Not sufficient, but essential: The provision of a high quality spatially efficient Rapid Transit Network in a city may not guarantee city quality and a flourishing urban economy, but neither are likely without one. In this century.
More was spent on transport in Auckland during the last financial year (to end of June 2016) than any time in the past, at least in nominal values. Based on the NZTA’s funding data, $1.435 billion was spent in the region in the year to June-2016, up slightly from $1.414 billion spent in the 2015 financial year. Although it’s quite likely that these figures only include spending associated with the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and not council direct spending, such as has been happening with the City Rail link where the council funded 100% of the early works (which the government will share the costs of in the future).
The graph below shows how much the council and the NZTA say they spent and it’s risen substantially from a comparatively paltry $400 million in 2002. Also on the graph you can see Auckland’s share compared to the entire country which has been hovering around the 35% mark. This is slightly more than Auckland’s share of the national population (over 34%) but below Auckland’s share of GDP (36.6%). Of the over $1.4 billion spent, 51% of it went on various state highway projects and maintenance.
Below is the same data but at a national level, although I only have it back to 2005. It shows that at $3.94 billion, we spent slightly less than the previous year. At a national level, an even greater share went on state highways with 55% of all spending going on them.
So how did other regions fare? Here’s how the 2016 figures broke down by region.
Because regions vary so much, I’ve also broken this down per capita to get a better picture of where the spending occurred. Like last year, the West Coast seems to dominate but this will be mainly due to the maintenance needed on a large road network covering a very low population base. Also like last year, the Waikato comes in second on the per capita stakes but this is more due to the large amount of construction going on with projects like the Waikato Expressway.
I’ve also looked at the results based on spending per vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), as a proxy for spend per travel. This method is probably a little unfair primarily to Auckland and Wellington which have larger uses of public transport than other parts of NZ.
Next, I’ve taken a look at what the money is being spent on however I’ve excluded the small ones such as transport planning as it’s difficult to see them on the same scale as road spending. You can see that spending on new and improved roads increased in the last year while the opposite was true for road maintenance. Combined both road spending was slightly less than last year which is in line with the overall results above. But PT spending was also down too and down substantially. I’m not sure of their reason for this but as you’ll see shortly, it wasn’t the result of changes in Auckland. You can also see spending on walking and cycling becoming more visible.
Here is just the cycling info showing how dramatic a change it has seen in the last few years.
Finally, here is the same break-down by activity for Auckland. The thing you notice compared to the whole of NZ one is the difference in the levels of new road spending vs maintenance. Of course, public transport is also more of a factor in Auckland, as you would expect.
Overall some interesting data on what we spend our transport money on.
Light rail on Dominion Rd is one of the big projects being discussed right now and is being actively investigated.
During the Unitary Plan debate I saw many people raise concerns that Dominion Road does not have the zoning to support Light Rail. While the zoning was been increased following the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) Recommendations which the council ultimately agreed with (subject to appeal), I believe there is still some low hanging fruit to increase zoning without affecting the Heritage Areas zoned Single House Zone (SHZ) in the Final Plan. Here’s a comparison of the two versions, the operative plan having a bit more:
I have come up with 4 low hanging fruit suggestions, with 1 potential opportunity for Land Use for Dominion Road Light Rail, there is also a map with the options areas highlighted below.
Overall these options would allow the Heritage Areas to stay untouched, but would Upzone other areas close to the Light Rail route, this would align Land Use better with any potential Light Rail for Dominion Road. Of course any changes would have to go through at current the standard Resource Management Act process, and some of the Upzoning is potentially limited due to Heritage Protections of some of the Shops, as well a Viewshaft Overlay Controls which restrict height.
So what do you think, great, not bold enough, or the Decisions version will be fine?
This is the latest in an ongoing series on the politics and economics of zoning reform. Previous posts have argued that the benefits of enabling urban development generally outweigh the costs, but that local government political dynamics may serve as a barrier to achieving those benefits. As a result, any plausible reform programme must account for political and institutional dynamics, which can either speed or stall change.
The state of California represents one extreme when it comes to reforming zoning laws. Simply put, there have been some minor steps forward, but since the 1970s the overall direction has been towards tighter restrictions on development. For instance, the ‘Great Downzoning’ of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s has never been substantially reversed:
As Joe Bousquin lays out in a sharp article for Builder magazine, California’s restrictions on housing development are the unintended consequence of several important policy changes in the 1970s. These have combined to create a situation in which it is systematically difficult to build, leading to continually rising home prices:
Two particular bits of legislation have had broad detrimental effects. First:
There’s nothing wrong with regulating to protect environmental quality. I’m all for it. But the particular approach used by CEQA – ie case-by-case reviews for a large share of new developments – seems to be a particularly inefficient way of achieving this end. The ‘friction’ added by the review process kills off both good and bad projects. By comparison, a more certain process that guaranteed development proposals a quick yes or quick no is likely to work better for both development and the environment.
Second, a tax reduction referendum passed in 1978 significantly shifted the financial incentives facing local governments, who choose which developments to approve:
Proposition 13 created incentives to tax new housing development heavily – or refuse it outright. It did so in an environment in which CEQA expanded scope for local governments and neighbours to object to development. This proved to be a boon for people who already owned homes in California, but it’s been a catastrophe for younger generations.
Bousquin’s article focuses on several broad institutional and policy factors as a driver of California’s zoning shambles, but I think it’s also worth highlighting a third cultural / political factor: the role of bad analysis and wishful thinking in perpetuating bad policy.
If you pay close attention to San Francisco debates over housing affordability and zoning, you notice a steady stream of weird arguments about supply and demand. Some of these are actively self-serving, while others are just confused. For instance, Leigha Beckman at SF BAMO compiles an edifying list of the “Top 10 Bay Area NIMBY moments of 2016“. Here were a couple:
Affordable housing advocates opposing affordable housing? It’s really difficult to reform policies when even the people who would benefit from changes can’t agree that they will be beneficial.
In summary, there are a few lessons from the California experience:
Next week, I’ll look at what happened to the most recent attempt to modestly reform California’s zoning rules. Hint: It didn’t go well.
While much of the world is in a state of disbelief over the result of the US election, there was some positive news to come out of it too. In many areas a range of transit projects/initiatives were also ballot. In total, there were 48 local or statewide measures and 33 (69%) passed, even though many required increases in taxes to pay for them and some required 2/3rds of voter support. The Transport Politic has a list of many of them and their outcomes while CityLab highlights three of the biggest.
The high capacity rail improvements includes extensions their existing heavy rail network and 7 light rail routes.
The downside for many of the measures is they are also dependent on federal funding and with the Republicans hostile towards transit investment, they ultimately may not ever happen.
All of this got me thinking about what the outcome would be if Aucklanders got to vote directly on transport plans. It could be argued that we already vote on transport but we only do so indirectly. In central government elections transport is normally considered just a minor issue behind the likes of health, education, the economy and welfare, even though transport can influence outcomes from each of those areas. Transport is much more of a local issue and while it usually garners a much larger mindshare than at a national level, it is also competing against other topics too, such as rates and housing.
In the end, voting at both central and local level is very indirect. For example, Phil Goff stood on a platform of light rail down Dominion Rd but just because he’s been elected it doesn’t mean it will ever actually happen as the project is captive to a plethora of political and technical hurdles. How would voters in Auckland respond if they had a more direct say on transport plans in Auckland.
The recent Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is a big step in getting the government and council in alignment on transport in Auckland but it takes very much a “the experts know best” approach that relies heavily on transport modelling. It was the antithesis of the public having a say. The ATAP modelling relies heavily on assumptions, value judgements and historical trends, and it has been frequently made clear that the outputs are incredibly flawed. That ATAP ended up proposing some substantial transit investment, albeit it not soon enough in my view, is more a reflection of how out of balance our transport system already is than the process working.
Perhaps one of the issues with ATAP, and many other transport plans, is that they start from the wrong place. They are treated as a technical solution to a technical problem rather than first working out and agreeing what the vision is for how we want our city to look and feel and then working back from there. This can include deliberately ignoring plans that have already done the work of deciding the vision element. In ATAP the word vision isn’t mentioned once and the only mention of the council’s 30-year vision, the ‘Auckland Plan’, is that the council will need to update it with the outcome of ATAP. I think this happens as vision is a harder thing to define and measure than technical aspects. Added to that I suspect many of the bureaucrats either don’t have a vision or are too scared to be seen as imposing one
This is something that happens at many levels and is the same kind of thinking that leads to stupid ideas such as trying to squeeze up footpaths and the CRL entrance on Victoria St that will be used by 10’s of thousands of people every day, just so that an extra traffic lane can be added. This of course completely ignores the agreed vision for the city centre.
I’m not quite sure how you’d do it but what outcome would ATAP have delivered if the wider public had a greater say in the vision they want for Auckland or even just on some of the value judgement made by officials.
As we know from ATAP, Auckland has a transport funding shortfall of around $400 million annually. While some of that might disappear if the value judgements were different, a lot of it would still be needed, even if for a different set of projects. The public having a say on whether they agree with the proposed plan and how to pay for it might be a good idea if nothing else than to build confidence that the plan is right. The only thing though is it would need to be about the entire transport plan, not just raising money just to pay for transit while road spending goes unquestioned – like in many of those ballots in the US.
The current cycleway revolution in Auckland has a serendipitous feature for one of Auckland’s most cherished but badly treated areas: All routes lead to Karangahape Rd. Both the recent city by-passes: Grafton Gully and the Pink Path, have one end in the K Rd precinct, our only current cycling ‘superhighway’, the NorthWestern, is about to get its city termination moved forward from Newton Rd to the K, and the coming real on-road separated cycle lanes on Great North Rd also lead straight to the K. Oh and the cycle friendly ridge level link of our very own Pont Neuf, Grafton Bridge, leads bike riders there from the other end.
Yes Karangahape Rd is the ground zero of Auckland’s bike riding revival which surely offers a real opportunity for the area to at last both thrive and remain true to its very specific identity. It would be a shame for K Rd to either slide back into decline or to try to keep up with its glossier rivals by seeking to become something its not. And as Ponsonby Rd becomes ever more upmarket and seemingly determined to drown itself in more and more parking and therefore driving, this offers K Rd a great opportunity to brand itself as a street and people place and not a car place. This happy confluence of street culture and improving bike infrastructure is already having an effect on the numbers that access businesses on the street by bike, as can be seen below:
And in the data:
But this is despite the lack of any safe cycle routes on K Rd itself, nor clearly enough parking places. But happily our Transport Agency is on it:
The plan is to add cycle lanes each side with temporary barriers, or at least without expensive excavations of the existing curb line and stormwater systems. And improved bus priority which is already clearly vital to the area. It is wise to start with a changeable pattern as there is a longer term opportunity to further tune down through traffic once the CRL station opens way off in 2023. Then this important section, between Pitt and Queen Sts should become one lane each way for buses (and emergency) and otherwise be for people on foot and bikes only. For more on the plan and links to make a submission go here.
To this end I think the K Rd business association should push for a regular traffic closure of this short section between Pitt and Queen every Sunday. This won’t be particularly disruptive, except to through traffic, and that should be the desired outcome; an assertion over place through movement. And of course a way to brand the area as street not arterial, and uniquely street.
So the whole upgrade is clearly a great opportunity for the businesses in the area to market themselves as being at the leading edge of the new city with the bike as the symbol of all the current new urban changes underway: The rise in city centre living, the ongoing revolution in Rapid Transit ridership, in short the return of the City.
The wider point is that the driving era destroyed this place and the walking/biking/transit age we are now in is its best chance at redemption. Go the K.
Last week Statistics NZ released their latest detailed population estimates for the country and they show that Auckland is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. Population increased by an estimated 44,400 people, an annual increase of 2.8% making it the fastest growing region in NZ and of course Auckland already started with the largest base. That growth has pushed population in the region above 1.6 million people having only passed 1.5 million about three years ago and at current rates, would see Auckland hit 2 million people in less than a decade. Auckland accounted for 46% of all the growth in NZ.
In 1996 Auckland’s population was 1.1 million so in 20 years has grown by the size of the entire Wellington region after taking 51% of NZs total growth. Auckland is now home to 34.4% of New Zealand’s population.
The graph below shows the change in Auckland’s population over the last 20 years and as you can see, as a total the growth this year is the highest ever seen although as a percentage increase, it was topped by 2002 and 2003. At 2.8%, growth is running ahead of even the high growth predictions released by Stats NZ in early 2015 which if it continues will have serious implications for the timing of many projects.
An even more staggering increase can be seen in the Auckland City Centre – as defined as in the map below. This is slightly different from the traditional definition as it includes the area units of Newton (south of Karangahape Rd) and Grafton West (east of Symonds St) and is what was used by the Ministry of Transport when they were monitoring targets for the City Rail Link.
As you can see below, the population of the city centre substantially increased to just shy of 47,000, up from just 5,000 20 years ago, a staggering 924% increase. The increase of 5,770 accounts for a full 13% of Auckland’s growth and 6% of all the growth in NZ over the last year. And of course, more people in the city centre has continued to help in making the place more vibrant and liveable. It also is another reason why it’s important agencies like Auckland Transport need to drastically change how they think about transport in the city. Moving to make it easier for pedestrians (and bikes) will be a key factor in improving the lives of the people living in the area, not to mention the other 100k+ that spend much of their time there every day.
Even if you used the more traditional definition of the CBD – the three northernmost areas in the map above, the population is sitting just under 40,000, up 5,000 on last year. As a comparison, the 2012 City Centre Masterplan suggested the CBD would reach not reach a population of 45,000 till 2032.
Looking at population at a slightly higher altitude we can see the changes by local board. The biggest increase comes from Waitemata driven by the growth mentioned above. Following that there has been strong growth in a number of local board areas. Many are areas where there is also a lot of greenfield growth has been occurring, such as Upper Harbour so in that regard one that also sticks as having a strong level of growth is Orakei.
Given the recent elections, the population figures also got me thinking about the levels of political representation we have and whether the ward boundaries need to be changed before the next election.
Auckland has 20 Councillors spread across 13 wards. In 2010 when the city was amalgamated there was a population of 1.44 million meaning for each Councillor there are an average of 72,000 residents. With the population now up to 1.61 million people we’re approaching one Councillor for every 81,000 people, more than twice the number of people per member of parliament. Furthermore, with so much growth in some areas, it’s leading to even more disproportionate representation and this is especially the case in the Waitemata and Gulf area which includes the CBD area.
This graph showing the population per Councillor can look a little busy but does show clearly how much things have changed in Watemata. The area is now home to around 112,000 people and they’re all covered by just one Councillor, Mike Lee. I don’t think that’s fair to either the residents in the Waitemata area or to Mike Lee
The same issue, although to a lesser extent, exists at the local board level with some local boards having vastly different levels of representation. Each local board has differing numbers of members on them. Again, Waitemata is a clear mover although it is still behind the Howick Local Board and Henderson-Massey Local Board on a per population basis. which has the highest population compared. Howick has just over 16,000 people per local board member while Papakura is the lowest of the urban area Local Boards with almost half that at just 8,800 people per member.
One of the challenges is that the amalgamation legislation prevents the number of Councillors being increased like can happen in the rest of NZ. It also requires that Council Wards align with the local board areas so any change isn’t straightforward.
What do you think should happen, change the ward and local board boundaries, allow for extra Councillors and local board members to be elected, a combination of both or leave things unchanged?
This is a guest post from Brendon Harre in Christchurch. It addresses an issue that’s near and dear to Transportblog: How do we better enable positive change in the built environment?
Solving the housing crisis in New Zealand will require many reforms and much effort. Some of the needed reforms will face opposition and will be difficult to implement. There will be tension between the national concern about improving housing supply versus some local interests in retaining the status quo.
I want to focus on one particular easy to implement policy option, which I think could successfully navigate this political dynamic. The essence of the proposed reform is to establish a nationwide intensification right for situations where neighbours agree. A right to reciprocal intensification will create a new urbanist tool for New Zealand, allowing a better housing intensification supply response, so that people can build in parts of our towns and cities where people want to live.
The first step would be to agree as a country on a height limit that all property owners could construct up to as a right. I would suggest three stories would be reasonable, as this is a similar scale to natural features like trees.
Local areas through zoning provisions would still retain existing setback and shade planes rules that determine how far buildings must be constructed from site boundaries. For instance, a shade plane is an angle going inwards, which building height and bulk cannot exceed. It is taken from a certain height directly above the section boundary -2.5 metres in the below diagram. These rules also limit the size of buildings – and hence reduce the number of dwellings that can be built on a given site.
The second step, which is the main thrust of my proposal, is that New Zealand should adopt a system where neighbours can reciprocally agree to drop the shade plane and set back restrictions along their common border. This reciprocal intensification right could be implemented as a national policy statement under the RMA, which local authorities would then be obligated to implement. So in the above diagrams, if there was a section to the north or south and if the two property owners agree, then they would both have the right to build up to their adjoining boundary – utilising the appropriate building code for firewalls etc. If other adjoining neighbours disagreed, then on those boundaries the standard setback and shade plane rules would apply.
Of course there would be many property owners who wouldn’t want their neighbour to build right up to their boundary. But some would see the advantage in co-operating, so they have the option of adding a granny flat or redeveloping their entire site. Making this reciprocal intensification right a choice eliminates the major criticism of up-zoning. Being, up-zoning dictates an exchange of a neighbour’s access to sun, views and privacy for the opportunity to intensify. Some property owners believe they will be worse off if this exchange is codified into the zoning map.
If reciprocal intensification rights were spread across a large enough area, then this would give the opportunity for a lot of intensification – in the form of duplexes if two neighbours agree and European style terrace housing if many neighbours agree. There are 1.8M private dwellings in New Zealand – if just 1% of those properties were intensified from one dwelling to three per site over, say, ten years, that would net an additional 36,000 new homes. I am not sure if 1% and one house intensifying into three are reasonable expectations, but it shows that even with modest assumptions this proposed policy reform could have an impact on the housing market.
The main benefits of a right to reciprocal intensification are:
I believe reciprocal intensification will be driven by both supply – in terms of its ability to lower the cost of infill and redevelopment – and demand. Demand will come from urban areas with high amenities – like proximity to employment, easy public and private transport access, markets/shops, entertainment and desirable natural environments like beaches, parks and forest.
In Auckland not all high amenity areas have been up-zoned by the new Unitary Plan. So for the city most suffering from New Zealand’s housing crisis there is an opportunity for reciprocal property right supply to increase housing supply in places where there is a demand for it. Density maps of Auckland indicate that outside of the city centre there is a sudden drop-off to a flat density gradient, unlike similar sized and geographically constrained cities –such as Stockholm. Economic theory indicates density should gradually decline with what is labelled the ‘missing middle’ housing.
Reciprocal intensification rights will not by itself be enough to enable all of the development we need. Other intensification restrictions such as minimum section sizes, minimum car parking requirements, site coverage rules, viewing shaft restrictions, heritage restrictions, secondary kitchens, etc may be as or more significant in the way they restrict the supply of housing intensification options and should also be reviewed by affordable housing policy makers.
However, I think reciprocal intensification rights would be a less controversial first step to intensification compared to widespread up-zoning, which results in some property owners who oppose intensification to fight such measures. These local interest groups which may only represent a minority of locals obstruct reasonable efforts to address restrictions on housing supply.
I believe New Zealand should give greater weighting to the national concern about affordable housing supply compared to the minority local interest in retaining the status quo. It has been my goal with this reciprocal intensification proposal to create a fair and appropriate first step to address this imbalance.
Indications are that new mayor Phil Goff wants a change to the current vision outlined in the Auckland Plan of becoming the “world’s most liveable city”.
This “slogan” was very strongly linked to previous mayor, Len Brown, so in some ways it’s not surprising that Goff wants to change it. But it’s a hard vision to move away from – do we no longer want Auckland to be the best place in the world to live? Or is it that we essentially want to continue down this path, just under a different name? To explore this question I’m going to take a look at the up-side and down-side of liveability – hopefully leading to a few suggestions for a vision for Auckland going forwards.
At its core, the concept of “liveability” is fairly self-explaining:
By wanting to be the “world’s most liveable city”, we are wanting to become the best place in the world to live, or the place with the best quality of life. Where it becomes tricky though, is that this concept of “liveability” has been captured by a variety of different organisations to try and compare how liveable different cities around the world are – usually with a fairly narrow target audience in mind. Wikipedia explains this pretty well:
The final sentence from the paragraph above highlights the key issue – that these rankings are designed for internationally mobile high-wage employees. Not to give an indication of the quality of life for people doing the “daily grind”. Especially not for those struggling on lower incomes. For example, the methodology of the Mercer survey (which is the one most frequently referred to by politicians, perhaps because it’s the one that ranks Auckland highest?) is briefly outlined below:
Auckland does pretty well, almost by default, on a lot of the factors that actually have relatively little to do with the Council – like climate, political stability, crime, education, personal freedom, healthcare facilities and availability of goods. Where we struggle, transport and housing being the obvious “big two”, seems to get a little bit swamped by these other factors in the overall scoring. Understandably, it’s difficult to fathom how we can be one of the most liveable cities in the world when people are living in cars.
Because the word “liveability” is potentially tarnished by both its association with the Len Brown and misleading rankings, but the concept of Auckland being a great place to live, work, play or visit seems pretty hard to argue against, I wonder whether Phil Goff’s stated vision (which is by law required to be articulated in the Auckland Plan) will pick up on these more generic words and perhaps highlight the need for Auckland to be a great place for everyone (not just those well off). At its core though the vision will probably be similar, just presented differently.