Time to cut the kerb parking

A trend I and others have been noticing lately is an ever increasing number of vehicles parking on the kerb or footpath – and it’s really starting to annoy me. It ranges from a couple of tires up on the edge of the kerb to full blown parking over footpaths and blocking pedestrians. From what I can tell a couple of common reasons seem to be

  • the presence of yellow no park lines where it seems that some drivers think that if they mount the kerb it doesn’t really count as parking
  • trying to take up less space on the road, perhaps trying to give other drivers more space to reduce the chance of their vehicle being side-swiped (I can’t imagine this happens often).

Or course in both situations the result is it’s primarily those on foot who suffer, sometimes even having to walk out on to busy roads to get around the vehicle. For someone like me able bodied like me that’s primarily an inconvenience but for other segments of society such as some of those with prams/small children, those with disabilities or the elderly it can be a real safety risk, especially if the vehicle also blocks ramps on to the road.

Here are just a few examples I and others have seen recently however there are likely to be multiple examples every day where this occurs.

Outside Countdown Takapuna, it’s not like there wasn’t a near empty parking lot 10m away (just to the right of the image. I’ve also regularly seen small trucks in the same spot delivering things.

Kerb Parking 1

These guys couldn’t find a carpark so they made one up (they were also sitting in the car and weren’t too polite about me pointing out they were blocking a footpath)

Kerb Parking 4

This driver and their boat blocked not just the footpath but the cycle lane too.

Kerb Parking 5

“Its ok, the hazard lights are on” This was another driver who was very abusive at the suggestion he shouldn’t have been parking here.

Kerb Parking 6

And a few examples from twitter

High St footpaths are narrow enough without this happening

Trailers seem to be a common occurrence

As are couriers

https://twitter.com/aw_nz/status/608871069793976320

Looks like a ladder on the roof, tradie?

Deliveries here are obviously a challenge but perhaps not delivering at 8:30am when people are walking to work might be a good idea.

Kerb Parking 3-1

The loading zone was full so the driver decided to wait, blocking the footpath – again Countdown Takapuna.

Kerb Parking 2

5 Star removals, 0 star parkers

To their credit when the cases in the CBD at least have been raised on twitter, Auckland Transport have been fairly quick to say they’ll get a parking warden out as soon as possible but my concern is the hundreds of other times these situations aren’t reported and/or they are in areas without parking wardens nearby. AT seem more than happy to put on advertising and gimmicks encouraging pedestrians to cross the road safely so there should be no reason they can’t also put effort into stamping out this potentially dangerous practice.

Are you noticing an increase in kerb/footpath parking and what do you think needs to happen to address it?

A Random Assortment of Charts

A random assortment of charts from data that I regularly collect but which don’t often warrant their own post.

That downward spike in fuel prices a few months ago didn’t last too long

Petrol Prices 2015-07-17

Average traffic volumes over the harbour bridge are up slightly – an increase of 0.9% over this time last year – but still below what they were a decade ago. For an explanation on why there is a new and old count see this post.

Monthly AHB - 2015-06

The road toll is creeping back up. The 12 months to the end of June were up 11% on the same time the year before. Note: back in the mid-late 1980’s it was over 800 in a year so this is an improvement but still way too many people killed and injured on our roads.

Road Toll by Month - 2015-06

Airport passenger volumes continue to increase, now over 15 million passengers a year pass through the airport. Of the 4 million international arrivals, 1.9 million are New Zealanders (I assume a similar number of departures are too).

Auckland Airport Passengers 2015-06

Wellington patronage data for June is now available and shows modest growth of 2% for the year. The strongest growth is on the rail network at just over a 4% increase in patronage.

2015-06 - WLG - Total Patronage

On the issue of rail, a year ago the Auckland rail network carried less passengers than the Wellington network however (11.4m vs 11.6m) however the huge growth in Auckland has dramatically turned the tables.

Auckland vs Wellington Rail Patronage

While still on rail, here’s the results for each month shown over a calendar year – highlighting just how much larger patronage is this year compared to previous years.

2015-06 - Monthly Patronage Calendar year

Lastly on PT, how we’re tracking against the Auckland Plan target of doubling patronage from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022 (we’re just over 78 million now). After a slow start, patronage now seems to be tracking at a similar level – albeit with a lower number – to the Auckland Plan target. If the current trend continued we’d probably end up with around 130 million trips.

2015-06 - Patronage vs Auckland Plan Target

AM peak cycling counts from 9 of ATs automated cycle counters shows numbers continue to rise.

2015-06 - AM Peak Cycle counts

AT July Board Meeting

On Monday the Auckland Transport board hold their next board meeting and as I normally do, I’ve gone through the reports to see what’s being discussed. Starting with the closed session we have a number of topics that could be quite interesting. These include:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP) –  I assume discussing the changes based on the updated RPTP consultation they conducted recently
  • Media Advertising – Given it’s coming from the PT team it seems to be about how AT advertise PT in the media.
  • CRL Business Case Summary – This should be interesting. I wonder if it is something new that will soon be released to the public or is a rehash of the old business cases.

Items for Noting

  • Infringement Revenue – I assume this will be discussing what happens with infringement revenue
  • LRT Stakeholder Engagement Plans – AT are continuing to progress their LRT plans (and a tender closes today for a Technical Advisor for the project) and so engagement with stakeholders is bound to increase. This appears to be information on how they’ll do that engagement.

On to the main report and first up are the project updates.

Te Atatu Road Upgrade – It appears that since the report was written the contract for this $30 million project has been awarded to Higgens Contractors and work starts 4 August. The project effectively widened to provide a flush median and sporadic on road unprotected cycle lanes and shared paths as well as replaces the roundabout at the intersection with Edmonton and Flanshaw Roads with signals.

K Road Cycleway – Around a year after we last heard anything there’s finally a mention in the board paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t give us info on when it might actually start being built.

K Rd Cycleway

An artist impression from last year. I believe the design has evolved a lot since this

Eastern Rail Cycleway (Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive) – The report says the NZTA should be awarding the contract to construct the first stage from Glen Innes to St Johns Rd by the end of this month while design and consent works continue on the rest of the project.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape – Construction starts mid-August on an upgrade of Onehunga Mall. The first improvements will be to the footpaths.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept impression

Mission Bay Street Upgrade – An upgrade of Tamaki Dr in front of the block of shops to the east of Patterson Ave in Mission Bay is also planned. The report just says they will be widening of a section of Mission Bay’s town centre and I can only assume they mean of the footpaths. Consultation will happen this year but construction won’t start till next year after the Christmas season. This is what a local board report says

The proposal is to widen the footpath, by removing the car parks along that stretch of Tamaki Drive. There will be a new mobility park installed in Patterson Ave, as a result of removing the existing mobility car park. Parking on Patterson Ave will remain as it is, with exception of the allocation of the mobility park. This will require the use of two existing car parks.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – The detailed design is complete. There is currently a tender out for construction which closes mid-August and be awarded in September. Completion is now not till June 2016 and the new network for South Auckland continues to be on hold till this project is finished.

Otahuhu interchange

AMETI – Movement appears to be happening with the extension of the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga along with discussions of how it travels through Pakuranga

Lodgement of the Stage 2A NoR for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga (Ti Rakau Drive) is pending resolution of the cultural mitigation process; this is expected by late July to permit on-going dialogue between lead iwi Ngati Paoa and other relevant iwi.

A joint review of the AMETI delivery strategy with regards to the timing of the Reeves Road flyover and Stage 2B (busway between Pakuranga and Botany) components has been carried out between AT, Council and the NZ Transport Agency, with final dialogue scheduled for July.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St Level Crossing) – AT say in August they will be seeking approval to lodge a notice of requirement for the project however that means it will still have to go through a considerable process before it is built. This is important as AT claim it’s the one thing that’s stopping them from being able to increase the frequency on the Western Line.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

On to other areas

Some new ads for the benefits of bus lanes. This is an area I think AT have been doing very well in lately.

Bus Lane Ads 2015-07

Moving on to the projects and initiates that make up AT’s key strategic priorities.

Ticketing and Fares – AT have giving some a high level summary of the response to the integrated fares consultation a few months ago. All up 1556 submissions were received and the broad results are below.

  • Do you think the proposed zone boundaries are about right? Yes 60% No 20%
  • Do you think the proposed products are about right? Yes 51% No 37%

We won’t know the final outcome and any changes that would be made till later this year.

Electric trains – In total 54 trains are in the country and of those 47 have been accepted for carrying passengers. The last three sets arrive early August and all trains will be on the network by the end of the year

New Network – at the time of writing the report there were over 1000 submissions on the network for the North Shore. Consultation for the Isthmus and East Auckland is being targeted for September/October. The first area to go live will be Hibiscus Coas in October this year.

Capacity – The first two of Howick & Eastern’s 15 double deckers have come off the production line in Scotland. They will arrive for testing in October and then the remaining ones will be built in Tauranga. Ritchies have 18 double deckers on order and I’m aware one is already on the network.

Infrastructure – There are a number of bus priority improvements that are due to start or be completed this month

  • Onewa Road T3 lane (city bound) – construction progressing and due to be completed in July
  • Park Road bus lane (hospital to Carlton Gore Road) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Parnell Road bus lane (St Stephens to Sarawia Street – outbound) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road transit lanes – internal consultation completed – external consultation commenced
  • Great North Road bus lanes (New Lynn to Ash Street) – final concept plans completed – consultation underway
  • Totara Avenue signal removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange; construction due to be completed in July
  • Esmonde Road bus lane – construction to commence July

Customer Experience – Some more things for bus users not to look forward to

AT’s partner for bus shelters, Adshel, are launching 35 digital screens at prominent Auckland bus shelter locations, in a move that will offer advertisers unrivalled impact and targeting opportunities and in line with global leaders like London, San Francisco and Stockholm, where roadside digital advertising has seen large demand. Spanning sites across the Auckland CBD and key fringe suburbs such as Ponsonby and Mission Bay, the new format provide more opportunities for advertisers, and this will increase the revenue share available for AT.

NZTA OIA Response on Additional Harbour Crossing

Prompted by the news that the NZTA is tendering work for route protection of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), I initiated an OIA request to the NZTA which has now been responded to.

I requested, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport:

1. A statement defining the land transport problem or issue that the proposed AWHC solution is attempting to address.
2. The studies and comparative assessments of alternative solutions that the NZTA has conducted, including, but not restricted to, an electrified rail only crossing of the Waitemata Harbour between the Auckland isthmus and the North Shore.

The NZTA responded with the following PDF documents:

  • Attachment A: Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Preliminary Business Case, January 2011. The business case includes a statement outlining the problem which the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is attempting to address (refer to ‘Description of Service Need’ on page 9)
  • Attachment B: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study Phase 1: summary report option short listing, November 2007
  • Attachment C: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study 2008: Study Summary Report, April 2008

Question 1: What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?

The Description of Service Need is this:

statementofserviceneed

What stands out here is the statement that the “AHB currently provides the only direct, cross-harbour vehicle link between the CBD and the North Shore.”  Resiliency seems to be a major driver behind a solution which supports six lanes of general traffic in a tunnel, with the possibility of rail at some indeterminate point in the future. What is odd is that there is no mention in any of the supplied documents of the Western Ring Route, a $2bn project adding resiliency and reducing demand on the existing Harbour Bridge which, in the NZTA’s own words, will “create a seamless motorway between Manukau and Albany”.  This is due for completion in phases in the next few years.

There are also the usual predictions of increasing traffic volumes, which threaten to “adversely impact on the length and reliability of travel times”. Quite why it is vital to minimise the travel times of single occupant cars isn’t explained.  Regardless, the Business Case uses traffic volumes in 2008 as the basis of forecasting, before the Northern Busway had a chance to make much of an impact.

traffic volumes

However, as Matt pointed out in this post, traffic volumes across the bridge have stubbornly stayed at 2008 levels, at least up until 2014.

AHB Annual Volumes to 2014

And that pretty much sums up the statement of need. As far as analysis of the need for mass rapid transit goes, there’s this analysis of the Busway:

Forecast demand for the Busway indicates that the morning peak hour flows into the CBD could increase to 250 buses per hour in 2041, representing a 138% increase over the 2009 volumes. This figure is the recommended target capacity for the Busway system, representing 12,000 passenger movements per hour6. However, achieving the target capacity is currently hindered by capacity constraints close to the CBD where the provision of dedicated bus facilities is more expensive and bus volumes are at their highest. One of the advantages of a new crossing would be the ability to have dedicated bus lanes across the AHB which would maintain a high level of trip reliability for passenger transport users.

On rail, the Business Case assumes a rail link between Gaunt Street Station in the Wynyard Quarter (underground) and Akoranga Station (at grade). The basis for modelling the tunnel is this diagram:

tunnel map

Construction cost alone of the combined tunnel is $4.6bn in 2010 dollars, with a total nominal cost over a 30 year period calculated as $12bn for the tunnel, including all capital expenditure and operating costs, with a risk factor as well:

nominal costs

The Business Case document comes up with a BCR of 0.4 for the combined tunnel option, including wider economic benefits and not including tolling.  Not so much a Business Case for the proposed AWHC then, but more a massive red flag suggesting  that not building the proposed tunnel is actually more economically beneficial for Auckland.  Even more worryingly, even though there is an assumption that the motorway will be widened to four lanes between Esmonde and Northcote road, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of how the capacity of the Central Motorway Junction will be increased to cope with the additional three lanes of traffic each way that a new tunnel crossing will provide for.

Incidentally, transport modelling and the Cost Benefit Analysis excluded rail (p.25)

A parallel work stream to this study — The Network Plan — undertook an assessment of the longterm capacity of the existing Busway and concluded that a rail crossing was not required within the timeframes considered for the CBA. As such, the transport modelling excluded the modelling of rail, and the CBA includes costs for the roading component of the crossings only (i.e. the cost for the rail tunnel is excluded).

There is an interesting discussion on tolling (up to $8 each way modelled), but perhaps that is best left for another post.

Question 2: What alternatives have been evaluated?

The Business Case takes it as a given that capacity for additional vehicles is required.  This stems from the earlier options papers, which do indeed include an examination of a rail only crossing, which is the second question of the OIA request. Attachment C covers three short-listed options, with variations for each:

options

The study concludes (p.43) that a combined road / rail tunnel option is best – Option 2C.

summary

So although a rail tunnel was the best passenger transport option, the study recommends a combined road / rail tunnel. The option evaluation process appears not to have used a CBA / Economic Evaluation Manual approach, and it is difficult to tell exactly why option 2C is favoured over a rail only crossing. There is no comparison of BCRs between the rail only and combined tunnel options.  Presumably there is a strong weighting for resilience, but again discussion about the Western Ring Route is non-existent. However, the study also carries this warning on p.45:

Limited spare capacity on the strategic and regional arterial networks on both sides of the Harbour, together with the need to move towards a more sustainable transport system, mean it will be neither practical nor desirable to provide sufficient cross harbour road capacity to match demand. Any additional connectivity should therefore be provided to the best practicable standard, that is, in balance with the remainder of the Auckland road network, and in a cost effective manner.

And cost should probably be one of the most important factors. Page 36 has a table of costs for the different options.

optioncosts

A rail only tunnel was costed at about a quarter of the cost of a road / rail tunnel.

In summary, I don’t really think NZTA’s solution is going to work.  By design, it will increase the number of single occupant cars in the CBD and surrounding motorway networks and, according to their own analysis, make the economy of Auckland worse than if the project doesn’t proceed.  (And that isn’t even considering the impact of tolls on the economy.)

I don’t accept claims that the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail either.  You only need to look at the history of future-proofing in Auckland (think Te Iririrangi Drive or the Manukau Harbour Crossing) to know that most likely it will never happen.

The taxation and expenditure of over $4bn dollars could make a real difference to Auckland if it was spent on the right things.  I think Aucklanders should get a say on this. Allowing the AWHC route protection to proceed in its current form, at a cost of tens of millions, is the thin edge of the wedge. If planning starts for a tunnel for single occupant cars, then that is what we’ll end up with.

This isn’t urgent. We’ve got time to get it right.

Waterview Connection June update

The latest time-lapse and images from the huge Waterview Connection project. There is also a project update here.

Once again the images really highlight the vast scale of the new interchange being built at Waterview.

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 1

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 3

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 4

The tunnel portal at the southern end

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 2

And these are of the old Wiri Quarry which is being filled in with the muck from the tunnels is sent

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 5

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 6

Submit on the East West Connections

Post from Ryan Mearns of Generation Zero

In June NZTA and Auckland Transport finally came out with a new proposed route for the East-West Connections, which is a new road route long pushed by business groups that would link SH1 and SH20 either north or south of the Manukau Harbour. An earlier proposed route that cut through the heart of Mangere was dropped in January 2014 after a huge public outcry, and an excellent local campaign. This new route effectively involved joining SH1 at Syliva Park with SH20 at Onehunga, with a direct connection that looks a lot like a motorway.

East-West Preferred Option

This area does suffer from traffic congestion, and does have a large amount of truck traffic, much of it leading to the major Kiwirail terminal and inland port along Neilson Street. So this is one area where we would support some investment to reduce congestion hotspots. However NZTA admitted that it would cost over $1 billion dollars. This is a huge amount of money, and for example is roughly equivalent to the government contribution of the CRL. There is already severe strain on the transport budget from the government spend-up on RONS and the Auckland accelerated motorway projects, so this is bad news for those of us that want the government to progress projects such as the Northern Busway extensions and North-Western busway.

 

The primary concerns we have for the project are that;

  1. The design of the proposed new motorway makes it even more difficult to build rail to the airport. To ensure either light or heavy rail can one day go to the airport, any designs for the motorway should preserve the rail corridor.
  2. The only public transport upgrades proposed are discontinuous shared bus and truck lanes which are poor quality and potentially unsafe. The project should focus on improving public transport in the area to reduce congestion with a network of high frequency bus services with continuous bus lanes.
  3. Current bike infrastructure in the area is disconnected and of low quality. The solution is to provide high quality bike connections linking Onehunga, Penrose, Mangere, Mangere Bridge and Otahuhu.
  4. The new motorway proposes to block off the limited public access there is to the Manukau east of Onehunga, with the cycleway on the land side of the motorway. The project should not have to reclaim the Manukau Harbour and should ensure any works near the harbour improve public access, rather than separate the community from the harbour.
  5. Congestion is an issue in the area, but a billion dollar motorway is not the way to go. The Government should focus any road spending on cheap upgrades to fix localised congestion spots.

NZTA are taking feedback on the East West Connections until the end of Friday. They do have an online form, however it bizarrely focusses on the bus-truck lanes, which are effectively an entirely different project. To help people get the key points across Generation Zero have created a quick submit form, which will send your feedback straight to NZTA.

Click here to go to the form to submit your feedback to NZTA.

More information on the project is available on the NZTA and Auckland Transport websites.

How much should we value resilience?

A few months back, I took a critical look at some dodgy arguments about the need for expensive security measures for cities to be “resilient” against terrorism. The whole thing got me thinking: how should we value protection against low-probability events?

This is quite relevant to transport policy at the moment. I’ve seen a number of references to resilience in discussions of major transport projects:

Today’s official construction start on the Transmission Gully Motorway marks a major step towards a safer and more resilient transport link in and out of Wellington.

In 2013 the Government announced its support for a tunnel in preference to a bridge. “With increasing demands on Auckland’s transport network, the Government will continue to work closely with its local government partners to provide a resilient network and wider transport choices,” Mr Bridges says.

But while resilience seems like a good thing, it seems to be more of a slogan than a careful piece of analysis. The whole discussion sometimes reminds me of this commercial featuring my favourite B-movie star, Bruce Campbell:

“If you have it, you don’t need it. If you need it, you don’t have it. If you have it, you need more of it. If you have more of it, you don’t need less of it.”

But is more resilience always good? Do we need more of it? Or do we already have too much of it? And how would we know?

First, it’s worth defining “resilience”. According to Mirriam-Webster dictionary, resilience means

the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens

In transport, resilience seems to be defined as the ability to respond flexibly to unlikely or low-probability events. For example, here’s a picture of Tamaki Drive during some floods back in April 2014.

Tamaki Drive isn’t built with a massive barrier against the sea, so when a tropical cyclone hit the North Island, things got wet. Drivers were able to get home using other roads further up the hill, but it took much longer than usual. But, as this gent on a paddleboard shows, individuals came up with a range of innovative solutions to the short-term outage:

Paddleboarding on Tamaki Drive

So with that in mind, how should we value our ability to be resilient to low-probability, potentially high-impact events?

One approach would be to calculate the value of resilience using actuarial techniques. Now, I’m not an actuarial scientist, but I’ve worked with people whose job it is to assess financial risks and picked up a few concepts in the process. An actuarial assessment of risk is conceptually pretty simple. It involves:

  • Calculating the impact (i.e. net cost) of a given adverse event,
  • Calculating the likelihood (i.e. probability over a given time period) of that event, and
  • Multiplying the two together to obtain the expected value of protecting yourself against that risk.

So how does this work in practice. Suppose we’re dealing with a hypothetical case – the Auckland Harbour Bridge example mentioned above. Let’s say that we’re interested in making Auckland “resilient” against volcanic activity knocking out the existing bridge. So let’s make up some figures, and assume that:

  • If the bridge was destroyed, it would take 1 year to get another one in place
  • There are around 140,000 working people who live north of the bridge. Let’s assume that those people earn an average of $60,000 annually, and, furthermore, that their income would be reduced by 50% if the bridge was out. (Either due to reduced employment or increased cost and inconvenience of longer commutes around the Western Ring Route.)
  • The Auckland volcano field has erupted at least 53 times, and the first eruption occurred around 248,000 years ago. This implies that we can expect one eruption every ~4,000 years, on average. So there’s perhaps a 1% chance that an eruption happens within the next 40 years.

Let’s be generous and assume that the next volcano will definitely destroy the existing bridge while leaving an adjacent crossing untouched. Multiplying these figures together, we find that the actuarial value of a second, volcano-proof harbour crossing is: (1 year outage)*(140,000 workers)*($60,000/year)*(50% loss in income)*(1% probability of volcano) = $42 million.

Frankly, that’s not a lot of benefit compared with the cost of a new harbour crossing. This is obviously a rather crude hypothetical example, but so far it doesn’t look like we should place that much weight on resilience to low-probability events. Even if we made a higher estimate of the cost of a bridge-destroying natural disaster, it wouldn’t change the outcome very much as a disaster probably won’t happen within our evaluation period.

However, there are some other factors at work. The first is that people are risk-averse and as a result may be willing to pay “over the odds” to avoid low-probability events. (The existence of profits in the insurance industry is good evidence for this hypothesis – people usually pay more for insurance than insurance companies pay out in claims.)

Returning to the Auckland Harbour Bridge hypothetical, it might be the case that Aucklanders, especially those living on the North Shore, are happy to pay more than $42 million to avoid the unlikely outcome of a volcano cutting one link to the shore. But how much more?

It’s hard to say without data, but I suspect that while people might be willing to pay (say) 20% or 50% above the odds, they wouldn’t be willing to pay 1,000% more. This is probably a productive angle for research, possibly with surveys or psychological studies.

A second factor at work is that we might not be able to accurately predict the likelihood or impact of some events. Nassim Taleb popularised the concept of “black swan events“, which should really be called “white swan events” in Australia and New Zealand. He points out that we often lack a good understanding of the statistical distribution of risks. This can be due to the fact that some events are outside the range that we have previously observed, or due to the fact that there can be a bunch of hard-to-predict indirect impacts in complex systems.

I’m not going to deal with the probability distribution issue that Taleb raises – I’m not a risk expert! – but I’d like to come back to the point about indirect impacts in a later post. Essentially, as the paddle-boarder on Tamaki Drive shows, people have a lot of different ways to react to a transport outage, so the net cost may actually be lower than we might initially assume.

How do you think we should value resilience in our transport system?

What’s happening with VKT?

We’ve talked for some time now about how people have been choosing to drive less and how it’s a trend that has been noticed across much of the developed world. The increases in how far we’d travel in cars were so predictable you could almost be safe betting you’re house on them. The chart below is from the Ministry of Transport. While we’ve only recorded Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) since 2001 the two fuel sales and consumption series are used as a proxy for vehicle growth. Note: VKT figures come from the odometer readings of cars when they get a warrant of fitness.

2015 GPS - Travel Demand & Fuel

Our road evaluation process even used to have a default growth rate set at 4% per annum. That all changed in the middle of the last decade as many countries including New Zealand saw that growth stall. That’s had a huge impact on projections as the Ministry of Transport has started to acknowledge over the last year or so.

ResizedImage600304-FutureDemand-Diagram1

Looking around the NZTA website the other day I came across the 2014 VKT data – including at a regional level and the results are quite interesting.

First up here’s the total VKT for all of New Zealand. As you can see it’s gone up slightly (1.0%). You may also notice it’s a little different to the graph above, I’m not quite sure why but the same issue exists on the MoT data set where the overall result doesn’t match the regional data.

2014 VKT - NZ

Looking specifically at Auckland there is quite an interesting trend developing. We’ve talked a lot in the past about changes in VKT per capita but the argument has sometimes come back that even if people travel less per capita, increases in population will negate that and more driving will occur overall. Yet what we’re seeing is that over the last three years VKT in Auckland has been flat and that’s before we take into account population growth – which has been high as shown.

2014 VKT - AKL VKT + Pop

For sake of comparison the graph below includes Christchurch, Waikato and Wellington as the next three largest regions. You can see there’s been continued growth in the first two while VKT in Wellington remains flat.

2014 VKT - WLG,CHCH,WAI VKT

 

The results above are just the total VKT for each region, so how do they look on a per capita basis. The chart below shows this. You can see that there are some quite different stories. Wellington continues to trend downwards while Auckland and NZ as a whole are also down slightly. For Auckland, VKT per capita is about the same now as it was in 2001. At the other end of the spectrum the trend for both Christchurch and Waikato is that people are travelling further. In Christchurch I suspect this is largely due to the population becoming increasingly spread out as a result of the earthquakes.

2014 VKT - per capita

There are quite a number of people who will suggest that the results above are just being caused by an economic blip and will return to strong growth again in coming years as the economy improves. Additionally there’s also been a narrative emerging from the likes of the NZTA that investing in roads is about improving the economy and productivity while investing in PT and active modes are just about improving choice. This was highlighted most recently in the NLTP where the NZTA say 55% of spending is going towards “economic growth and productivity”, 23% to safety and 22% to “travel choice, health and environment”. There are also comments such as this:

Within urban areas, increasing the capacity of the network to move more freight, particularly to ports, airports, freight hubs and new development sites, will improve productivity.

In Auckland, for example, the proposed investment in the East-West link will provide more efficient, predictable and safer freight journeys to and from the Onehunga-Penrose area in south Auckland.

So can we blame the lack of VKT growth on the economy?

In a word No. With the exception of a blip around 2008/09 GDP growth from Auckland has been strong. In addition the number of people employed in has also risen

2014 VKT - AKL Econ 2

Of course there is some modes which are growing and the strongest of these is rail which has had annual patronage increases of over 20% the last year. Across all PT modes the per capita growth in kilometres travelled on PT has increased by 188% since 2001 – and the 2015 data is likely to be significantly higher still. The chart below shows this in comparison to the flat VKT volumes. Of course PT travel is still only a small proportion of overall travel but it is one that’s growing and will likely continue to do so.

2014 VKT - AKL VKT vs PTKT

Can increases in the use of public transport and active modes keep the current trends of flat or even falling VKT going?

 

Reviewing Road Projects

Post implementation reviews (PIRs) are an important step to seeing whether projects achieve what they were intended to and to learn what can be improved for future projects. Every year the NZTA conduct PIRs on a sample of projects and for a few years now the NZTA have been publishing the results online. I’ve covered them before here and last year Peter has looked at the trends in them here. Now the results of from 2012/13 and 2013/14 are online and they make for interesting reading. Below are some of the interesting points I’ve picked up from a few of the ones I’ve read.

SH20 Manukau Harbour Crossing

This project duplicated the existing Manukau Harbour Bridge allowing for 8 lanes of traffic plus bus shoulders as well as widening approach roads and a few other changes. The PIR says the business case for the project forecast that 97% of the benefits would come from travel time savings, 1.6% from reduced crashes, 1.3% from vehicle operating cost savings and 0.1% from reduced emissions (quite how you can get emissions reductions when traffic volumes increase is beyond me).

The report says travel times between the airport to Hillsborough Rd were forecast to reduce by 43% however based on their estimates actual travel time savings are more like 37%. They then that’s a good result as traffic volumes increased by 14%. Unfortunately that in itself is way less than expected as shown by the graph below which looks remarkably similar to some other predictions we’ve seen.

Manukau Harbour Crossing Traffic Volume actual vs prediction

Traffic growth predictions ended up ~45% above the actual volumes of 102k vehicles. I can only assume that had traffic predictions been met that that the travel time savings predicted might have evaporated away. While a few reasons are given for the traffic predictions being wrong, the main blame is aimed at the traffic models and the assumptions within them.

There are some positives though, safety has improved with the annual crash rate falling by 28% which is above the regional average of 24% – although they note this isn’t statistically significant. The biggest positive is the cost which at $218 million was 19% less than estimated ($268m) which is in part due to the project being completed seven months early.

SH20 Mount Roskill Extension

Closely related to the Manukau Harbour Crossing and built partially at the same time, the Mt Roskill Extension saw SH20 extended from Hillsborough Rd by 4.5km though to Maioro St. Again the vast majority of expected benefits (99.34%) came from travel time savings.

The report notes that compared to the 2011 traffic predictions, the actual volumes were 9% lower – although that has grown in 2011-13. Importantly these motorway projects are often partially justified as taking traffic off local roads. The report notes that of the limited monitoring available, traffic volumes on local roads in the area were 21% higher than forecast meaning just a 6% reduction in volumes when it should have been a 22% decrease. So less traffic on the motorway and more stayed on local roads than expected – that’s not a great outcome. Amazingly they also note that no detailed project specific traffic model was produced, instead relying only on high level strategic modelling. This isn’t the kind of behaviour you’d expect for a project costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

There is also quite an interesting comment around the provision of PT. They note that the original documents including the paper that went to the board for funding approval noted that 3m shoulders would be added that could be used as bus lanes if needed. However as built the shoulders are “currently of variable width or absent at some points”.

Another area where the project didn’t perform well was with construction. The project ended up costing $227 million which was 22% higher than the $186m forecast which is blamed on ground conditions, associated earthworks and other items not fully specified or considered in the original tender and consent process. In addition the project was completed one year later than initially expected.

Lake Road Widening

This one is a local road project and involved widening Lake Rd on the North Shore between Esmonde Rd and Hauraki Corner which was said to be to relieve congestion. The reviewers say that in their view, the main issue with Lake Rd is that traffic queues on Esmonde Rd to get on to the motorway but that fact wasn’t recognised in the brief. I guess the planners and engineers involved had their horse blinkers on when working on the project, only focusing on the direct aspect they were looking at.

Economic benefits for the project primarily came from travel time savings (63%), reduced driver frustration (23%) – not sure how this is measured or impacts the economy. Like the other project traffic volumes haven’t been realised and the data available suggests it has actually declined.

Lake Rd Widening Volumes

The project was originally conceived as a single project but ended up being split in two stages. The total cost was initially $11.8 million however the figure was revised to $16.5 in a new assessment after the small first stage was completed. It ended up coming in 2% less than the revised figure but that was still 37% higher than initially expected

Bethlehem Township Improvements – Tauranga

The NZTA fast tracked the widening 400m of SH2 through the Bethlehem Township after the Tauranga City Council received approval to build a roundabout at the western end. They predicted that would “substantially exacerbate existing congestion problems at Bethlehem unless the highway was widened”. Travel time savings made up 88% of the BCR for widening the road.

Despite the widening travel times have actually increased and embarrassingly have done so at the same time that traffic volumes have decreased – as shown in the charts below.

Bethlehem Township Travel times

Bethlehem Township Traffic volumes

Perhaps things would have been much worse without the widening but it certainly doesn’t seem to have lived up to expectations.

Mangatawhiri Deviation

Not all projects have had bad outcomes though. One of the good ones is the Mangatawhiri Deviation which replaced a notoriously dangerous section of SH2. Despite the project cutting 3km off the existing route, 61% of the benefits came from improved safety with travel time savings making up 21%. The impact of the project on crashes is clearly shown below. They also not there have been three minor crashes on the old road which is now a local road.

Mangatawhiri Deviation Crash record

The shorter and straighter length of road has reduced travel times (although they say there is no reliable base line info to compare with) however they also point out that the exception to this is over holiday periods when there are huge increases in traffic volumes.

The project also came in more than 6 months early and $2.9 million (6%) under the original funding allocation. I’ve long viewed the Mangatawhiri deviation as an example of a project we should be using in other places such as instead Puhoi to Wellsford. It’s also a shame that the current focus on building the RoNS has delayed similar projects east and west of this one.

All up these and some of the ones I haven’t covered highlight some significant issues with our planning and assessment processes. That doesn’t create a huge amount of confidence in me that the same issues won’t be repeated with projects such as the East-West Link or an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing – projects that have costs orders of magnitude larger than the ones above. In the case of the latter I certainly don’t think the NZTA should even be contemplating trying to predict things like traffic volumes until Waterview has opened and they have a good handle of the impacts it has.

Letter to NZTA

 BRITOMART JULY 15_3753
After the launch of the National Land Transport Programme in Auckland last week  I wrote the following letter to NZTA with our concerns focussed on two future projects in particular. We have already received a reply confirming engagement on the issues raised:
We are all having quite a bit of trouble taking all the transport institutions seriously over RTN designations and intentions. The failure for any action to have been taken over a route through Mangere and the Airport over the last decade, and the constant reductions of any available space for a rail ROW there, or at least one not prohibitively expensive, make all the assurances we hear increasingly hard to believe.
 
Now we are expected to have no concerns at all about a process which shows every sign of just being another massive state highway with a little pretend drawing of a train in the sump of a massive road tunnel.
 
Tommy Parker confirmed today that buses on the bridge are to be the RTN solution, ie what there is now.
 
Our view is that this puts the cart before the horse. NZTA should not be starting with a solution without any clear description of the problem. We do not see why it needs a designation over a stretch of water to analyse what may be missing across here. Although it is not the designation that is the problem, but the lack of a needs focused, creative, and open minded analysis that troubles us.
 
As to us it is clear that what is missing from the existing bridges is a real RTN route [assuming SkyPath happens]. Therefore we expect to see real exploration of what delivering rail only tunnels [or bridge] would do to shape demand here. A rail system would certainly be higher capacity than road tunnels, and, well planned, would also likely be much cheaper and stageable. Adjacent rail systems do add resilience as the TransBay Tunnels did in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco. And not do have all of the disbenefits of the massive increase in vehicle numbers throughout the whole city [congestion!] that more traffic lanes will.
 
We know than any additional road capacity here would be a total disaster for the city, which we are currently de-carring, and the CMJ which is already full, and the North Shore local roads. We also know, and NZTA almost brags about this [see below], the main outcome would be a traffic inducement on a massive scale:
 
AWHC - Induced Demand
This is ‘decide and provide’ in a bad way, a huge programme of traffic creation; $6 Billion to get people out of buses and into the driver’s seat. What ever we build across this route will be used; what an amazing opportunity to choose to shape both demand and the city in a wholly positive way.
 
However the fact that NZTA is not currently allowed to spend on rail capex, and anyway really is mainly a State Highway provider and then is not calling for any outside expertise to explore rail systems is also not encouraging:
AWHC -Route Protection scope
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
 
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
 
We would like to meet with NZTA at the highest level to discuss this further.
 
We are extremely concerned that institutional momentum is building for a very very poor outcome for the city and country and are determined to improve this process.
 
We look forward to your reply,
 
kind regards