Unitary Plan changes were “in scope”

Almost exactly a year ago the future of the Unitary Plan was looking uncertain after a group of rowdy residents, mainly from eastern suburbs who had been whipped into a frenzy by the likes of the NZ Herald and UP opposition groups like Auckland 2040, complained to the council about the plan. At issue was changes made by the council to zoning in response to broader changes to the plan as a result of submissions but which those opposing the plan labeled “out of scope”. The council subsequently folded to the the claims the process was being abused, even though it wasn’t, and had with withdraw from taking part in the discussions entirely. A bit of an own goal if ever there was one.

Ultimately the call as to whether something was out of scope was for the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) to make and they allowed other submitters picked up the council’s evidence. When their final recommendations were given the council, they ruled the changes were in scope and incorporated them into the plan.

 

Since the council passed the Unitary Plan in August, one of the main appeals against it – brought by the Character Coalition, Auckland 2040 and others – has been on the issue of those out of scope changes. Yesterday we had some good news with the High Court releasing a ruling and calling the approach to “scope” lawful.

 

High Court determines approach to “scope” lawful

The High Court has today released a decision ruling that the Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel’s approach to “scope” for residential zoning in key test case areas was lawful.

The decision follows a preliminary hearing held in November 2016 which considered whether the Panel approached the matter of “scope” correctly in relation to certain areas of residential zoning in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

The court was formally asked to rule on seven agreed questions of law. The issue at the heart of the preliminary questions potentially affected approximately 29,000 properties originally zoned Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban in the notified Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

The Court addressed the matter of scope by focusing on residential zoning in a number of test cases in Mt Albert, Glendowie, Blockhouse Bay, Judges Bay, Grey Lynn, Takanini, Howick and Parnell.

The court ruled that the IHP has approached the matter of “scope” correctly, with the exception of two site specific test cases – 117-133 The Strand, Parnell (relocation of viewshaft), and 55 Takanini School Road (notified as Industrial and rezoned Residential).

In his decision, Justice Whata said: “The purpose of resolving the test cases was to provide affected appellants with guidance on the issue of scope. It will be for them to decide whether and to what extent they wish to pursue their appeals in light of my decision.”

Auckland Council’s Director Legal and Risk, Katherine Anderson says: “As the decision has implications for appeals that are still before the courts, the council will not be making any further comment at this stage.”

This is good news and while it doesn’t resolve the appeals, it should go a long way to helping do so.

Of course the Character Coalition aren’t happy, continuing to claim people were denied a say in what happened, despite everyone having the same right to submit on the plan. In fact the judge even called them out for this.

There are still appeals going on but hopefully they can be resolved shortly so we can get on with building homes for people.

Sunday Reading 12 February 2017

Welcome back to Sunday reading.

From the Devonport Ferry. If your commute has tourists taking selfies on it then I’d say it’s probably pretty good:

Devonport Ferry ©Patrick Reynolds 2017

Here is a clipping from yesterday’s Herald Commercial Property section. It neatly encapsulates the value of sorting out planning restrictions [Unitary Plan] and making high quality Transit investments [City Rail Link], naturally, given the context, through a property value lens:

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the salesman’s boosterism in the second paragraph, as the main point is that the only way for tatty low value (in the broadest sense) parts of the city, like the current low rise commercial city fringe, to attract investment and therefore improvement is through value uplift. Outside of large scale direct public investment, that is, which is no straight forward business in these kinds of areas. This is happening in other parts of the city, Tamaki etc, but it is very hard to do everywhere, and anyway is probably not desirable as the only means of development anyway. There is a good role for the private sector in city building. The city and its citizens are winners through either this process, after all no one can live in an apartment that doesn’t get built, nor use or work in a retail or commercial property that isn’t there, so more is certainly more in a thriving city.

All transport infrastructure investments provide opportunities for different groups, and after 65 years of only rewarding ex-urban land bankers and detached house volume builders with tax funded transport investments (motorways) it is good to see a better and more efficient urban form being incentivised here.

And particularly good to see both levers, planning code and Transit investment, being pulled at once, and in the same direction. This is absolutely something that Auckland is getting right. Those interested in these city shaping issues globally will know that it is surprisingly difficult to achieve such obvious coordination. The main barriers to this are fractured governance in cities, so we can put this success down to the amalgamation of Auckland’s previously hopelessly squabbling and disunited political organisation, and subsequent weakness in the city’s dealings with the much more powerful central government.

April sees the Waterview tunnels open. Print media is starting to look forward to the project. I see NZTA are already trying to play down expectations of congestion reduction. As well they might:

It is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world,” Gliddon [NZTA] said.

Perhaps we should be expecting them to spend our money in smarter ways, like on actual alternatives to everyone always driving for example, then?

Plus some thoughts from this fellow:

Here’s a ripper from the ‘surprising things that generate big efficiencies’ department, here:

UPS drivers don’t turn left—and it saves them 10 million gallons of gas a year

If there is one thing I do like about American traffic management in cities is their enthusiasm to restrict cross traffic turning. Left in their case, right in ours. Our agencies seem obsessed with making horrible oversized intersections with individual lanes and light phases for every possible turn, including the most lethal and disruptive of them all; cross traffic ones. I have long called for the removal of right hand turns into and out of most Queen St intersections for both safety and efficiency reasons. And we all know that AT are just plain wrong on this issue in Mt Albert. Note to traffic engineers; heritage isn’t a thing in your profession; just cos you’ve always done it one way it doesn’t you should keep forcing it on us (actually almost certainly the reverse is true).

UPS have moved away from trying to find the shortest route and now look at other criteria to optimize the journey. One of their methods is to try and avoid turning through oncoming traffic at a junction. Although this might be going in the opposite direction of the final destination, it reduces the chances of an accident and cuts delays caused by waiting for a gap in the traffic, which would also waste fuel.

So now there’s evidence that Traffic Engineering has been wrong all along anyway, as the standard argument for keeping dangerous and delaying right hand turns is that to remove any decreases vehicle efficiency. Busted again Traffic Engineering: I sometimes wonder if there is a discipline with less intellectual curiosity about its habits than this branch of engineering?

Note to AT: MacKelvie St/Ponsonby Rd. So often there is broken glass here, being so close to the Richmond Rd intersection right turning both into and out of this street are seriously disruptive, dangerous, especially with the volume of other road users in this busy retail area (and the bus stop). Stop the right -hand turns and the very wide MacKelvie could be narrowed with widened footpaths and street trees on the southern, sunny side, and the road space on Ponsonby currently as a wide painted median for this manoeuvre used more productively.

This is undeniably true: Decisions about transport investments are really about what kind of future city we desire. For a quick overview, with lots of links, of this claim head to this CityMetric article.

The article questions reliance on cost benefit analysis, where as I think that they are an important part of the evaluation process. I guess the issue really is one of balance. For example we have for many decades had far too much priority given to the results of traffic modelling, whereas these outputs should be of a secondary value in city design, not primary. Because if we build for traffic first, all we get is traffic, and much less city.

Thinking City has a nice post up on cultural representations of cities.

Breaking Bad is amazingly powerful drama, but who thought it would also turn out to be positive for Albuquerque? Not the local authorities, for one. But there were wrong:

The funny thing is, even when a place is portrayed in a negative light, it can actually end up having a positive impact on that area. Take the US city of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest metropolis, home to roughly half a million people. It is also home to the fictional characters in the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, about a teacher with cancer who turns to drug dealing. Following the success of the show, tourism to the New Mexico city was massively boosted – turning around struggling businesses, generating new ones and contributing hugely to the local and state economy.

From the ‘the whole world is an integrated economy’ file, Bloomberg has the fascinating tale of one tiny widget in a nice interactive, click though to the the link for the full experience:

 

Related:

I have always like the line: ‘California must exist for even America needs an America’.

Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future?

So it’s interesting to read an article calling California as showing the direction the rest of the US will follow. Is California just America’s dream of its own future? After all in the long run everything follows demographics; economics, politics…

Thank’s for reading, see you next week…

Guest post: What is the secret to Tokyo’s affordable housing?

This is a guest post from reader Brendon Harré, who is based in Christchurch. It was originally published on Medium and has been lightly edited for publication on Transportblog.

Is the secret of Tokyo being affordable that Japan has let its cities be messy?

Last year NZ economist Michael Reddell wrote an article speculating that Tokyo could be an example of a city which undertook successful urban planning reforms to achieve affordable housing. Learning the secrets of Tokyo’s affordable housing has obvious benefits for New Zealand and Auckland in particular, given the difficulty we are having in providing affordable homes for New Zealanders.

Tokyo-Yokohama has a median house price to median household income ratio of 4.7, while Auckland has a ratio of 10.0 according to the latest Demographia 2017 International Housing Affordability Survey.

Tokyo’s population growth is little different to London’s or San Francisco for the period 1995 to 2015, yet house price increases have been significantly different. NB Minato-ku is an inner-city part of Tokyo.

While Japan has a stagnant/declining population, Tokyo is growing and thus its affordable housing is not due to slow growth. Based on a Financial Time’s article, Michael contended that removing planning restrictions in the 1990s – including for intensification – led to housing becoming more affordable.

A recent video made by a Canadian journalist provided quite a lot of good information about Japanese planning rules and comparative housing costs. The video shows the average new Tokyo home can be bought for US$300,000 (NZ$414,000), which is significantly cheaper than a new home would cost in New Zealand, especially Auckland. Usefully it shows video of what these homes and neighbourhoods actually look like.

Removing regulatory constraints on intensification is consistent with advice from my favourite planning theorist, Alain Bertaud. He visited New Zealand in 2014 and wrote the following about how to provide affordable housing, given Auckland’s constrained land supply.

There are two ways to compensate for the constraint on land supply imposed by Auckland’s topography:

1. Increase the amount of land available to developers at the city periphery

2. Decrease the regulatory constraints which prevent a higher density of utilization in centrally located areas where demand is high

I agree with both of these statements and have gone to some effort to advocate for them. In particular, I like to advocate for more of the second option, removing restrictions on building within the city in places where demand is high.

There are plenty of people demanding peripheral growth boundaries be removed to enable the building of more affordable housing. David Seymour for example appears to be advocating for this in a very provocative manner by advocating for house building in the Waitakere Ranges, a set aside wilderness area. As an inner city MP, David Seymour is silent on what regulatory constraints should be removed to enable more housing in places where demand is high i.e. inner city Auckland.

A lot of people advocating for the removal of peripheral growth boundaries do not seem to support removing other housing supply restrictions. I do, as I feel that it is important to advocate for restrictions to be relaxed in both the up and out directions. This provides people with more choices about types of housing (terraces, apartments etc) and types of communities or locations within the city.

The recently agreed Auckland Unitary Plan will allow more intensification to occur. This is important, as Auckland is the city in New Zealand with the greatest housing supply imbalance. I worry though that the Unitary Plan is weighted too much in the direction of high-rise apartments in a few locations and does not allow enough freedom for other types of housing developments.

From a Transportblog Auckland Development Update article which started with the following two sentences. 2017 will be the Year of the Terrace.Terraced homes, built in rows: neighbours on either side, but not above or below. They’re relatively cheap to build, and they’re within the reach of many small/ medium-sized building firms, ones which have traditionally concentrated on detached houses.

I believe that we should give much more freedom for small scale housing intensification in a much broader area of the city. I do not see the harm of leaving more housing decisions – what housing type, what locations – to people on the ground to make. Many Auckland property owners will naturally respond to demand for different types of housing demand. I think this sort of natural, organic process in most cases would have good outcomes and would help us to meet our various housing needs.

Incremental and organic building within a city was the logic behind a proposal I made last year to improve housing supply. I called it reciprocal intensification property rights. This proposal is designed to facilitate co-operation between neighbours to allow more intensification in their adjoining properties. My hope is that reciprocal intensification will be a step towards adding an incremental, bottom-up process to city-building in New Zealand.

Tokyo has taken advantage of similar policies. Japanese planning gives Japanese city dwellers freedom to incrementally upgrade ‘slums’ around government provided infrastructures. In an article entitled “When Tokyo was a Slum“, Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava comment that:

According to Metabolist architect Kisho Kurokawa, Westerners misunderstand Tokyo as informal and illogical because of their dualist notion of the city as divided into polar opposites: Urban and rural, formal and informal, order and mess. But Japanese culture, says Kurokawa, accepts that mess and order are inseparable: “The open structure, or receptivity, is a special feature of the Japanese city and one it shares with other Asian cities.” This is why the Japanese are so tolerant of urban forms that the West would see as “irrational” or “messy” — neighborhoods develop and slowly integrate with the larger urban system on their own terms. Tokyo was built with loose zoning rules to become a fantastically integrated mixed-use city, where tiny pedestrian streets open up to high-speed train lines.

Japan’s city-building freedom is not only important for supplying affordable housing – it also facilitates a diverse, broad eco-system of small businesses too. Given the need for New Zealand to diversify its economy, adopting similar city building practices may be beneficial

Some may argue these sort of informal city building processes may be appropriate for high density Asian cities, but would not work for suburban New Zealand. The evidence indicates this is not true. Houston, a low-density affordable US city has also relaxed rules on housing intensification for its inner city suburbs (an area larger than Auckland’s isthmus), which has resulted in significant increases in affordable inner city housing. This can be seen in the before and after pictures of Houston from two articles which questioned whether Washington DC should allow widespread low-rise intensification on more affordable land like Houston allows, as opposed to what they are currently doing, by relying on central city high-rise apartment building.

A similar question of whether to give more freedom to build low-rise intensification over a wide-spread area could be asked about Auckland. Under the Unitary Plan, it is estimated that nine times as many apartment dwellings will be commercially viable to build compared to terrace housing (P.17).

The degree in which a city is free to build up and out are collective decisions i.e political decisions. It is my contention this freedom has a significant influence on housing affordability. If this is correct, the degree that we collectively tolerate unaffordable housing and all its associated ills – homelessness, overcrowding and rising wealth inequality – is also a political decision.

What is the readers opinion on the degree of freedom we need to grant New Zealand cities to build up or out?

[Editor’s note: André Sorensen’s excellent 2001 book The Making of Urban Japan describes the history of post-1980s planning and housing policy in greater detail. I’d recommend it to anyone seeking to understand Japanese cities. Sorensen suggests that planning controls were loosened during the bubble period, and subsequently tightened after the crash, which complicates the causal story about planning reform and falling prices. Nonetheless, zoning controls have always been less restrictive in Japan than in most other developed countries.]

A future for Auckland’s transport network

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to better join the dots between Auckland’s housing challenges and its transport challenges. We’re all familiar with the common stories about Auckland’s problems: Housing is too expensive, pricing young people out of the market and forcing low-income households into crowded or unhealthy accommodation. The transport system isn’t working as well as it could – key roads are congested, public transport is often unreliable due to our mid-century decision to eschew a rapid transit network, and walking and cycling often feels unsafe, again due to policy choices.

But it strikes me that we aren’t yet telling a clear story about how we could solve Auckland’s challenges. This is an attempt to tell some of that story.

It all starts with the street. When Auckland’s suburbs started to get built in the late 1800s, people did a few things to cut costs. One of those was providing long, narrow residential sites without back alleys or many cross streets. This left behind more saleable land while avoiding the need to provide stormwater or sewerage – people simply dug long-drops at the back of their long sites.

The result was a city that has a dearth of streets. The following map compares my neighbourhood in Auckland with my brother’s neighbourhood in Denver, Colorado – his is a bit further from the city centre but otherwise similar. Note the fine mesh of cross-streets and the closely-spaced arterial roads in Denver, and the spidery mesh in Auckland:

When we zoom out the map, the comparison gets even starker. Not only does Auckland lack a Denver-style street grid, it also has a regional transport network full of gaps and pinch-points caused by its position on two harbours.

This is exacerbated by the fact that we have recently built out most of the space in most designated motorway corridors. Once the Waterview Connection opens, the motorway network will be largely complete and will probably never be significantly expanded again, at least within the city. Contemplate that, for a moment.

In short, we are a growing city that lacks street space and has extremely constrained ability to add more transport corridors virtually anywhere in the city.

This brings me on to the second part of the story: Cars. Cars are wonderful things. They are the best way to get to the West Coast beaches, and the second-best way to get to urban beaches, after cycling. If it weren’t for home delivery, they would be the only way to buy a refrigerator or a tonne of compost for the garden. But we’re not going to be able to fit an ever-growing amount of them on Auckland’s roads at peak times. We don’t have the space for it.

In saying this, I’m not arguing that we should necessarily fear congestion. Auckland’s existing performance isn’t terrible: the aggregate cost of congestion is right about what you’d expect based on data from large Australian cities, and average commute times are reasonable. But the constrained nature of our street grid and regional motorway network leads me to think that it will tend to increase more rapidly as the city grows. Consequently, we will need to do something differently.

[A brief digression: We will face this problem regardless of where new residents end up living. Banning growth in your neighbourhood and insisting that all newcomers move to Drury will not solve the problem: many of those people will simply hop on the road to commute to jobs in the city or in the growing Auckland airport business park. Similarly, banning growth on the fringes won’t fix the problem either: many newcomers will still need to drive to get to jobs spread around the city.]

This leads directly to the third part of the story: What can we do instead, if the current approach won’t keep working?

Basically, there seem to be three things we can do.

One: We can implement congestion pricing – or, as Jarrett Walker calls it, a decongestion charge – to take the edge off peak-period delays on busy corridors. I’ve discussed this extensively in the past so won’t rehash this discussion here. One point that many people raise, though, is that congestion pricing should be paired with a strong focus on improving alternatives to driving, to allow people to avoid the charge.

Two: We need to improve Auckland’s regional rapid transit network to ensure that it is possible to travel longer distances within Auckland both quickly and reliably. Setting aside congestion pricing for a moment, rapid transit is the only way that we can reliably achieve this. If you want to travel 20 kilometres and get to work on time most days, you’re better off being in a train or a busway service than a car.

Rapid transit improvements are likely to be especially important for making greenfield growth work well. People who will soon be living in Dairy Flat, Whenuapai, and Drury can benefit from the option to access fast and reliable transport options.

However, good rapid transit isn’t simply a matter of building a busway out to the wops. Service integration is also essential. What that means is that buses or trains need to connect with each other at key points, offering easy and reliable transfers between services and access to a wider range of destinations. Interchanges like Otahuhu and Panmure are important, but the city centre is even more important, as it will always be the place where most of the lines converge.

In other words, if we want to make rapid transit work well for greenfields, we also need to sort out what’s happening to buses and trains downtown and in the inner urban areas.

Three: We need to improve Auckland’s urban cycleway network to give people new options for short- to medium-distance trips within the existing urban area. Cycling has a lot of unrealised potential in Auckland (and most New Zealand cities): At peak times on congested roads, a bicycle can get you to your destination faster than a car, and technological improvements (ebikes!) are flattening out the hills as we speak.

Getting more people cycling for everyday transport would go a long way to sorting out the transport challenges associated with new housing development in a city with a fragmented street grid. Every person who rides to the shops or to work is one who isn’t competing for road space and parking space. We will value those people more in the future.

A key barrier to cycling in Auckland is the perception that it is not safe. This doesn’t necessarily dissuade the mid-30s bloke in lycra, but it will keep many schoolkids, middle-aged women, and a whole bunch of other people off their bikes. We can fix this – and get people from ages 8 to 80 cycling – by designing streets better and providing safe cycling infrastructure where it’s most needed.

To summarise: Auckland’s built itself into a bit of a hole, and in order to meet the needs of a growing city, it will have to do things differently. That means congestion pricing (to make the road network work better), a really good regional rapid transit network (to ensure fast and reliable journeys throughout the urban area), and a safe, joined-up network of urban cycleways (to give people more options for shorter trips). This shouldn’t be seen as an alternative that we could pursue once we’re done building motorways: it is now the most realistic way forward for the city.

What do you think Auckland should do in order to address its growth challenges?

Auckland’s New Network — What comes next?

Right now Auckland Transport is in the process of implementing the New Network (NN). The NN is already operational in the south, and is being readied for implementation in other sub-regions as per the following timetable:

You can view the latest networks for each sub-region by clicking on the links provided at the beginning of this post. For those who don’t know, I should disclose that I was part of the consultant team who worked with AT to develop the original NN way back in 2012-2014. The original network we developed is illustrated below.

The original network shown above has subsequently evolved in response to several rounds of stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This included engagement with existing operators, consultation with local boards, and — finally — consultation with the general public. Moreover, as time has progressed, more detailed information has come to light, such as the land use outcomes associated with Unitary Plan and the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for developing highways and busways. All useful information that can inform the design of the public transport network, albeit information that has been somewhat slow to extract.

The NN has also had to dovetail with other projects AT has underway. I’m not aware of any other city in Australia or New Zealand that are attempting to change so much about their PT system in so little time. In the 15-20 year period starting with the opening of Britomart, Auckland will have developed a Rapid Transit Network connecting to every sub-region almost from scratch; redesigned the ticketing system and fare structure; implemented a new public transport contracting model; and drastically re-structured its services. Somewhat understandably, the desire to coordinate implementation of the NN with these other projects has delayed implementation beyond the initial (indicative) 2016 timeline.

So as we stand on the threshold of implementing the NN, one may wonder what comes next? The answer, in my opinion, is that the NN will be a constant, ongoing project for at least the next 5-10 years.

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that all aspects of the NN won’t work perfectly right from the beginning, and they should be changed as further information comes to light. In terms of demand, some routes will experience too much while others will see too little. That’s a reason to reallocate resources. In terms of schedules, some timetables will have too much time while others will have too little. The struggle for reliability is ever-present.

Public transport nirvana won’t happen over-night, but it will happen. If we keep working on it. Maybe. But aside from continuous refinement of the underlying network structure, what else might change? The answer to this is both nothing and almost everything. When I say nothing, I am referring to the underlying principles of frequency and connectivity on which the NN was built, and which will allow us to run a more efficient public transport network. These principles are sound and should not change as we go forward. Instead, they should be strengthened and embedded more deeply into our PT network. Every time AT increase frequency, we should be asking whether we can remove duplication.

On the other hand, much about Auckland’s public transport network will continue to change. Let’s list just a few of the major projects that Auckland Transport and others will be working to implement over the next 5-10 years:

  • AMETI
  • City Rail Link
  • Northern Busway extension, including new Rosedale station
  • Extension of electrified services to Pukekohe, and new stations
  • LRT on Dominion Road and Queen Street
  • North-western Busway

When you line up all these projects, you start to realise that there isn’t many corners of our fair city where the public transport will not change fairly dramatically in the next few years. So we will need to get used to PT network changes happening on a fairly regular basis. Of course none of them should be as large as the NN itself, but nor should we delude ourselves that it will end with the NN. The NN is arguably close to the start of Auckland’s journey to PT salvation.

Indeed, such complacency with regards to continuous improvement of Auckland’s PT network is arguably a contributing factor to the situation we are in today. As an aside, I understand the following meme is popular among some of the folk that have long-lorded over Auckland.

Aside from the persistent and ongoing issues with the allocation of resources and reliability, there is one other potential meteor that seems likely to pass fairly close in the near future, and which threatens to destroy the heart of Auckland’s PT network. That is, Auckland has very limited bus capacity in the city centre, in terms of corridors, stop, and terminal capacity. I think it’s fair to say bus capacity in Auckland’s city centre has been neglected for decades, and is now being rapidly squeezed in all directions. The risk is that the meteor of bus volumes brings about a never-ending buspocalypse that in turn suppresses patronage and exacerbates congestion.

Put simply, the volume of buses that need to be accommodated in the city centre is rather high already, and it’s growing. And it’s not just about the corridor capacity: Buses need to stop, terminate, and/or turn-around. In fact, I’d suggest that corridor capacity is almost the least of our concerns, we can always splash around a bit more green paint, e.g. on Wellesley Street. Stop and terminal capacity is more problematic, simply because there’s not much space. LRT will help, but it is something that won’t happen super-fast and nor will it be a panacea when it is up-and-running. Meanwhile construction works associated with the CRL and the Council’s (excellent) place-making initiatives look likely to exacerbate the problems caused by our historical reluctance to address bus terminal issues.

Whether we encounter bus apolocalypse depends on whether AT are successful at changing the way we currently operate buses and manage streets so as to make them more efficient. The NN as it currently stands seem likely to result in higher bus volumes downtown than originally planned. Indeed, changes made during consultation — for potentially good reasons that I explain below — have had the effect of throwing more buses into the city centre, specifically:

  • Removing through-routing — the original NN proposed through-routing bus services between Takapuna–Onehunga, Glen Innes–Mt Albert, and Glen Innes–New Lynn. I understand all three though-routes have been dropped. This both increases bus volumes in the city, and requires more passengers to transfer, which increases dwell-times.
  • Retaining duplicative routes — In some cases, services have been added or retained that duplicate other services, even if they perhaps remove the need for passengers to connect. The most notable is the Outer Link, but there are also a number of peak services that have snuck their way back into the network. In terms of capacity, the latter are particularly problematic, because they directly increase peak bus volumes (by definition).
  • Removing cross-towns — the original NN arguably contained five frequent crosstown services in the Isthmus, specifically: Mt Albert — Glen Innes, Takapuna — Onehunga, New Lynn — Glen Innes, Pt Chevalier — Ellerslie, and Mt Albert — Pakuranga. The proposed NN now contains only one, or arguably two if you include the Outer Link. Going from five to two cross-towns will increase the number of buses terminating in the city centre, and increase the need for passengers to connect between services there.

This should not be construed as criticism of the changes made by AT. Indeed, the changes arguably reflect positively on AT’s desire to respond constructively with feedback. It’s also entirely possible that the changes will increase patronage and/or efficiency in the short term, even if they exacerbate issues with city centre bus capacity in the medium to long term.

But *if* buspocalypse does arise, *then* what should we do about it?

The good news is that AT are aware of the risk of buspoalypse, and have started considering how to mitigate the chance it occurs. Some of their current thinking has been documented in the “Bus Reference Case” report that was published last year, and which was written by my colleagues at MRCagney. While somewhat technical, the report does make for interesting reading, as it provides an indication of the sorts of volumes we might expect and sketches out some possible responses. And when I say response, I am talking about one that considers not just infrastructure, but also other related aspects, such as services, vehicles, and ticketing.

The report notes, for example, that after the CRL the following actions could be taken to reduce bus volumes in the city centre:

  • Re-direct the New North Road (Route 22) service to Newmarket. This would possibly allow AT to drop the infrequent but direct rail service operating between the west and Newmarket, and increase rail services on the main Western line.
  • Eliminate expresses from the West, including Blockhouse Bay to City (Route 195), Green Bay to City (Route 209), Glen Eden Express (Route 151x), and Titirangi Expresses (Routes 171x and 172x). Instead, these routes would terminate at the Avondale, New Lynn, and Glen Eden rail stations.
  • Expand service from the Northwest, specifically Routes 110 and 125x (WEX upon completion of the North western busway); and
  • Eliminate expresses from the Southeast, including Mangere to City (Route 309x) and Papakura to City (Route 360x).

As well as changes to the network itself, the report investigates the potential demand for bus infrastructure in the city centre, especially with regards to bus termini and stop infrastructure around Wynyard, Wellesely, the Universities and Britomart. It’ll be interesting to see what the detailed designs for these areas look like, and whether they avoid off-street interchanges and termini. Naturally on-street would be more cost-efficient, but it does place increased demands placed on city centre streets. Balancing this demand with other place and movement needs will be tricky.

Either way, when we say “city centre bus infrastructure”, it’s fairly clear we are not simply talking about a lick of green paint. If we want to get buses off the streets in the city centre, while maintaining accessibility and growing patronage, then we need to think about where they go. And we may need to spend some money along the way.

In terms of the last point, it’s interesting to compare Auckland with our comrades across the ditch. Both Brisbane and Perth have some serious bus infrastructure in their central city. King George Square station, for example, opened a few years ago and is nicer than most metro stops.

Meanwhile in Perth, construction of the long-planned underground bus station (BusPort) in the city centre was completed in July 2016.

Over here in Amsterdam, they’ve been busy elevating their buses away from the street level so as to improve amenity around central station, while maintaining connections to other transport modes. Impressive stuff, and things that have long been in the works.

None of this is to say that Auckland will neessarily need bus infrastructure of the same scale as the above cities. With a more brutal network structure and more efficient operations, it’s certainly possible we could get by with less hard infrastructure than these cities have achieved. However, these cities do provide a good lesson for Auckland in terms of developing long-term plans for acommodating buses in the city centre. That is something Auckland hasn’t yet managed to achieve, even if it looks like the wheels are starting to turn.

It’s promising that Phil Goff’s election platform and subsequent noises have emphasized the important role for buses, both now and in the future. Getting Auckland’s buses working well will definitely require a level of technical and political leadership that perhaps has been lacking in the past. It may also require that we step on the toes of landowners in the city centre, who arguably have ruled Auckland’s roost for far too long.

What do you think? And if you were AT, and if there was an issue with city centre bus infrastructure capacity, then what would you do? I’d be particularly keen to hear about people’s ideas for the NN as it currently stands, and how it could be adapted so as to reduce bus volumes in the city centre. Which routes would you cut, and why?

And/or what are your ideas for how to improve bus infrastructure in the city centre? Ideas big and small are welcome. If we succeed with our plans for the city centre and public transport more generally, then it’s possible we’ll need some of these infrastructure and service initiatives sooner than we think. I think that’s a good problem to have.

P.s. Feel free to also comment on the proposal to relocate long-distance buses to Manukau and Albany. Grrr. That’s an issue I hope to cover in a future post.

Slowest City tag meaningless

The media seem went gaga a few days ago about a new report that looks at the impacts of congestion in Auckland and other Australasian cities. It’s no surprise they reported on it either, transport in Auckland is a common gripe and so the story of Auckland being the slowest city, confirming what many people already believe, was too much to pass up.

But even reading the news articles, it struck me that this was likely another case of the wrong questions being asked but that by in large, the right answers were reached, much like ATAP. Perhaps even more so it wasn’t the main findings of the report that were important but some of the ancillary comments.

The report is by Austroads, a key organisation in the development of road networks in Australasia. Here’s some of what the Herald said about it.

Auckland commuters can groan in agreement with a report that reveals the city has the worst travel times and reliability in Australia and New Zealand.

This is despite having the fastest road in the two countries combined.

Austroads Congestion and Reliability Review measured the levels of congestion and traffic across major cities in Australia and New Zealand and released their findings in a report.

The cities were categorised into groups of similar population size. Auckland was in group two alongside Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

In its group Auckland performed worst across “most measures”. These included the highest travel time delay, morning and afternoon peak reliability.

Auckland came out worst in it’s group with an average speed of 77.6km/hr. The other cities were between 82km/hr to 86km/hr. American cities of a comparative size went up to 104km/hr.

The slowest roads were St Lukes Rd, Wairau Rd and Lake Rd. While the fastest were the Northern Gateway Toll Rd (which topped the Australasian list with an average speed of 98.8km/hr), Upper Harbour Motorway and SH16.

By focusing on the speed of commutes, my immediate feeling was that this sounds like a very similar approach taken by Tom Tom and other organisations for their own congestion reports. This proved to be correct as this is what the press release says about the method they used.

The findings are based on an analysis of Google Maps data for 600km of roads for each major Australian city, enabling analysis of travel time along different road segments. The analysis was based on two months of data, comprising of 1km long road segments, with data points taken every 15 minutes, to calculate the six key congestion measures outlined in the report. An econometric analysis was then undertaken to provide insight into the drivers of network performance.

We’ve written before about TomTom’s reports, one of the key problems with reports that use this kind of methodology are that they are based on measuring the variance in the speed of traffic compared to the maximum speed limit allowed on the road. This ignores that roads can be more efficient and flow better with lower speeds, for example a motorway will move more vehicles an hour/flow better if they’re all travelling at 80km/h than 100km/h.

Also importantly, these reports only ever reference vehicle congestion/speeds, not the people using that corridor. Infrastructure like the rail network and Northern Busway allow a lot more people to be moved within a corridor, often faster and free of congestion. We know that 40% of people crossing the Harbour Bridge every morning on a comparatively small number of buses don’t suffer from the congestion those in cars next to them have endured.

But it’s here were we reach one of those right answer to the wrong question points. That’s because while we know that counting the speed of PT and other road users is key if we want a more accurate report, we also know that Auckland is one of the worst performers when it comes to use of other modes, something noted by the authors when they say

Auckland has fewer public transport options, compared with other cities. Plentiful low-cost parking in Auckland encourages commuters to drive.

Looking at the articles also raised a new potential issue with how these kinds of congestion metrics are created, in particular the mention that the Northern Gateway Toll Road was the fastest in Australasia. In short, why would you count a rural tolled motorway. Other than on holiday weekends, which wouldn’t be relevant in this discussion, this road has almost no bearing on the congestion most Aucklanders might experience. But that got me thinking, if the toll road is included in Auckland’s numbers, what else is included, especially in other cities.

So here’s Auckland’s map of the most delayed roads based on their methodology.

And as one example, here’s Perth which comes out much better in the metrics.

And Brisbane

One thing worth noting is it appears these maps are not at the same scale, the furthermost point away from the Auckland City Centre is about Drury, 30km away. By comparison in Brisbane and Perth some of the locations shown are over 50km away from the city centre. This hints at one of the potential issues, there are a lot more uncongested rural highways included in the numbers of other cities compared to Auckland. To be fair, in the middle of the report they do say that the types of roads selected for this report will impact the results i.e. more motorways generally results in higher average speeds.

The report also looks at some international cities as comparisons but oddly they decided specifically to choose cites with similar PT modeshares to the Australasian cities which means cities of similar sizes and densities in places like Europe and North America can’t be compared to see if there’s something cities here could learn if there was a different transport/land use focus.

As mentioned earlier though, despite issues with some of the ways this report has been approached, I do think it comes up with some useful points.

More important that the speed of a particular journey is the reliability of it. If you know it’s always going to be slow then at least you can accept that, or adjust when or how you travel to avoid it. But when that varies considerably every day it can be infuriating. Of course, Auckland fares poorly in the reliability rankings

They also make some very salient points about why Auckland performs poorly. These include:

  • Auckland’s geography, particularly its harbours and waterways, impose constraints on the transport system, meaning the main transport links are confined to narrow corridors
  • Compared with other cities there is a lower level of public transport provision for commuters
  • There exists highly available and low cost parking in Auckland which encourages commuters to drive

Auckland’s geographic constraints forces a lot of people to travel through narrow areas, if only there was a way to move a lot of people without needing a lot of space to do so. Despite what some urban myths would have you believe, that makes Auckland ideally suited to public transport, if was provided it well. This is something backed up to some degree by ATAP, which noted that there are only limited options for expanding road capacity within most of the urban area.

There is no one solution to ‘solve’ congestion but definitely a “more of the same but bigger” approach will not work. If Auckland wants a chance of improving congestion it will need provide better alternatives so the best option isn’t to sit in a car and hope for the best.

City Math

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

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

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

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

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

2017 – The Year Ahead

In this last post for the year, I want to look at some of the things I think will be big discussion points during the year as Auckland continues to transform into a better city.

City Rail Link

With works now well underway on the first sections of the CRL the project will remain a strong talking point in 2017 as we follow its progress. We start the year with changes at Britomart with the new temporary entrance coming into use. Early in the new year the CRL team are expected to put the rest of the project out to tender.

Well also be focusing a lot on what happens to the streets after construction is finished. The works so far have shown the city can still function well with the significant disruption that’s occurred already and so we believe there’s an opportunity to vastly improve them for pedestrians, not just put them back as they were.

Mass Transit

The government don’t like the idea of Light Rail on Dominion Rd but begrudgingly acknowledge the need for more rapid transit capacity. So in ATAP, they referred to the idea as ‘Mass Transit’ and said the NZTA would be looking at bus alternatives before confirming what would happen in the future. This work is already well underway and I’d expect it to be released early in the new year. We know AT had already put a lot of work in before deciding on the Light Rail option, including analysing many bus alternatives. So to be credible, this new study will have to show how it deals with the issues, like city centre street capacity, that led to AT picking light rail in the first place.

If they ignore those issues, it will put Light Rail on the same track to existence as the CRL did with the government and its agencies producing competing and often incomplete analysis before finally agreeing with the project.

The issue of congestion around the airport is also likely to be a big factor and one I think will only increase pressure on politicians to get this addressed.

Rapid Transit

I expect we will hear more in 2017 about how AT plans to develop the Rapid Transit Network. At the very least the Northwest Busway which was identified in ATAP as needed in the first decade. We know AT have already been doing some work looking at this. I also think we’ll hear more about other RTN projects such as AMETI and how to deal with electric trains to Pukekohe, either extending the wires or using battery powered trains.

New Network Rollout

In 2017 we are will see the roll out of the new bus network in West Auckland in June followed by Central Auckland a few months later.

Parnell Station and new rail timetable

In March the new Parnell Station is finally due to open. The old Newmarket Station building was moved to the site just before Christmas and is being refurbished as part of the station. The opening comes alongside a new rail timetable that AT say will speed up services – although that may be only by a couple of minutes so not the significant improvements that are needed.

Government Elections

Government elections will likely be a strong point of discussion in the coming year, especially in the latter half as voting draws near. It was of course made more interesting by John Key’s sudden resignation a few weeks ago. Transport is not usually a major talking point but we’ll certainly be watching it. Housing is certainly shaping up to be a massive issue though so it will be fascinating to see what impact that has.

Cycleways

We’re expecting to see a lot of progress on cycleways this year we move ever closer to mid-2018 cut off of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund. Some of the ones due to start this year include

  • The Nelson St extension from Victoria St to Quay St
  • Quay St extension to The Strand
  • The next sections of the Eastern Path
  • Ian McKinnion Dr
  • Franklin Rd

We’re also hoping to see progress on Skypath this year now that the consent issues are out of the way.

 

Waterview

After around 5 years of construction, in April the Waterview connection is finally due to open. It will be fascinating to see just what impact the project has as there’s a very high chance it will cause significant congestion, especially leading to the city.

SH20a – Kirkbride Rd interchange

The grade separation of Kirkbride Rd and SH20A is also due to be completed in 2017

East-West Link

The hugely expensive East-West link is going to get a lot of attention in 2017 as it moves through the consenting process. The NZTA lodged applications for consent just a few weeks ago and the EPA process needs to be completed within nine months of that. A lot of mainstream media focus will be on the Onehunga area where there is a lot of opposition to what the NZTA have proposed.

Northern Corridor

The Northern Corridor will also be going through the same process as the East-West link but so far there hasn’t been anywhere near the level of opposition to the project, especially seeing as extending the Northern Busway is now a key feature of the project.

Auckland Plan refresh

A big discussion this year will be the refresh of the Auckland Plan, the 30 year strategic plan for Auckland. Since the first Auckland Plan around six years ago, we’ve made significant progress on some issues, such as the CRL and Unitary Plan but we also face a lot of new challenges, especially around the provision of housing. It will be interesting to see how much the vision for Auckland changes.

Auckland Transport

We’ll obviously be following closely what happens with Auckland Transport in 2017. One big thing to watch is that AT will be hunting for a new CEO this year.

All up, 2017 is shaping up to be another huge year and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens. See you next year

2016 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

This is Part 4 and the final part of our series wrapping up the year and in this post I’m looking at everything else. You can also see:

Unitary Plan

The completion of the Unitary Plan has been one of the biggest and most important discussions Auckland has had for the last few years. The plan sets the rules by which Auckland can develop and previous planning rules were far too restrictive, especially in relation to allowing for urban development. Since it was first discussed in 2012, council in responding to groups like Auckland 2040 had wound back many aspects of the plan. It was better than what we have but not as good as it should have been.

At the beginning of the year the plan took a blow as Councillors buckled to a small group of vocal residents who had been whipped into a frenzy by incorrect information from the likes of the Herald and voted to withdraw it’s evidence on residential zoning under the false pretense of preserving a process. That crazy act meant the council wasn’t able to be a part of the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) when discussing this massive and important topic. But the act ultimately proved fruitless as the IHP were the ones controlling the process

In July, the IHP released their recommendations which significantly increased what they called Feasible Enabled Capacity.

In August the council accepted almost all of the recommendations from the IHP. Interestingly the opposition groups seemed to just melt away and not much was heard of them during this time. This was a huge achievement and something that looked unlikely even six months earlier.

The process isn’t fully over yet though, there are still some appeals to be worked through and one of those from the Character Coalition caused a major snag. It was so broad in scope the council couldn’t make the plan operative. The appeal was later reworded to focus on character housing not all residential zoning.

TFUG

A important discussion this year was a project called Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG). This was Auckland Transport and the NZTA looking at what big pieces of infrastructure were needed to support all the greenfield growth areas identified in the Unitary Plan. This is mostly a lot of big arterials and expanded state highways but there is some PT in the mix too. All up it is likely to cost at least $10 billion for the infrastructure planned, about $200,000 per new dwelling it enables. The final plan was released just before Christmas and I’ll cover that in the new year.

ATAP

I’ve already covered ATAP a bit in previous posts but in this one I wanted to point out a couple of important parts. One is that the project identified full road pricing, not just tolling a few roads, would likely be needed in coming years to help manage demand. This is important as up to that point the government had been very opposed to the mere suggestion of this. They still aren’t fully supporting it and there is a lot of work that needs to happen before we’ll see anything like road pricing introduced but if feels like the idea is now firmly in the discussion and likely to be a key discussion in coming years.

The second is that ATAP came up with some indicative timings for when projects might happen, this is shown below

ATAP Indicative Interventions

New Council

In October we had local body elections and Len Brown wasn’t standing again meaning we would definitely be getting a new mayor. Phil Goff, who officially announced he was running in late 2015m, had been the front runner for a long time and in the end won by a considerable margin.

In November he released his first rates proposal, something that will be a key discussion in the first half of next year. While capping rates increases at 2.5%, he also sought to look at other ways of funding Auckland’s growth such as introducing visitor levy, a targeted rate on areas to be developed to help pay for the new infrastructure those areas and raising the topic of regional fuel taxes.

Goff campaigned on making the Council Controlled Organisations more accountable and just a few weeks ago we saw the draft letters of expectation to the CCOs. We covered the letter to AT which was fantastic, effectively calling out AT on issues like ignoring the councils City Centre Master Plan with their stupid plans for key streets after the CRL is completed. It also asked AT to focus on some other key areas too, such as “aggressively pursuing strong growth in public transport use and active modes” and improving speeds on the rail network from shorter dwell times. It will be interesting to see how AT respond.

Blog

We’ve had another fantastic year on the blog and it’s great to see many new people starting to read and join in the conversation. Here are couple of stats for you.

Thank you to all who have read the blog and helped support us.

We do have one post left to go for the year, tomorrow I’ll take look at what we might see in 2017

City Centre Streets for the 21st Century

Santiago de Chile is home to some 6m+ souls, its origins date back to the 16th Century, and it has south American largest, and still expanding, Metro system. But, like almost all cities coming out of the 20th Century, its city centre streets have been allowed to be dominated by vehicles, with all of the disbenefits this brings. Happily, this is now changing, and attracting a lot of positive attention, as this Streetfilms film describes:

This is a great model for the Auckland City Centre, where it will be even easier to achieve, and is in fact already underway, as the current trends in both declining vehicle mode-share and rising Transit and Active mode-share show. We have so far sort of bumbled into this success, with some parts of local government leading it and some resisting it. And the time is now perfect for the city to at last make this a conscious and consistently worked towards process.

In my view it is past time to implement clear policy to support the already reducing vehicle numbers using city streets, in order to allow their re-purposing to higher value and higher capacity uses; walking, cycling, and Transit. And as for place quality as well, as streets, now more than ever, offer greater value as more than just movement engines, or just as car storage facilities, but to support the all important urban services and travel economy.

This of course needs to be executed at detail and over time, by highly skilled urban designers and transportation professionals, with skill, sensitivity, and rational analysis. For as in every city all streets have competing uses, and these must be balanced and prioritised cleverly.

But the is nothing about that process that obviates the need for clear and conscious over-arching policy to guide these decisions. And that policy must be to build the successful city for this age: The more prosperous, people-focussed, greener, and more equitable 21st Century walkable transit rich city.