navigate through very narrow streets and up very steep hills, as shown below.

Apart from exploring the city, including the castle shown in the prevous image, we also took two day-trips further afield. One day we caught a suburban train along the coast to a sea-side village called Cascais. The train takes ~40 minutes, and runs right along the coast.

I can report that dwell-times on Lisbon’s (heavy) rail line to Cascais are approximately 25-35 seconds, even under peak summer loads. I mention this because Portugal is not, shall we say, the wealthiest and/or most technologically-advanced nation in Europe. Nonetheless it still manages to achieve dwell-times half that of Auckland. Shame on us.

If Phil Goff and the new Council need any convincing that they should push AT on the dwell-times, then I’d suggest we put them, first, on a plane to Lisbon and, second, on a train to Cascais. Perhaps we could even find a European watch-maker to sponsor the trip and supply watches so the Councillors can precisely time the dwell-times?

On our other day-trip, we rented a car and headed to the UNESCO world-heritage site of Sintra. While Lisbon is a wonderful place to visit in of itself, Sintra moves the region into the top-shelf. Sintra manages to combine both natural and historical beauty in a way I’ve not really experienced anywhere else, and which is as a result somewhat hard to explain.

I would say that Sintra is best understood as a sub-region, which is dominated by a large forest and mountain range within which are sprinkled an amazing number of amazingly beautiful places of interest, such as public gardens, villages, palaces, castles, and convents. Here’s a few images to whet the appetite (NB: All images are grabbed from the web; let me know if they are yours and you would like credit and/or them taken down). If you’re intrigued, then check out the Wiki page for more detail.

Sintra is only an hours’ drive from Lisbon, or there is also a train from Lisbon. Just be aware that the coast west of Sintra is also worth exploring, and cannot be reached by train.

Having spent five wonderful days in Lisbon, and four weeks travelling across Europe, we then flew back to Amsterdam so that I could begin the current academic year. If you are interested in the relative cost and speed of the different travel modes we used then let me know and I’ll try and write up a summary post. Otherwise, I have another upcoming travel post which considers our Christmas adventure in Bordeaux.

Until then, I will leave you to enjoy the New Zealand summer, of which I am suitably jealous. Travel safe y’all.

Why is ATs website so customer unfriendly?

Yesterday afternoon I noticed a tweet from reader Tina Plunkett asking where she could top-up her HOP card on Ponsonby Rd.

While this isn’t something I ever look up, I knew I’d seen it on the AT website before and as I had some spare time I thought I’d try and be helpful by looking it up for her. I was out at the time so this meant doing so on my phone but I assumed it would easy enough.

I knew I’d seen a list and even a map of retailers in the AT HOP section of the website which was located under Bus Train Ferry on the AT Website so I started by navigating there. But here’s where I came unstuck, I couldn’t get to the AT HOP section as on the mobile version of AT’s website, it doesn’t exist. Here are a couple of screen shots showing the AT HOP section nowhere to be found.

at-website-hop-missing-from-mobile

So there’s an image I can click on to get a HOP card and there’s a whole heap of fine text that I assume is there for legal reasons but no links to the any details about HOP, like where they can be topped up. To do that you have to dig through the menu icon at the top right of the page (in the first image) but even then, it’s not intuitive or easy to find.

As a comparison, here is the desktop version showing the heading sitting just under the Real Time Board on the left hand menu. That isn’t to say the desktop version is great either, personally I find it a cluttered, junky mess and I get the impression that AT simply don’t care about the customer experience of those who may want to use it.

at-website-hop-not-missing-desktop

I think the issue here is broader than something seemingly important missing from the mobile version of their website but goes to the wider issue of how AT interact with customers. I tend to know my way around the AT site fairly well as I’m often looking around it as part of posts I’m writing – and is why I knew I’d seen the HOP section and map. But even for me, I find the website a mess and often completely unfriendly to users. I can imagine someone who’s a bit PT curious and sick of sitting in traffic every day going to the AT site, taking one look at it and deciding it’s simply all too hard.

I’m sure many of you have seen better implementations of equivalent websites for other cities. If you have some outstanding examples of getting it right then let us know in the comments and I’ll look at another post so we can give AT some ideas for improvement.

While on the topic of HOP retailers, looking at them for this post also highlighted once again just how few places there are to top-up a card – something I don’t think about as I normally top-up online. As you can see from the map there are some huge areas where there are not many places to do this. Outside of the rail network, locations to top-up are sparse.

at-website-hop-map

And I won’t even go into the garbage fire that you’re presented with if you log in to your AT account.

Postcard from Japan: Kamakura Day Trip

I’m back from my holiday now which means I can focus on writing posts again, including sharing more my trip. In this post I’ll cover a day trip we took to Kamakura, a seaside city south of Tokyo that is known for a number of festivals as well as Buddhist shrines and temples. The city is surrounded on three sides by some steep hills which help to make you feel like you’re in a very different location, despite not being all that far from Tokyo. We actually traveled there a day before our trip to Hakone that I’ve already written about.

kamakura-day-trip-aerial

Kamakura is about 50km south of Tokyo by rail making it very similar in distance as Britomart to Pukekohe – and one of the reasons I felt it was useful to discuss here. To get there we first made our way to Shinagawa, like we did for going to Hakone, and transferred to the Yokosuka Line which runs through Kamakura. There are only 10 stops on the 47km between Shinagawa and Kamakura and while not high speed, the trains would often reach 120km/h with that section of the journey taking around 54 minutes.

By comparison the approximately 49km between Pukekohe and Britomart has 15 stops and takes around 1:18 including a 6-8 minute transfer at Papakura. I suspect we could get travel times down to that kind of level if we can sort out the electrification issue (either by battery powered EMUs or extending the wires), completing the much needed third main to allow some faster limited stop services to run. This would also need to be after the CRL when there is some additional capacity on the rail network as all of the current capacity will be needed.

Like many of the lines around Tokyo, the trains running down the Yokosuka line have some serious capacity. They have the same length as about three of our 3-car trains combined but can hold many more people as nine of the eleven carriages use metro style bench seating – like the middle of our trains – while the other two carriages are first class but are also double deckers. I don’t know what the capacity is but I assume it would easily be in the 1500-2000 per train range and that capacity is clearly needed. Even on a mid-morning on a weekday heading away from Tokyo the train was decently busy. As a comparison, one of our 6-car trains has a stated capacity of 750 people. Moving to bench style seating is something we may need to consider to improve capacity and something I’ll look at in a later post – the good news is our trains are designed for it to be done easily.

Arriving at the station in Kamakura there was a nice bit of wayfinding in the form of some walking routes options. We decided to do The Great Buddha Course although we didn’t follow it exactly as suggested. We also did a bit of The Kamakura Quick Course, although we didn’t realise it at the time.

kamakura-day-trip-wayfinding

Setting off one of the first things I noticed was the infrastructure, the hills have had plenty of tunnels punched through them for local connectivity. Like many places in Japan though, the local roads where most people live are designed to a completely different scale. Footpaths might not exist but it’s not such an issue when cars are only travelling slow anyway. If a car came the other way – and they did – they definitely couldn’t pass at speed.

kamakura-day-trip-narrow-street

As seen on the wayfinding, one of the highlights of the route we took was the Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple. It is made from bronze, is 13.5m tall, was built in 1252 and has survived undamaged both a Tsunami (which wiped out the buildings around it), and later an earthquake which damaged the base it sits on. For a nominal fee you could also go inside for a look which also shows how it was made 764 years ago.

kamakura-day-trip-buddha

Moving down further to the Hase-dera Temple we got our first good view of the beach and back over a decent part of the city.

kamakura-day-trip-overlooking-beach

Shortly after that we reached the end of the course. It was suggested that we catch a small, mostly single track railway back to the main station however we decided to walk instead and go via the beach. The beach was fairly deserted, being a Friday afternoon and not particularly warm. I imagine it’s quite popular in the heat of summer though. Along much of the beach there was a decently wide seaside walkway/cycleway but it is next to a coastal highway which felt like much more of a barrier than its size or traffic volumes at the time might suggest. I was also surprised to see very little in the way of making better use asset the town had.

kamakura-day-trip-beach

So with seemingly not a lot to do at the beach we made our way back to town, about 1km north.

We’ve talked recently about the proposed Victoria St Linear Park that Auckland Transport seem to be neutering, even though it’s not really a park and is in fact vital to the operation of the City Rail Link. In Kamakura it is much more of a linear park and is in fact part of a shrine to the north. The park/walkway is split in two equal halves and totals around 500m long. It is straight down the middle of the road and is also raised above it. Access to it is only at either end or in the middle.

kamakura-day-trip-linear-park

In spring with the cherry blossoms in bloom I imagine it would be very pretty but also very different to why we need more people space on Victoria St.

kamakura-day-trip-linear-park-2

By now it was mid-late afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch so we were getting hungry. We made our way to an area that had a bit of activity and it turned out to be where all the activity was. Running almost 600m north from the train station and bus terminal, Komachi St was lined with food and retail options and with a lot of people, it had a great atmosphere.

kamakura-day-trip-komachi-st

After looking around for a bit it was time to head home. We made our way back down the street to the train station and not long later we were on our way back to Tokyo.

All up a good day and one that I feel can provide some lessons for us.

The Big Smoke

The Big Smoke – putting New Zealand’s cities centre-stage 

by Ben Schrader

I wrote The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 because I’d long felt that New Zealand history, as taught and written, did not resonate with me. The history I learnt at school and university had emphasised the ‘rural myth’. This asserted that Pākehā had come to New Zealand to settle land alienated from Māori. Settlers would buy a parcel of forest or grassland, and then clear, fence and farm it. Alternatively, they could reside in towns, and provide goods and services – grocery, blacksmithing, stock and station supplies – to those on encircling farms. Cities only functioned, in these accounts, as markets and ports. ‘Real’ New Zealanders, it seemed, lived on the land.

the-big-smoke_cove_low-res

The inferior position of cities was emphasised in New Zealand’s cultural production. I grew up reading Barry Crump’s ‘Good Keen Men’ books and thinking his ‘Man Alone’ protagonists were archetypal Kiwi blokes.  At secondary school I joined the tramping club and during the holidays headed into the bush with others. I looked forward to the physical challenges these trips provided, but for me the attraction of tramping was less the scenery and more the sociability: there is nothing like putting the world to rights around a campfire.  The prospect of going into the bush by myself held no appeal. I could never be a Good Keen Man. This was confirmed to me at the end of every tramp by the elation I felt on returning to Wellington and the trappings of civilisation, not least a hot shower.

On examining my family history I realised I was not the first Schrader to have an urban sensibility. My great, great grandfather, James, was born in 1834 in London. In 1862 he sought a new life in New Zealand. He landed in Dunedin and soon found work as a post office clerk. Ever since then the Schraders down my line of the family have lived in large towns or cities and pursued urban occupations: as clerks, tailors, grocers, restaurateurs and writers. Their homes have not looked out upon pasture or bush but the street and their neighbour’s fences. All have lived with the sights, sounds and smells of the people about them.

Whereas many historians have situated Pākehā identities in the land, I have always had a much stronger affinity with cities. I can appreciate the beauty of the snow-clad Southern Alps glistening in the sun, but the vistas that enthral me are city ones: the gradual revealing of Wellington as the motorway leaves the Ngāūranga Gorge; Auckland’s towering skyline from Waitematā Harbour’s undulating surface, or the ornate Victorian buildings lining Dunedin’s Princes Street. In other words, my social identity is grounded more in the streets and lanes of the cities where my forebears and I have lived than in the forests and farms that surround them.

towns-cities

Of course I knew my family were not the only ones to prefer city life; the rapid growth of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin underlines this. But the rise of these cities and those who built them has been underplayed in New Zealand history writing. This is surprising, considering that since the 1910s most New Zealanders have been urban dwellers – 86 per cent in 2014. Yet we know surprisingly little about these people and the spaces in which they lived. New Zealand generally lacks the substantial studies of urban life that are standard in national histories overseas.

So why hasn’t urban history captured the imagination of New Zealand historians? I proffer three suggestions. The first is that many adopted the anti-city bias of mid-twentieth-century nationalist literary culture. Writers like Rex (A.R.D.) Fairburn endlessly celebrated the naturalness of country life over the artificiality of city life – even though he lived in Devonport. The two most influential histories of Pākehā society, Jock Phillips’s A Man’s Country? (1987) and Miles Fairburn’s The Ideal Society and its Enemies (1989), are both rural-centric. The bias has carried to the present, most notably in environmental history. Overseas the sub-field has a strong urban strain, but in a new edition of Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand (2013), just two of the eighteen essays consider city environments.

A second possibility is that many historians avoid spatial analysis. It is not surprising that disciplines with a spatial bent, such as urban design and geography, have long been at the forefront of city research. Since the 1950s, scholars like Kenneth Cumberland, Eric Pawson, and Garth Falconer have employed spatial analysis to chart New Zealand’s urban development. Conversely, historians have generally seen cities as places where events happen, rarely considering how space – buildings, streets, landscapes – frame and shape these events.

The third reason is that in a small history community like New Zealand’s, there is less room for the diversity of sub-fields that characterise the profession overseas. The research interests of most historians have simply lain elsewhere.

If urban history has been in the wings of scholarship, The Big Smoke is an attempt to bring them centre-stage.  It examines what cities looked like and how they changed. It considers why women especially lived in cities and how Māori experienced and shaped them. It explores the ways the street was a living room and stage for city life. And it explains why New Zealand so quickly became a nation of townspeople.street-people-2

I hope the book will appeal particularly to those who, like me, do not identify with the ‘Good Keen Man’ stereotype. Certainly, there is growing evidence that New Zealand’s rural iconography no longer resonates with how most New Zealanders see themselves. Symptomatic of this shift was the ending of the long-running Speight’s ‘Southern Man’ advertising campaign in 2012. A Speight’s executive explained that New Zealand’s urbanisation meant the relevance of the great outdoors had changed. Future campaigns would be city-based, he said.

The same goes for our history writing. In a modern age of mega-cities we can no longer think of ourselves only as people of the land. If we are better to understand what is happening in our society in the present, more historians need to enter the city streets, lanes and cul-de-sacs of its past.

The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 by Ben Schrader is published by Bridget Williams Books and out now (www.bwb.co.nz/books/big-smoke).

Postcard from Japan: Hakone Day Trip

My wife and I are currently taking a couple of weeks holiday in Japan. I’ll post more about some of the urban aspects later but I thought I’d start with a day trip we took to Hakone that ended up in us using eight different forms of transport.

We were staying in Tokyo in Harajuku so the first step was to get to Shinagawa. Staying only a couple of minutes walk from the local station and then super frequent services every couple of minutes on the busy Yamanote Line – which stops at Shinagawa – this step was easy.

According to the fountain of knowledge that is Wikipedia:

  • The Yamanote Line is a circle line around central Tokyo linking many of key destinations, playing a similar role to the Inner Link in Auckland but on a much larger and busier scale. According to that fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia, it is one of the busiest lines in the world with an estimated 3.6 million trips every day. That’s more people than the entire London Underground carries (3.4 million a day). Tokyo’s fairly extensive subway network is mostly located within the ring of the Yamanote Line
  • Harajuku station is a fairly simple affair with just a fairly narrow island platform. Even so it is estimated that over 70,000 people use it daily, that’s more than our entire rail network on a busy weekday.

After a brief 16 minute journey, we were at Shinagawa and from here we could transfer to a high speed Shinkansen to allow us to cover the 70km distance to Odawara in just 27 minutes, reaching top speeds in places of around 270km/h.

  • The Tokaido Shinkansen line – between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka – is the busiest (and most profitable) high-speed line in the world. Every day more than 430,000 trips are taken on it. There are multiple service patterns that run and has have trains in each direction every few minutes
  • Shinkansen on some lines can reach over 300km/h and the Chuo Skinkansen (maglev) under construction is expected to run at over 500km/h

hakone-day-trip-shinkansen

hakone-day-trip-shinkansen-speed

At Odawara we purchased a pass allowing us to use all other different transport modes listed below. We transferred to small local railway to start our journey up into the hills to the town of Hakone-Yumoto. This train is effectively run as a shuttle service following a river valley up to the hills and taking only 15 minutes with a couple of stops along the way. From about 26m above sea level at Odwara, Hakone-Yumoto sits at 108m. It was a midday on a Saturday and the service was fairly busy, like a morning peak in Auckland.

hakone-day-trip-local-emu

Upon reaching Hakone-Yumoto it was a short hop along the platform to change to the Hokone-Tozan Mountain Railway. The three car trains that are used are able to climb up the steep sides of the mountains at grades of up to 8% (rising 1m for every 12m travelled) but it definitely doesn’t do so very fast with speeds of only around 15km/h. It takes about 40 minutes to cover 8.9km and along the way there are a handful of stops at mountain villages. There were a couple of switchbacks along the way to help it get up the mountain and which also served to allow trains to pass trains heading in the opposite direction. Winding through the steep bush clad hills the railway was apparently designed to be as hidden as possible.

hakone-day-trip-mountain-rail

The train was full of passengers for the ride up to 553m above sea level at the town of Gora.

hakone-day-trip-mountain-rail-trip

At Gora it was a transfer to a furnicular for a trip up the side of the steep mountain. This is about 1.2km over which it rises 214m to Sōunzan. The transfer from the mountain train to the furnicular is easy and part of the same building.

hakone-day-trip-cable-car

At the top of the furnicular it was then a transfer to a gondola to reach even higher up the mountain to the tourist area of Ōwakudani.

hakone-day-trip-gondola

Ōwakudani is a geothermal hotspot and is famous for the cooking eggs in the sulphuric hot springs which turns the shells black.

hakone-day-trip-geothermal-activity

Not a scene from Lord of the Rings but works to stabilise the side of the mountain

hakone-day-trip-black-egg

The shell might be black but they still taste like normal eggs

From the side of the mountain it is also a great spot on a good day to get views of Mt Fuji. It just so happened we had a great day for it.

hakone-day-trip-mt-fuji

After bite to eat it was time to continue and a second gondola takes riders down to Tōgendai on the edge of Lake Ashi. From there we transferred to one of three pirate ship themed ferries that run along the lake. I have no idea why they are themed as pirate ships but they are. We also had some fortuitous timing, the ferries only run every 40 minutes and we arrived with about a minute to spare, a perfect un-timed transfer.

hakone-day-trip-pirate-ship-ferries

At the other end of the lake was Moto-Hakone where we took a quick break before boarding the last new mode of the day, a bus. It also happened to be the least enjoyable because it was a small bus, smaller than the stupid small ADL buses NZ Bus use, and was also completely packed with people. They seemed to have a moto that you can always fit one more person on – although even that had its limits. This wasn’t helped by the buses only running ever half an hour and meant that some people got left behind. To go with the cramped conditions, the route was through some mountainous terrain with steep hills and frequent sharp bends.

After getting very personable with others on the bus for about 45 minutes – especially when someone sitting at the back wanted to get off – we arrived back in Hakone Yumoto. From there it was simply a reverse of the first three legs to get back home.

Here is a quick map of the journey

hakone-day-trip-route

Back at Odawara we had a little wait for our Shinkansen back to Tokyo. The stations are each designed with at least four tracks so that stopping services don’t hold up ones that aren’t stopping. While waiting a number of services in each direction flew past at speed

Scenery wise, it is very reminiscent of various places around the centre of the North Island, which is why I guess Hakone has a sister city relationship with Taupo.

It was mostly just a day of travelling but it was enjoyable and despite not really being planned and using lots of different services, the transfers seemed to work fairly well. I know a few readers have done this trip too, if you have, what did you think of it.

Why we blog

As delegates were leaving the American Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”. Franklin replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

He meant that, while the delegates had recommended a set of principles for government, it was up to average citizens to make them work in practice. That meant – and still means – having citizens who are informed and active in public debates over what and how we should proceed as a society, rather than citizens who will passively accept being ruled.

I believe in representative democracy. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s better than the alternatives. This model of government is most compatible with long-run social and economic prosperity, and with an expansion of human freedom and capabilities.

But hard work is needed to maintain and improve it. It’s not enough to just have the option to vote every three years. During and between elections, it’s vital to carry on an informed public conversation on policy issues. It doesn’t matter if it’s happening on the radio and in the newspaper, in church halls and cafes and public meetings, or in blogs written by unpaid volunteers. But it needs to happen.

I stress the words “informed” and “public”. It is important for the debate to be informed by facts and evidence, because they are essential for grounding conversations between different points of view. People with different values and principles can have an intelligent conversation if they are able to build on a common set of facts. For instance, when people who care mainly about predictable driving times talk to people who care mainly about safe cycling facilities, it would be useful to know what the research says about the impact of cycle lanes on driving speeds.

It is equally important for the discussion to be happening in public, where citizens in general can engage with it and respond to it. Discussions between politicians and lobbyists in smoky back rooms do not usually lead to awesome outcomes. This doesn’t mean that every conversation has to be publicly disclosed, but it does mean that part of the conversation has to be open to the public.

Having an informed public conversation about policy means that:

  • Citizens get a better understanding of policy issues and trade-offs, and vote in a more informed way
  • Politicians and policymakers face public checks and balances – if they come up with silly ideas, others will be there to point out their silliness
  • New ideas can enter the public debate from a more diverse range of sources, meaning that policymakers don’t accidentally exclude a good idea.

A key part of an informed public conversation is having people who are passionate and knowledgeable about an issue who will discuss that issue in public, rather than behind closed doors. Sometimes these people are outsiders to the field who have gotten interested in it and educated themselves. For instance, Transportblog editors Matt and Patrick have never worked in transport or urban planning. Matt works for a financial services company, while Patrick runs his own photography business.

But often, the people who help foster the public conversation work in the field, in business, academia, or (more rarely) government. Jarrett Walker of HumanTransit fame is an excellent example of a professional who contributes to the public conversation about his profession. While working as a public transport planning consultant, he also writes a regular blog about the principles of network design. (Disclosure: I also work in the same field, and Jarrett partners with the company I work for for projects in Australia and New Zealand.)

It isn’t necessarily easy to speak or write publicly about the field you work in. While there are social benefits to fostering a more informed public conversation, there are personal and professional risks. This is especially true in New Zealand, due to the small size of the place. It’s definitely possible to do yourself out of a job by taking the ‘wrong’ position on a controversial issue – in most fields, there just aren’t that many people hiring.

That’s a risk that can be managed, if not fully mitigated. This doesn’t mean taking a ‘party line’ and publicly advocating for the positions of employers or clients. In a democratic society, everybody is entitled to hold and express personal views. But it does mean strictly maintaining client confidentiality, and, from time to time, staying silent on an issue that you’ve worked closely on, or discussing it in a general sense rather than delving into the details of a specific proposal.

But in spite of the risks, I’ve been enthusiastic about writing for Transportblog (unpaid!) because I see it as a useful contribution to a more informed public debate about major issues like transport policy, housing policy, and the overall shape of our built environment – which is to say, the shape of our society. It’s my small contribution to making representative democracy work better.

Transportblog undoubtedly has an editorial voice that is shaped in different ways by all of the regular authors, who volunteer their own time to run the blog, as well as by interactions with commenters. Like all humans, we have our own values and viewpoints, and we express them in what we write. But my hope is that we manage to ground ourselves in the evidence, and to build our posts around facts rather than unsubstantiated reckons.

Other people with different values or viewpoints may look at the same evidence and come to a different conclusion about what should be done. Hopefully the work done by Transportblog will make people more aware of the common evidence base underpinning the debate, and help identify some of the big issues facing Auckland and other cities in New Zealand.

Is this where the conversation ends? No – certainly not! With luck, it’s just the beginning. I’d like to see a broader and more diverse conversation about public policy in New Zealand – not just in transport and urban policy, but across the board. I’d like to see more people grappling with important issues in public, rather than just talking about the weather.

The thing is: It won’t happen by itself. Participating in a public conversation takes time and effort. You have to inform yourself of the issues, and learn to debate others in a respectful fashion. If you’re talking about an issue that you work on, it can leave you feeling exposed to professional risks.

So if we want a good, well-informed public conversation about policy, we need to make it easier, not harder, to speak in public. I’d encourage everyone to think carefully about how to foster the debate:

  • Employers should ask whether their media policies (both social and conventional) enable employees to make public contributions. It’s certainly vital to maintain client confidentiality and avoid prejudicing your work. However, I would argue that many employers are too conservative and hence unintentionally stifle the debate.
  • Universities and schools should encourage their staff to engage more with public policy issues. These organisations are (in principle at least) more removed from commercial and political imperatives. There are some great examples of publicly-engaged academics and teachers in NZ – Thomas Lumley (StatsChat), Michelle Dickinson (NanoGirl), and secondary school teacher and occasional NZ Herald columnist Peter Lyons come to mind – but they’re in the minority.
  • Everyday New Zealanders should think about speaking up on issues you care about – and, equally importantly, informing yourself about those issues. But if you disagree with someone else’s view, don’t take that as a license to smear them or tear them down personally. Ad hominem attacks destroy quality conversations. Instead, try to understand how their values may differ from yours, and, if you think they’re simply wrong on the facts, engage with the evidence and debate the issue honestly.

And finally, Transportblog is always open to considering guest posts, so contact us if you’ve got ideas you’d like to share.

Postcard from Bogota

Following a few days in Mexico City, I’ve had the pleasure of staying a week in Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is both the federal capital and the capital of Cundinamarca state, and while it probably doesn’t yet figure as a world capital of culture or clout, it certainly is a thriving mega city of regional importance.

Because of its position straddling the Andes, Colombia is a country with every climate conceivable, it has snow covered alps, temperate savannah, dense jungle, dry desert, not to mention both tropical Caribbean and temperate-maritime Pacific coasts.

The city itself sits on broad plain high up on the middle finger of the three-branched Andes mountains, in fact at 2,700m it’s high enough to cause altitude sickness in some people. The altitude gives the nominally tropical city a very mild temperate climate, with clear skies, low humidity and temperatures that sit around the high teens and low twenties every day of the year. You could call it the city of eternal Spring.
image
Bogota is big. At around 11.5 million people it is as populous as greater London, or all of New Zealand two and a half times over.

Bogota is also dense. The majority of inhabitants live in apartment towers, mid rise block or terraced house style developments. The north of the city has a very European feel, with four to six story apartments of brick or concrete on a grid of fairly narrow tree lined streets. If it weren’t for the language you could be in the Netherlands or Germany.

Curiously, the city is three sided. The original colonial centre was established on one edge of the plain at the foot of a great mountain range. It has since sprawled across the plain to the north, south and west, but not to the east on account of the mountains. This allows for one unique benefit: you can ride a cable car a further 400m up the mountain of Monseraté near downtown and take in the whole sprawling metropolis in a single vista, including the bizzare experience of standing on terra firma and looking down at the tops of fifty story skyscrapers in the commercial district far below. If the thin air doesn’t take your breath away, the view certainly will!

image

Accordingly Bogota has basically two types of land use structure. A long, thin, but dense band of apartment towers runs for 40km north-south along the eastern edge of the plain, taking advantage of the Andes foothills to provide spectacular view back across the city. These buildings are accessed by a circuitous web of winding narrow switchback roads not too dissimilar to western Wellington. For the most part the wealthy live here in gated apartment communities, however dotted amongst them are university campuses (Bogota has dozens of them for some reason) and patches of impoverished and dangerous barrios similar to the famous favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

The other structure is on the plain itself, an enormous flat and regular grid of broad multi-lane avenues, filled with three to thirty storey buildings. Think Los Angeles but consistently taller. This is perhaps Bogota’s downfall: it land use is what can only be described as dense sprawl, and it’s transport system is entirely road based. Not surprisingly the traffic is truly horrendous. I have to laugh whenever people complain about Auckland’s supposedly worlds-worst traffic. Puh-lease. If you want bad traffic, take a city the same area as Auckland, with an entirely road based transport network… then add another ten million inhabitants all trying to drive at the same time.

Naturally Bogota has spend decades trying to accommodate it’s traffic with more, bigger roads. The city is covered in a massive amount of six, eight, ten lane avenues. They appear to have tried a bit of everything, separated motorways, limited access avenues, boulevards, frontage roads, slip lanes, underpasses, overpasses, one way streets, the works. The system almost works too… when conditions are perfect. However that almost never happens. It only takes one small crash, a truck parked illegally to unload, a taxi doing a u-turn or one of a thousand other small disruptions to infarct the system. This is perhaps the folly of huge roads for huge capacity, on an eight lane road one disruption clogs up eight times the traffic.

Transport here has an interesting socio-cultural element. From what I understand Bogotano society has six distinct classes with a broad spread of inequality, from the destitute poor up to the untouchable elite with money and connections above the law. For the middle classes, there is a great preoccupation with not sliding down the ladder. Few in the middle classes would ever dream of catching public transport as that is the domain of the underclass. Maintaining a private car is a necessary symbol of status regardless of the cost or the traffic, and if one does not drive they rely on cheap and ubiquitous taxis or town car services. Either way, not escape from the traffic is possible and it’s one form of private car all the way.

The transit wonks among us must now be thinking, but what about the Transmillennio? For the less frothy-mouthed readers, the Transmillennio is a now-famous busway system with half a dozen lines running along Bogota’s main arterials forming quite a wide reaching and effective network. This system is A grade busway of world class design. It is based around a system of dedicated, physically separated median busway lanes, some of which are grade separate at key intersections. The are combined with train-style island platform stations accessed by elaborate overpasses and footbridges. The busways themselves are serviced by special red colour high capacity trunk-only metro buses, very long vehicles with two or three articulated sections, high floors that match up with platform level, and four or even five double doors per bus. At the end of each of the busways there are huge interchanges where green-coloured feeder buses of conventional design connect the surrounding suburbs to the trunk busways. In that regard it really is metro system writ with rubber.

image

So what is it like to use? I wouldn’t know myself, as I was consistently dissuaded from trying it by friends and family whenever I mentioned it. The locals advised it was too crowded, too dangerous, too much of a risk for any decent person to use. I do wonder if this is simply a hangover of the same cultural understanding that buses were for the poor and to be avoided. Indeed when I asked few of my advisors had ever set foot on the system. My one young cousin who did actually use it to get to university each day only complained that it was too crowded, and the station too far away from his apartment.

What we do know is that the system is indeed hugely popular and overcrowded, a victim of it’s own success. Preoccupations of class and status aside, hundreds of thousands of people use the system every day. For all its efficiency at beating traffic and it mega capacity buses ability to move the masses, the simple fact is it barely touches the sides of the transport task in Bogota. Imagine London with no tube, not overground, no suburban trains, no national rail, no DLR, no tramlink. Imagine a London with six busways as the only rapid transit. That is Bogota. They have a long way to go to turn the traffic situation around. So yes it is a massive success, and very worthwhile, but for Bogota it is just the start of fixing things.

So if the Transmillennio is so effective (if not comprehensive), one has to ask why we don’t build them in Auckland. Indeed we hear this quite often from certain politicians, why are we talking about CRL tunnels and trains and light rail, when the bus can do the job for half the price? It’s a good question, and one that deserves an evaluation. Nonetheless, the answer is pretty simple: space.

image

The Transmillennio takes up space, lots of space. More space than we have. The basic cross section of these busways is two bus lanes either side of a median. That’s basically the full width of most of our main roads to start with. However, once you get to a stop the situation blows out again. Each of the stations has a large platform, then stopping lanes either side, then passing lane beside those again. That means a cross section of four bus lanes and the station, about 25 metres wide. Now as most of Auckland’s arterial roads are one chain wide (about 21m), building a Transmillennio in Auckland would require buying and demolishing all the buildings down one side of the street just to fit in the bus corridor, let alone any other traffic lanes, footpaths or street trees. Indeed, the one place we are looking at a multilane street busway, the AMETI corridor in east Auckland, they are planning to do exactly that.

So while we can do busways alongside motorways like we do on the North Shore (and hopefully the northwest), we can’t fit them in the street for the most part. This is why AT is looking at light rail, because for the same capacity LRT needs only two lanes and compact platforms, where the bus systems need four to manage the greater number of vehicles.

Bogota managed this by building into their existing avenues, which had huge wide medians in addition to three or four lanes in each direction. The Transmillennio got away without any land or building purchases by virtue of having huge road reserves to start with. In fact they had such wide corridors that they actually widened the roadways at the same time, adding extra lanes for traffic to offset the squeals of indignation about spending proper money on public transport. So in one way Bogota was lucky to have a fair whack of empty space effectively lying around, or arguably they were wasting land to start with and found a better use for it.

My end evaluation? The Transmillennio was a good move for Bogota that fits the city well and takes advantage of spatial resources, however it’s only the start of much more for fixing their transport issues.