Apartments, proximity, and living space

Housing is a normal good. That is, it’s something that people tend to want more of as their incomes increase.

“More” doesn’t necessarily mean “larger”. People do tend to prefer larger homes as they get wealthier, but that’s not the only thing that matters. They may be willing to compromise on space in exchange for a higher-quality living space – bring on the granite countertops! – or a home in a better location. A “better location” could in turn mean anything from proximity to jobs (resulting in efficient use of valuable time), proximity to shops or cultural amenities, location in a good school zone, or access to parks or beaches.

One interesting phenomenon is that people seem to be willing to travel further to work than to consumption amenities (ranging from retail to concerts). In their fantastic book Cities and the Urban Land Premium, Dutch economist Henri de Groot and several co-authors provide some data that shows that people are, on average, willing to travel considerably further to work than to consume. They show that this results in a higher urban land premium for accessible inner-city areas, as vibrant downtown areas have the most varied and interesting consumption opportunities.

Furthermore, you’d expect this premium to rise as incomes rise, as people with more disposable income will have an increasing preference for close proximity to consumption and cultural amenities.

Is the same thing likely to be true in Auckland? Nobody’s done a survey, but we’ve got some data on the distance that people actually travel to access jobs and retail.

In a paper two years ago, I analysed Census data on commuting distances in order to understand what Auckland households spend on housing and transport. I went back and re-analysed that data to get an estimate of the distribution of commuting distances in Auckland. This data suggests that 50% of Aucklanders commute less than 9km, while less than 2% are super-commuters travelling longer than 50km.

As a point of comparison, I used data on retail spending patterns compiled by economist Susan Fairgray in a 2013 report on the Auckland retail sector. Based on electronic card spending data, Fairgray estimates that 50% of Auckland retail spending is done within 5km of people’s homes. (See Table 3 on page 58 of her report.)

Here’s the chart. As in the Netherlands, distances travelled to consume drop off more rapidly than distances travelled to produce.

Distances travelled to jobs and retail in Auckland

There are several implications for how we build cities. The first is that we should expect retail, personal services, and recreation to be widely distributed throughout the city. Large tracts of houses without good access to shops and recreation are not likely to be awesome in the future. There are various ways to cater to these needs, ranging from mixed-use zoning that allows retail and housing to colocate to distributing small retail centres throughout suburbs (a la Auckland’s tramway suburbs).

The second thing is that we should think more carefully about how preferences for centrality are changing. The consumption amenities that cities offer play an increasing role in their success or failure. Some important consumer amenities tend to be located centrally. For example, nightlife and entertainment districts are almost always located near the city centre – think of Ponsonby or K Road in Auckland. Likewise, museums and public art galleries are usually located downtown – e.g. Te Papa in Wellington or the Auckland Art Gallery – to maximise the number of people that can access them.

Auckland Art Gallery

Auckland Art Gallery

As demand for consumer amenities will tend to increase with rising incomes, we’d expect demand to live close to them to increase in the future. Meeting this demand in a growing city will, in turn, mean building more apartments.

But wait! If people also want more living area as they get wealthier, doesn’t that mean that they’ll reject apartment living? Won’t apartments simply be too small to meet their needs, even after taking location into account?

Interesting question.

It is the case that new apartments tend to be smaller than new standalone houses in New Zealand. Over the last five years, the average standalone house consented in Auckland was about twice as large as the average apartment consented in Auckland.

However, there’s no universal law that says that apartments have to be small. Policy can play a big role in keeping apartment sizes down, or enabling them to be more spacious. As LSE economist Paul Cheshire observes, planning policies (and other things like tax policies) can have the unintended consequence of discouraging adequately-sized housing:

If you really want to plan to protect and provide better access to green space and open countryside without artificially constraining land supply and forcing up house prices, then Green Fingers (or Green Wedges) would seem to be the best solution. That is what more egalitarian Scandinavians have. Copenhagen has its Green Fingers – really brown urbanisation along the radial routes out of the city with protected countryside each side. Denmark has not just got cheaper housing: according to the Dallas Fed’s data, the real house price has increased by a factor of 1.6 in Denmark compared to 3.4 in the UK since 1975 but new houses in Denmark are a lot bigger: 80% bigger in fact.

As Cheshire’s example of Copenhagen shows, it’s possible to build dwellings that meet people’s needs for living space and preserve usable open space around cities. You just need to be willing to build intensively where you do build – and integrate it with rapid transit.

copenhagen finger plan

Source: Living Rail

For a less anecdotal look at the issue, I used Eurostat data to measure the relationship between dwelling size and dwelling type in 29 European countries. Here’s a scatterplot showing the relationship between the share of dwellings that are detached houses (X axis) and average dwelling size (Y axis). Observe how there is almost no relationship whatsoever. If anything, there’s a slight negative relationship – countries with more standalone houses may have slightly smaller dwellings, on average. (There’s probably an income effect in there that I haven’t controlled for – richer countries tend to be more urbanised, which will tend to mean more apartments, and also have larger dwellings.)

Eurostat detached houses and average dwelling size chart

But basically, there doesn’t seem to be an inescapable trade-off between dwelling type and size. Apartments can be small… but they can also be large. And cities that are willing to let people more apartments get built will, in addition to being more affordable, give people more opportunities to realise their demands for both space and proximity.

What do you think of this data?

Light Rail to the Sea

Takapuna is considered one of Auckland’s key metropolitan centres – which the Auckland Plan describes as:

Metropolitan centres, such as Takapuna and Manukau, will accommodate a large proportion of the city’s future residential, retail and employment growth. Generally these areas will serve a sub-regional catchment and be supported by efficient transport networks.

Outside of the city centre there are 10 existing or future (emerging) metropolitan centres across the region as shown in the map below from the Auckland Plan.

auckland plan development strategy

The comment about these centres being supported by efficient transport networks is interesting as one thing you may notice from the map above is that all metropolitan centres sit on the current or proposed Rapid Transit Network of rail lines or busways with the exception of one, Takapuna. This is also confirmed with the latest version we’ve seen of Auckland Transports proposed rapid transit network.

Rapid Transit Map

As I’ll hopefully explain below, I think Takapuna needs to be added to our rapid transit network.

As a major centre and urban area within Auckland, Takapuna is quite unique being situated next to both a beach and a lake and those factors help to make it a very desirable location. With the strategy of developing the area the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan allows for quite a bit of development by way of the Metropolitan Centre (pink & purple stripes) and Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings (Gold), although we’ll have to wait till later this year to confirm the final zones and rules. Much of the area including most of the THAB has already been listed as a Special Housing Area.

PAUP - Takapuna

Zoning is one thing but we’re already starting to see a lot of proposals for the area popping up, particularly on and around Anzac St. Here are some of them:

Whether these exact proposals all go ahead remains to be seen but over 30 years many will and so it’s quite likely the area will look very different in the future. Regardless we can count on the centre itself looking quite different with Panuku Development Auckland looking to “unlock” it including developing some council sites such as the Anzac St carpark.

Takapuna Centre Plan - Anzac St carpark concept

Takapuna has the chance to become one of Auckland’s urban jewels but accessing it can be already mixed bag when it comes to non-car transport. Its geographic location means the highly successful busway sails by about 1.6km away. Currently the primary bus services linking the Takapuna and the city are made up of a number of routes from the mainly the East Coast Bays that funnel through Takapuna – although given they often have long windy routes and little bus priority it means trips to the city can have very poor timekeeping at times.

The new network deals with Takapuna by way of a frequent route (N4) that starts in Milford and a couple of routes that pass through Takapuna on their way to/from Akoranga Station. In the city the N4 route will go via the middle of town.

North Shore New Network Takapuna

Even with the new network, accessing Takapuna by bus from the city – like I do on a daily basis – can extremely frustrating. It’s not so bad for those that can start or end their journey in the middle of town but for those like me need to get to/from Britomart, the changes to accommodate the construction of the City Rail Link mean that it now requires two buses or one bus and a long walk. Some of the issues will be resolved by the completion of the CRL which will link in with North Shore buses along Fanshawe St giving a direct connection.

AT’s info on the services show that the N4 route would run ever 7-8 minutes in the morning and afternoon peak along with every 15 minutes during the day. With the level of growth planned that might not be enough and while more services could be added, just like in the city centre there are some real issues with not enough space on the roads.

When it comes to PT, Takapuna needs a better long term solution, and it needs to be a RTN in my view.

Using a bike to access Takapuna can be equally arduous. The main approach roads of Taharoto Rd and Lake Rd have painted cycle lanes (despite the former being massively wide) but those cycle lanes stop short of the centre itself leaving riders to brave the roads which can be particularly unpleasant on Anzac St. That of course could be fixed and along with Skypath and Seapath would provide a cycle route to the city or elsewhere.

So what options are there to include Takapuna on the RTN? We know that AT have recently been looking at RTNs to the North Shore but we don’t yet know what’s been recommended, or in fact any details about it. Despite that I think there’s quite a good chance some form of light rail will be seen as the preferred option to eventually be used on the busway and if we did that it could allow us the ability to send light rail spur off to Takapuna, perhaps something like the route below. It would require a little work and a bit of property acquisition but seems doable.

Takapuna Spur LRT idea 2

From Akoranga the route could head to the city then perhaps join up with one of the isthmus routes shown the RTN map earlier. We’ve suggested in the past that this spur could even be part of the first stage of any rail connection the shore with the second stage seeing the busway converted.

With Takapuna already a popular destination and that only likely to increase in the future with both residential and commercial developments this route is likely to be quite popular. Even today buses in the middle of the day can get very full, especially in summer.

So what do you think, should we start thinking about light rail to the sea?

“The train that saved Denver”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “the end of Auckland’s old growth model“. In that post, I argued that the old pattern – build roads and pipes into some paddocks and orchards, and subdivide away – is now kaput. It isn’t the 1960s anymore:

Auckland North Shore before AHB

A land-constrained city with pinch-points on all its key transport corridors cannot afford to provide sufficient road capacity to serve all new demand. More space-efficient transport – which means rapid transit for long-distance trips and walking and cycling for local trips – is a prerequisite for ongoing growth.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at what’s happening to the cost to add road capacity in Auckland. A decade ago, we could build urban motorway extensions for less than $10 million per lane-kilometre. Over the next decade, we’ll be lucky if we can keep costs to $50 million per lane-km.

Cost per added lane-km chart

Rising costs to add new road capacity reflect fundamental spatial challenges. Due to geographical constraints and the existing built environment, new roads must go in tunnels (VPT, Waterview), on viaducts (Reeves Road), or reclaimed land (East-West). All three options are expensive.

Space for rapid transit is also expensive… but the difference is that rapid transit systems allow many more people to move on busy corridors. Consequently, the space required per user can be significantly lower.

But: can rapid transit also play its role in supporting land use and development?

Evidence from the US suggests that it can. A recent article by Colin Woodard (in Politico Magazine) reviews Denver, Colorado’s successful development of a new rapid transit system:

Denver has done something no other major metro area has accomplished in the past decade, though a number of cities have tried. At a moment when aging mass transit systems in several major cities are capturing headlines for mismanagement, chronic delays and even deaths, Denver is unveiling a shiny new and widely praised network: 68 stations along 10 different spurs, covering 98 miles, with another 15 miles still to come. Even before the new lines opened, 77,000 people were riding light rail each day, making it the eighth-largest system in the country even though Denver is not in the top 20 cities for population. The effects on the region’s quality of life have been measurable and also surprising, even to the project’s most committed advocates. Originally intended to unclog congested highways and defeat a stubborn brown smog that was as unhealthy as it was ugly, the new rail system has proven that its greatest value is the remarkable changes in land use its stations have prompted, from revitalizing moribund neighborhoods, like the area around Union Station, to creating new communities where once there was only sprawl or buffalo grass.

In other words it’s taken Denver only two decades to build a successful rapid transit system from scratch. Further expansions are underway. To be fair, Auckland’s accomplished something similar. The city’s rail network had a near-death experience in the early 1990s but its fortunes have turned around due to some far-sighted decisions – purchasing surplus railcars from Perth; building Britomart; rail electrification; and the Northern Busway.

Daily Britomart Passengers - Actual vs Projected 2016

However, Denver has arguably done better than Auckland at using rapid transit investments to enable urban development. This has included a mix of urban redevelopment and more intensive greenfield development:

Denver’s leaders had, by accident, built something extremely valuable, but because they had misunderstood its real purpose at the outset, some potential had been squandered. “They were really asking the wrong question: How do you reduce congestion on highways?” says Wesley Marshall, a transport engineer at the University of Colorado Denver. “The obvious answer is to put transit adjacent to highways and to surround the stations with park-and-ride lots.”

Problem is, while transit really does mitigate congestion in the long term, it does so by facilitating better, often denser land use, rather than by offering an alternative to getting from point A to point B on the interstate…

One of the best examples of this is the area around the 10th and Osage Station just south of the city center. The Denver Housing Authority wanted to replace the South Lincoln Homes, a distressed, low-slung 270-unit public housing project on 15 acres with mixed-income housing. The two key criteria critical to attracting middle- and market-rate tenants, DHA Director Ismael Guerrero says, were proximity to downtown and a light rail station, but they also wanted to ensure nobody was unwillingly displaced.

“This is a close-knit community and a lot of history, where people live for generations and have family close by,” Guerrero notes. “Residents told us they wanted to make sure that we weren’t just replacing housing but improving the quality of life.”

The result is Mariposa, a 900-unit development of energy-efficient three- to nine-story buildings with shops and office spaces mixed into a network of parks, bike paths and community gardens, some of them on land transferred by RTD to the city. Osage Café, a breakfast and lunch place, is actually a culinary academy training local teens. Arts Street, a non-profit providing arts-oriented “learn and earn” sessions for at-risk youth, moved into the complex from temporary digs at DHA’s invitation.

Denver Mariposa apartments

Mariposa Phase II apartments (Source: Politico Magazine)

[…] Mariposa, now nearly complete, has retained more than 40 percent of South Lincoln Homes’ residents, Crangle notes, about four times the national average for similar projects. The net result has been diversification, not just gentrification, according to Todd Clough, executive director of the nearby Denver Inner City Parish, which helps the poor. “I was anticipating eight or 10 years ago that we would be gone by now, but because of light rail and Mariposa, we’re still relevant,” he says. “I’m a cynic; I serve poor people, that’s what I do. But, you know, this project is about as good as you can do it in a city that’s on fire.”

Basically, if it’s done well, rapid transit works. If you put in a system that is useful to people – i.e. one that connects them to places they want to be, in reasonable comfort – it will in turn shape urban development. If it goes into an existing urban fabric, it will be a lever for getting better outcomes from future redevelopment. If it goes into greenfield areas, it will shape its development form for decades to come.

I’m actually going to be in Denver at the end of this week – one of my brothers has moved there. Will be interesting to see how the place works, if only as a tourist.

Sunday reading 5 June 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading this long weekend.

We start this week with a borrowed slide explaining the way that the quality of your city’s Transit system controls the quality of your driving commute:

DOWNS-THOMPSON PARADOX

This explains what’s wrong with current expansion of SH16 and the completion of the Western Ring Route. The Transit part of this project is woefully inadequate: Intermittent bus lanes on the shoulder of the motorway are unlikely to lead to sufficiently fast or reliable bus travel times, this means the choice of taking the bus will probably not be attractive enough to tempt enough people away from driving on the newly widened motorway. This will lead to more induced driving and an increase in traffic congestion [which ironically will further slow those buses, because they are not on their own RoW]. Perhaps not immediately on the new parts of motorway itself, but certainly on local feeder roads and especially in the city and CMJ where the State Highways 1 and 16 and city exits all meet.

The biggest beneficiaries of high quality Rapid Transit are those who need or choose to drive. The better the alternative; the better your drive.

Staying with the value of Rapid Transit let’s head to Montréal where plans for a new layer of Rapid Transit has just been announced [in Lime Green below, with existing networks], which raises important issues around driverless technology:

reseau-electrique-metropolitan-montreal-metro-subway-map-connections

Similar to Vancouver’s Canada Line, a system that CPDQ also has a financial stake in, trains will run every three to six minutes along the mainline and every six to 12 minutes on the three branch routes, including the train service from the airport to downtown. In contrast, the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is limited to every 20 to 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour outside of rush hour on weekdays.

But these high frequencies are only possible due to the nature of automation, which makes frequent train services significantly more economically feasible to operate. If there is a surge in demand, operators can easily and quickly increase frequency by deploying more trains by switching the controls at the operations centre.

With driverless technology, the operating costs are markedly lower than systems that require drivers and it has the potential to attract more ridership given that frequent services and superior reliability increase the utility of a transit system. Knowing that a train or bus will come soon, a transit service with a high frequency means transit users do not have to worry about service schedules. This reduces waiting times and connection times between transit services.

We really need to have a Transport Minister and Ministry just as excited about the opportunities for these technologies in the PT space as they are about them for private vehicles, the value is huge and the technology proven. SkyTrain in Vancouver has been driverless since 1985, carries 117m pax pa, and has run at an operating surplus every year since 2001.

Staying in Canada, here is how Montréal can have such ambitious city-building plans, central government is chipping in:

The new Canadian government is shifting investment to sustainable and social assets, away from Carbon intensive assets likely to become a burden on future citizens, and away from the failed ideology of austerity:

Investing in infrastructure creates good, well-paying jobs that can help the middle class grow and prosper today. And by making it easier to move people and products, well-planned infrastructure can deliver sustained economic growth for years to come.

At the same time, new challenges have emerged that make the need for investment more acute: things like the rapid growth of Canada’s cities, climate change, and threats to our water and land.

Congestion in Canadian communities makes life more difficult for busy families, and has a negative effect on our economy—when businesses can’t get their goods to market, it undermines growth.

A changing climate is also hard on communities. From floodways to power grids, investments are needed to make sure Canada’s communities remain safe and resilient places to live.

Investing in infrastructure is not just about creating good jobs and economic growth. It’s also about building communities that Canadians are proud to call home.

With historic investments in public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure, Budget 2016 will take advantage of historically low interest rates to renew Canada’s infrastructure and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

In Budget 2016, the Government will implement an historic plan to invest more than $120 billion in infrastructure over 10 years, to better meet the needs of Canadians and better position Canada’s economy for the future.

2.2-en

Frankly I expect this kind of approach to become orthodox this century. That is once we can shake the stultifying grip of last century’s habits and world view, and properly start to address the issues in front of us.

More on vehicle speed and safety, this time from Nate Silver’s 538:

Given the social and economic toll of speeding, one might assume that we set speed limits with careful calculations aimed at maximizing safety. But that’s not exactly how it works, and a history of questionable applications of data is partly to blame.

Roads are planned according to a concept known as design speed, basically the speed vehicles are expected to travel.3 Engineers often apply the 85th percentile rule to a similar road to arrive at the design speed for the proposed road. It might make sense, then, that the design speed would become the speed limit. However, in practice, the design speed is often used to determine the minimum speed of safe travel on a road.

Confused? So was I. Norman Garrick, a professor of engineering at the University of Connecticut, explained how this works using the example of a commercial office building.

“It’s completely unacceptable for someone to die in a plane crash or an elevator,” he said. “We should expect the same of cars.”

And for some local flavour via Stuff: Drivers not coping with Christchurch’s new central city 30kph limit:

Acting Senior Sergeant John Hamilton said police spent 90 minutes on Friday to see if drivers were abiding by the new limits. Stuff witnessed about 10 drivers being pulled over for speeding on the corner of Montreal and Cashel streets within 30 minutes, including two Christchurch City Council staff. 

Hamilton said most of the drivers ticketed were driving between 50kmh and 60kmh, with one motorist spotted driving 65kmh.

Now I have some sympathy with these drivers for the simple reason that the both street [see above] and vehicle design mean that to stay below 30kph in anything other than congested traffic takes a huge amount of attention and control. You might argue that we should be attentive and ‘in control’ whenever we are driving, and of course that’s true, but the fact is that most operation of the vehicle for anyone but learner drivers is a subconscious act, and in fact needs to be as we should be focussing on the environment and not constantly checking the speedo. But of course, in truth, half our minds are really elsewhere, on other things when we drive; we do it on a kind of human autopilot. So if we want drivers to keep to safer slow speeds in cities, or around schools, or wherever, we really need to change the physical environment to forcibly slow the ‘natural’ speed of those places.

As for the cars themselves, well that’s a lost cause, even the simplest little car is way overpowered and torquey for these environments: they just want to get up to highway speed and stay there. Perhaps these slow streets won’t really work until those law abiding pendants the bot-cars are ponderously pootling us around…? Note these drivers weren’t just breaking the 30kph limit they were all also breaking the old 50kph one!

CHCH slow streets

Christchurch 30kph network

Related: we do like this more creative communication from some Transport Department:

Below a very interesting chart showing population change in London. I like that it has a name, and a good one, for the cycle we are clearly in now: City Renaissance and that it dates its beginning unambiguously to the early 1990s:

London Population changes

Note also that London’s population growth in this City Renaissance period has decidedly been both up and out, not just up. The rest of the paper, City VillagesPDF, from the Institute for Public Policy Research is very interesting too and relevant to Auckland’s situation. Basically the housing supply problem can be pretty clearly matched to the abandonment of public housing construction under neoliberalism, same as in NZ. Despite population growth, State and Council dwelling numbers have been falling not growing in recent decades:

London Housing supply

And lastly, something from the energy transition department. Luís de Souza is a scientist from Portugal who is always worth reading on energy supply, especially for anyone interested in the longer term trends than the noise of the trader market as reported in the MSM. Here he is calling 2015 as the year of Peak Oil:

Titling the last press review of 2015 I asked if that had been the year petroleum peaked. The question mark was not just a precaution, the uncertainty was really there. Five months later the reported world petroleum extraction rate is pretty much still were it was then. This is not a surprise, but the impact of two years of depressed prices is over due. 

Nevertheless, during these five months of lethargy the information I gathered brings me considerably closer to remove the question mark from the sentence and acknowledge that a long term decline is settling in. Understanding the present petroleum market as a feature of the supply destruction – demand destruction cycle makes this case clear.

So happy Birthday Queen Victoria [yes it’s actually her birthday], and happy reading…

 

Early June AT Board Meeting

The next AT board meeting is tomorrow and as I always do, I’ve been having a look at the publicly available reports to see what’s interesting. I usually cover off the items at the closed session of the board meeting however at the time of writing this post that agenda hadn’t be published online.

Board Report

The board report usually contains quite a bit of information although this month there doesn’t seem a whole lot that’s new and interesting. What did catch my attention is below.

Rapid Transit – There are two pieces of busway news. AT say they’re starting an indicative business case this month for the North-Western Busway between the city and Westgate and that it will identify the alignment and station locations. They also say they’re developing an agreement with the NZTA on planning and consenting processes for a new Northern Busway station at Rosedale Rd which will be built as part of the Northern Corridor works.

Nelson Street Cycleway – News on the next phase of the of the Nelson St cycleway from Victoria St to Quay St has been pretty hard to come by since the consultation and AT saying that they were investigating some of issues we raised. AT now say it:

has been re-scoped due to changes to some AT Metro bus routes to accommodate CRL construction; this meant that cycleway and bus traffic could not safely co-exist in parts of the planned cycle route. Design began in May for a route from Fanshawe Street to the Waterfront via Market Place. Construction is planned to commence around January 2017.

I always thought the route along Sturdee St wasn’t ideal and it seems bus changes have confirmed that. It’s great that AT seem to have come around to the Market Pl option. With an upgrade and addressing the parking I think that route will be popular.

Market Rd option

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level crossing removal) – AT expect a decision back on the Notice of Requirement this month although residents who have been opposing it may yet appeal to the Environment Court.

Otahuhu Bus interchange – This is still reported to be on track for completion in August

Route Optimisation – AT say they’ve completed upgrades to 145 intersections out of the 212 they have planned for this year with the rest under way.

HOP and Integrated Fares – Integrated fares still on track for the end of July and interestingly “Development of a product transition plan will result in the new monthly pass being marketed in May 2016 for June 2016 launch”. As May has now passed I’m assuming we’ll hear something soon. The report also says AT were going to go live with HOP on Explore ferries on May 18, just 3 weeks after Explore pulled the plug on services to Waiheke. They are also working to have HOP on Sealink ferries for SuperGold use. Another positive is they say HOP use had it’s highest use ever on May 9 with 84.3% of all trips being via HOP.

New Network – The final route decisions for the Central and East Auckland new bus networks are expected to go to the board in the meeting at the end of June although at this stage it may not be rolled out till early 2018.

Bus Shelters – The new design shelters are being rolled out, particularly in South Auckland in advance of the new network although in other places too. The first intermediate size one was installed outside the Homai station.

Bus Shelter Design A Range

Managing Traffic in the CBD

A separate report to the board is titled Managing Traffic in the CBD and covers off how AT have created a dedicated team to manage the road network within the city in response to there being so much construction happening in the city over the next few years.

The City Centre Network Operations (CCNO) team has been set up to co-ordinate the operation of the transport network in the city centre both in real-time and for planned events. This team will oversee proposals for changes on the network resulting from planned projects such as the CRL and private development. The team is empowered to undertake changes on the network to manage traffic flows, pedestrian safety and public transport reliability.

One aspect that is good is that they’re noting that PT trips now account for more than 50% of trips to/from the city in the peaks. Growing numbers of pedestrians and cyclists help boost the non-car mode share up even higher.

The area covered by the CCNO team is shown below with the black dots being signalised intersections.

City Centre Network Operations Area

Having a team focusing on the city centre should be a good thing but ultimately it will depend on what their priorities are. For example, the Downtown Mall has now closed and as part of the demolition that will soon be taking place the footpath along the northern side of Customs St has been closed off (as has the eastern side of Albert St). This means that pedestrians in this area only have the northern side of Albert St to use, which itself is often busy with people waiting for buses. It seems that this in order to maintain traffic flow more than anything else. This has already resulted in people walking along the traffic lanes to get to their destination rather than wait to cross multiple intersections.

Downtown Mall - Pedestrians on Road

Forward programme

One of the agenda items is what AT call the forward programme which gives an idea of what topics will be coming to the board and its committees in the future. Some of the interesting topics set for the next closed session of the AT board meeting (27 June) include:

  • The North Shore Rapid Transit Network work that AT have been doing looking at the future of the rapid transit to the shore.
  • An electric bus strategy
  • Their future Parking platform which I’m guessing is related to the app we saw in the parking strategy video last week.

 

Is a “lack of land supply” the Council’s fault?

Over the weekend Bill English was interviewed on “The Nation” about the budget and how it contained very little to respond to Auckland’s housing crisis. The Minister seemed very keen shift housing discussion away from the budget, instead laying the blame on the Council (well one that hasn’t existed for 6 years).

Bill English - The Nation May-16

Yes, but we don’t make the decisions, Lisa. Auckland City Council make the decisions. Even the government can’t build a house in Auckland unless Auckland City Council frees up the land, provides the subdivision consent, processes all the consents, provides the building consent and allows the house to be occupied…

…This kind of takes us back to where I started here — the people in the cars, the first-home buyers who are locked out of the Auckland market, Auckland infrastructure. People will look at this and think that you are effectively asking those people to hold tight for at least another year so that you can afford to give tax cuts.

No, that’s not the case. For instance, for the cases that have been in the media around living in the cars, a lot of those are a bit more complex than people might realise. But in any case, we have more money than we can spend on places, on houses for people in serious housing need in Auckland. The problem isn’t money; there’s enough of that. The problem is getting enough houses. Even though Auckland City is actually completing 40 houses every working day, it’s still not enough. And that’s why in the next few months we’ve got to work hard with the Auckland City Council to get more houses, because the government can’t just magic up houses; they have to be built by real people on real land. And that’s controlled by the Auckland City Council…

…Okay, well, just let’s look at some of those figures. I mean, experts can’t agree exactly, but they think that we’re down about between 20,000 and 50,000 houses in Auckland — we’re short of those — and that we need to build about 13,000 a year to play catch-up. We’re not building 13,000 a year, so the supply must be getting worse.

Well, and that’s in the hands of the Auckland City Council, who are the people with the legal and community responsibility to get more land available so that more houses can be built faster. We’ve been through this in Christchurch. You can ramp up the construction workforce. You can change the planning rules. In Christchurch, house prices are flat to slightly falling, despite the fact that two or three years ago there was very substantial demand. And I might say the same kind of stories about it. Now, there was a lot of tension at the time in Christchurch as the system cranked up supply to meet the strong demand.

The thing is you point the finger at the council there, but the council has been very clear about the fact it needs help with infrastructure. it says it needs 3 billion in the next 10 years for infrastructure. Where do you think that money’s coming from? Because the council’s nudging its debt ceiling. It can’t rate people off their properties. So where is the money coming from?

Well, fundamentally, that’s Auckland’s issue to deal with. We are certainly contributing. I mean, right now we’re in intensive negotiation for a contribution of over $1 billion from the taxpayer to an Auckland City Council transport project called the Central Rail Link. Now, in the normal course of events, they would pay for that. We’re negotiating where taxpayers will pay for that. That’s a significant reduction in the burden on the council, and it allows them to pay for other infrastructure.

Minister, isn’t it central government’s responsibility to assist with that infrastructure?

No, fundamentally it isn’t. It is the council’s responsibility. That’s the deal. They get to decide on how their city is planned, and they get to pay for the development. And for a lot of the people living outside Auckland and inside Auckland, there are real benefits from growth. And part of the puzzle here is that as more people turn up in Auckland and as incomes rise, growth is good. The council benefits from that, and so do ratepayers. And so they’ve just got to work out a better alignment between the funding and the growth.

A lot of blame laid on the Council (and also a weird interpretation of what’s happening with the City Rail Link as usually government has paid for 100% of rail infrastructure projects, it’s actually odd that the Council is paying around 50%, but that’s a whole different debate!)

This “blame the Council” game is also popular with a number of supposedly informed commentators:


But is this a fair criticism? Is the Council holding back land supply and slowing down the construction of desperately needed new housing? This is worth looking at a bit further.

One of the reasons the government amalgamated the eight previous and often bickering councils that governed Auckland and set the newly formed single council the task of coming up with a 30 year vision for Auckland (The Auckland Plan) and bringing together all of various plans and civic functions of Auckland.

Where the Unitary Plan provided the vision, the main tool at the Council’s disposal to enable or restrict land supply is through the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. Compared to the old plans that governed development and use of land, the Unitary Plan enables around 11,000 hectares of additional “Future Urban zoned” land to be developed. At a broad 60/40 split between growth inside and outside the old urban limits, and at a high population growth rate, this is enough land for around 30 years of greenfield land. As I explained in this recent post, it is a really really big amount of land. This is not the plans of the previous councils and addressing issues like land supply was exactly why the government amalgamated the council in the first place.

So the Council has certainly outlined its intention to enable a lot more greenfield development to occur in the future. In a basic sense, the amount of “land supply” has gone up a lot. Let’s leave aside the question of whether this is enough “Future Urban” land and focus for now on the criticism that the Council has been far too slow to increase land supply. There’s actually a decent amount of evidence to show huge hurdles have been cleared to speed this process up. For example:

  • Government made changes to the RMA to allow the Unitary Plan hearings to be fast-tracked in at least half the time the process would normally take – although it’s worth noting that the Council originally requested that the plan would be granted immediate effect upon notification and which the government rejected.
  • Special Housing Areas were established that essentially brought forward the Unitary Plan (in its proposed version) and created a fast-tracked consenting process

In some cases Special Housing Areas were rejected by the Council, which could be seen as a way of slowing down land supply. However, in the main these occurred because of transport problems on the State Highway network, which is owned and operated by the Government through NZTA.

Of course the Council is not blameless when it comes to decisions it has made to increase housing supply and improve affordability. In February this year the Council made a completely stupid decision to withdraw its evidence from rezoning hearings because a majority of the councillors were worried about three storey buildings in suburban areas, areas with existing infrastructure where new development could happen tomorrow if the planning rules allowed it. As expected that proved completely pointless as other submitters such as Housing NZ were still allowed to use the Council’s evidence.

Overall it’s hard to see what more the Council could have done over the past few years to speed up the supply of greenfield land. The fact is that developing this land takes a long time – not just to go through the RMA processes but also to get that land serviced with infrastructure and ready to build. Even with all the money in the world, a major wastewater pipe or new road takes a number of years to build and greenfield growth often can’t occur without it (no point building new houses if the taps don’t work and the toilet doesn’t flush). It’s time that politicians and supposedly informed commentators realised this.

Fort St

Fort St before

 

FORT ST_8012

 

Additional Harbour Crossing ill-considered and over-rushed.

We are increasingly concerned that Auckland is in the middle of very poor process where by far the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure project is being forced along and at ill-considered speed without anything like the level of public participation nor detailed analysis that it should have.

AWHC Sulhur Beach

NZTA are relying on a 2008 study into possible future harbour crossings to just get on with designing and designating a road only crossing. This study started with the assumption that any additional crossing would be a road lane crossing. No kind of comparative analysis of all options like the Centre City Future Access Study that was done to be certain that the City Rail Link is the right mode and route for that need has ever been undertaken.

Looking at the current options across the harbour it is clear that the highest capacity urban transport mode is what’s missing. There are 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, and some passenger ferries, but no dedicated Rapid Transit route. We hold that it is absolutely necessary to do a proper comparative analysis between modes for the next harbour crossing before any designation or final design work is undertaken, and have been consistent in requesting it. We are not claiming to know what the outcome would be but that it is frankly irresponsible to proceed any further without such a study.

Particularly as a great deal has changed since 2007 when that report was commissioned. Aucklanders have proven that they are just like city dwellers everywhere else in the world and are very keen to use good quality Transit systems when they get the chance. Since the upgrade and electrification of the existing rail network we have been piling onto our new trains at a rate well in advance of expectations. The Northern Busway too has excelled expectations even though it has to share lanes with general traffic on the bridge and therefore is not as Rapid as a dedicated route would be. These two top tier systems are attracting riders at a rate of 20%+ year on year, and while there is relief ahead for the rail network with at last the CRL underway, there is no plan to deal with an ever rising flood of buses into the city centre with this hugely expensive project.

The line that ‘Aucklanders just love their cars’ as an excuse to not provide quality alternatives to driving has been forever proven to be the nonsense it always was. Aucklanders are the same as everyone else; we love what ever works well for our needs. So when we get options like the example below from Panmure for reliable fast travel we take it.

Pete Clarke Panmure

Furthermore it is well understood that it is the quality of the alternatives that govern the speed and reliability of the surface routes. So that in this example the car and bus speeds and reliability would be much worse without the separate Rapid Transit alternative. The same will be the case for across the harbour; a great alternative means freer roads, another driving route means more cars everywhere; more congestion See here for a discussion on this:

There’s good science to back up the commonsense view. It goes like this: public transport operates to a fixed speed, a timetable. Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.

Additionally the commitment to this road only crossing is made before the completion of the Western Ring Route, the current multi-billion dollar bypass for cross harbour traffic. It is also being made without any kind of business case. Existing estimates are up to $6Billion dollars for a return of 30-40 cents on the dollar. This desperately needs proper and thoughtful analysis, without the ridiculous haste from politicians.

All over the world cities are kept moving by building high capacity spatially efficient Transit systems. Auckland is simply at the point where it can no longer delay adding this essentially weapon to its arsenal of movement options. From statements by NZTA they agree that a Rail crossing is required but they insist, without any analysis or study, that this must come after another road crossing.

Three road crossings, and no more spatially and energetically efficient option? We would like to see analysis of what reversing this timing could achieve. What if the next crossing is high capacity electric rail? Especially driverless low operating cost rail.

  • What are the outcomes for traffic congestion across the wider city?
  • For land use?
  • For the local environment?
  • For Carbon Emissions?

We know that the people constantly say they want extension of quality Public Transport:

AA LTP Survey - PT v Roads

Survey of Automobile Association members

The public deserve to have a say in what is being done in their name and with their money. There are so many questions. NZTA know that this project will flood the city centre with cars and that there is simply nowhere for them to go. They also quietly discuss levels of tolling on both the new crossing and the old bridge. This massive project will not only soak up huge sums of investment funding closing off opportunity to make other decisions across the city and nation, but also induce more traffic everywhere on Auckland’s roads. It is also the reverse of future proofing as it commits us all to more driving:

AWHC - Induced Demand

The road only crossing is a huge Traffic Inducement scheme, as NZTA explain in this slide.

To claim all environmental and traffic congestion concerns can be waved away because of future technology is very weak. That argument suggests that the time to build this kind of infrastructure is when we all do have electric cars, not on the prospect of their arrival some time in the future. And if driverless cars are to be that revolutionary then perhaps all this expensive additional road space will not be required? Meantime there is current electric and driverless technology that can be invested in right now.

In Vancouver the SkyTrain mass transit system shifts 117m people per year, at frequencies often down to a train every 2 minutes, running from 5am to 1:30am daily and all at an operating surplus. Driverless, Electric Light Metro. North Shore people have already shown they are not too posh to bus, they certainly won’t be reluctant to use a quicker, quieter, cleaner, more direct, 21st century movement system like this.

skytrain-millennium-line-wide

 

The end of Auckland’s old growth model

The New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development’s public shark-jumping exercise the other week got me thinking. While their flagship policy of a new megabillion eastern tunnel project is a bit mad, their report does a reasonable job of diagnosing one of the core problems facing Auckland. That is, the city’s land-use and transport plans are not always well aligned.

That’s illustrated nicely in their maps of intensification opportunities around rail stations – red circles indicate places where apartment and townhouse development is generally discouraged under the draft Unitary Plan.

NZCID - ATAP response - Land Use Train

In short, we’re fixing our city’s rapid transit network – and it’s long since time we did that! – but we may need to do more to get the best out of the investment by enabling intensive development around train stations.

As a point of contrast, I recently visited Sydney on the way back from a work trip to Australia and spent a day wandering around the city looking at stuff – it’s a great walking city. And I’ve got to say: they don’t waffle around with upzoning there. When they choose to redevelop a brownfield area, the debate isn’t between whether two or three storeys should be allowed. The question is whether to go ten, twenty, or thirty storeys. And they’re willing to back that up with new rapid transit where needed.

Auckland is different. We build rapid transit infrastructure haltingly, in fits and starts, and when governments choose to accelerate road projects, busways are left to progress through the queue. And while the Unitary Plan is a fine step forward, it’s really just the start of the conversation about how we should modernise our planning rules for a 21st-century city.

But change is needed. Because, as NZCID’s report unintentionally illustrates, Auckland’s arrived at the end of its growth model of the past 50 years. It’s kaput. We may be able to kludge it back into action for a bit, but make no mistake: it will seize up again. And so we need to design a new growth model.

The old growth model was as follows:

  • Build some roads and water pipes out into the countryside
  • Build some houses on the paddocks this opens up for development
  • Repeat when necessary.

This isn’t necessarily a bad model. It’s simple, and it works reasonably well provided that some schools and shops and jobs move outwards as well. But it’s got some subtle pathologies – e.g. street networks that preclude future transport choices, environmental impacts, etc.

And, more importantly, this growth model is inherently self-limiting in a location like Auckland. There are two reasons for this:

  • First, geographic constraints. Auckland is situated on a narrow isthmus between two harbours. We run out of proximate land for housing much more rapidly than other cities – which means that we must build up much more rapidly than other growing cities.
  • Second, the spatial cost of road transport. Geography gives Auckland many pinch points – over the Waitemata Harbour and across the portages at either edge of the isthmus. It’s intrinsically challenging to keep pumping cars through narrow pinch points. Adding motorway lanes will only get more costly in the future – as NZCID’s eastern motorway proposal demonstrates.

We can’t avoid the consequences of these constraints by metamorphosing into a polycentric city… because that’s already happened. Only one in five jobs is located in the city centre and fringe. The rest are elsewhere. If there are major gains to be had from dispersal, we have already achieved them. We can’t count on more of the same to help us escape the geometric realities.

And here’s the thing: If we insist that we must keep on doing more of the same, we will instead do nothing. If it is truly necessary to build something like NZCID’s eastern motorway tunnel to enable urban growth in Auckland, we probably won’t grow. It’s not feasible to spend a decade of Auckland’s transport infrastructure budget on a single road. (And it’s not ethical to borrow the money from future generations, who don’t have a say in what gets built.)

So we need a different growth model. I don’t have all the answers – who does? – but here are a few thoughts on what that might look like, focusing on the transport infrastructure part of the picture. (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the role of pricing and the need to rethink policies that limit housing choice.)

First and foremost, we must recognise that this growth model is self-limiting due to its reliance on a single transport mode – cars. Cars are great for lots of things, but they occupy a lot of space both when in motion and when sitting around. This is not an advantage in a city as geographically constrained as Auckland.

If we invest in a way that ensures that all new entrants to the city must use cars for most travel, then it will come back to bite us. If people know that new housing in their neighbourhood will inevitably mean more people parking in their preferred spot on the street, they will oppose it. (No matter how mindlessly hypocritical it is to claim a property right over a public street!) If they know that a new suburb on the edge of town will mean more cars jostling for space on the road during their morning commute, they will oppose it.

And if they’re presented with the bill to build all the new roads needed to keep the cars flowing, they’ll vote against it. Roads are expensive, and people don’t like it when their rates go up.

Second, we must recognise that there are alternatives. Public transport and cycling can offer great mobility at a much lower spatial cost than cars. If we want to increase mobility in a growing city, we need to make much greater use of these transport modes.

Litman-space-required-by-mode

It can be challenging to make the transition, as developing these networks means thinking about infrastructure and transport services differently. It means paying much more attention to how humans may behave out there on the street – i.e. what will make them feel safe in a cycle lane, or what will make it possible for them to transfer painlessly between buses. But it’s fundamentally possible.

Third, one key consideration when building these modes is that they should be built in advance of growth, so that they can lead and shape development rather than trying to catch up with it. At present, we very much take a “roads first” philosophy to greenfield areas – i.e. building lots of lanes on day one, and coming back years later to retrofit public transport to address the resulting congestion.

The perverse consequence is that this locks in a largely car-dependent urban form on the edge of the city, exacerbating the self-limiting features of our current growth model. Unwinding that is costly and difficult. A “rapid transit first” approach would save us a lot of that trouble.

Fortunately, as Matt highlighted in a recent post on Auckland Transport’s consultation on transport for future urban growth, that’s a realistic option. We’ve got the ability to develop rail stations in Drury and extend busways to Silverdale and Northwest Auckland.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

But change doesn’t happen of its own volition: policymakers have to choose to change. So here’s a simple message: If you start a sentence by saying “we need more land for housing…” the next words out of your mouth should be “… and therefore here are some rapid transit investments we should make to support it.”

Apartments and housing affordability

The NZ Herald’s been running a series on Auckland’s housing affordability crisis. The articles thus far have ranged from thoughtful and thought-provoking to downright imbecilic – such as a mortgage broker’s suggestion that young people could afford homes if they gave up their Sky subscription. I think there’s a Tui ad for that.

One of the best bits, however, is the interactive map of housing affordability that data journalist Caleb Tutty put together. Here it is in animated gif form:

The map shows the share of properties sold within each suburb over the last year that you’d be able to afford, depending upon how much of a deposit you’d saved up.

For example, here’s what the affordability map looks like if you have $100,000 in the bank. Under current bank lending policies you can borrow 80% of the house value, meaning that your deposit will buy you a half-million dollar house. Observe how the vast majority of the city is coloured red, indicating that the majority of properties would be beyond your reach.

NZH home affordability map $100k deposit

Incidentally, a $100,000 deposit is a prohibitively large sum for most young Aucklanders. According to Stats NZ data on incomes, in 2015 the median pre-tax weekly income for Aucklanders in their late 20s (25-29) was $729, or around $38,000 a year. Income taxes take about $5,700 of that sum, leaving $32,300 to provide for the necessities and save for a deposit. (On average, people in their early 30s earn a bit more – $901 per week – but that doesn’t close the gap.)

Consequently, the average young Aucklander would have to save something like one-third of their after-tax income for ten years in order to afford a deposit on a half-million dollar home. So in other words, if you’re young, you’re probably screwed no matter how thrifty or prudent you are… unless your parents are wealthy and generous.

However, there are some tentative bright spots in this rather disheartening picture. To illustrate, I’ve reduced the deposit to $70,000, which is still pretty onerous but not impossible for young people. That would allow you to buy a home worth $350,000. Here’s the map. Now the entire city is shaded a deeply unaffordable red. You can hardly buy anything anywhere. The isthmus is red. The North Shore is red. The Waitakeres are red. Manukau is red. You can’t even afford to live in Otara or Manurewa.

NZH home affordability map $70k deposit

But if you zoom in closer, you’ll notice that there is still a solitary green patch of affordability in the middle. The majority of apartment sales in the city centre are still in your price range! You can afford 55% of the properties sold in the city centre or in neighbouring Grafton. (Manukau central is the next most affordable place – just under half of the dwellings sold there are cheaper than $350,000. But there are fewer homes there.)

NZH home affordability map city centre

Prices in the city centre aren’t necessarily cheap in an absolute sense – but it nonetheless offers many more options for a young buyer seeking to buy a starter home than anywhere else in Auckland.

Why is this?

It’s not because demand to live in the city centre is low. Its residential population has quadrupled since 2001 – a rate of increase that far outstrips the rest of the city. Today, there are more people living in the Auckland city centre than there are in Whanganui.

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

What sets the city centre apart isn’t low demand but high supply responsiveness: the city centre has stayed affordable because lot of apartments have been built there. This includes a mix of expensive apartments and small, affordable apartments to meet a range of different demands for space. Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry is moving into a luxury apartment in the Viaduct Harbour, while there are many students on low incomes living a bit further up the hill.

These maps show one simple thing: Building lots of apartments works. The one place in the city where we’ve allowed it to happen – the city centre – is now the most affordable place in the city.

There’s nothing that special about the city centre. It’s hardly the only place in the city where it’s physically possible or commercially feasible to build apartments. We could allow the same thing to happen in a lot of places, and reap the benefits.

This doesn’t mean a high-rise building on every street. It’s possible to build lots of apartments while keeping building heights to a quite human scale – three to seven storeys, say. This is the model that’s worked well in a lot of European cities. Like this new neighbourhood in Freiburg, Germany:

Source: Celsias

Source: Celsias

It’s also a model that allowed fast-growing New World cities to develop and prosper a century ago – as this excellent article from Bike Portland points out. This is the type of building that we used to build:

So what’s the holdup?