Driverless cars, sprawl and density

This is a guest post from reader Frank McRae

Google Self Driving Car

The emergence of driverless vehicle technology has created much excitement, and speculation about how these vehicles will affect the development of cities. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that a major consequence of driverless vehicles will be the outward sprawl of cities (Driverless cars to fuel suburban sprawl):

Here is the weirdest thing about this hypothetical future: where you live….you will be able to escape your cramped apartment in the city for a bigger spread farther away, offering more peace and quiet, and better schools for the children.

..there is something akin to a law of nature about new transportation technology: The faster humans move, the bigger and more sprawling our cities become.

While it is true that lower transport costs and faster travel speeds will generally incentivise the outward spread of the city there are other forces at play. I want to put forward the case that the outward spread of cities will not be an inevitable feature of driverless cars and that these vehicles can complement the ongoing intensification of cities.

Driverless cars are not viable without road pricing

Driverless technology will remove the labour cost of driving, and electric vehicle technology will significantly reduce the cost of fuel. While we don’t currently have road pricing, fuel and labour impose costs on the user that practically limit the amount of time their vehicle can be on the road. If there were driverless vehicles but no road pricing then the vehicles could be left on the road at almost no cost. Indeed if parking is priced, and road space for moving vehicles is not, then leaving vehicles circling the block with no occupant would be the rational thing to do. What would be the point of paying for parking or storage when empty vehicles could be left roaming the streets for free? It’s easy to imagine roads quickly descending into gridlock when the cost of leaving a vehicle on the road is so low. Road pricing would be a simple way to clear the roads of circling drive-bots.

While road pricing is a difficult political sell, the politics may shift when the alternative to pricing is completely dysfunctional roads. People generally don’t like paying for parking either, but it is politically palatable to charge for parking in centres when the alternative is the unavailability of parking spaces. Road pricing may become politically palatable when the alternative is roads gridlocked with autonomous vehicles.

Driverless cars will also improve the viability of road pricing by making it practically easy to calculate the distance travelled and to implement time of day charging. And driverless vehicles would remove the privacy case against GPS based road pricing as, for better or worse, users of on-demand driverless vehicles will already be giving up their privacy to the service provider.

Finally, electric powering will require a new source of funding to replace the fuel excise which goes towards funding the maintenance and upgrade of roads. Distance based road pricing can replace the fuel excise in a way that provides a much better link between funding and demand for infrastructure.

This distance based road pricing will provide a disincentive against living in outer suburbs.

Driverless cars will disrupt car ownership

Driverless cars will mostly be used through on-demand services. Uber has already provided the model for this, and it will not be a huge stretch to extend Uber’s model to driverless vehicles. Indeed Uber is already a major investor in driverless technology and is launching an autonomous taxi service in the US city of Pittsburgh.

If it is possible to get an affordable ride on-demand then why would anyone bother with the storage, insurance, and maintenance costs of car ownership? It seems likely that a major effect of the driverless revolution will be the end of car ownership for the majority of people. This disruption of car ownership will significantly reduce the need for car parking spaces. This has significant implications for the development of the city.

Driverless cars will remove the parking and traffic constraints on dense development

The need to accommodate parking sets design limitations on development, and minimum parking requirements create a regulatory barrier to intensifying housing where demand is highest. These limitations can reduce the financial viability of intensified developments. If on-demand driverless vehicles disrupt car ownership, development can be freed from these constraints.

Additionally, a major source of “community” objection to development is the effect of new dwellings on local parking availability and congestion. For example, a recently proposed development for an apartment tower in Glen Eden was opposed by the Local Board because of the potential traffic generation.

This is just one example but almost every development in Auckland (and elsewhere) is objected to on the grounds of traffic and parking. Also parking and congestion are a significant justification for the planning rules that limit density in the first place.

On-demand driverless vehicles will remove the real and perceived constraint that parking places on development. And the increased efficiency of driverless vehicles combined with road pricing will undermine using traffic as a reason for limiting and objecting to intensive development.

Electric vehicles will improve the amenity of central suburbs 

A major drawback of living centrally, and at density, in a car dominated city like Auckland is the air quality and noise disamenity caused by cars. The electric technology used in driverless vehicles will remove these problems making inner city suburbs a more pleasant place to live.

On-demand ride services will be better in the inner city than outer suburbs

Driverless technology will not change the fact that trips to outer suburbs will take longer and be more expensive than those in the inner city. And while passengers will be freed from the burden of driving themselves, driverless cars are unlikely to change people’s ultimate tolerance for being stuck in a vehicle for more than an hour.

Though it is difficult to predict what a ride in a taxi-bot will cost, an article in Bloomberg suggests that the average cost could be as low as 44 (US) cents per mile (1.6km). But the cost per kilometre could be much higher in outer suburbs to reflect the reduced likelihood of the vehicle picking up a return fare. So outer suburban travellers will not only have to pay a higher fare to reflect the greater distance, they may also have to pay for it at a higher rate.

The service is also likely to be of a lower quality in outer suburbs, with longer wait times due to the lower density of potential passengers. Higher density inner suburbs will have a larger pool of potential passengers and hence shorter wait times for a ride.

Conclusion

Trying to make predictions about an unpredictable future can be a foolish task, and many of the predictions made about driverless cars have been foolish indeed (Dump the cycleways – how driverless cars will save the world). But the impact driverless cars will have on the development of the city is not inevitable. As always, much of this depends on the policy settings we adopt. Driverless cars will not necessarily accelerate exurban sprawl and with the right policies there is plenty to suggest that these vehicles can complement the intensification of cities well.

Postcard from Bogota

Following a few days in Mexico City, I’ve had the pleasure of staying a week in Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is both the federal capital and the capital of Cundinamarca state, and while it probably doesn’t yet figure as a world capital of culture or clout, it certainly is a thriving mega city of regional importance.

Because of its position straddling the Andes, Colombia is a country with every climate conceivable, it has snow covered alps, temperate savannah, dense jungle, dry desert, not to mention both tropical Caribbean and temperate-maritime Pacific coasts.

The city itself sits on broad plain high up on the middle finger of the three-branched Andes mountains, in fact at 2,700m it’s high enough to cause altitude sickness in some people. The altitude gives the nominally tropical city a very mild temperate climate, with clear skies, low humidity and temperatures that sit around the high teens and low twenties every day of the year. You could call it the city of eternal Spring.
image
Bogota is big. At around 11.5 million people it is as populous as greater London, or all of New Zealand two and a half times over.

Bogota is also dense. The majority of inhabitants live in apartment towers, mid rise block or terraced house style developments. The north of the city has a very European feel, with four to six story apartments of brick or concrete on a grid of fairly narrow tree lined streets. If it weren’t for the language you could be in the Netherlands or Germany.

Curiously, the city is three sided. The original colonial centre was established on one edge of the plain at the foot of a great mountain range. It has since sprawled across the plain to the north, south and west, but not to the east on account of the mountains. This allows for one unique benefit: you can ride a cable car a further 400m up the mountain of Monseraté near downtown and take in the whole sprawling metropolis in a single vista, including the bizzare experience of standing on terra firma and looking down at the tops of fifty story skyscrapers in the commercial district far below. If the thin air doesn’t take your breath away, the view certainly will!

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Accordingly Bogota has basically two types of land use structure. A long, thin, but dense band of apartment towers runs for 40km north-south along the eastern edge of the plain, taking advantage of the Andes foothills to provide spectacular view back across the city. These buildings are accessed by a circuitous web of winding narrow switchback roads not too dissimilar to western Wellington. For the most part the wealthy live here in gated apartment communities, however dotted amongst them are university campuses (Bogota has dozens of them for some reason) and patches of impoverished and dangerous barrios similar to the famous favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

The other structure is on the plain itself, an enormous flat and regular grid of broad multi-lane avenues, filled with three to thirty storey buildings. Think Los Angeles but consistently taller. This is perhaps Bogota’s downfall: it land use is what can only be described as dense sprawl, and it’s transport system is entirely road based. Not surprisingly the traffic is truly horrendous. I have to laugh whenever people complain about Auckland’s supposedly worlds-worst traffic. Puh-lease. If you want bad traffic, take a city the same area as Auckland, with an entirely road based transport network… then add another ten million inhabitants all trying to drive at the same time.

Naturally Bogota has spend decades trying to accommodate it’s traffic with more, bigger roads. The city is covered in a massive amount of six, eight, ten lane avenues. They appear to have tried a bit of everything, separated motorways, limited access avenues, boulevards, frontage roads, slip lanes, underpasses, overpasses, one way streets, the works. The system almost works too… when conditions are perfect. However that almost never happens. It only takes one small crash, a truck parked illegally to unload, a taxi doing a u-turn or one of a thousand other small disruptions to infarct the system. This is perhaps the folly of huge roads for huge capacity, on an eight lane road one disruption clogs up eight times the traffic.

Transport here has an interesting socio-cultural element. From what I understand Bogotano society has six distinct classes with a broad spread of inequality, from the destitute poor up to the untouchable elite with money and connections above the law. For the middle classes, there is a great preoccupation with not sliding down the ladder. Few in the middle classes would ever dream of catching public transport as that is the domain of the underclass. Maintaining a private car is a necessary symbol of status regardless of the cost or the traffic, and if one does not drive they rely on cheap and ubiquitous taxis or town car services. Either way, not escape from the traffic is possible and it’s one form of private car all the way.

The transit wonks among us must now be thinking, but what about the Transmillennio? For the less frothy-mouthed readers, the Transmillennio is a now-famous busway system with half a dozen lines running along Bogota’s main arterials forming quite a wide reaching and effective network. This system is A grade busway of world class design. It is based around a system of dedicated, physically separated median busway lanes, some of which are grade separate at key intersections. The are combined with train-style island platform stations accessed by elaborate overpasses and footbridges. The busways themselves are serviced by special red colour high capacity trunk-only metro buses, very long vehicles with two or three articulated sections, high floors that match up with platform level, and four or even five double doors per bus. At the end of each of the busways there are huge interchanges where green-coloured feeder buses of conventional design connect the surrounding suburbs to the trunk busways. In that regard it really is metro system writ with rubber.

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So what is it like to use? I wouldn’t know myself, as I was consistently dissuaded from trying it by friends and family whenever I mentioned it. The locals advised it was too crowded, too dangerous, too much of a risk for any decent person to use. I do wonder if this is simply a hangover of the same cultural understanding that buses were for the poor and to be avoided. Indeed when I asked few of my advisors had ever set foot on the system. My one young cousin who did actually use it to get to university each day only complained that it was too crowded, and the station too far away from his apartment.

What we do know is that the system is indeed hugely popular and overcrowded, a victim of it’s own success. Preoccupations of class and status aside, hundreds of thousands of people use the system every day. For all its efficiency at beating traffic and it mega capacity buses ability to move the masses, the simple fact is it barely touches the sides of the transport task in Bogota. Imagine London with no tube, not overground, no suburban trains, no national rail, no DLR, no tramlink. Imagine a London with six busways as the only rapid transit. That is Bogota. They have a long way to go to turn the traffic situation around. So yes it is a massive success, and very worthwhile, but for Bogota it is just the start of fixing things.

So if the Transmillennio is so effective (if not comprehensive), one has to ask why we don’t build them in Auckland. Indeed we hear this quite often from certain politicians, why are we talking about CRL tunnels and trains and light rail, when the bus can do the job for half the price? It’s a good question, and one that deserves an evaluation. Nonetheless, the answer is pretty simple: space.

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The Transmillennio takes up space, lots of space. More space than we have. The basic cross section of these busways is two bus lanes either side of a median. That’s basically the full width of most of our main roads to start with. However, once you get to a stop the situation blows out again. Each of the stations has a large platform, then stopping lanes either side, then passing lane beside those again. That means a cross section of four bus lanes and the station, about 25 metres wide. Now as most of Auckland’s arterial roads are one chain wide (about 21m), building a Transmillennio in Auckland would require buying and demolishing all the buildings down one side of the street just to fit in the bus corridor, let alone any other traffic lanes, footpaths or street trees. Indeed, the one place we are looking at a multilane street busway, the AMETI corridor in east Auckland, they are planning to do exactly that.

So while we can do busways alongside motorways like we do on the North Shore (and hopefully the northwest), we can’t fit them in the street for the most part. This is why AT is looking at light rail, because for the same capacity LRT needs only two lanes and compact platforms, where the bus systems need four to manage the greater number of vehicles.

Bogota managed this by building into their existing avenues, which had huge wide medians in addition to three or four lanes in each direction. The Transmillennio got away without any land or building purchases by virtue of having huge road reserves to start with. In fact they had such wide corridors that they actually widened the roadways at the same time, adding extra lanes for traffic to offset the squeals of indignation about spending proper money on public transport. So in one way Bogota was lucky to have a fair whack of empty space effectively lying around, or arguably they were wasting land to start with and found a better use for it.

My end evaluation? The Transmillennio was a good move for Bogota that fits the city well and takes advantage of spatial resources, however it’s only the start of much more for fixing their transport issues.

Porte Cochere 2 – Pedestrians 0

While looking at Auckland Transport’s website I found they’d uploaded a number of plans relating to the City Rail Link (the same place I saw the K Rd image from this morning’s post). One of the documents showed the plans for Albert St after the CRL has been completed. The image below shows the section between Victoria St and Wellesley St and highlights what I think is a major issue, the pedestrian environment.

As you can see the future NDG development like the existing Crowne Plaza next to it have large Porte Cochere’s sucking vehicles off the street potentially at speed and all in an area where there is likely to be a lot of pedestrians following the opening of the CRL. The NDG one is made worse by also being the access to the service lane that currently exists. It appears the pedestrians who are in the area might be restricted to some narrow footpaths.

albert-st-porte-cochere

It probably would have been better just to have required that both porte cochere’s be joined up and made into a lane with some activation between that and the street rather than what has been proposed.

If you can’t remember, this is what the NDG building is meant to look like

ndg-centre-1

And here’s a close up of the vehicle entrance – although I guess the people who made the rendering weren’t so focused on the detail of things like the traffic direction

ndg-centre-2

We haven’t heard anything about what’s happening on the NDG development so as much as I want to see that parking crater filled in, in some ways I hope it doesn’t go ahead and the next plan for the site can improve this situation.

Rail to the Shore Meeting Tonight

rail-to-the-shore-web

In case you missed it, the North Shore Rail campaign is holding a meeting tonight to draw out support from the public and Auckland Council candidates.

As the media release says, the campaign is really pushing for North Shore residents to turn up and demonstrate their support for a high capacity electric rail connection across the Waitemata, otherwise it might not happen at all. An online petition has so far garnered over 1,500 signatures from the general public.

If you aren’t familiar with the background, NZTA’s proposed road crossing has no economic business case and is likely to cause even more congestion in the central city and surrounding road networks unless further road widening takes place. The New Zealand Transport Agency are planning to lodge planning approvals with the Auckland Council for the road crossing some time early next year.

The free public meeting will feature Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland as MC, with speakers including:

  • Cameron Pitches from Better Transport
  • Patrick Reynolds from TransportBlog and Greater Auckland
  • Chris Darby, currently a North Shore Councillor and standing again in this year’s election
  • Richard Hills, current Kaipatiki Local Board Member and also standing this year for the Auckland Council North Shore electorate

To be held:

  • Thursday 15th September, 7:30pm
  • Onewa Netball Centre
  • 44 Northcote Road, Takapuna

Matakana Link Rd fast-tracked

Imagine you’re spent years pushing a motorway project, promising it will deliver travel time savings and economic nirvana for an entire region and then add in that you’re on the cusp on construction as the contract for the project, that will end up costing you over $1 billion, is about to be signed. Yet you also know that after it’s finished, the first time there is a holiday, the users of that road will wonder why you bothered as they’re all forced through an intersection that can’t handle the volumes thrown at it resulting congestion and frustrated drivers. There is a potential solution but it relies on a 3rd party and they don’t have it as a priority. What do you do?

That’s the situation the NZTA found themselves in with the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway which is due to have its PPP contract signed off in October. The vast majority of the users of the new motorway are expected not to head to Northland – like the rhetoric claims – but to Warkworth and the nearby eastern beaches such as Omaha. That would continue to see huge volumes of traffic forced through the notorious Hill St intersection which has long been the bane of many locals and holiday maker’s journeys. The solution is a new road that bypasses the intersection for those travelling to Matakana and beyond but is a project not on the current funding agenda till after 2025.

Hill St GIS

The Hill St intersection as it is today

To address this, yesterday Auckland Transport and the NZTA agreed to fast track the $25-40 million Matakana Link Rd (below) which is not in the council’s current Long Term Plan so it can open at the same time as the new motorway in 2022. The NZTA will even pay for it upfront and have AT pay it back in the future, or more specifically the NZTA won’t give them as much money for future projects.

Matakana Link Rd location

The Matakana Link Rd is shown by the green arrow

 

Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency have signed an agreement that will speed up improvements to transport links in and between Warkworth and the eastern communities and help ease some frustrations around Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection.

The Transport Agency will provide early funding for construction of the Matakana Link Road project if Auckland Transport funds are not available.

The agreement means the project can be delivered ahead of schedule.

Once completed the Matakana Link Road will provide a connection between Matakana Road and State Highway 1 (SH1), just south of the intersection with the Transport Agency’s Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Warkworth highway, expected to be open in 2022. It will give locals an alternative route between western and eastern areas of Warkworth and will bypass the SH1 Hill Street intersection, improving traffic flow and safety.

Both AT and the Transport Agency recognise that there’s an urgent need to improve transport links in Warkworth ahead of its expected future population growth, and to address frustrations around Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection.

Andrew Scoggins, Auckland Transport Group Manager Major Projects, says: “With Warkworth expected to grow by an additional 7,900 new dwellings over the next 30 years, the Matakana Link Road will be a key road network improvement to help address existing and future travel needs of the community”.

The Transport Agency’s Auckland and Northland Highway Manager, Brett Gliddon says the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway has always been a part of a bigger vision to provide Warkworth with the transport connections it needs to ensure its residents can easily move around the growing town for work and leisure, as well as improving safety and efficiency on the link to Auckland.

“Over the years the Warkworth community has told us that Matakana Link Road is a priority for them. We’re grateful for their ongoing support while we work with Auckland Transport to speed up the delivery of this important transport link.”

Planning and consenting works for the Matakana Link Road project are already underway and construction of the road is expected to begin in the second half of 2019. The new road is scheduled for completion just ahead of the Transport Agency’s new state highway opening in 2022.

The new Matakana Link Road will also align with AT’s new Warkworth Western Collector project – a three-stage plan to improve road connections to the west of the state highway. Stage One of the Western Collector route, connecting Mansel Drive to Falls Road, is currently under construction and will be completed in February 2017. The exact route of the remaining two stages have yet to be determined but will connect to the State Highway in the vicinity of McKinney Road in the south and the Matakana Link Road intersection in the north.

AT say the cost of the project is likely to be $25-40 million but that will depend on the final design and they haven’t even agreed on some of the basics yet, such as whether it will have two or four lanes, be a rural or urban road (footpaths, kerb & channel, lighting etc.). Some indicative costs were included in a closed session board paper that was later released.

matakan-link-rd-cost-options

Below are some basic cross sections for the types of infrastructure options suggested and priced above

matakan-link-rd-possible-cross-sections

What do you think of this project jumping the queue to get funding? Imagine if the same urgency was put into projects like needed bus and train interchanges which are a vital part of getting the new network to work.

Five Years

Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.

But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.

Why Are There Cars on Queen St?

This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine

Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.

People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.

No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.

It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.

And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.

If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.

Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.

END

And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.

Queen St volumes - Total

Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.

Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:

  1. Pedestrians in all directions
  2. Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
  3. Deliveries
  4. General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs

And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.

So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.

Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.

Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…

In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.

Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?

‘…Five Years, what a surprise’

Park and Ride not really a no-brainer

Building more Park & Ride is often cited as a “no-brainer” way to get more people using public transport – especially by politicians. This election we’ve got a number of political hopefuls promising to build a lot more of them as a way to get many more people using PT, a stance also echoed by the likes of the AA. In a way it’s positive as it at least shows they recognise that PT, and particularly busway, train and ferry services are useful, popular and there is a demand for them. But is it really a no-brainer or are those promoting the idea perhaps guilty of not engaging their own brain first before making these promises.

According to Auckland Transport’s Parking Strategy, there are currently around 5,500 park & ride spaces across the region with the biggest single facility being Albany with 1,100 spaces – those people parked at the northern end are walking over 300m to get to the platforms.

Albany Park and Ride 2

The Albany Park and Ride’s 1,100 fill up early most work days

AT have also said they want to see another 10,000 P&R spaces across the region by 2046, as shown in the map below.

AT PnR strategy map

Before jumping in and building a lot of carparks we first need to question whether they will be effective. The issues generally fall into two categories, patronage and the cost. So let’s look at those two aspects.

Patronage

Despite the presence of huge carparks, the number of PT trips generated by P&R is surprisingly small. For the most part these carparks will only ever be filled once day on the approximately 250 working days each year. I would assume there is a higher number of single occupant vehicles than normal but let’s use a fairly standard 1.2 people per vehicle. That means each carpark likely generates about 600 PT trips per year (250 days x 1.2 people per car x 2 PT trips per day).

So a large P&R like the one Albany might account for about 660k trips per year. It might sound like a lot but remember we recently saw the latest station boarding stats and it showed over 1.8 million trips began or ended at Albany. In other words, the P&R accounted for only about 36% of all trips to or from the station. Furthermore, Albany is one of the highest percentages of P&R use, for the busway and train stations for which the number of P&R spaces are available, the average number of trips generated is just 19%. Expanding the calculations, the current 5,500 carparks contribute just 3.3 million trips per year while patronage across the entire PT network was 83 million trips. An extra 10,000 would add only 6 million trips, only an extra 7%

Of course all of this assumes that all users of new park and ride facilities are new users. The provision of more carparking is also likely to have the side effect of encouraging some of those who access stations by other means to change their behaviour so the actual gains in patronage are likely to be much less.

Thinking about the future, improving walking, cycling and bus connections (Simplified Fares and New Network) are likely to have a much greater impact. Further for those that believe autonomous vehicles are just around the corner, one of the biggest areas they’re could have a quick impact is in solving the first/last mile problem, shuttling people to and from stations. Of all ways of accessing PT stations, driving and parking is probably the one with the poorest future.

 

Cost

Even basic P&R’s can be incredibly expensive. the most recent one completed was at Swanson where 136 carparks were added for a cost of $2.5 million. That works out as a cost of $18k per space and that’s just for a seeming simple surface level carpark.

Swanson Park n Ride 1

The extension of the Albany carpark a few years ago cost $5.5 million for 550 carparks, or $10k per space – although that may have excluded the cost of the land. More intensive parking facilities such as multi-storey carparks can cost $25,000 per space or more. Then there are the opex costs for lights, security, cleaning etc. Even at $10k per space we’re looking at a minimum of $100 million to add the 10k carparks AT plan, given the more recent figures $200 million+ seems more appropriate and that’s if we can find the physical space for them.

But it’s not just the physical construction and opex costs that need to be considered but also the land use ones too. As the Albany carpark shows, it a lot of space to hold that many cars and the Albany site is about 37,000m². Last time I looked there simply isn’t masses of vacant land just waiting for a carpark to be built next to stations so adding them will require removing existing buildings. Removing houses (in a housing crisis) to provide carparking for a PT station would look as stupid as sounds. Furthermore, more intensive land use next to the station could encourage just as many PT trips, possibly more plus could have other benefits too, such as housing people.

Another issue and also a potential cost is that large carparks can create localised congestion issues which may require expensive road upgrades to address.

Candidates promising prudent financial management and also massive P&R expansions are contradicting themselves. Yes, we absolutely need to improve access to PT stations but the cost of building a carpark should be weighed up against the cost of improving access by other methods. For example, how many new trips could be achieved by focusing that $200m on great walking and cycling facilities to stations (AT are looking at improving access to two stations as part of the Urban Cycleway Fund programme).

High Density Bike Rack - Akoranga 2

At the Akoranga Busway station it can sometimes be hard to find a park

All of this isn’t to say that P&R isn’t useful in some situations. These can include:

  • On the outsides of the main urban area where land is cheaper, PT feeder services poorer and where it is also serving nearby rural populations.
  • Where the parking can be priced appropriately. This can offset some/all of the subsidy to providing parking, encourage use of more efficient modes for accessing stations and also address those local congestion issues. I’ve written before about how Calgary implemented charging.
  • Particularly where the station is provided ahead of surrounding land use – such as at Albany – it can act as form of a landbanking until a high enough land use intensity becomes viable.

 

Guess you could sum it all up as park & ride is not quite the ‘no-brainer’ some claim.

 

While on the topic of P&R, A few weeks ago Auckland Transport put out a press release stating they were looking to expand the Papakura Park & Ride and in the process highlighting they’re bloody expensive.

Auckland Transport (AT) is looking at ways to extend one of its busiest park and rides at Papakura Railway Station. AT is set to issue a tender which could see a significant increase to the 327 parking spaces currently at Papakura.

The extension is to cope with the large jump in numbers of people using the Southern rail line; passenger growth has been 19 percent in the past 6 months.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Strategic Development, Chris Morgan, says traditional park and rides are expensive because they rely on buying land. “With Auckland’s high land values, a parking bay can cost $25,000 or more, so we are looking at a number of options including the possibility of using pre-fabricated steel decking.”

He says Auckland Transport is in the early stages of investigating a trial for Papakura, but there are still a number of issues to be worked through like design and traffic assessments for the site.

“We want to look at trialling innovative ways to provide more parking at key locations.”

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association (AA) says the AA supports moves to expand park and ride facilities. “There’s clear demand from our members for more park and ride, and we see it as an excellent way to increase the appeal of public transport.”

In Auckland, there are currently 5,500 park and rides bays. Chris Morgan says there needs to be almost double that number by 2040 and there are plans to put in 800 more bays within 2 years including 400 at Westgate and new spaces at Silverdale, Pukekohe and Hobsonville.

Waterview Mitigation Needed

We’re now only months away from the opening of New Zealand’s biggest transport project to date, the Waterview tunnels – likely to be sometime between January and March. Waterview should have represented the last major new urban highway connection in Auckland but of course the NZTA and others have since started pushing other projects such as the East-West Link and an Additional Waitemata Harbour crossing.

While there are some positive things to the project, we’ve been concerned for some time about the impact the project will have across a number of areas, in particular the ongoing operational cost of the infrastructure and the traffic impacts. The concern for the latter issue was further strengthened by comments in the April Auckland Transport board report talking about how an Operational Risk Assessment had looked at expected traffic demand and that some additional physical mitigation works were needed and that workshops were taking place between AT and the NZTA. So I decided to OIA the information.

First up the issue of operational costs. Here’s what the NZTA said in response.

The latest cost estimate for Waterview Tunnels to maintain and operate on an annual basis is approximately $16 million.

To put that $16 million in perspective, in the 2014/15 financial year, the last for which data is currently available, the NZTA spent $108 million to operate, maintain and renwe the entire State Highway network in Auckland (up from about $90 million in the few years prior to that). That means the new Waterview Tunnels add almost 15% to the annual state highway operational bill in Auckland. Diving a bit deeper, the Auckland State Highway network is 1048km in length (by lane km). Waterview adds about 24km to that total, an increase of just over 2%. I guess what this highlights is that tunnels are really expensive, not only to build but also to operate.

OPEX spending on Auckland State Highways 2002-2015

On to the Operational Risk Analysis

We’ve long noted that one of the outcomes of Waterview is that it is likely to create a lot more pressure on the motorway network, especially east of Waterview as people from the southern isthmus use the new connection to drive towards the city or North Shore. When combined with all of the existing and new traffic from the west it’s likely to cause a lot of issues. We’ve also heard suggestions that for safety purposes the NZTA don’t want cars stopping in the tunnels because as I understand it, the ventilation system is designed based on moving vehicles to help push air through the tunnels so it can exhaust the fumes – happy to be corrected on this though.

Regardless it looks like we were right to be concerned and the NZTA are now pushing through a number of mitigation measures to state highways and local roads in a bid to boost vehicle capacity, possibly at the expense of PT and cycle infrastructure and potentially including the Northwest busway. What’s also not clear is why all of these mitigation measures wasn’t part of the initial assessment for project to begin with.

The Operational Risk Analysis is essentially a heap of new traffic modelling to try and determine if and where any issues might arise within the first six months and to test potential options to mitigate those issues. It’s the result of NZTA wanting to avoid the operational and reputational risk from something like a repeat of back in 2010 when they opened the SH20 to SH1 link at Manukau and finding it caused a heap of issues that they’re only now working to fix.

The modelling, which makes up the bulk of the report, highlights the areas of concern and is also assessed against three groups of mitigation measures – a summary of these mitigation groups are shown below.

Waterview Operational Risk Assessment Mitigation Groups

Ultimately the report recommends focusing on the Group 2 mitigations. These are:

It is strongly recommended that as many of the individual mitigations from Group 2 as possible be implemented prior to the opening of the WVT to manage the risks associated with tunnel operations and the operational and associated reputational risk that accompanies such a significant change to the configuration of the network.

Specific actions are recommended as follows:

  • Urgently engage with Auckland Transport to investigate if minor arterial corridor mitigations could provide a small increase in off ramp discharge capacity at the following three locations:
    • Maioro Street northbound off ramp.
    • Te Atatu Road westbound off ramp.
    • Royal Road westbound off ramp.
  • Design an additional lane at the following locations (using existing hard shoulders where feasible) to enable implementation prior to WVT opening:
    • SH20 southbound from Maioro Street on ramp to Hillsborough Rd on ramp.
    • SH20 northbound from Orpheus Drive on ramp to Queenstown Rd off ramp.
    • SH20 northbound auxiliary lane on approach to Maioro Street off ramp.
    • SH16 eastbound to from WVT to Western Springs off ramp and from Western Springs on ramp to tie-in to the existing five lane section near the Bond Street Bridge.
  • Carry out further assessment on the following:
    • Potential for operating some or all of the additional lanes recommended above as dynamic part-time (hard shoulder running) lanes.
    • Potential three laning between Lincoln Road and Royal Road (both directions).
    • Potential northbound auxiliary lanes on SH20 from Puhinui Rd on ramp to Massey off ramp and from Massey on ramp to SH20A off ramp.
    • Minor layout changes at CMJ:
  • Ramp signaling the SH16 eastbound to SH1 northbound and Port to SH1 northbound links separately.
  • Re-configuring the SH16 eastbound approach to CMJ to allow two lanes for AM peak queuing for the SH1 southbound link (merging to one lane before joining SH1) at the expense of one of the lanes leading to the port.

A second part of this assessment has still to be completed. This will relate to assessment of abnormal operations, mainly incidents. This assessment will include assessment of operating additional lanes as dynamic part-time running lanes (Hard Shoulder Running) to assist in incident management.

This is also shown in the diagram below

Waterview Operational Risk Assessment Mitigation Map

Below is an example of one of the modelling outputs It is a heatmap showing where, when the severity of congestion based on a scenario to a specific level of extra demand. As you can see the modelling suggests significant improvements to the motorway.

Waterview Operational Risk Assessment Heat Map example

There is no mention of just how much this mitigation will cost although the NZTA claim it will achieve $15 million in travel time savings per year.

The OIA also includes the minutes from a couple of workshops and they too contain some interesting information. I’ve just extracted a couple of items from each paper which are shown with the bullet points. The names/initials of the participants except for those from the NZTA have been removed so I’ve just used XX as a replacement.

Workshop 1

There’s a concern that because the NZTA are focusing on pumping as many cars off the motorways as possible it might now affect bus routes.

  • XX explained there would be more bus routes and increased frequency especially around Te Atatu and Lincoln Road. He expressed concern about the future reliability of these new services in light of the risk of congestion following the opening Waterview Connection

It sounds like AT want bus lanes or other layout changes to Blockhouse Bay Rd but that possibly the NZTA want it kept as is just in case something goes wrong with the tunnels.

  • XX mentioned that AT would be protecting Nelson Street capacity during peak times (CBD tactical team to maintain off-ramp capacity) from the motorway and with respect to planned work on the AT network. AT want to do any major maintenance work either before tunnel opening e.g. City bound buses lanes proposed for Blockhouse Bay Road.
  • XX mentioned that Blockhouse Bay Road would be a planned and incident diversion route for Waterview Tunnel closures and that if AT propose to reassign capacity, freed up by Waterview Connection, then these intentions of use of Blockhouse Bay Road could be in direct conflict with each other.

 

Workshop 2

Given this was in March of this year, how on earth were the NZTA not aware AT were looking at busway options for SH16?

  • XX talked about the need to consider the northwest busway with respect to the mitigation projects. XX mentioned there were some ‘medium term’ busway proposals to consider which include shoulder bus provision and highlighted a possible conflict.
  • XX NZTA now aware of a possible busway, need to know details and have a recommendation before deciding if there is a conflict. This has been passed on to the transport planning team at The Agency.

The minutes don’t say which school but given most of the focus seems to be around the Maioro St interchange, I’m guessing this refers to Wesley Intermediate. Why the school wouldn’t want kids to be safer is absurd.

  • XX said that the school did not support a mid-block crossing and preferred the provision to be provided at the intersection itself.

It seems the NZTA are planning a full interchange at Northside Dr near Westgate

  • GO, XX provided an update on Northside drive proposals, including consideration for a full diamond interchange.

So all up it seems we have the NZTA rushing to trying and add more motorway and local road capacity in a desperate bid to stop the shiny new centrepiece of their system from getting congested. What do you think of the papers?

August 16 AT Board Meeting

Today the Auckland Transport Board have their latest meeting and I’ve taken a look through the reports to pull out the interesting bits.

Firstly and surprisingly the agenda for the closed session is surprisingly bare. The only non-regular item is Tamaki Regeneration Project – funding and governance agreement.

The main business report seems to have a bit in it to cover. As always, this is based on the order they appear in the report.

Supergold – at the time of writing the report, AT say they had almost 105k cards loaded with SuperGold concessions (both the blue and gold ones), up from 45k in May. A recent press release also stated that now 97% of SuperGold trips were taking using HOP cards. The map below shows where paper tickets were still being issued

2016-08 - SuperGold Heatmap

Urban Redevelopment – AT say give a brief overview of some of the work they’re doing to work with Panuku Development Auckland.

Key priorities at this stage include:

  • Takapuna – Ongoing input into options for development of AT parking sites, and identification of short and long term public transport infrastructure requirements.
  • Manukau – Ongoing input into the Manukau Framework Plan currently under development. This document will identify potential streetscape upgrades, and potential sites for redevelopment including parking sites.
  • Onehunga – Analysis being undertaken on the potential impact of East-West Connections and Airport-Mangere rail on future development proposals.
  • Henderson – Early stages of high level visioning. The AT focus is on providing for train station expansion requirements associated with CRL operations, and on any implications of street network proposals including on level crossings.

Northwest Busway – They have selected Aurecon to develop the Indicative Business Case for the NW Busway between the City Centre and Westgate and is due to be completed by April 2017.

Harbour Crossing (AWHC) – Their work on the future RTN options as part of AWHC now includes prototype designs for several RTN modes

Tertiary Student Travel Survey – AT conducted their biennial survey and covered 2,108 interviews at campus’ across Auckland.

The surveys show that there has been a significant growth of students using public transport since 2014. Total public transport main mode travel to campus has increased from 41% to 48% and non-car travel has increased from 60% to 63%. Student attitudes towards public transport are strongly positive and nearly all students have an AT HOP card. Price and overcrowding are now seen as the biggest barriers for increasing use. Use of AT sources of information (e.g. journey planner) have significantly fallen since 2014 as the use of google maps for transport information has grown. Attitudes and use of public transport are similar across all CBD/City Fringe campuses and suburban campuses. MIT Manukau students are highly represented in train statistics.

Lincoln Rd – AT lodged a Notice of Requirement to widen Lincoln Rd. Notification is expected in September.

Albany Highway – The upgrade of Albany Highway north of the motorway has been going on for some time but AT now expect it to be completed in October, well ahead of what was in the contract.

Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr Shared Path – Section 1 from Merton Road to St Johns Road is expected to be completed by the end of September, Section 2 to Meadowbank Station and Section 3 to Orakei are expected to have resource consent completed soon with Section 3 due to start construction in October.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St) – As expected the Cowie St Residents Association have appealed the consent to the Environment Court. AT now expect a likely decision on this in March/April 2017 although based on other projects like Skypath, that seems optimistic. In the past, AT have said that the opening of the Parnell Station is dependent on the Sarawia St crossing being removed.

Bike thefts – AT say they’re working with the police and our friends at Bike Auckland to address bike theft which has been increasing as cycling becomes more popular. This will include extra CCTV cameras and an education campaign.

Manukau Rd Transit Lane – The new transit lane is saving buses and T3 cars 4-5 minutes during the morning peak and has increased the people movement efficiency of the corridor by 10% – and based on anecdotal reports, that’s still with a lot of single occupant vehicles being driven in the lane.

New Bus Lanes – AT claim they are planning to deliver 19.1km of bus lanes this financial year and the first of the physical works were due to start by the end of August – but I’m not sure where. One of the lanes being added will be Gt North Rd at Waterview which is being done in conjunction with the Waterview project and expected to start construction in September and be finished by March 2017. An indication of some of what is being worked on is below.

2016-08 - Bus lane Programme

New Bus Network – Things are on track to go live with the South Auckland network on 30 October. Tenders for West Auckland are being assessed still while the tender for the Central and East networks have gone out.

Station Gates – Designs are complete for electronic gates to be installed at Henderson, Manurewa and Papatoetoe. They don’t say when they might be installed though.

Train performance – More work to speed up trains is being planned and includes line speed, interlocking and signalling works. The report says this is for a new recast timetable in March/April 2017. Previously they’d suggested a new timetable was due in February so it appears this has slipped.

There is a separate paper about HOP which deserves its own post and will be going up at midday.

 

Is there anything else you’ve seen in the reports you’ve found interesting?

Widen a road to save $1.8 billion

Auckland Transport are consulting on the widening a 900m section Neilson St in Onehunga as part of the East-West link.

The public are being given a chance to have their say on changes designed to improve travel times and congestion along Neilson Street in Onehunga.

The improvements which include changes to parking in the area are part of the local transport improvements of the East West Connections project and are designed to provide benefits for local road users including freight along Neilson Street.

The work involves creating four lanes (increasing from two) on Neilson Street between Alfred Street and Angle Street. A clearway and no stopping zone is proposed to be in place from 6am-7pm Monday to Friday. This doesn’t apply to parking at weekends and evenings.

Auckland Transport Principal Engineer Joe Schady says the improvements also include new walking and cycling facilities alongside Waikaraka Park.

“A new footpath and timber boardwalk linking to the existing walkway will make it easier and safer for the community to access the park particularly for sporting activities and the Speedway.”

The NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager, Brett Gliddon says creating extra lanes on this part of Neilson Street will help to deliver some early benefits to the Onehunga area, particularly for local business owners, truck operators and customers who are moving in and out of the Onehunga and Penrose area every day.

Community feedback will help to finalise the design for the work. Construction is planned to start later this year and be completed by December. The work is part of a wider package of improvements including removing the rail bridge at the end of Neilson Street and replacing it with a new, lowered road.

The Southwestern Motorway will also be widened to four lanes in each direction between Neilson Street and Queenstown road to further support traffic growth expected on State Highway 20.

Feedback from the public in mid-2015 showed that overall improvements on Neilson Street were supported to help relieve the significant congestion that is experienced on the road and on the approaches to SH1 and SH20.

A series of public information days will be held in August to encourage people to find out more about the project and have their say on the plans for Neilson Street.

Neilson St Widening Map

Given this doesn’t appear to even require moving kerbs, only adding some pedestrian amenity and changing how the road markings it’s crazy that it wasn’t done years ago. We’ve long supported the widening of Neilson St including the possibility of truck only lanes as a quick and much quicker and cheaper solution to transport issues in the area.

In fact the same approach should be taking all the way through to the intersection with Church St (along with a signalised intersection for the Metroport entrance). The biggest reason for not doing this is that it would probably show the foreshore expressway as not being needed, at least not anytime in the next few decades. That could save us having to spend up to $1.8 billion and I have no doubt we could find some other uses for that kind of money.

The consultation is open to Friday 26 August