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

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


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.

More on Auckland Transport’s electric car sharing scheme

As Matt wrote last week, Auckland Transport are keen to set up an electric car sharing scheme.

Auckland Transport intends to seek bids from national and international operators to establish a large-scale PEV based car-sharing scheme in Auckland.  The successful scheme will be privately owned and operated.

I think it’s a ballsy move, and all of us here at TransportBlog seem to agree that it’s a good idea. To me, it’s another demonstration of the way in which AT are looking at ideas from all over the world, and trying to implement the best ones right here in Auckland. This, the light rail announcement and other recent decisions suggest that AT are being proactive and  showing some real vision. Besides, if they keep looking at what cities are doing overseas, they can’t help but notice the extent to which other cities are investing in public and active transport rather than more roads… which has got to be a good influence for their own funding mix.

Anyway, that’s a little off-topic. Back to the current scheme. There are several reasons why I think it’s a good thing, in general terms. It combines the advantages of car sharing schemes…

  1. They can change people’s transport habits, and help reduce private car ownership. That saves people money, and makes more use of the vehicle resource.
  2. This is especially useful in places where the opportunity cost of owning a vehicle is high, such as dense city environments (e.g. the city centre, other metropolitan centres, or anywhere where we’re building up or digging down to create new carparks)
  3. A great complement to public transport, as per that rather nifty diagram in Matt’s post.

… with the advantages of electric vehicles:

  1. As I’ve been writing in a series of posts, EVs are very well suited to New Zealand. Our mainly renewable electricity means that EVs can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. This will assist the council’s aims to reduce Auckland’s emissions.
  2. There are no “tailpipe” emissions from the cars themselves, as opposed to conventional cars which send out nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and so on. That’s a good thing for air quality in busy city locations.
  3. This scheme should involve the successful company setting up charging stations in various locations, and the implication seems to be that these will also be available for other drivers to use (presumably paying for the privilege).
  4. This is a good test and demonstration opportunity for EVs (electric vehicles) in New Zealand. For many people, this will be the first chance they have to see and drive them.

There’s a lot of upside if this scheme works well, and not much to lose if it doesn’t. Auckland Transport probably won’t be putting in any money, and see their role as mainly providing information and helping to get the scheme set up.

Auckland Transport are also interested in being a major customer – they think they could replace 250+ vehicles from the combined AT/ Auckland Council fleet, or 25-35% of the total fleet of 1,000 cars. I’d note, though, that these organisations probably haven’t done much study on how many vehicles they could eliminate simply by making more use of public transport, shared vehicles etc. And this won’t really help the scheme “replace between eight and 20 privately-owned cars” per one shared car.

But that’s splitting hairs, because schemes like this get a major leg up by having cornerstone customers, and it’s good that Auckland Transport wants to be one. I’m sure other large organisations will be keen to get involved too. We do need to get big organisations interested in EVs as an alternative to conventional cars, because they account for such a big fraction of new car sales – cars that will still be on the roads twenty years from now.

Auckland Transport also plans to make parking spaces available for the cars, in its buildings and on streets. This sounds good; it’s a valuable use for those spaces. It’s not quite clear whether AT would demand a full commercial price from these spaces or not, and presumably this is something that would be thrashed out during negotiations.

Similar programmes overseas

Electric car share schemes are quickly spreading around the world’s cities. The Paris program, known as Autolib’, seems to be one of the most successful examples, and there’s plenty of information on that if you Google it. The scheme is run by Bolloré, and four years after launching it has 3,000 cars. This month, Bolloré launches a similar program in London, starting with just 100 cars.

A Paris Autolib' electric car drives next to the Eiffel tower during a presentation ride in Paris December 2, 2011. The bubble-shaped vehicles Autolib' electric car's service will be launch in Paris next Monday. In Paris and Ile de France cities, users will be able to sign up for daily, weekly or annual memberships ranging from 10 euros to 144 euros, with users paying according to the length of time the car is used.  REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes   (FRANCE - Tags: TRANSPORT ENERGY BUSINESS)

From The Guardian:

For younger people in particular… “owning a car is just no longer on their radar, particularly in the city. You have insurance, €1,000-plus a year; you have a whole load of other costs; you have petrol, environmental concerns; you have a constant headache finding somewhere to park. It’s quite clear that for this group, and for others too, owning a car no longer has the social cachet it once had. Cars used to be like toothbrushes – you didn’t share, you didn’t borrow. But we’re shifting from a possession model to a usage model. A car is a tool for transportation, nothing more.”

The Autolib’ scheme seems to have been effective in reducing car ownership rates:

A survey in late 2013 by market researchers CSA found 70% of non car-owning Autolib’ subscribers – around half of the total – felt the service had allowed them not to buy a vehicle of their own, while 75% or car owners believed it had helped them limit usage of their own car, particularly for leisure and shopping. And more than a quarter of car-owning Autolib’ members said they felt the service now provided their “main car”, rather than a secondary option.

CSA estimated that in the first two years of the service’s existence, more than 11,500 conventional cars in the greater Paris region had been sold – or not bought – thanks to Autolib’, and put the projected figure over five years at around 28,000.

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 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.

Petrol: the long, slow decline

An interesting graph came up on the TransportBlog twitter feed a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

US petrol demand

Pretty self-explanatory, but what you’re seeing is that gasoline (or petrol) consumption in the US grew until the mid-2000s, and has since fallen. The projections from the government’s Energy Information Administration, which a decade ago were assuming that people would keep consuming more and more petrol, started to change tack in 2010 (assuming pretty flat demand) and even more in 2014 (assuming that demand would keep falling). This is the long, slow decline of petrol demand in the US, although some might think that decline actually looks pretty fast.

There’s another graph that goes along with the one above – they both come from this report, page 246ish. The other graph looks at consumption of all oil products (“petroleum” as they call it in the US).

US oil demand

Here, the story is similar but with a slower decline expected (fuels like diesel and other uses of oil are likely to be less affected by the demand downturn).

The US report gives the following explanation (forgive the wall of text, apparently paragraph breaks were high on the government’s cost-cutting list when the GFC hit):

The decline in petroleum consumption, starting in 2006, was unexpected. In the case of energy, industry-standard benchmark projections are produced annually by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its Annual Energy Outlook. Revisions to those projections include the effects of unforeseen developments in the energy sector. Figure 6-2a shows U.S. petroleum consumption since 1950 and projected consumption from the 2006, 2010, and 2014 editions of the Annual Energy Outlook. Only nine years ago, EIA projected an increase in petroleum consumption during the subsequent 25 years. But events dramatically affected subsequent projections: by 2010, EIA had reduced both the level and rate of growth of its projection; its 2014 outlook now projects petroleum consumption to decline through 2030 after a slight increase over the next five years. The reversal in projected petroleum consumption is led by the reversal in actual and projected gasoline consumption (Figure 6-2b): the 2014 EIA projection of consumption in 2030 is 44 percent below the projection made in 2006. Actual gasoline consumption declined between 2006 and 2010 mainly due to the recession and rising fuel prices, but much of the revision to the 2030 levels reflects the largely unexpected fuel economy improvements stemming from the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the Administration’s subsequent tightening of those standards. The 2014 projections further reflect the 2012 light-duty vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions rate standards, which apply to model years 2017 through 2025 [JP note: the Obama administration tightened the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in the US for the first time since the 80s, incentivising US manufacturers to improve their woeful fuel economy]. The Administration’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks also contribute to the reduction in projected petroleum consumption between the 2010 and 2014 Outlooks.

Let’s look at the same stats for New Zealand. It’s a little tricky, since the MBIE hasn’t produced forecasts of oil and transport demand since 2011, but long story short they were still projecting pretty steady increases for transport fuels (mainly petrol) and oil demand at that time.

Historical statistics, though, show that NZ’s petrol consumption peaked in 2007 and have begun a slow decline since then (although 2014 figures, not yet out, are likely to show a slight uptick from lower petrol prices towards the end of the year).

NZ petrol demand

It seems pretty likely that New Zealand is going to see a long, slow decline in petrol demand as well.

Submit for an Essential Budget

Last week Generation Zero launched our Essential Budget, an alternative to the Basic and Auckland Plans that Auckland Council are currently consulting on as part of the Long Term Plan process. The Essential Budget prioritises spending on tripling the cycling budget, and important public transport projects such as bus lanes and new bus and rail interchanges. This means the funding gap is down to only $80 million per year, rather than the $300 million seen in the Auckland Plan. It is also a sensible alternative, and accepts the Basic Plan spending on maintenance, safety and committed road upgrades. For more detail see earlier posts about the false choices offered between the Basic and Auckland Plans, and details of the Essential Budget here.

On Monday we launched our quick submission form, that allows people to easily submit directly to Auckland Council in favour of our plan (or the other options), add your own reasons, and mention which projects are important to you.

Our form is available below, or at Please submit by Monday 4pm, as this is the biggest chance we have in the next 3 years to re-orientate the transport budget to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Guest Post by Ryan Mearns, Generation Zero

We need to stop lying to ourselves about congestion

Without getting back on the topic of pohutukawas or St Luke’s Road again, I did notice something funny in the statement that Greg Edmonds, Auckland Transport’s Chief Operating Officer, made in Metro Magazine in response to the issue:

The founding premise of the Auckland super city was that the city’s congestion was costing $1 billion a year in lost productivity and this had to change.


Auckland Transport (AT) was created to solve the congestion problem…

Some people might think that this is a slightly too narrow view of Auckland Transport’s mandate. Whatever. Fair enough.

However, there is actually a much more serious problem with Mr Edmonds’ comments. Simply put: the notion that we can “solve the congestion problem” is not at all realistic. (Unless we are willing to try out road pricing, which is unlikely given the tepid response to the last few studies of the issue.)

I don’t want to pick on Mr Edmonds in particular. It’s common to hear politicians, bureaucrats, and advocates from all over say similar things. We constantly hear that Project X or Project Y will “fix congestion” or “solve gridlock” or “save us [some unthinkably large amount of money] in congestion costs”.

As an economist, I’m baffled by these statements. The empirical evidence on congestion overwhelmingly shows that it is not possible to reduce it by building more roads. This is because people change their behaviour in response to bigger roads. They shift from walking to the store to driving there; they buy a house further out of town; they travel at different times.

Here’s what two North American economists, Duranton and Turner, had to say on the topic after undertaking a comprehensive, multi-decade study on induced traffic in US cities:

Our data suggests a ‘fundamental law of road congestion’ where the extension of most major roads is met with a proportional increase in traffic. Not only do we provide direct evidence for this law, but also show find evidence that three implications of this law; near flat demand curve for VKT, convergence of traffic levels, and no effect of public transit on traffic levels.

All earlier studies, such as this comprehensive 1998 study of 70 US metro areas over a 15 year period cited by walkable city advocate Jeff Speck, have come up with identical findings:

Metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro areas that did not. Trends in congestion show that areas that exhibited greater growth in lane capacity spent roughly $22 billion more on road construction than those that didn’t, yet ended up with slightly higher congestion costs per person, wasted fuel, and travel delay.

Consequently, all we can realistically do about congestion is to give people good alternatives to participating in it. Other modes, such as grade-separated rapid transit and walking and cycling, do not get congested in the same way as roads do. While the research shows that providing alternatives to driving does not necessarily reduce road congestion, it does give people a way to reduce their exposure to it.

In light of these fundamental economic realities, it is essential that transport agencies stop talking about “fixing congestion”. This is nothing more than a dangerous fantasy.

Suggesting that we can solve congestion creates unrealistic hopes among the public. Every time a politician or transport agency opens a new road and promises that it will reduce congestion or speed up people’s journeys, they are feeding expectations that can never fully be met.

The result of this is that transport agencies are constantly dealing with demands for more roads that will not actually deliver long-term solutions to the problem of congestion. This sets the transport profession up to constantly fail to satisfy people’s desires and demands. This has to be a tremendously disheartening situation to be in.

My personal view is that instead of talking about “fixing congestion”, transport agencies should instead promise to deliver outcomes that are actually achievable.

This could include, for example, committing to deliver transport choice to underserved areas of the city by investing in rapid transit infrastructure, frequent bus services, and safe walking and cycling infrastructure. While transport agencies would have to work hard to deliver on all this, they could expect that the end result would be more transport choice for residents.

Transport agencies could even commit to some traditionally roads-centric goals, like, say, building new roads to enable the development of a new subdivision at the edge of the city. At least, as long as they weren’t making unrealistic promises of fast, frictionless commutes to the future residents…

The consultation problem: Who submits on the plan?

Auckland Council is currently consulting with residents on its 2015-2025 Long Term Plan (LTP). This is an important document, as it sets out the Council’s budget over the next ten years. This is a period in which Auckland has to make some tough choices, including whether it should raise more money to pay for an expanded transport plan. (The City Rail Link, a key project for the city, is expected to start regardless, but it’s going to be harder to pay for other public transport infrastructure without additional money.)

If you haven’t yet submitted, I’d encourage you to do so via the Council’s online submission form. Or, if you want a more straightforward way to submit Generation Zero has released their submission guide following up their alternative LTP. You can read their plan at

The other week, Matt put up a post summarising the data on who had submitted on the LTP as of 19 February. (More data was published on 1 March.) He highlighted a few interesting aspects of the feedback, including what submitters were highlighting as priorities for spending. There is a big desire for more spending on public transport and cycling, which is great to see.

The most striking data was on the demographics of the submitters. Simply put: Council isn’t getting feedback from a representative set of Aucklanders. Some groups are systematically underrepresented, while others are massively overrepresented.

To illustrate this point, I compared the demographics of LTP submitters with Auckland’s actual demographics from the 2013 Census. Here’s the summary table:

LTP submitter demographics vs Auckland demographics

As you can see, there are some groups that show up in large numbers to have their say:

  • Men – 49% of Auckland’s population, but 62% of LTP submitters to date
  • NZ Europeans – overrepresented in LTP submissions by 50%
  • People aged 55 or older – overrepresented by 80% or more in LTP submissions

Other groups are underrepresented by comparable margins:

  • Maori, Pasifika and Asian people – underrepresented by 62%, 81%, and 73%, respectively
  • People aged under 25 – underrepresented by 70% or more.

In other words, Auckland is a young, multicultural city where young people and non-European people don’t have much of a say in Council feedback.

Here’s another view of the data on the age of submitters versus the age of Aucklanders as a whole. The age profile of LTP submitters is almost the inverse of the age profile for the whole population!

LTP submitters and Auckland age structure chart

This poses some serious challenges for Auckland Council (and other local governments, probably). Councils rely heavily upon submission and consultation processes to help inform their decisions about what to build and how to write urban planning rules. It’s not the sole input to decisions – which sometimes causes some people to kvetch that Auckland Council’s not listening to them – but it is an important one.

If the demographics of submitters are biased, we can’t necessarily rely upon consultation feedback as a guide to what the public wants. If half of Auckland is under the age of 35, and almost half are Maori, Pasifika and Asian, while most submitters are middle aged to retired and disproportionately white, should we trust the data? And what could we do instead to gather more representative data?

Fortunately, Auckland Council does seem to be using a few alternative approaches to getting feedback on the LTP. This includes an independent phone survey of 4,200 Aucklanders selected to be demographically representative. Depending upon how they ask the questions, this may be a more valuable source of insight into actual Aucklanders’ preferences than the standard consultation forms.

The Council is also running a series of meetings, recognising that some people prefer to talk about the issues rather than fill in an online form. In a comment on Matt’s post, Ben Ross reported back on the discussion at an LTP meeting in the Otara-Papatoetoe local board:

the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board Have Your Say Sessions in which the Pacific (and Maori) people were VERY vocal in making their thoughts known.

I was the sole white person there at the Otara-Papatoetoe LB session last night (didnt bother me one bit) and their views were consistent:
Better east west transport links especially from Otara to Wiri and the Airport
Upgrade of Otara Town Centre
And socio-economics was a big concern as well

It is definitely good that Auckland Council’s using a few different mechanisms to get feedback on the LTP – provided that it’s all weighted up and reported together. But even if it puts the effort into getting a meaningfully representative set of views on the LTP, it probably isn’t doing the same thing in the multifarious consultations it does on smaller issues.

I don’t have a good solution to this – although I have a few ideas. What are your thoughts?

And, once again: if you haven’t yet submitted on the LTP, please consider doing so through the Council’s online form or Generation Zero’s online submission guide.

On The Waterfront


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:


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…


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


Essential Transport Budget – the first 3 years

Guest Post by Ryan Mearns, Generation Zero Auckland

On Tuesday Generation Zero launched our Essential Budget, as an alternative to the Basic and Auckland Plans currently being consulted on as part of the Long Term Plan. We showed that Auckland could build the most transformation projects from the Auckland Plan for only $80 million per year, rather than the $300 million extra cost of the Auckland Plan.

The blog about the budget launch showed how we had broken spending down into broad categories. However the work we did behind this was at a detailed project level, using the full 10 year project list from the Regional Land Transport Plan.

Today I will outline the public transport and cycling projects to be built over the first 3 years of the plan, as this is where the most certainty around project costs and timeframes is. Note that almost all roading spend proposed under the Basic Transport Network will still proceed, as this is focussed around renewals, committed projects and safety works.

Under the Basic Transport Plan only the City Rail Link enabling works, and several already committed public transport projects will go ahead in the first 3 years. The only cycling investment to proceed at all will be the Waterview cycleway connection, which was required by Board of Inquiry for the Waterview Connection.

Project Name Essential 15/16 Essential 16/17 Essential 17/18 Essential Y1-3
City Rail Link 145.4 176.8 77.9 400.1
EMU Procurement 26.8 1 0 27.8
Hobsonville Point Park and ride 0 3.2 0.5 3.7
Swanson Station Upgrade 0.7 0 0 0.7
Waterview Cycleway connection 3.6 3.7 6.7 14

The Essential Transport Network includes a large number of additional projects that would otherwise need the full $300 million per annum of alternative funding to proceed in the next 3 years.F3

The largest single item is the Walking and Cycling Budget which gets over $30 million a year, up from just over $10 million in the current financial year. There is no further detail about what exact projects would proceed, however I would assume that the City Centre cycleways along Karangahape Road, Victoria Street, Quay Street, Nelson Street, Beaumont Street and Ian McKinnon Drive, as well as local connections to Skypath would be major beneficiaries. This would also enable Auckland Transport to take advantage of the government urban cycleways fund, so the money could be further topped up by the government. There is also a small amount of money for pram crossing upgrades, which should go someway towards fixing Auckland’s poor walkability, especially for the mobility impaired.

PROJECT NAME 15/16 16/17 17/18 TOTAL YEARS 1-3
Walking and Cycling Projects       96.7
Walking and Cycling 30.8 31.6 32.5 94.9
Tactile paving / pram crossing upgrades 0.6 0.6 0.6 1.8


However overall Auckland’s bus network is the big winner. We get $9 million per year to deliver bus lanes, which should deliver significant progress across the city. In November Auckland Transport announced they would roll out 40km of bus lanes over the next 3 years, however the cost of this was only $15 million, so $28 million should get us nearly another 40km. Double Decker mitigation works get $18 million over 3 years, which should help increase capacity on some of our busiest bus corridors. Auckland Transport’s New Network will be able to proceed on time with new interchanges at Otahuhu and Manukau being built over the next year, as well as a number of smaller projects that will help people transfer between buses across the city. The long delayed Park and Ride at Silverdale can also be expanded. Normally we are not big fans of Park and Ride, however they are useful serving more dispersed areas like the Hibiscus Coast.

PROJECT NAME 15/16 16/17 17/18 TOTAL YEARS 1-3
Bus Projects       127.1
Bus Priority Improvements & Transit Lanes 9.1 9.3 9.6 28
Double decker network mitigation works 8.3 6 4.2 18.5
Otahuhu Bus Interchange 13.8 3.8 0 17.6
Manukau Interchange (was Manukau City Rail Link) 13.2 4.2 0 17.4
Bus Stop Improvements Programme 4.4 4.3 2.3 11
Wynyard Bus interchange 0 5.3 5.4 10.7
Minor PT capex allowance for bus stops, minor improvements at stations, wharves, provision of PT information etc 2.1 2.1 2.2 6.4
Park n Ride Silverdale-Stg 2 5.9 0 0 5.9
Mt Albert Road bus connection improvements 3.1 0 0 3.1
Real Time Passenger Information System enhancements 1.1 0 1.6 2.7
Avondale Interchange 0 2.1 0 2.1
Mount Albert Interchange 0 1.1 0 1.1
Point Chevalier Shops (bus-bus connection) 0 1.1 0 1.1
Newmarket Terminus 0 1.1 0 1.1
Homai Station Interchange 0 0 0.4 0.4


Two ferry projects are able to proceed. The major one is the “Downtown Ferry Basin Development”. Not much about this has been made public yet, however the RLTP does say this “improvements to provide additional berthage, improved safety and customer experience improvements”. Peak congestion at the Downtown Ferry terminal is well known by ferry users, so this should help resolve these issues. The next stage of the Devonport Ferry terminal upgrade can also proceed.

PROJECT NAME 15/16 16/17 17/18 TOTAL YEARS 1-3
Ferry Projects 18.2
Devonport Ferry Terminal 0 5.4 0 5.4
Downtown Ferry Basin Development 2.1 5.3 5.4 12.8

While the focus of the rail network is on the City Rail Link, upgrades of lower quality stations at Westfield, Takanini, Puhinui and Pukekohe are able to proceed, the Parnell station will be constructed, we will see more gating of stations and route protection for the very important Airport Rail project can proceed. Rail crossing separation will also be able to proceed. The $5.9 million should cover the replacement of the Sarawia St crossing (outside Newmarket) with a bridge over Cowie St, outside Newmarket station, which is becoming very congested with long waits for cars, and delays for trains waiting at Newmarket station.

PROJECT NAME 15/16 16/17 17/18 TOTAL YEARS 1-3
Rail projects 49.4
AIFS – installation of gates at stations 0 1.6 0 1.6
Te Mahia Station Upgrade 1 1.1 0 2.1
Takanini Station Upgrade 1 1.1 0 2.1
Westfield Station Upgrade 1 1.1 0 2.1
Station Amenity Improvements 0.7 2 2.1 4.8
SMART (Airport Rail – Planning and Route Protection) 2.6 0.5 5.5 8.6
Pukekohe Station Upgrade 9.9 0 0 9.9
Parnell Station 0 0 12.3 12.3
Rail Crossing Separation (including Newmarket Crossing) 3.8 2.1 0 5.9

Overall these projects combine to deliver significant improvements of public transport, walking and cycling over the next 3 years. Best of all this can be done less than 30% of the cost of the total Auckland Plan.

Please visit for more information, and read our full report here. An quick-submit form will be available on Monday so you can easily submit feedback to the Long Term Plan in favour of the Essential Budget.