Comicially wrong op-ed about the CRL

Brian Leyland has written an op-ed in the herald that is so comically wrong it’s hard not to ignore. Every single one of the 13 paragraphs contains (often basic) factual errors or opinion masquerading as fact. So I thought I’d highlight some of them.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Mayor Len Brown is determined to commit Auckland to building a hugely expensive railway tunnel even though no comprehensive independent and objective economic analysis has been made on the merits of the tunnel and whether or not letting the city spread and developing satellite centres would be better.

More than 70% of Auckland’s population are already within 3km – an easy 10 minute bike ride if we built some safe infrastructure to support it – of a train station. The major urban areas not near the rail network are the North Shore, North West, Hibiscus Coast, parts of the central isthmus, the airport and East Auckland. The latter of those would feed into the rail network via AMETI and the Panmure Station.

Independently reviewed economic analysis has occurred and the project has had more scrutiny than probably any other transport project in this country. If the governments RoNS were subjected to even half of what the CRL has been they would have been canned years ago. More on the spawl comment later in the post.

Auckland Council has neglected its obligation to investigate and evaluate all options. Given the enormous amount of expenditure involved, this amounts to a serious dereliction of duty.

The City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) did just this and involved the NZTA and Ministry of Transport with the MoT even noting that the modelling has probably undercooked the patronage projections.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

Overseas research on 44 urban rail systems revealed that the average cost overrun was 45 per cent and the number of passengers was half the predicted number. Have the economics of the Auckland tunnel been tested against 45 per cent higher costs and half the passengers? If not, why not?

Cost over runs aren’t limited to rail as the graph below shows – although it seems our recent rail upgrades have been ok. In saying that we seem to have been much better with managing costs on larger projects – many of which are claimed to have come in on time and under budget which is likely due to the additional detailed work that occurs beforehand which is happening right now with the CRL.

Road cost overrun chart

As for patronage, we can look at local examples to see how well our projections have fared. For Britomart we passed the 2021 prediction for the number of people passing through the station in 2011 and given the growth we’ve seen since that time that will only be larger now.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

We’re also on track to exceed the 2016 target set in the Rail Development Plan of 2006 of 15.7 million trips in 2016 despite a later start to electrification than envisioned.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Right now, ratepayers subsidise 80 per cent of the cost of every train fare. If the tunnel costs blow out by 50 per cent it will need to recover at least $450 million in fares every year for capital repayment and operating expenses. If, as hoped, there are 20 million rail trips every year, they will need to recover $22.50 per rail trip. Most of this will be imposed on the ratepayers.

Train fares currently cover around 26% however that figure has been improving this year and will likely continue to do so as the new electric trains roll out and patronage continues to improve so dramatically. I also expect we might see some improvement from the middle of next year (from reduced costs) as a result of AT re-tendering the rail contract – which I understand there are a number of interested groups. I expect Auckland will move closer to Wellington in this result which achieves 56% farebox recovery on its trains.

Importantly one of the benefits of the CRL is that while it will cost to run the stations and more trains, the farebox recovery ratio should further improve – potentially as high as 80%.

I’m not sure where Bryan has his 20 million rail trips per year from – I presume he’s confusing the governments target with a patronage projection. We haven’t seen total patronage results of any recent modelling and the CCFAS only showed the impacts at peak times however some older estimates put total patronage eventually up around 50 million trips per year.

The council planners seem to be totally unaware of the imminent revolution in personal transport that will be brought about by self-guided cars, modern taxi systems, ride sharing and buses. By the time the tunnel is in operation self-guided cars that will allow twice the traffic density on roads and reduce accidents by 50 per cent or more will be available. Not long after it will be possible to call up a driverless taxi or minibus by cellphone to take you where you want to go. For those who think that this is the stuff of dreams, it is now possible to buy a car that, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead and every major car manufacturer is developing self-guided cars.

These technological advances, combined with telecommuting (working from home and using the internet to communicate) and smartphone-assisted car pooling will have a huge effect on commuting and the shape of future cities. The council should take its head out of the sand and get up to speed with this revolution.

We’ve talked about driverless cars quite a bit recently so won’t go into that too much other than to say the uptake of new vehicle technology has so far been incredibly slow. As for telecommuting – the percentage of people doing just that hasn’t really changed in well over a decade despite it being easier than ever to do so. In fact many large companies – especially tech companies have done the opposite as they have recognised the benefits of working closer together.

Unitary Plan Rant that could probably have a post of its own:

The Unitary Plan is based on a blind belief that it is wrong to let the city spread and intensification is the only option

The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus, which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place.

Most of the isthmus has well-established high-density suburbs with good houses, trees, gardens and lawns that are environmentally friendly and support large populations of birds and bees. The Unitary Plan will demolish these suburbs and substitute blocks of flats that will increase demand for parking, roads, schools, power, water supply, drainage and the like. There will be serious environmental and social impacts. Expanding infrastructure in an established suburb is far more expensive and environmentally damaging than building new low-cost houses on greenfield developments.

The council’s objective is to ration land and artificially inflate land values so as to force people to demolish good houses and force them to build apartment buildings to spread the rates burden.

Perhaps Bryan would like to point out where in the unitary plan it forces people to bowl their houses and build apartments. For most of the isthmus such an activity is actually prohibited due to heritage, zoning, density and height restrictions. In fact the central isthmus is almost locked in amber by the Unitary Plan as it stands now, especially compared to somewhere like West Auckland.

Notified UP - Isthmus-West-North

Auckland can pour vast amounts of money into city centre development in the hope of getting enough passengers to justify a railway tunnel, or it can allow the city to spread and develop satellite centres so that people can live in affordable houses and work in the same area.

Before any action is taken on the Unitary Plan and the tunnel, ratepayers should demand that an independent and objective study is done on the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing the city to spread, compared with intensification. Nothing is more important.

Again perhaps Bryan should look at what work has already happened, such as this report from 2010 on the social, environmental and economic benefits of different development options and for which the large sprawl based one came out worse on the vast majority of measures. Perhaps one of the funniest things I’ve heard is that the modelling on the CRL shows that the more sprawl that’s enabled – particularly in south Auckland – the higher the need for the CRL is as it means there are even more people trying to avoid long lines of congestion from the hinterland.

Overall given his history and given the inaccuracy of his piece I’m surprised the herald even ran it.

Houston’s parking policy madness

In urban policy circles, Houston, Texas is best known for its laissez-faire approach to planning regulations. Some people go as far as saying that it has no planning rules at all, and attribute the city’s low housing costs to this fact.

This certainly has a grain of truth to it. As I wrote after visiting my brother in Houston last year:

It’s easy to see the results of Houston’s lack of zoning laws while driving around the city – or walking, in the unlikely event that you can find a footpath. There is a remarkable, eclectic mix of housing types – old shotgun shacks on grassy lots sit next to aluminium-sided townhouses and apartment blocks.

There are advantages to this policy. Because local governments in Houston allow people to build almost anything on their land, redevelopment and intensification can happen quite flexibly. (Unless it’s constrained by covenants established by developers or residents’ associations.) Here, for example, is a neighbourhood near Houston’s Medical Center (from Google Maps). There are a number of detached houses in the area – predominantly in the lower left hand corner. However, there are also many midrise apartments, flats, and attached houses to be seen near the top and right edges of the picture:

Houston housing near medical center

But, as with any good myth, there is also an element of fantasy to Houston’s laissez-faire reputation. You see, the city of Houston is actually extraordinarily prescriptive about the amount of parking that developers, businesses, and households must provide. A recent post from Hamilton Urban Blog pointed me back towards Houston’s parking code.

It’s a wonderfully absurd document. By my count, Houston has developed minimum parking rules for at least 75 separate activities. It sets separate minimum parking rules for activities as diverse as:

  • miniature golf: 1 parking space per hole
  • elementary schools: 1 parking space per 12 students – I’m not sure if Houston’s got ludicrously low class sizes or if it expects some primary schoolers to drive themselves?
  • apartments: 1.666 parking spaces per two-bedroom apartment – are demonic forces at work?

This raises a number of questions. First, why are those freedom-loving Texans willing to tolerate this level of regulatory overreach? Surely they don’t think that planning bureaucrats could accurately predict the needs of their businesses and families?

Second, are Houston’s parking rules leading to perverse outcomes? For example, could a regulated oversupply of parking have contributed to the city’s demand for more roads, which has helped put the state road fund in deficit to a tune of up to $5 billion per annum and forced it to stop repaving some roads?

Forget about the cost of roads, though: could Houston’s parking rules be pushing people directly towards dangerous activities like drinking and driving? Here’s the section of the zoning code that covers restaurants and bars. As you can see, Houston’s code requires bars to provide more parking than similarly-sized restaurants.

Houston parking ordinances restaurants and bars

Abundant, low-priced parking tends to encourage people to drive more, rather than taking public transport, walking, or catching a cab. Are Houston’s parking rules encouraging people to drink and drive? Has the city government actually studied the effects of this policy? And, if not, why on earth would you assume it would be a good idea to require bars to have loads of parking?

Lastly, while it’s easy to mock Houston’s absurdities from a distance, can we be sure that we’re not doing similarly absurd things? Planning regulations, like any regulations, can lead to perverse consequences. It’s important to keep an eye on them – and be willing to get rid of them if they aren’t working out.

Do you think we’re experiencing any perverse consequences from our planning regulations?

Our Port and the Harbour

8-10am tomorrow morning there is a meeting organised by groups concerned about the lack of governance and oversight by Council over the Port Company. Whether you can make it tomorrow or not, if you agree that the Port Company needs more oversight and governance from the Council, visit this page and them them know.

STOP STEALING OUR HARBOUR

Letter to the Council:

Dear Mayor Len Brown and Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse,

I am writing on behalf of Urban Auckland, the NZ Institute of Architects Auckland Branch, the Urban Design Forum and the Auckland Architects Association. We represent the professionals working in the built environment of our city. We are joined by local community groups and Westhaven Marina Users.

We are deeply concerned at Ports announcement last Thursday that they are extending Bledisloe Wharf in April by 93 and 98 metres thus eliminating the crucial view down the harbour from Queens Wharf – the proposed gateway to our City. We feel let down by Council process and have no trust in Ports of Auckland.

 We are not against Ports of Auckland operating in the city. We are for establishing a way forward where we can all be good neighbours. PoA’s actions in the last few months show they have no intent at all in being that.

We feel our voice has not been heard. We have not been consulted over the City Centre Integration Plan. No study of the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental impact has been done as you promised in 2013.

Tomorrow morning Wednesday 25th February at 9am we are launching a petition ‘Save our Harbour” on the end ofQueens Wharf and would appreciate it if you could attend to listen and talk to the people. In the past we have been heartened by your leadership on this issue.

The Petition states:

We ask the Mayor and Councillors to

  • Stop the proposed extension of Bledisloe Wharf
  • Keep ‘reclamation’ of the Waitemata Harbour as a ‘non-complying’ activity
  • Start a wide-reaching study of environmental, social and economic factors affecting the site and operations of theAuckland port. The Mayor promised Aucklanders this in 2013.
  • Make Ports of Auckland work with the people of Auckland – not against them.

We acknowledge this is short notice but timing of events has been out of our control. We wanted to make sure our voices were heard before Thursday’s Development Committee meeting.

A view from architect David Mitchell in the paper paper:

PORT LETTER

It is hard to believe that the best thing to do with the Waitemata harbour is to tip dirt into it in order to store more cars on the resultant tarmac:

OSTRO_5788

 

Too High a Cost.

AT are doing some very very good things at the moment, they are showing leadership and courage to make rational but bold decisions.  Like dropping the Reeves Rd fly-over in favour of a BRT solution, creatively investigating ways to bring modern light rail to over-crowded bus routes, and quickly rolling out long overdue bus lanes on arterials. These are all fantastic and are signs of a nimble and lively institution, one that is responding to a changing world with a changed response. One that is resisting the natural tendency of public agencies to just roll on doing the same as before and not risk trouble. I applaud this and the hard working and dedicated individuals who are carrying out.

But at the same time, at least at the time of writing, AT has lost its way on Great North Road. So why have they got it so wrong here?

Looking at that first list we can see what all these issues have in common; they are all discretely transport issues; as you’d expect this is AT’s core competency. BRT versus a traffic flyover in Pakuranga? This is a debate between competing transport projects, each can be costed and outcomes evaluated. Analysing whether more buses will be able to deal with the demand on Isthmus and City routes or whether a higher capacity technology may be needed? Again this is problem of spatial geometry, vehicle size, route speed, likely passenger volumes, boarding times, vehicle dimensions etc. All the kinds of things a transport organisation ought to excel in, and that AT increasingly shows it does.

St Lukes Interchange Plan

But in examining the widening of Great North Road as if it only has transport outcomes they are showing the limits of this competency. That ‘place value’ just doesn’t compute is shown by the bewildering array of excuses being rolled out by AT to justify an act they clearly consider trivial: The removal of the six 80 year old Pohutukawa. First was an attempt to blame the need for killing these trees on improved cycling and public transport amenity in order to ‘bring long-term environmental benefits':

We regret that the trees will be lost but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended bus lane and bus priority measures in Great North Road.

Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with Auckland Transport’s drive to encourage the use of public transport. This will bring long-term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car.

This is to draw an extraordinarily long bow. There are no ‘cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge’ in the proposed plan. There is absolutely no more cycling amenity on Great North Rd than there is currently, ie a wide footpath, except the new one will have no shade nor glory from the grand Pohutukawa. There is proposed to be a slightly longer but still intermittent bus lane. And as all this takes place as part of a massive increase in traffic lanes, including a double slip lane, to say that this project is designed to ‘bring long term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car’ is frankly, an untruth.
That statement would be justified if fully separated cycle lanes and proper Rapid Transit was at the core of the project. They are not.
Now we have a new justification, signed by the same high level AT executive, published in Metro Magazine: Cost.
Both AT and NZTA spend public money and it is our legal and moral responsibility to deliver the most objective cost-efficient solutions to the ratepayers and taxpayers that planning and engineering can devise, for the least possible cost.
Absolutely right. Cost, and value, is exactly the issue here. We all certainly want our money spent wisely by our public servants. But there are obvious problems with this assertion, first the cost is only relevant in the context of the value; a cheap thing is a waste if it is not very good. And the people of Auckland see losing the trees as too high a cost for what they propose. That AT don’t see they value of the trees how and where they are, or so discount it so, is essentially the heart of the disagreement. We understand that they have a low transport value, but AT cannot ignore values outside of their core discipline, particularly place values, as their actions have huge effects on the quality of life and place that are not captured by driver time savings, traffic flow, or PT ridership numbers. Neither AT nor NZTA can just ignore these issues and simply hide within their speciality. And nor can they claim that a couple of new trees are the same as magnificent ones that have witnessed the last 80 years at this spot.
Additionally, there is no evidence that the preferred option is less expensive in direct financial cost than say Option Six, which the peer review found to have no significantly different traffic outcomes. In fact Option Six must surely be cheaper to construct as it is one lane narrower and doesn’t involve removing the trees:
Pohutukawa Option 6
There are other issues that could be raised with this text like the bold claim the whole purpose of the Super City is to reduce congestion:
The founding premise of the Auckland super city was that the city’s congestion was costing $1 billion a year in lost productivity and this had to change.
Both this idea of the centrality of congestion busting to the whole purpose of the city and the quoting of a $1billion annual congestion cost figure show how blind AT have become to other issues of value. Other costs. Especially perhaps things that are hard to quantify. But then congestion cost itself is a very hard thing to quantify. The most recent attempt in New Zealand, published by NZTA itself [Wallis and Lupton 2013] find that the figure for Auckland is more likely in the realm of $250 million.
Wallis and Lupton 2013
But regardless of this supposed quantum it has long been understood that congestion is not solved by building more roads, that in fact while temporarily easing one route, overall this only encourages more driving and auto-dependency for a place, and ultimately worse congestion everywhere. It is, quite literally, the loosening of the belt as a ‘cure’ for obesity. It is also understood that the best outcome for all road users, the best way to combat congestion, is to invest in the alternative Rapid Transit route, particularly where none currently exists:
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
So again the heavy cost of this work, both financially and in the loss of the trees, a massive reduction in place value, is too high for this outcome.
As some levels of AT seem to admit they place no value on the trees, or indeed anything that isn’t directly transport related, the best outcome would be for the Board to give them direction to find a solution that both keeps the trees and meets reasonable near term traffic demand and in fact meaningfully incentivises the mode shift that AT correctly values:
Urban roads and state highways working together to keep the traffic flowing and fast, efficient road, rail and ferry passenger services that — together with walking and cycling — entice Aucklanders out of their cars.
 -Auckland Transport Metro Magazine
This is an issue of cost, and value. The people of Auckland, Auckland Transport’s ultimate customers and employers, find the cost to place-value too high, and the value of the proposed outcome too low, to justify this action. The public may have been slow to realise what was planned here but have now made their views clear. Recently we have come to expect bold and innovative solutions from AT for all sorts of difficult problems. So it would be very unfortunate if the Board were to miss an opportunity to call a halt to this irreversible action and to seek a smarter solution.
And because work has begun the most efficient and cost effective solution is probably to make the small but significant change to Option Six, leaving the trees, adding the additional slip lane, but settling at least for now, for the two east bound lanes away from the motorway overbridge instead of three. It would be good to see the real effects are after the opening of the Waterview connection before rash actions are taken. If a third lane is deemed necessary here [even though only two lead into it] it is clear that could be added in a few years as MOTAT as planning to restructure their whole relationship with this corner. AT can save some cost and some grief now and revisit the issue with more information and without the pressure from a NZTA deadline. It could be that they find that an east facing buslane and separated cycle way is of higher value through here…?
Pohutukawa Blossom, Elsewhere

Pohutukawa Blossom, elsewhere

Downtown Shared Streets: Complete the Network

Polemic:

The existing central city Shared Streets are clearly an overwhelming success, particularly on the east side where they are starting to form a coherent network. The most recent addition, O’Connell St, has the advantage of connecting to the long-pedestrianised Vulcan Lane. In fact it appears that the reverse might be more accurate: the newly vibrant O’Connell St looks like it is dragging life and trade up into the top half of Vulcan, the part that has long been much quieter than the section between High and Queen.

SHARED SPACES_6243

From O’Connell towards the top of Vulcan Lane

 

SHARED SPACES_6625

O’Connell

To the north the Fort Lane/Fort St/Jean Batten Pl network has been completely transformative; drawing a new flow of people up from the Bus, Train, and Ferry Stations and new attractions of Britomart – only for the Shortland St/High St traffic barrier to interrupt this natural movement.

Jean Batten

Jean Batten

HIGH ST_7381

Lower Shortland

HIGH ST_7131

High St through to Fort Lane

However the novelty of the Shared Streets in a city that has spent half a century building itself on an auto-priority model is still too much for some drivers, and getting it through to this group that it’s time to change away from an expectation of a parking space right outside their destination in the central city still requires work. This is true especially as this expectation is already illusory, and simply leads to pointless circling hoping for that dream parking space: a poor outcome multiplied.

To really reinforce that these key city streets are not appropriate for the same level of private vehicle access as suburban ones, in my view, it is necessary is to spread the typology further, and to join it up into a natural network of Shared and Pedestrian-only streets of high civility. My hunch is that the ‘network effect’, where the value of a thing is multiplied by its connection to more of its kind, the sum being more powerful than the parts, is just as applicable here as in say a Transit system or a road network. This is hardly surprising as even though the driver may experience these streets as a restriction, to that same person once out of their vehicle, they are a liberation. Therefore the understanding of this being an especially privileged place for people will be reinforced through its completeness; and it will both attract more pedestrians and encourage those over-optimistic drivers to just park a little sooner and join the walkers.  As of course the only way to enter the buildings on these Victorian streets and to shop, consult, or socialise is on foot, as a pedestrian.  So here I’m co-opting the motorway boosters’ slogan: It’s time to complete the network.

SHARED SPACES_6786

O’Connell St

This observation is all the more powerful when we consider that the beginning is the hardest time for these places: the small number of scattered examples have to live in a world still totally drenched in vehicles, where drivers are used to virtually complete access to any horizontal surface as a matter of course, and with a natural right to dominate all other uses. Join these these examples up and watch their success multiply off the scale.

Programme:

First a simple tweak: To optimise the functionality of  the new O’Connell St Shared Street, all that is probably needed is a reversal of the one way flow on Courthouse Lane to uphill, and make the western section of Chancery St one way towards Courthouse Lane. This maintains the same vehicle access to the street network here for deliveries and the Metropolis Building, while no longer pouring vehicles into the top of O’Connell St which simply incentivises its use as a rat run. Additionally, the planned pedestrianisation of the little Freyberg Pl Shared Space can’t come soon enough.

Clearly now High St is overdue to be added to the existing Shared Street network [see images to follow]. With that then comes the obvious move to join up these Shared Streets with Jean Batten and Fort St by adding lower Shortland St from just below Fields Lane to Queen St to the network. Currently lower Shortland St is part of the unnecessary Queen St rat-run for far too many vehicles, in particular private vehicles; in other words, drivers with no destination on these busy streets but rather using this very core of our city – our busiest and most valuable pedestrian streets – as a vehicle short cut.

Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High

Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High

And to really make all this work, Centre City Integration must grasp the moment and remove general traffic on Queen St from Customs St to Wellesley St. Leaving it for pedestrians and Transit, just like Bourke St in Melbourne. As is promised to us in the City Centre Master Plan with this seductive image:

queen-st-tram

Queen St, City Centre Master Plan

MELBOURNE_9150

Bourke St, Melbourne

But do we really have to wait for Light Rail for this to happen, can’t it work with buses first? In fact if we’re going to be digging up some part of the street for the tracks wouldn’t it make sense to get the traffic out first? Certainly the City Link would operate much more efficiently, and imagine the improvements to cross town traffic and pedestrians through the removal of those turning cycles at each intersection?  It would probably in fact improve East/West traffic flow on Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. The few vehicle entrances on Shortland St are all at the top of the hill and there should be no encouragement for drivers using these to go down the hill to enter the Queen St valley street network. And the best way to achieve this is simply to remove Queen St from the general traffic network. There is, after all, not a single vehicle entrance off this spine, only pedestrian ones. It will still be needed for Transit and delivery and emergency access; but no private car ever needs to be there.

The control [specified times?] of delivery and trade vehicles [too easy for these to get general parking wavers- even without specific projects] and the rights of taxis are  interesting issues in which I can see value of various positions. But one thing I think is absolutely obvious; the rights of the private car user to these streets is the lowest priority because they are the source of least benefit and the greatest dis-benefit. It is their numbers that squeeze out people, delay service and emergency vehicles, and occupy valuable space that otherwise can be better used for transactions both economic and social.

There are literally dozens of parking buildings just away from these streets up either side of the valley and the richest abundance of public transport options anywhere in the entire nation. Furthermore very few fridges are sold here, and indeed any purchase that is bulkier than a book, a frock, or a belly-full can surely be delivered. Most transactions appear to be inter-human, and many sales consumed on the spot, or at least are not much more difficult to carry than a suit or a pair of shoes.

Like the other recent improvements to our city – better train, bus, and ferry services, and new cycleways – these Shared Spaces will only continue to improve, to add more value, as their improvements are embedded and extended. Or, to express this idea negatively, the Shared Streets will never be more traffic afflicted and compromised than they are now, while they are more surrounded by auto-priority ones. The same as the core Rapid Transit network will only continue to improve as more services and connections with other layers of the system develop. The Network Effect.

Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.

Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.

Now that looks like a real shoppers’ and diners’ paradise; an actual Heart of the City, a zone that can be marketed as having a real point of difference from either suburban big box retail or the motorised strips of Newmarket and Ponsonby. But still, those notoriously conservative creatures, retailers, probably won’t get it till it’s done.

O’Connell v High, Feb 2015:

SHARED SPACES_6885

HIGH ST_7079

O'CONNELL ST_7701

HIGH ST_7221

SHARED SPACES_6655

Earlier posts on High St:

On the Victoria Street end; how to deal with the parking building traffic.

On some retailers’ determination that their only customers are cars.

The great intensive street pattern of the area so damaged in the 1980s and the previous debate about O’Connell St.

HIGH ST_7665

Move to the Waikato?

The Prime Minister has suggested a new solution to housing problems in Auckland

If you can’t afford a house in Auckland the prime minister has some advice for you – head to Waikato.

John Key was in the region yesterday for a less controversial cup of tea at Zealong Tea Estate, before heading up to Pokeno to see what he made of growth in the area.

In an interview with the Waikato Times he said moving south of New Zealand’s biggest city ought to be a “serious consideration” for buyers struggling to find the cash for Auckland homes.

“They pay less for their home so obviously they’re going to pay more to commute. It’s a tradeoff that people decide all around the world and it will give them a far higher quality of home at a lower price,” he said.

Key said the option would be particularly attractive to those who could work from home.

He added that the Waikato Expressway made it a “really legitimate option, especially for people who work in the southern part of [Auckland] city”.

If living in the Waikato and commuting were really an option for a lot of people I think we’d already have seen a lot more of it than we do. The reality is even if a person worked in South Auckland they’re still guaranteed to be locking themselves into a long daily commute, even if there wasn’t any traffic. Long commutes can impact on people’s quality of life, especially if that commute is unproductive while sitting behind a wheel.

What would make such an idea much more viable was if there was a decent and quality rail service linking at least Hamilton and Auckland. We’ve looked at a Hamilton to Auckland train service a few times in the past including most recently here and here.

Upper North island intercity rail tight frame-01

Where I differ from some of my fellow bloggers on this issue is that I don’t feel that just starting up even a bare bones service now will be that useful in providing realistic choice to people. Instead however a concerted effort was put into improving the rail network to allow for travel time of around 1½ hours between Hamilton and Britomart then it could be a significant game changer. To do that we’d need to see improvements such as the proposed 3rd (and maybe even a 4th) main line through Auckland, the CRL to free up space in Britomart, a number of track improvements along the route and some trains capable of speeds higher than 80-100kph. The good thing is with most of the infrastructure already in place such improvements probably aren’t super expensive and likely far less than a single section of the Waikato Expressway.

Of course all of this is predicated on the basis that people want to live miles from Auckland. Some of course want to but many more would probably prefer to live much closer if there were more opportunities to do so. The lack of a range of different housing choices helps push people to the edge of our cities however John Key sees this situation as something people want:

But whether or not people heeded his advice, the prime minister predicted that the flood of those choosing to live on the outskirts of Auckland was unlikely to slow. His words come as official channels signal more unease over the state of super-city house prices. Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler said yesterday that he was concerned about a “sharp correction, leading to financial instability”.

Interestingly Graeme Wheeler also said this.

In Auckland, much more needs to be done, especially in creating opportunities for residential construction in Auckland central.

Parking is massively oversupplied in US cities

When people discuss the costs of car-centric transport systems, they tend to tend to talk about congestion, fuel costs, crashes, or, if they’re environmentally-minded, carbon emissions.

However, one of the largest costs of auto-dependency is hidden in plain sight: the cost of providing parking spaces. The financial cost of providing parking spaces can be staggering. According to Todd Litman, “most communities have three to six parking spaces per vehicle (one a home, one at the worksite, plus spaces at various destinations such as stores, schools and parks)”. As car parks occupy around 30 m2 apiece, this means 90-180 m2 per car.

In Auckland, where suburban land prices range from around $250/m2 (west and south Auckland) to over $1000/m2 (inner isthmus, lower North Shore), surface parking would cost $22-90,000 per car. That’s more expensive than the cars that occupy those spaces!

mcc-coloured

Buildings are in red. Parks are in green. Everything else is roads and carparking.

Moreover,  land that is devoted solely to cars cannot be put to higher and better uses, such as dwellings, businesses, or public spaces. In a successful city, we would expect the value of those other uses to continue rising, meaning that the opportunity cost of car parking will also rise. Space is expensive in cities, and parking is an inherently inefficient use of land.

This spatial inefficiency is exacerbated by the fact that many cities have ended up with more car parking than is necessary. Eric Jaffe in Citylab reports on some important new research on parking oversupply in US cities:

Some new research reminds us just how oversupplied parking really tends to be in American metro areas: in a word, enormously. Rachel Weinberger and Joshua Karlin-Resnick of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates analyzed parking studies of 27 mixed-use districts across the United States and found “parking was universally oversupplied, in many cases quite significantly.” On average across the cases, parking supply exceeded demand by 65 percent.

[…]

The researchers focused on districts with both residential and retail developments in a variety of settings—17 suburbs, 6 cities, and 4 towns—mostly in New England or California. (Interestingly, a third of the areas were documented as having the impression that local parking was scarce.) By looking at previous parking studies in these areas, as well as satellite imagery via Google Earth, they identified existing parking supplies and peak weekday and weekend demands.

Critically, the researchers also took into account the accepted practice of supplying 15 percent more spaces than necessary—a sort of buffer zone that reduces the congestion caused by drivers circling for spaces.

In all 27 districts, spanning places with 420 spaces to those with 6,600 spaces, Weinberger and Karlin-Resnick found an oversupply of parking over and above the buffer zone. The oversupply ranged from 6 percent up to 253 percent across the study areas (below, the highest over-suppliers). And in the nine areas that had believed parking to be scarce, the oversupply ranged from 6 percent to 82 percent.

us parking oversupply

These are pretty extraordinary findings. An average oversupply of 65% means that two out of every five parking spaces are, essentially, useless. We would never tolerate such waste in any other part of our economy – if, for example, two out of every five meatworks were sitting idle, we would start shutting down the unprofitable ones.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the article, as there are a number of other interesting findings in the research. One in particular stood out:

Interestingly, a third of the areas were documented as having the impression that local parking was scarce.

The researchers found that this was not correct – parking was in fact oversupplied in each one of these areas. Policymakers and businesses in these areas significantly overestimated the amount of parking that was truly required. It’s common to hear retailers complaining about the loss of on-street parking for cycle lanes and bus lanes, but the evidence suggests that we should treat their claims with caution.

The same thought occurred to me when reading the recent Motu paper on the cost of planning regulations. Based on a survey of 16 Auckland-based developers, the authors concluded that:

There were diverse views of the impact of car parking requirements on developments, reflecting differing development types. CBD apartment developers, particularly those developing at the affordable end of the market, prefer to include fewer car parks. They saw car parks as a cost to the development as the market value of a park was less than the cost of including them on the development. In contrast to CBD apartment developers’ views, suburban apartment developers tended to favour offering more car parks.

However, some of the comments from developers made me wonder whether they had also fallen into the trap of overestimating parking requirements:

“The optimal number of car parks in a suburban apartment development targeting the mid to upper end of the market is 2 to 3 per unit with additional common parking for guests”

Now, I haven’t been keeping a close eye on suburban apartment developments, but I’d be extremely surprised if developers were actually building three car parks per unit. If anything, the trend seems to be for fewer car parks. For example, the Merchant Quarter apartments in New Lynn have unbundled parking, while the apartments planned for Alexandra Park will have only one car park apiece.

Do you think Auckland has a parking oversupply? If so, what should we do about it?

NZ Herald: “Urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good”

Yesterday, the NZ Herald chose to celebrate Auckland’s 175th anniversary with an editorial celebrating the city’s motorways. It’s an extremely odd piece to read in the wake of a string of good editorials discussing shared spaces, new cycleways, and the light rail proposals.

It’s also sad that the paper’s editors chose not to highlight Auckland’s many other features that we can take pride in. No mention of the city’s preserved natural heritage – the beaches, the Waitakeres, the Hunuas, the maungas, and two harbours. No mention of its preserved urban heritage – the villas and shops of Ponsonby and Devonport. No mention of its humming, vibrant centre, which has been brought back to life by Britomart, waterfront redevelopment, and pedestrian spaces, or the many other places, like the multicultural night markets or the Otara markets, where Auckland happens.

Instead of celebrating Auckland’s glories, the Herald chooses to make a virtue of its dysfunctions:

Auckland’s landscape and coastal attractions made its sprawl as inevitable as its preference for cars over public transport.

This is total hogwash. The Herald is attempting to re-cast Auckland’s outward expansion as an inevitable process in an attempt to win today’s argument about how best to accommodate future growth. “Planners”, they contend, cannot and should not attempt to fight the tide of suburbanisation and road-building.

Unfortunately, their own account reveals that Auckland’s current shape – and dependence upon cars – was in fact a planned outcome, not a natural one.

Here is the Herald discussing how Auckland got its motorway network:

They would do their utmost also to stop the Ministry of Works planning motorways south and west of the city. The southern route extended well past the green fields of Ellerslie and the meatworks at Southdown. If the ministry was not careful its motorway would allow housing to cover the fine farming soils of the Manukau County, absorbing the small towns of Otahuhu and Papatoetoe on the Great South Rd.

There were even plans to put a motorway on a causeway across the Whau estuary to the Te Atatu peninsula which could change the shape of West Auckland, developing to that point along the western rail line at New Lynn, Glen Eden and Henderson.

That’s right: the motorways were planned by central government. They didn’t happen on their own. They happened as a result of political fiat and bureaucratic intervention that aimed to shape demand, rather than responding to it. We have taken a look at how planned the roads were in a number of posts over the years. The bottom line is that Auckland’s pre-1950s public transport system was popular and well-used – and it was dismembered by planners who didn’t believe that we should live that way.

What was true for motorways was also true for housing development. The government was heavily involved in planning and building Auckland’s suburban lifestyle through a major programme of state house construction on greenfield sites:

The Government was building big state housing projects at Otara and Mangere in the 1960s. Suburban development crossed the Tamaki inlet to Pakuranga by the end of the decade.

In light of these facts, it’s hard to figure out what to make of the Herald’s criticisms of “planning”. Their attitude seems to be that urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good. In other words, plan away, but only if you are planning a society and a city that conforms to the editors’ preferences and prejudices.

Ultimately, the editorial only serves to reveal the Herald’s own myopia. When they say:

It has never been Auckland’s character to look back, or forwards for that matter.

They are not speaking for the many Aucklanders who have a keen sense of history… and who look forward optimistically to the future. They are simply admitting to their own lack of vision.

RLTP: Investment in the Rail Network

The announcement that AT is looking at Light Rail has understandably received a lot of attention – and will continue to for some time – however there is a lot of other fascinating information in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) that is worth covering. Like more discussion of Light Rail, I’m going to try and get this information out over a few posts starting with this one.

One area in the document that quickly caught my attention is on what works are planned/needed for the existing rail network to get it working properly prior to the CRL. Improvements are needed to increase the capacity, performance and resilience of the network. Perhaps most concerning is they say that there’s still a significant amount of track and underlying formation that has yet to be renewed by KiwiRail.

The performance of passenger rail services has improved over the past decade at the same time as service levels have increased significantly. Service punctuality (trains arriving within 5 minutes of schedule) has improved from just over 70% in 2005 to around 88% in the year to June 2014. Delays to trains caused by network infrastructure problems have dropped from an average of 1.4 minutes per train in 2005 to just over 0.4 minutes in 2014. However, further improvement in infrastructure performance will be needed if desired levels of reliability and performance are to be achieved by the opening of the CRL.

One factor in improving punctuality and reliability will be ensuring that rail infrastructure is in a fit for purpose condition. While there has been significant improvement in the condition of the Auckland network over the past decade through KiwiRail’s DART and AEP projects, including total replacement of the signalling system, there is still a significant extent of track and underlying formation which has not been renewed.

To get the network up to speed there are four programmes of work planned.

Network Performance Programme – to address existing network performance issues, including catch up renewals to address existing formation, drainage and track issues and replace sleepers.

Network Resilience Programme – to improve current network resilience to provide additional operational flexibility, ability to recover from delays and incidents, make maximum use of the existing network capacity and capability, and improve management of network maintenance and development.

Network Capacity Programme – to enable the operation of regular 10 minute peak EMU services and existing peak freight services following the completion of electrification, and to provide the base for the pattern and frequency of passenger services planned for introduction following the completion of the CRL.

Level Crossing Programme – to remove level crossings on the Auckland electrified rail network to reduce safety risk for vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and rail users through closure or grade separation, including safety improvements at existing vehicle and pedestrian crossings.

This has set a few alarm bells off for me:

If there’s still a lot of backlogged maintenance yet to happen that means KiwiRail is likely to need a lot more network closures to get this work done. That could mean that we’re likely to continue to see parts of the rail network shut down during some long weekends and probably the Christmas/New Year period for this maintenance to occur. While AT and KiwiRail might try and minimise the impact but doing the work when the network is quietest, such shut downs will increasingly affect more and more people as patronage continues to grow.

The second concern is the suggestion that work is needed to enable 10 minute frequencies. These frequencies have already been delivered to the Southern and Eastern lines however we’ve been waiting for them for around 5 years after they were promised to happen when the New Lynn station was complete. Now admittedly this could just be me reading into the text wrong however later in the document AT say one of the benefits of the investment is to “Increase capacity to enable the operation of regular 10 minute peak passenger rail services and to cater for expected growth in both passenger and freight services“. In the meantime then until I see a Western Line timetable with 10 minute frequencies on it I will remain sceptical.  What is clear is that we need to get on with building the third main between Otahuhu and Papakura.

The third key concern is that to pay for what’s planned it relies on KiwlRail getting additional funding from the government. If that funding doesn’t happen then it could put the brakes on how well and how quickly the rail network develops and improves.

RLTP - Kiwirail funding

There does seem to be a few issues with this table due to there being nothing in the 2015/16 year and with the negative 2018/19 to 2024/24 column. This table from near the end of the document seems to be more accurate (click to enlarge)

RLTP - Rail Funding

In addition to the KiwiRail costs there are also Auckland Transport’s projects. The basic transport programme that has been proposed doesn’t include much in this regard with the only really notable point being the need to spend $8.1 million on refurbishing some of the old Diesel trains to service Pukekohe. I suspect that’s probably more than the trains are work these days.

RLTP - AT Rail CAPEX basic

This just really highlights that despite all the improvements in recent times that there’s still a lot of work to do even just to get our rail network up to a decent level of quality. Will the government provide the funding that KiwiRail need to get this work done?

Governments New RMA reforms

The government have said that reforming the Resource Management Act (RMA) is one of their top priorities and yesterday the Environment Minister Nick Smith outlined 10 major changes it was planning. This comes after they failed to make controversial changes to the RMA during the previous term but failed after losing the support of some of minor supporting parties. The major changes planned are

  • Add natural hazards
  • Recognise urban planning
  • Prioritise housing affordability
  • Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
  • Greater weight to property rights
  • National planning templates
  • Speed up plan-making
  • Encouraging collaborative resolution
  • Strengthening national tools
  • Internet for simplicity and speed

While we don’t have any real details on what’s planned some of these – such as making greater use of the Internet – are simply plain sense.  Of the other ones a few particularity stand out.

Add natural hazards
Presumably this means giving more weight to projects that provide resilience against natural hazards. If true it could be about further making it easier to build projects such as large duplicate roads such as Transmission Gully where the government can use the threat of an earthquake in Wellington as an excuse to build it.

Recognise urban planning
I’m not quite sure what this could mean but hopefully it means there will be greater emphasis on how our planning affects our urban environment.

Prioritise housing affordability
This will be covered further on in the post.

Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
All the talk in the press release relates to the impact of housing however the RMA also covers a lot of non housing development including roads. Again could this be about making it easier for infrastructure to be built and/or making it cheaper for developers to tap into existing infrastructure.

Greater weight to property rights
One of the big issues we had with the Unitary Plan debate was that those advocating for more restrictions (e.g. height, density, carparking etc.) or for developments to happen anywhere but near their backyard are effectively restricting the property rights of others. Addressing some of the NIMBYism we saw could be a very useful change but would the government go that far?

Despite the lack of public detail, Len Brown has been quick to praise the government over the suggestions for change.

Mayor welcomes ‘pragmatic’ proposals to reform RMA

Mayor Len Brown has welcomed a review of the Resource Management Act announced today by Environment Minister Nick Smith.

“From Auckland Council’s perspective, there is considerable scope to improve the RMA, in particular streamlining the complex processes councils are required to work within, reducing duplication and providing more affordable housing,” Len Brown said.

“I particularly welcome recognition of the needs of cities and urban areas, including housing and infrastructure, which the current legislation doesn’t cover well.

“Auckland Council is working closely with the government and we have had significant input into this discussion. We welcome the government’s desire to seek broad support for any legislative changes.”

To go along with the government announcement they also released a report from Motu that had been commissioned by Treasury looking at impacts of various planning rules and regulations have on the cost of developments. The paper is based on the responses from developers on many of the regulations we’ve long thought are stupid or counterproductive such as density limits, height limits, room sizes, balcony requirements etc. If accurate some of the costs impacts are quite staggering with balcony requirements – something Stu touched on recently – being one of the worst.

I’ll go the report in more detail in the future however the cost impacts are shown below. Importantly the authors say that while they have attempted to look at the costs, that the benefits of any of the regulations isn’t something that they’ve considered. As such some of the items on the list will likely still need to happen.

Motu - Impacts of planning rules

While not all we would want to change, taken at face value it suggests that the regulations can add almost $200k to the cost of an apartment and around $150k to the cost of a standalone dwelling.

We’ll obviously have to wait to see just what the government proposes to see if they’re good or not but they certainly seem to have opened up a lot areas for discussion.