Parking is massively oversupplied in US cities

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

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

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

mcc-coloured

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

us parking oversupply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RLTP: Investment in the Rail Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has set a few alarm bells off for me:

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

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

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

RLTP - Kiwirail funding

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

RLTP - Rail Funding

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

RLTP - AT Rail CAPEX basic

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

Governments New RMA reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor welcomes ‘pragmatic’ proposals to reform RMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motu - Impacts of planning rules

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

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

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

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

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

Uncommonly Good: Melbourne Apartments show the way forward

‘The Commons’ is a new small apartment block next to a train line in Brunswick, inner Melbourne by Breathe Architecture. It is noteworthy for  the cost of the apartments [pretty affordable for the area], its strong sustainability credentials and design features [especially the shared areas], its financial success as a development, but most of all because it is a concrete example of a great way forward for urban redevelopment. It ticks every box for accessibility, humanity, and public good. Here is how it was covered in last Thursday’s The Age. Be sure to watch the video.

The Commons sarah-hurst

It is such a success that another block is underway nearby but this time not funded by a traditional developer but sort of crowd sourced, mainly by the architectural community, and it will be marketed in a fresh way too.

The total absence of any onsite car parking and mechanical aircon along with clever use of communal services that enable the generous size of the living areas and the high build quality for the price point. This shows how the removal of anti-urban planning regulations that most western cities have inherited from last century can stimulate innovation by architects and developers.

It also shows that to really offer choice and increased affordability into urban housing markets cities need to make two coordinated moves: remove the straitjacket of Minimum Parking Regulations and other dispersal enforcing regs and upgrade its Transit and Active systems to as high quality, frequency, and permanency as possible. Together these moves enable the market to provide real TODs, Transport Oriented Developments, of all sorts of scales for all sorts of markets, on currently undervalued brownfields sites.

Once these conditions exist then change can occur on scales more attractive to a variety of players driving experimentation and innovation. After all, whatever government, Council, and the market is doing now in Auckland for dwelling supply isn’t working as well as we need. Significant improvement is coming to our transport systems, now lets get the dwelling regulatory environment fixed too. Then good things will follow. As one fix is nowhere as powerful without the other.

Below, the parking [from here:http://www.redshiftaa.com.au/portfolio/apartment-design-as-it-should-be/]:

Redshift_The_Commons_Bicycles

On This Day… “Locking in” Vic Park Tunnel’s benefits

Today’s ‘on this day’ post comes from 2012.

The additional southbound lanes over the Victoria Park Viaduct, made possible through the construction of the Victoria Park Tunnel, open to vehicles today. John Roughan’s NZ Herald editorial can barely contain his excitement at this prospect, largely because (he hopes) it will get rid of queue jumpers holding up traffic through St Mary’s Bay. While I must admit a small part of me is hoping for the motorway opening to be yet another congestion catastrophe, this is generally a motorway project that I have supported because it is aimed at eliminating a bottleneck, rather than simply adding capacity and creating a bottleneck elsewhere in the system.

One of the biggest potential benefits from this project was highlighted in the comments section of my previous post on the motorway opening: that connections between the northern motorway and the Port would become more attractive, removing cross-CBD traffic from Customs, Quay and Fanshawe streets. In many ways, this benefit of the project is similar to how the biggest benefits the Waterview Connection proposal will bring is through a reduction in local traffic on roads like Mt Albert, Blockhouse Bay, Sandringham, Dominion and Richardson roads.

While Google Maps suggests that someone travelling between the North Shore and the Port/Parnell area would utilise the motorway system, rather than travelling through the heart of town, congestion on and around the viaduct (back to the harbour bridge for southbound traffic, the incredibly slow ramp signal for northbound traffic before it joins SH1) means that much of the traffic takes the red route instead:When the Victoria Park Tunnel is open to its full complement of three lanes for northbound traffic, and any teething issue for southbound vehicles have been resolved, we should see a reduction in through traffic away from the red route (and hopefully also away from Customs Street). However, as with the Waterview Connection, the Hobsonville deviation and the Manukau Connection, the reduction in vehicles on local roads is only likely to be temporary – thanks to induced demand. If there’s way less traffic on Quay Street and Fanshawe Street, then vehicles using other congested routes will shift back to these freer flowing streets. Motorway traffic may also shift back onto the local roads as some people find them to be faster. Over time, if we don’t make some interventions, we could end up back where we started – but now with a congested wider motorway and congested inner-city streets. Such an outcome would undermine what should be one of the biggest benefits of the Vic Park Tunnel project: the removal of traffic from CBD streets to free up more space for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

However, if we’re smart we can avoid such an outcome. And, for once, I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to actually achieve some real benefits if we move quickly. The City Centre Master Plan proposes to significantly increase pedestrian priority along Quay Street by reducing vehicle capacity – exactly the kind of intervention that’s necessary to dissuade vehicles back onto Quay Street once it’s a bit quieter:It’s also a golden opportunity to get rid of the horrific Hobson Street viaduct:Fortunately, this is also given consideration in the City Centre Master Plan:Completion of the Vic Park Tunnel may also be a golden opportunity to look at reallocating a bit of roadspace to buses along Fanshawe Street so we can actually complete the Northern Busway. At the moment we find ourselves in the stupid situation of having citybound buses take as long to complete the last few hundred metres of their journey as they did to get between Constellation and Akoranga stations – something we spent hundreds of millions on speeding up, to go and undermine our investment simply because we can’t be bothered putting bus lanes along remaining sections of city streets.

The key point is that we have to move quickly in advancing these projects to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ to really lock in the benefits of the Victoria Park Tunnel project. If we stuff around for a few years then we will lose this window, and implementing projects that reallocate roadspace away from vehicles will be that much harder.

Update:

While there has been little progress ‘on the ground’ when it comes to reallocating roadspace on Auckland’s ‘east-west’ city centre streets to fully take advantage of what the Victoria Park Tunnel provided, the “CEWT Study” released by Auckland Transport last year proposed an exciting and much more sensible future for all these streets, with Victoria becoming a walking and cycling focused linear park, Wellesley becoming a bus corridor, Quay become a pedestrian focused boulevard and Customs… well, seemingly doing everything.

Yet during some of the debates about Queen Elizabeth II square it appeared as though there are some strong supporters of retaining a car focus to the city centre, even on Quay Street. Crazy ideas, like undergrounding the road at a truly massive cost, were also bandied around. How about we just let the motorway network do its job at moving people past the city centre?

The importance of expensive apartments

Apartment development in Auckland often seems to be caught in a Catch-22. When we build cheap apartments, they’re criticised as a blight on the city – “shoeboxes” that nobody would ever want to live in. (Never mind that many people do live in them, and value the fact that they are an affordable way to live near jobs and universities in the city centre.) When we build high-quality but pricey apartments, some people claim that they prove that apartments aren’t a solution to Auckland’s high housing costs. (Never mind the fact that they allow more people to live in desirable areas.)

great north road apartment plan

Proposed apartments on Great North Rd – too flash to help affordability?

Over in the San Francisco Bay Area, they’re having a similar debate over how to plan for growth. The Bay Area has more severe affordability issues than we do, as the tech boom is placing pressure on both housing and office space. In San Francisco, new condos for wealthy geeks are frequently criticised as out-of-keeping with the city’s unruly liberal character.

Moreover, fragmented local government means that there is no coherence in regional planning – every city is effectively assuming that their neighbour will accommodate the growth that they won’t. This is the result:

Asking Prices Relative to Units Built

SPUR house prices vs new builds chart

Even though Manhattan and LA have more expensive neighborhoods, San Francisco is far and away the most expensive metro in the nation. This is due to the small number of units built each year relative to demand.

In Berkeley, a university town in the East Bay, residents just voted down a (binding) referendum that would have prohibited the construction of new dwellings in the downtown area. Local writer Zach Franklin reviews the state of the debate on the measure. His point about expensive apartments is particularly important:

Some “progressives” don’t believe in supply and demand. I’ve heard this at parties and online – people who say “the new condos are just for rich people”, or think that pro-development policies are a front for greedy real estate interests. Then there are the folks who have pet theories about how housing economics really work, which can feel eerily like talking with climate deniers. It’s actually pretty simple Econ 101 stuff – the rich folks will be at the front of the line no matter what, and if you don’t build the condos they’ll just take over middle-class housing. Build more housing and at least the line gets longer.

This is absolutely essential to understand. Economists have all sorts of arcane ways of describing this phenomenon, but the principle is simple: If you try to push down growth here, it will pop up there instead.

Preventing people from building new homes in a neighbourhood won’t simply make them go away – they will stick around and compete with each other to bid up the prices. (Some will lose out, of course – they’ll have to go to somewhere else that’s less convenient.) Here’s how this works in practice:

  • We regulate to make it difficult to build new homes in inner-city areas which offer the best access to labour markets
  • Upper-income people bid up prices for old villas and flats in Ponsonby, Mount Eden, and Newmarket
  • Middle-income and lower-income people can’t afford to pay these prices, so they move a bit further out, and bid up prices in Avondale, Three Kings, and Onehunga
  • The people who could formerly afford to live in those areas go even further west or south, driving up prices in Te Atatu and Otahuhu
  • The people at the bottom of the income ladder are thoroughly rogered – they’ve got a choice between paying heaps to live in overcrowded, unhealthy houses or moving so far out that they can’t access jobs or education.

The end outcome is residential segregation and unaffordable housing. A casual look at Census data on household incomes suggests that this might be happening in Auckland. The map below shows the share of households in individual Auckland suburbs that had low incomes in 2001 and 2013. (I used a higher threshold for “low income” in 2013 to account for the fact that average household incomes increased over this period. This is a pretty cursory analysis – I’d welcome ideas on better ways to present or analyse the data!) Areas coloured in darker blue had more low-income households, while areas coloured in yellow had relatively few.

As you can see, the Auckland isthmus and many coastal suburbs have become yellower over this time – which suggests that low-income families are being priced out of these areas. Many other areas – especially in west Auckland and Manukau – have gone from blue to green. Meanwhile, some pockets of blue in south Auckland have become darker, which suggests that low-income households may be crowding into those areas.

Notably, the city centre, where loads of apartments (both expensive and cheap) have been built, has a greater share of low-income households now than it did in 2001.

Auckland low income households 2001-2013

This is not a good outcome for Aucklanders, especially those on low incomes. By comparison, building lots of apartments, even expensive apartments, in desirable areas means that some of the well-heeled people who want to live in that area will not bid up prices on the run-down houses down the street as a second-best option. As a result, the affordable houses in the area can remain affordable.

Supply and demand – how does it work?

Photo of the Day: Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all our readers. What a great year it’s been for Pohutukawa. Here’s a pic from the Auckland countryside, the type of place that we shouldn’t be ruining with mindless unaffordable sprawl, for a better countryside; grow a better city:

Pohutukawa Anawhata

2014 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

In this fourth post reviewing the 2014 I’ll look at the topics not already covered.

Central Government Election

2014 was dominated – either directly or indirectly by the central government elections which is not surprising considering how much impact the government has on transport and urban policy. In the end National had a fairly comfortable win which means not much change from a political point of view although as mentioned in Tuesdays post, they have now committed more money to cycling which is helpful.

New Transport Minister

Related to the election, Prime Minister John Key reshuffled his cabinet around and we now have a new Minister of Transport in Simon Bridges. We are hoping to be able to meet Simon and will keep trying in 2015. So far there seems little sign of a change in position between him and his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, although he has taken a notable liking to the idea of self-driving cars.

Government Policy Statement

The Government Policy Statement – which dominates transport planning and spending in the country – was released and showed little change on its predecessors. It will still see the majority of money for transport spend on new and improved state highways of which most of that is earmarked for the hand-picked RoNS projects.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

Council Long Term Plan

Next year the council must sign off a new 10 year budget – the Long Term Plan – and the mayor’s proposal emerged this year. It’s had a few minor changes by the council but effectively sees rates increases capped at 3.5%. One of the hardest hit areas from this has been transport which has had funding slashed. This has left us in a sticky mess where the funding available enables means many key projects – such as interchanges that are fundamental to enable key changes such as the new bus network are unfunded.

Tied in with this has been a separate stream of work looking at alternative funding methods to plug a funding gap previously identified and looking closely at options of tolling motorways or additional rates. The utterly terrible situation with the basic transport package very much seems like a way to force Aucklander’s to agree to additional funding rather than addressing the elephant in the room of the insane state highway spending by the government. The LTP goes out to consultation in a few weeks and it will likely dominate a lot of discussion in the first half of this year.

Great International Visitors

  • This year we’ve had some great visitors as part of the council’s Auckland Conversations talks. This includes
  • Janette Sadik Kahn
  • The Brunrlett’s
  • Brent Toderian (again)
  • Professor Peter Newman
  • Gordon Price (again)
  • and many others.

Special Housing Areas

During 2014 two new tranches of Special Housing Areas were announced considerably increasing the number across Auckland. These are the areas where the Unitary Plan rules come into effect immediately and the council uses a fast tracked consenting process. Despite them all there has been little progress on actually building houses in most of them and it seems a lot of developers who pushed to receive SHA status did so just for some capital gains.

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4

Auckland Construction Boom

In 2014 it seems like the Auckland construction scene burst back to life after a few quiet years with a huge number of projects announced. These were primarily residential projects such as apartments. The biggest of the lot is likely to be the NDG Auckland Centre for which a 209m high tower is proposed on the empty site bordering Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. The tower and retail podium will link directly into the Aotea station on the CRL

NDG Centre 1

Stuart’s 100

Earlier this year our friend and urban designer Stuart Houghton set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. We have been running these throughout the second half of the year – with some still to go. There have been some fantastic ideas and conversations that have resulted from this work. Thanks Stuart for your contributions to making Auckland better.

Day_1

Blog

Lastly it’s been another fantastic year for the blog with more and more people reading it, something we really appreciate. I’d also like to thanks my fellow bloggers and everyone else who has helped contribute this year. All up including this post there we’ve published 908 posts, had over 33,100 comments. According to Google Analytics we’ve had over 900,000 visitors and have serve up over 1.7 million page views which is up about 20% on 2013. In total 65% of our readers are from Auckland and 82% are from NZ.

I hope you all have a great 2015.

Tomorrow I’ll look at what we can expect for 2015 plus a few predictions