Urban Form: AKL v CHCH

For those interested in the divergence of development patterns in New Zealand cities it is hard not to be struck by this page in the weekend’s real estate section.  Auckland is still growing out, but it is also growing up. Christchurch not so much, just out. Time will tell which model better suits the demands of this century. This also clearly illustrates how Auckland is an exception in NZ in more ways than just its size:

AKL v CHCH dev patterns

The transport benefits of street trees in cities

A while ago Kent and I made a proposal for a tree lined boulevard in Auckland. Curiously, the biggest theme of the comments section was about the perceived lack of value that trees bring to the street corridor. It seems that most people consider street trees to be at best, decoration, and at worst a waste of time and money, dangerous even. Indeed I have seen road design handbooks whose only mention of trees was to outline all their problems in the section of ‘non-frangible fixed hazards’ (in traffic engineering terms, frangible means something that will break off when you drive into it, rather than stay solid and crumple your car around it).

I wanted to use this post to outline some of the reasons why trees are beneficial for our city streets. Not just beneficial from appearance or character, but beneficial in the sense of making the street work better in terms of its transportation and land use.

A word of clarification up front however. I am  talking about trees on city streets, particularly urban inner city streets with speed limits of 50km/h or less and ‘stuff’ around that people actually do there (like live, work or play, and not just move). Trees on rural highways and back roads with nothing going on but through traffic are a different story.

So my point is street trees are not merely decoration and can be included in street design specifically for several practical, technical reasons. In no particular order, these are as follows:

 An outer row of trees can provide physical separation between the traffic lanes and the footpath, cycleway and retail frontages.

Your friendly local highway designer will tell you that trees are a fixed hazard, according to the Austroads design manual at least, and that a high speed highway needs a wide exclusion zone either side so that speeding drivers who run off the road can careen onwards without hitting anything. While this is a very appropriate safety treatment for a state highway out the back of Waipukarau, it is completely inappropriate for a city centre arterial.

For a start we don’t want a high speed highways through our inner city. That what the motorways are for and we don’t want cars and trucks to speed through dense people-focussed places at street level. Rather we want move plenty of vehicles in an efficient manner while keeping to a reasonable speed limit for a city arterial. Consistent reliable travel times and total throughput are far more important that high speed alone.

Secondly, we certainly don’t want vehicles running off the traffic lanes at high speed. In an urban context this means running over whoever happens to be walking on the footpath at the time and smashing into the front window of a shop or office building! We want to keep traffic in the traffic lanes.

Thirdly, we don’t want to waste scarce city land on wide empty shoulders for our main roads: we can’t afford the land and don’t want the severance it creates. Nobody wants downtown to look like Albany (and in fact I’m not sure if anyone especially wants Albany to look like Albany either!), and we shouldn’t really be spending good money to create empty verges in town centres.

So indeed, one very practical reason for street trees is to keep traffic in the traffic lanes and out of the footpath and shops. We could use bollards or Jersey barriers for separation, or wide swathes of land, or we could use trees.

Better to hit a tree than a primary school?

Better to hit a tree than a primary school?

Trees provide a physical barrier to prevent vehicles being parked across the kerb.

This physically stops people from parking vehicles on the footpath, or in medians or other non-traffic spaces. Again we could install bollards all the way along the edge of the road, but trees can do the same job too.

A physical barrier to stop people parking on the footpath.

A physical barrier to stop people parking on the footpath.

 

Street trees provide shade to the footpath and cycleway.

Shade would not be of concern to someone designing a rural highway, where they don’t want nor expect any pedestrians or anyone else not in a vehicle for that matter. But if we are talking inner city streets such things must be considered. People walk, cycle, wait, linger and loiter on city streets and a little shade goes a long way in the summertime. Indeed in Melbourne they have started a program of street tree planting to mitigate the increasing number of heatwaves, and shading the tarmac is a good way to reduce the urban heat island effect and manage stormwater. Trees are a handy component of a complete street that has many simultaneous uses, and users.

Well placed trees can shade the footpath to provide a comfortable walking environment.

Well placed trees can shade the footpath to provide a comfortable walking environment.

Trees can visually screen heavy traffic from the footpath and adjacent buildings.

…and to a lesser degree provide some containment of noise and fumes. Once again this is a very practical concern if we are discussing inner city corridors, particularly those that are ripe for commercial development. Heavy traffic is a necessary evil on city arterials, generally speaking, but it’s impact can be mitigated through design elements such as this.

Trees provide a perceptual barrier that visually narrows the the carriageway.

Perhaps most importantly, a rows of trees can be used to visually narrow a simple two way street or split the opposing directions of a multi-lane arterial with a physical and perceptual barrier. In the case of a multiway boulevard a row of trees can be used separate the local and through lanes from each other.

Overseas, using trees to separate lanes is an intentional feature designed to break up the wide roadway into discrete sections, each section being relatively narrow. The purpose of this is to perceptually narrow and contain each piece of road to no more than two  narrow lanes to remove the visual cues that encourage speeding. In effect the trees act like side walls, narrowing each part of the road and forcing drivers to maintain limited speeds. Without them, any multi-lane street would present you with a wide, straight, flat roadway many lanes wide, all if which tell your subconscious mind that you are able to put your foot down. Of course the highway handbooks define this as the problem of ‘shy lines’, assuming lanes should be as fast and wide as possible and describing anything less in terms of reduced capacity. But this capacity reduction comes from lower speeds, which is precisely the thing we are after on streets, if not highways. Furthermore the shy line effect is almost negligible on 50km/h arterials, it’s really a highway thing.

The literature is quite clear on this topic: people drive fast on big wide roads, and creating a visually constrained roadway is the best means to keep then to the speed limit (ever been infuriated driving on the highway behind someone who is slow on the single lane sections, but who speeds up second they get to the passing lane? That’s them simply responding to the form of the road: going slow and cautious on the narrow winding bits, and driving faster when it goes wide and straight. Its a simple, instinctive perceptual response…)

So we prefer to see this ‘problem’ as part of the solution. Here the trees become a perceptual traffic safety device for reducing speeding and keeping traffic moving efficiently at the proper speed limit.

Octavia Boulevard, SF. Rows of trees turn an eight lane monster into groups of two lane streets.

Octavia Boulevard, SF. Rows of trees turn an eight lane monster into groups of two lane streets.

But what about simple beautification? 

Finally however, what if the trees were just ‘useless’ beautification? And what of the potential for ‘useless’ good quality paving, street furniture, artworks even? Is it a waste of time to make things attractive? Should we spend money on a nice looking and pleasant urban environment?

In the case of the city centre or other town centres, absolutely we should. Recall what we are talking about here are on the whole prime commercial redevelopment sites, where we should aim to maximise both the sale value of the land release, and the intensity and value of the subsequent developments. Simple ‘beautification’ would reap big dividends on the final form of development in the corridor. That’s not to say street trees are all you need to create a blue chip commercial precinct bringing in rates and business investment, but they definitely contribute. Beautification is a practical function when it comes to catalysing redevelopment.

 

An "un-beautified" road. What sort of development would this attract? Hat tip stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com

An “un-beautified” road. What sort of development would this attract? Hat tip stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com

 

So there we are, several reasons why street trees should be considered as technical components of street design with specific transport outcomes. For a wider discussion of all the benefits of street trees, transport and otherwise, check out the 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden.

The AA and the Long Term Plan

Last week the submissions for the Council’s Long Term Plan closed and one of the more interesting outcomes was the response by the AA and the NZCID. Together they have called for a “Plan C” instead of the all or nothing options that the council presented. One interesting aspect about their press release was the reference to some AA member surveys that have been conducted about the transport plans and which have helped them reach the position they have. Some of the results are in the AA’s latest Auckland Matters newsletter (5MB).

In total the AA say they had over 5,000 responses to an online member survey giving them some good quantitative results and they’ve also set up a 100 member Auckland Panel to give some more in-depth qualitative results – of which just over 50 responded to this survey. To me the summarised responses highlight a few key issues, some of which we’ve been talking about for a few years now and that were a key reason behind us creating the Congestion Free Network. I’m mixing up some of the points that I think are interrelated.

The outcomes of #1 and #6 clearly show that the council and Auckland Transport need to do a much better job at explaining why certain transport projects are needed and how they are funded. This is particularly the case with #6 where little has been done to address notion that the CRL is just about a train line going in circles around CBD.

AA LTP Survey Response 1&6
To me it is so vital for our transport agencies to show how their plans – and in particular the PT plans – form part of a complete network and not just a series of individual projects. It’s not just enough to draw a project line on a map, agencies actually need to show the public what network outcomes the projects enable. As an example the CRL is often shown as just a small line in the central city but what they don’t show is that it boosts and improves train services across the entire network. With a Regional Rapid Transit map like the CFN they could point to the network and say “this is what we’re working towards and XXXX project is needed to enable that”. Instead projects like the CRL get subjected to thousands misunderstanding it and thinking it’s just about people in the CBD.

Moving on and #2, #3 and 7 tell a very interesting story and are perhaps the most relevant to the LTP and what we’ve been saying. People, including AA members want a greater choice in how they get around. They don’t want the only option for them – or perhaps for the person in front of them – to be to have to drive. I think it’s also telling that the AA’s own members don’t think that the current plans being presented are good enough, especially seeing as there’s a huge spend and congestion is still predicted to get worse.

AA LTP Survey Response 2,3 & 7

 

Perhaps it could be summarised as AA members the current plans aren’t good enough and they want more transport choice.

Next up #4, #5 and #9 talk about costs. In relation to the points above, especially #3, I think these results are crucial. Yes the largest proportion of people said they wanting the full plan but clearly not enough to be prepared to pay the kind of costs the council say will be needed to pay for that. I’m sure a few of the economists might have something to say about this point as clearly people don’t see enough benefits in the spending to warrant it. It also lines up with my long held comments that a middle ground option is needed (and of course exactly what the Essential Transport Budget is).

AA LTP Survey Response 4, 5 & 9

I don’t really think point 10 is relevant to this discussion so lastly #10 which is really one of the most important issues. Currently we seem to have both the council and the government (through the NZTA) doing completely different things. The government are currently spending up large on a range of hand picked motorway projects regardless of how important Auckland ranks them. I personally think it’s time that both the council and government come form of agreement around how projects are ranked and funded in the future because at the moment each seem to be doing their own thing. To me Auckland should have the ability to “no we don’t want XX project at this time and we think the money would be better spent on …..”

AA LTP Survey Response 10

As I said earlier, overall many of the comments the AA have made end up being very similar to what we talk about too. In many ways it’s very reassuring that the AA’s members seem to be saying the same thing.

The AA have also put their entire LTP & RLTP submission online and that contains some of the more in-depth information into the survey results. Below are just a few of the parts that caught my attention.

Perhaps the biggest one is this on their attitudes to PT and roads investment. Over 75% agree or strongly agree that better PT would reduce congestion and make the city more liveable and over 60% say it would reduce the need to have a car. In addition 56% agree that more roads won’t solve Auckland’s problems – although many obviously think that there can be some improvements in roads.

AA LTP Survey - PT v Roads

The next few results come from the smaller qualitative panel. Most think a good PT system is essential for city pride

AA LTP Survey - City Pride

And most agree that sustainability is important or essential to take into account.

AA LTP Survey - Sustainability

Lastly just a few of the comments from their submission itself. On roads the AA’s stance is unsurprising but what’s good is that they’re showing strong support for the other modes. On PT in general they appear very supportive of continued investment.

As discussed previously, our Members want choice with the transport modes they use, and there is no doubt that public transport has an important role to play in providing a reliable, accessible, safe, and affordable alternative to the private vehicle for our Members. Given public transport in Auckland is still developing, it is crucial that the transport programme protects not only the significant investment in the network over the last 10-15 years, but also current and forecast levels of patronage growth.

On the CRL they are also supportive – although like us believe better information is needed.

On balance, we are supportive of the City Rail Link. We agree that the CRL is critical to complete the rail network. Combined with electrification of the rail network and new EMUs, the CRL will increase network capacity, resilience, and reliability. We also support the early enabling works over the next three years. Tying in the enabling works with the Precinct Properties Lower Albert Street site redevelopment makes sense.

However, we do have concerns that AT has not included any Benefit Cost Ratios, discussion about value for money, or any information about what the benefits of the CRL are in the RLTP. The approach AT has taken towards the benefits of the CRL is too high-level and lacks data and analysis to explain its assertions that the CRL will:

  • “enable a more productive economy”
  • create “flow-on benefits across the whole of Auckland”
  • “fundamentally change the growth and infrastructure landscape of Auckland, in a similar way to the original opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge”.

On Light Rail they say they are surprised it’s suddenly emerged and ask a range of questions including whether there is enough intensification allowed given the proposed Unitary Plan restrictions.

On the New Network they are supportive and concerned about the rollout of it being delayed

AT is currently rolling out the New Network, which is a positive step in rationalising the bus network. However, the BTN will delay the full rollout of the network by approximately five years due to delays in constructing new interchanges at Otahuhu and Manukau and constructing new busways. These delays may affect not only public transport patronage, but also fare revenue generated, which will cost AT in operating subsidies.

On cycling they say they are comfortable with the strategic direction of AT, they also want more protected cycleways and for AT to release more of their cycling data

We acknowledge that within a constrained funding environment that AT must make tough choices about project choice, scope, and budgets. As a member of the Cycling Safety Panel, our recommendation is for AT to focus funding on good quality projects that reduce the risk of conflict with other transport users and provide safe, reliable and preferably segregated connections. Cycleways like Beach Road are an excellent example of a safe road system for cyclists.

We do not want to see funding made available to projects that expose cyclists to dangerous situations through poorly designed cycleways or cycleways that stop abruptly, leaving cyclists vulnerable on the road network. Nor would we want to see investment in cycleways that does not correspond with strong demand, existing or potential. To that end, we would like to see data provided on cycleway patronage, so that AT can promote the success of the network, and reassure the wider public that investment is meeting cycling targets.

Overall it’s good to see the AA being rational and supportive of other modes and I guess their members telling them so strongly they want choice helps with that.

NZPI Young Planners Congress 2015 – ‘Urban Legends’

This is a Guest Post by Auckland Young Planners

The NZPI Young Planners Group convenes annually for the Young Planners Congress, a single­ day event coinciding with the larger NZPI Conference. This year’s Congress will be held at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre on 14 April, and will be preceded by drinks the night before at Little Easy in Ponsonby. To register, please visit ypcongress.co.nz and get in quick – earlybird pricing ends on 19 March [today].

The day is an opportunity for students and young planners to rub shoulders and be challenged by a range of provocative speakers. While ostensibly a planning event, we extend our welcome to related professions and other interested parties. All relevant information, including the programme and a cheap accommodation deal for our out­ of- towners is available at ypcongress.co.nz. We look forward to seeing you there!

Young Planners Confrence 2015

If you want more consumption choices, live near lots of other people

One of the many reasons that people choose to live in cities is that cities offer variety. As Stu Donovan has argued before, being around more people sometimes seems inconvenient, but it also exposes you to new ideas, new people, and new consumption choices.

I’ve previously written about the value that people place on choices in housing and transport markets, and how having more choices is particularly valuable for people on low incomes. This week, I want to look at how cities provide us with choice in the retail and restaurant markets.

My hypothesis is that there are economies of scale in the provision of both public and private goods. In more straightforward terms, that means that if you live closer to more people, you can have more public transport, more parks, more good restaurants, more shops, and so on and so forth. If this intuition is true, the best way to obtain variety at an affordable price is to live in a dense area of the city.

In order to test this hypothesis, I took a look at Statistics New Zealand’s Business Demography statistics, which provide information on the number of businesses (“geographic units”) and employment within particular industries. Very helpfully, Stats NZ publishes this data at a suburb level (“area units”, in Stats-speak).

I’ve focused on two particular types of businesses that serve households’ daily needs:

  • ANZSIC industry H45, which includes restaurants, bars, and clubs
  • ANZSIC industry G41, food retail, which includes supermarkets and other small-scale food retailers.

I mapped the density of these businesses throughout different Auckland suburbs. Blue colours show higher densities of restaurants/bars or food retailers; yellow colours show lower densities. A few clear patterns emerge. First, densities tend to be highest in inner city suburbs, and even more so in the city centre. Second, there are also pockets of higher density around satellite centres like Takapuna and New Lynn. Third, the density of retail and restaurants tends to be much lower on the fringe of the city.

Auckland restaurant and food retail density maps v1

How can we explain these patterns? Why are some areas so much better supplied with retail and dining options than others?

We can get some insights by looking at the built form retail and restaurants areas in different areas of the city.

Here’s what a retail street looks like in the city centre, where high residential and employment density sustain a lot of activity both day and night. This is O’Connell St before and after its shared space transformation. Notice how people are just walking up:

O'Connell Before and After 4

Here’s what retail looks like in an inner-city shopping and dining district, Ponsonby Road, which is surrounded by old suburbs of medium population density. It has lots of shops right on the street, plus a bit of parking tucked around the back:

Ponsonby Rd St Johns

And here’s what retail looks like in a newer suburb at the edge of town – Albany centre. It’s physically separated from nearby residential areas, highly car-dependent, and as a result, it requires large swathes of parking to support each shop or restaurant:

Albany Mall - Aucklands most modern Metropolitan Centre...

Albany Mall – Aucklands most modern Metropolitan Centre…

In other words, less parking is required to get shoppers to the door in densely populated areas – which should make it easier to sustain more shopping and dining options per square kilometre.

A simple econometric analysis seems to support this view. I attempted to explain the density of restaurants and food retailers in suburbs in terms of the population density and employment density of those areas. (Using Census and Business Demography data from Stats NZ.) As I hypothesised, there is a statistically significant, positive relationship between higher population and employment densities and the density of restaurants and food retailers. These two factors predict roughly 85% of the variation in restaurant and retail density in Auckland suburbs.

Regression results are reported in the table below, for anyone who’s interested. These aren’t perfect models – I suspect that it would be worth testing some spatial regression models, as retailers often attract customers from a wider catchment than a single suburb. Furthermore, we’d have to analyse changes over time in order to establish that increasing population density in an area will in turn increase retail diversity. But these results do provide a reasonable indication of the underlying relationships.

OLS regression models for restaurant and retail density
Dependent variable:
log(restaurant_bar_density) log(food_retail_density)
(1) (2)
log(pop_density) 0.464*** 0.597***
(0.031) (0.033)
log(emp_density) 0.620*** 0.486***
(0.026) (0.027)
Constant -5.531*** -6.290***
(0.182) (0.191)
Observations 342 342
R2 0.856 0.835
Adjusted R2 0.856 0.834
Residual Std. Error (df = 339) 0.632 0.664
F Statistic (df = 2; 339) 1,011.219*** 860.694***
Note: *p<0.1; **p<0.05; ***p<0.01

What do these figures mean? The coefficients from the model – highlighted in bold – display the relationship (or “elasticity”) between population or employment density and density of restaurants or food retailers. They show that:

  • Areas with 10% higher population density have, on average, 4.6% more restaurants/bars and 6.0% more food retailers (including supermarkets)
  • Areas with 10% higher employment density have, on average, 6.2% more restaurants/bars and 4.9% more food retailers.

In short: Higher density can benefit people by giving them more choice in restaurant and retail markets. Having a mix of residential and commercial uses around is even better, as it can sustain activity throughout the entire day rather than just in the evenings or at lunchtime.

Stats NZ’s data isn’t granular enough to say, but I suspect that denser areas also have a greater diversity of dining and retail options. (This is intuitively obvious – if there are already two fish-and-chip shops in the neighbourhood, why would anyone choose to open up a third?)

What do you make of this data on density and retail choices?

Last day for the LTP

Today is the last day to submit on the Council’s Long Term Plan and Auckland Transport’s Regional Land Transport Plan and if you haven’t already, you need to get your submission in before 4pm.

If you’ve been reading the blog recently then hopefully the need to submit has been made clear. The council is trying to force a very binary decision with the two options being

  • The budget plan that scales back spending in a way that seems deliberately designed to force support for the more expensive option. It’s a stance that’s managed to annoy all the transport advocacy groups regardless of what modes and priorities they support.
  • The Auckland Plan Transport Network that includes almost every project every thought of and many of which either aren’t likely to be needed or at least not to the scale envisioned. This plan also brings with it additional funding requirements either through tolls or

In effect it’s a clayton’s choice with the city being asked to either condemn itself to poor transport outcomes regardless, either through not enough investment or too much in the wrong types of projects. The kind of binary decision the council is pushing has been exemplified by the absurd stunt that has been set up outside the Downtown Mall.

LTP Transport Arches

I believe the numbers combined are up over 50,000 now

 

I think it’s absurd because it’s effectively been boiled down to a mind-numbingly stupid level. There is very little information given about the financial implications of each option so faced with a basic or advanced choice most will obviously choose the advanced one. Of course that’s if they even bother thinking about which portal they walk through and most people I’ve seen walk through it were just carrying on in a straight line from where they came from, oblivious to the options. It gets even stupider when the council say that it has no weighting on the LTP in which case one has to ask why they even bothered. Note: There are some more comments from me on this in an NBR article last week (paywalled)

Thankfully our good friends at Generation Zero have come up with a Goldilocks option that focuses the projects needed to fix our city. You can read more about it at http://www.fixourcity.co.nz/ or read the posts they’ve written here or here.

Gen Z Goldilocks

If you haven’t submitted yet, here are a few extra reasons why you should.

Based on the numbers the council have released so far there are a lot of demographic groups who are under represented. This was shown by Peter in this great post.

LTP submitter demographics vs Auckland demographics

While initial figures showed strong support for more public transport, walking and cycling investment a lot of the submissions are likely to come in during the last few days including those from organisations. Some examples of some of the feedback we’re seeing from these groups and from politicians who are scaremongering is below.

Cameron Brewer is flat out making stuff up to suggest that we and others are pushing for motorway tolls to pay for PT projects.

“As it stands, it seems the Green Party, Generation Zero, students, the cycle lobby, and public transport bloggers have all got their submissions in pushing for road tolls to fund their own Auckland Plan pet projects at the expense of everyday Auckland drivers.”

The Road Transport Forum (the Truck lobby) who seem to support building everything but only if it’s paid for by selling assets. In other words they want lots more roads but don’t want to have to pay for them.

Interestingly both the AA and the NZCID are also saying that we need a third option. They don’t quite say what that they think that option should be but that neither of the options presented is good enough. Below is a press release from them both this morning.

The Automobile Association (AA) and the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) believe that neither of the Auckland Council’s Long-Term Plan budget options is up to scratch, and are calling on central government and Auckland Council to develop an alternative strategy that delivers better outcomes for Auckland.

“Neither the cheaper option nor the more expensive option is going to address Auckland’s traffic problems in the long term, or deliver on the public’s expectations, ” said NZCID Chief Executive Stephen Selwood. “So our message for officials is: It’s time for Plan C.”

AA infrastructure spokesman Barney Irvine said the congestion gains of the more expensive option (the Auckland Plan Network) were underwhelming, despite Aucklanders paying an extra $300 million per year through rates, fuel taxes or a motorway charge.

“Congestion is expected to get worse over the next 20 years, regardless of which option we go for,” he said. “After that, it might ease under the Auckland Plan Network, but only by a little. When you think that most households would be paying $350 extra a year – with regular motorway users paying up to $1500 more a year – you have to question whether it’s worth it.”

Mr Selwood said that the starting point for a new approach needs to be a transport accord between local and central government.

“At the moment, the Government is rightly concerned about the outcomes that result from the proposed transport investment and land use plan,” said Mr Selwood. “You can’t make long-term decisions about the Auckland transport network when the results are so poor and Council and Government are so far apart.”

Pleasingly, said Mr Selwood, Mayor Len Brown has clearly stated his desire to reach an accord with central government and transport Minister Simon Bridges has also signalled Government’s willingness to engage.

As part of an accord, Mr Selwood said that central government and Auckland Council need to agree on an improved transport investment strategy, and ensure that urban intensification and transport investment are better integrated. If they decide to look more seriously at a motorway network charge, he said, they need to make sure it’s also considered from a demand management perspective – not just as a way to raise revenue – and that the combination of intensification, transport investment and demand management improves accessibility and provides meaningful travel-time savings for users.

Mr Selwood said that many other stakeholder groups – from the public transport lobby to the freight lobby – are saying similar things.

Meanwhile, the AA has carried out its largest survey yet of its Auckland membership – an online survey of 6000 Auckland Members, backed up by an in-depth survey of a 100-strong AA Auckland panel – to better understand how people feel about the Council’s budget options.

Mr Irvine said the survey results showed that Auckland AA Members preferred the Auckland Plan Network to the cheaper option (the Basic Network) – 46% support versus 30% support – but not to the point where a meaningful consensus could develop behind it.

“There’s a big difference between support for the Plan and willingness to pay for it,” he said. “A lot of our Auckland Members would be happy to pay a little for improved congestion outcomes, but less than 20% would be prepared to pay what’s required for the Auckland Plan Network.”

Mr Irvine stressed that it wasn’t just cost standing in the way.

“Many of our Members look at this plan and don’t see a great deal in it for them,” he said. “There’s also a perception that Council needs to get its own house in order – in terms of financial management and accountability – before asking Aucklanders to open their wallets.”

Both Mr Irvine and Mr Selwood cautioned officials against pushing ahead with the current plan, when it does not have strong support, as it could hold back progress on the transport programme long term.

It’s not mentioned in the press release but one aspect that’s really interesting is that the AA’s own polling says their members want more choice in how they get around.

If you haven’t done so then make sure you give your feedback and lets make the ETB, Option C.

Auckland’s public transport growth – How good is it?

As discussed in this recent post, public transport patronage in Auckland grew at an annualised rate of 9% last month. This growth was led by the rapid transit network (rail and busways), but underpinned by solid growth across the rest of the network.

While this is obviously a positive result, I found myself pondering the question of just how good is it?

One way of answering this question is to place the recent patronage growth within a historical context. In the figure below I’ve plotted annual PT patronage growth from 1921 to the present (NB: I’ve excluded a couple of outliers). The red line on the right shows what would happen if the current annualised rate of 9% holds for the whole financial year.

Annualised PT Grpwth

On this basis I’d conclude:

  1. In the last 20 years, Auckland’s patronage growth has ranged from -2% to +11% with an average of 4-5% p.a; and
  2. In this context, patronage growth of 9% p.a. is at the upper end of what one might expect, but not completely unprecedented.

In my experience, people who doubt the strengths of Auckland’s PT renaissance tend to fall back on some common refrains when presented with such data.

The first refrain is that Auckland’s public transport is starting from a low base. This argument observes that our current high annualised growth is being occurring from a low baseline level of PT usage. This comment has some merit; Auckland does indeed have a low base of PT use, especially compared to many cities and/or levels of private vehicle use. But this argument is also rather disingenuous for two reasons.

The first reason is that PT patronage is high in the places and at the times when it matters the most. Screenline surveys, for example, show that approximately 50% of peak motorised trips into the city centre are on PT. Similarly, data shows that at peak times almost 13,000 passengers are travelling by train. And that’s just rail – you need to multiply that by a factor of approximately 5 to get an indication of total peak travel on PT. Yes that’s right – at peak times approximately 65,000 people are travelling by PT. To shift that many people by private vehicles we’d need the equivalent of 30 additional lanes of motorway. By extension, the fact private vehicles are used for most travel across the rest of the day and week is not evidence which can be used to downplay PT’s transport contribution. 

The second reason is that with growth rates of 5-10% p.a., low levels of demand can quickly become quite large. That is, if Auckland’s PT patronage grows at circa 9% for ten years then twice as many journeys will be undertaken by PT as currently. Experience also suggests that in a transport and land use context growth rates of 5-10% are actually relatively high. If we consider data from the Auckland Harbour Bridge (AHB), for example, then you’ll find the highest recorded annual growth rate in vehicle traffic was approximately 16%. That’s right: Even a transport project as transformational as the AHB didn’t hit annual growth rates above 16%. What the AHB did achieve, however, was to sustain high-moderate levels of growth for a very long time (approximately 30-40 years). That’s how it became the critical piece of infrastructure that we know today.

The second refrain is that Auckland’s PT patronage growth is being driven largely by population growth. Again there are several factors that do not support this perspective.

The first reason is fairly obvious. That is, Auckland’s population is growing at only 1-2% p.a. As such, while population growth explains approximately one-half of the growth in PT patronage, it does not explain the balance. We can show this by calculating PT trips per capita p.a., as illustrated below.

PT trips per capita

 

 

This shows PT trips per capita p.a. growing by a touch over 2% p.a. since hitting a low point in the mid-1990s. Another way of putting this is that the average Aucklander is now using PT 50% more than the average Aucklander was 20 years ago.

There is one more reason why Auckland’s current rates of PT growth may be rather special: In the last 5 years vehicle travel per capita has fallen by 23%. I’m personally fairly optimistic this decline will be sustained for a while yet, especially if Auckland accepts the need for the city to intensify (and subsequently removes density controls).

Vehicle trips per capita

This graph also makes it clear, however, that the average Aucklanders makes approximately 1,800 vehicle trips p.a. compared to only 50 trips by PT. So even while I am a believer of the ability for PT to contribute to meeting big chunks of travel demands in key locations and key times, we shouldn’t over-estimate its importance either.

One thing is relatively clear, however: PT patronage in Auckland has been on the rise for over two decades. In my opinion the job is only half-done: If PT is to rise to real prominence in Auckkand, then we’ll need to sustain current rates of growth for a good decade. This would place Auckland’s PT use per capita on par with South East Queensland’s (Brisbane) levels of usage. I think a combination of electrification, integrated ticketing, the New Network, and the CRL will get us to a respectable level of PT usage.

It is, however, what I call the “next round” of PT investments which will get Auckland to a point where it challenges the likes of Melbourne and Sydney, and perhaps rightly lays claim to being the “world’s most livable city”. The sorts of projects in the next round include light rail, SH16 rapid transit corridor, and major city centre bus infrastructure.

But for now let’s just enjoy the moment: Public transport in Auckland is doing pretty well; long may this continue.

P.s. And thanks to all the people who have worked hard over the last two decades to help Auckland get to this point. You know who you are …

 

 

 

 

On The Waterfront

Crab-Golden-Claws-Karaboudjan-docks

I’ve always loved a working port, growing up on Tintin, where intrigue and big issues always led our hero to docks, and [sadly] being old enough to just remember Auckland’s finger wharves busy with cranes and the last of the goods trains still running on Quay St, I’m a sucker for the romance and tough rough-neck image of it all. Which of course has always been grounded in the realities of the physical movement of goods, and at ports these realities seem more laid bare than most anywhere else; an example of the laws of physics meeting human desire = economics.

So what’s going on down on the wharves? For quite a long time it’s felt very unsatisfactory. The Council, who in our stead owns 100% of the port company, is of course also the regulatory authority over its operations as it is over all businesses and residents in the Auckland Region. Unfortunately this combination doesn’t seem to be working at all well.

It seems clear that the current management of the port company has little interest in any responsibilities beyond direct port operations despite that these being very real; they seem to treat the city’s desire meaningful cohabition with the working port as something to be gamed. This narrow idea of social and environmental responsibility is unlike many privately owned companies, let alone publicly owned ones. But there also appears to have been an almost total abrogation of governance by the Council over port decisions.  Sometimes it seems more like the port company is playing both the people and Council and other times it looks more like collusion between parts of the Council ad the company. I, like almost everyone else in the city has no idea what is really going on. This is my biggest complaint here, there is little daylight or transparency about what is going on down on the waterfront, and a huge amount of spin coming from PoAL.

The latest is the sneaky slip of a resource consent through the Council on December 23rd for two extensions to Bledisloe Wharf without any public discussion initiated by either party. It is clear that the port intends these extensions as a prelude to filing in the resultant space between the piers at a later date, but even without this it’s worth seeing what they are doing to our harbour. Specifically I am interested in the outcome for Queens Wharf. The space that we [Council and government] bought for $40million from ourselves [Port Company] in 2009 specifically as a public space, the ‘people’s wharf’. Here’s how Waterfront Auckland describe it, in the first words on their dedicated Queens Wharf page:

Queens Wharf lies at the foot of the Auckland CBD and offers a unique vantage point overlooking the sparkling Waitemata Harbour… Queens Wharf has been transformed from a private working wharf to a public waterfront space for all to enjoy.

This is a big investment in an important idea: allowing people to bust through the red fence enabling the north south axis of Queen St to continue out into our wonderful harbour forming an intersection with this eastern city edge, and penetrating into the harbour to reconnect this harbourside city with its deep water. Expressly in fact to cement Queens Wharf as a ceremonial space of symbolic arrival and departure. After all, we or our ancestors have all come to this city from over the sea. Here’s how WA put it:

The wharf has social significance for its central role on the Auckland waterfront; for its function as a major place of arrival to, and departure from New Zealand; and as a place of formal welcome and farewell.

Here then is an introduction to PoAL’s plans [and style; a very don’t worry nothing to see here kind of document]:

PoAL expansion Plans

This shows a plan to extend Bledisloe Wharf [on the left],

So what does it matter what happens east of Queens Wharf in the operational zone of the port? We want to have a successful port don’t we, and that’s going to take space, right? Agreed. Which is why we have invested in Fergusson Wharf, the big and modern container wharf at the eastern edge of the ports operations area. But since the decline of New Zealand’s vehicle assembly industry and the rise of car imports PoAL have used the old finger wharves for temporary car storage. A very Auckland and very space hungry activity. But would we allow Wilsons, say, to use this land for car parking? We need to have an honest and open discussion about the trade-offs involved in this use, as there are other options like [but not limited to]:

  • not importing so many vehicles through Auckland [some through Tauranga- an actual national ports strategy]
  • incentivising shippers to space out deliveries so the peak arrivals are smoothed
  • storing them more space-efficiently on the existing land [a parking building rather than reclaimation]

A key thing that is very easy to miss in the image above is the two light grey fingers either side of the dark grey pointed out ‘Proposed reclamation’ that we don’t ‘need to decide on right now’. This is what that December consent about is and is to begin construction next month. What do these two extension mean for Queens Wharf? Here’s a schematic of the sightline from the end of Queens Wharf:

Bledisloe Wharf extensions_6

The new wharves will clearly cut Queens Wharf off from any view of the Harbour entrance, that point of ‘arrival to and departure from’. Queens Wharf will no longer be out in the harbour but just in a contained little ferry basin. Just a big concrete deck leading nowhere. Below is its current state. As I took this picture a car carrier was docked at the existing Bledisloe wharf disgorging its contents:

QUEENS WHARF_9717

Working from the visual above, and doing a bit of very quick photoshop here’s what I reckon, roughly, will happen to the experience on the end of the People’s Wharf’ when a ship is docked at the new western pier extension on Bledisloe. Forgive my crude Photoshopery, it’s intended to be approximate rather than perfect, I did adjust the ship extension for perspective, making the stern smaller and have invented a new shipping line with an appropriate name…

QUEENS WHARF_9717_FUKO_blog

Is this really the outcome we want in order to accommodate the peak flow of car imports through one port? Currently 90% of the entire county’s car imports arrive through Auckland. If this is the cost of that continuing, is it one are prepared to pay?

A further example of the lack of any coordination between the ambitions for our city and the plans of the frankly visionless port company or it’s governors is shown by the contradictions between the plans for a major artwork based on the idea of arrival and departure at the end of Queens Wharf as described here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:

In the furore over Port of Auckland’s plans to extend Bledisloe Wharf nearly 100m out into the harbour, one of Mayor Len Brown’s pet projects was overlooked.In more ways than one. The controversial Barfoot & Thompson state house lighthouse at the end of Queens Wharf will be blinkered.

In persuading councillors of the need to commandeer the tip of Queens Wharf for the lighthouse, the mayor and council arts panel argued the site was “a key portal into New Zealand for international visitors arriving via vessel” and was “visible from multiple vantage points”.

Mr Parekowhai explained that his work would be “a lighthouse that signals safe harbour and welcome”.

It seems to me that a very Auckland kind of tragedy is unfolding down

ON THE WATERFRONT_1

Comicially wrong op-ed about the CRL

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

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

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

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

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

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

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

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

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

Road cost overrun chart

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

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notified UP - Isthmus-West-North

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

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

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

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

Houston’s parking policy madness

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

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

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

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

Houston housing near medical center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston parking ordinances restaurants and bars

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

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

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