A vision for the future, from LA

The I-405 is one of Los Angeles biggest and busiest freeways and just a few years ago underwent a US$1 billion widening project. But as the saying goes, what you feed grows and a few days ago that was highlighted in nightmarish fashion as tens of thousands tried to get away for Thanksgiving. The images come from ABC7 Eyewitness News twitter feed. All modes can have issues from time to time but unless we can focus on developing some serious multi-modal options then perhaps this will be a vision of Auckland’s future.

la-i405-congestion

And is if that isn’t bad enough, here’s a video of it showing the traffic extending a long way

And one more shot of it

October 16 AT Board Meeting

Tomorrow the AT board meet for their penultimate meeting of the year and it looks like it will be a big one with a lot on the agenda of their closed session.

Closed Session

I’ve added my thoughts after many of the items.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Panuku Framework Plans – I assume this relates to AT working with Panuku Development Auckland on plans for the areas they’re focusing on redeveloping.
  • Dominion Road Bus Lane Improvements – When AT announced they were looking seriously at light rail for Dominion Rd, the planned upgrade that was about to go ahead was put on hold but now that ATAP appears to have pushed LRT out, it’s important that AT make some improvements to the bus lanes now. Hopefully this means they’ll be extending the lanes, including through intersections rather than stopping short like now and extending the hours of operation.
  • Road Stopping
  • Clonbern Road Carpark – AT have indicated previously that there’s a redevelopment proposal for the carpark they own on Clonbern Rd, Remuera.
  • Execution of Deed by Directors – Lease of upper levels CPO – Presumably this is for after the CRL works have finished.
  • Execution of Heads of Terms – Lease of Land
  • 2017 Annual Fare Review – It will be interesting to see if AT propose any fare changes given they’ve just made some with the introduction of Simplified Fares. If they do make changes, past years indicate they would be implemented in January.
  • Rail Operator – In the main board report it is mentioned that AT are currently conducting a periodic efficiency audit as part of the rail passenger services contract terms of reference
  • SaFE

Items for Noting

  • CRL Procurement Update – I assume this item related to AT holding a day long industry briefing on the main works of the CRL later this month before tender documentation goes out next year.
  • MRT/LRT Update – One of the outcomes from ATAP was the use of the term Mass Transit instead of Light Rail for several projects. Essentially the NZTA are busily trying to show that a bus only solution to capacity problems can be found but my guess is they will do so by ignoring the capacity issues on city centre streets.
  • Parnell Station Update – It appears that Kiwirail have already started some works to move the old Newmarket Station building to the site, presumably this will update progress.
  • Procurement Update

Business Report

Moving on to the items that got my attention in the main business report, in the order appear in the report.

AT say the handheld devices used by ticket inspectors to check HOP cards are at the end of their life and they have a project underway to replace them.

The Mt Roskill Safe Routes is now complete and due to be officially opened on Wednesday while the first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr path – from Merton Rd to St Johns Rd – will open on 16 December.

In a piece of great news, it appears AT have agreed to remove the left turn slip lanes from Nelson St onto Fanshawe St as part of the project to extend the Nelson St cycle lanes. Dealing with this intersection is what has delayed the project by so long as I understand some of the traffic engineers were more concerned about vehicle flow than the safety of people. Construction of this section is planned for March 2017

2016-11-nelson-st-slip-lanes

The Nelson St/Fanshawe St intersection

AT are hoping mediation will solve the appeal by Cowie St residents against the bridge that will replace the Sarawia St level crossing. If it doesn’t, the environment court appeal is set down for February.

The Half Moon Bay ferry terminal is progressing with the wharf works due for completion in January and the land side works in April.

As mentioned this morning, double deckers are due to be rolled out on Onewa Rd in February next year. AT say DD mitigation works also planned for Gt North Rd in Feb 2018 and Manukau Rd in June 2018.

AT say they’re on track to meet their target of rolling out 19km of bus lanes this financial year, despite them later in the report claiming to have a target to roll out 26km this year.

2016-11-bus-lane-rollout

The roll-out of the new bus network in West Auckland is scheduled for 11 June 2017. AT are in the middle of assessing the bids for the Central and East networks and have now gone to tender for the North Shore services.

We’ve mentioned before that AT are finally looking at boosting capacity of services prior to the regular March Madness. There’s a little more detail about what this entails.

  • For the NEX they say approximately 25-35 extra peak trips will be added in January-February 2017 – but it doesn’t say what timeframe those extra trips are over i.e. per week/month.
  • They say Birkenhead Transport have the fastest growing bus patronage after the NEX and as well as double deckers being added in February, eight additional peak trips will be added to the timetable.
  • On rail they say “Further line speed, interlocking works and signalling works to improve journey times are being targeted for the March/April 2017 timetable recast.” – although this does also suggests the new rail timetable might be being pushed out a little.

On Friday 21 October, they say for the first time ever had 100% punctuality and reliability on trains.

I continue to hear more and more complaints about Skybus since they took over the commercially run airport service around a year ago. Being a fully commercial service they sit outside of AT’s control so it’s interesting to see that they continue to be the worst performing bus company in Auckland.

2016-11-bus-performance

A trial a Park & Ride run by Wilsons Parking will take place on Esmonde Rd at the Harbourside Church. It will be interesting to see how popular this is, perhaps cars stuck as part of traffic on Esmonde Rd, and seeing buses wizz past in the bus lane might decide to pull off and park up.

A trial park and ride facility is being prepared for opening on 28th November at Esmonde Road, Takapuna. The facility is owned by the Harbourside Church and will be operated by Wilsons Parking Ltd. AT Metro are facilitating the additional bus stops, services, promotion and planning of this initiative and will be monitoring the uptake and impact of this site on traffic patterns in and around Takapuna. The initiative is also linked to parking consultation activities in Takapuna and offers alternative parking options for both inbound and outbound vehicles

2016-11-esmonde-rd-pr

 

Forward Programme

An indication as to some of the things going up to the board and board committees in the next month.

  • Electric Vehicles in transit lanes
  • Train Capacity
  • Mangere future streets
  • Strategic PT Network
  • 2016/17 Budget realignment
  • MRT/LRT Update

There’s certainly a lot going on.

Earthquake recovery

The impact of Sunday’s earthquake and its aftershocks have been astonishing to see, especially the damage caused by slips along State Highway 1 and the rail line around Kaikoura. They are numerous and many are absolutely massive. I suspect the impacts of this quake will be felt for some time, and not just to the areas physically impacted. Here are a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head in response to the event.

kaikoura-slip

There’s a road under there somewhere

 

Firstly, the size and scale of damage suggests it is going to take many months, maybe even more than a year, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. As a comparison, the huge Manawatu George slip in 2011 took 13 months and over $20 million to fix (yesterday Simon Bridges suggested it was actually around $35 million). Some of these slips look just as big, if not bigger and of course there are a lot of them. On top of that there are about seven of road and rail bridges that need repairing.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has already said that both the road and rail lines will be repaired simultaneously which is a good sign. I had wondered if there was a real chance the government might have just cut that rail line but I guess given the rail line is right next to the road, they’ll be having to dig it out anyway. I do like the fact that the NZTA and Kiwirail will be working closer together and hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Below is a video of Bridges talking about the various issues yesterday.

 

One of the interesting comments he makes is that the agencies plan to not just put the road back as it was but where possible improve it too. I presume that could mean there’ll be some localised realignments but I also wonder if it means structures like rock slides – as seen in Arthurs Pass. It certainly doesn’t seem like a cheap option given how much might be needed.

Image by Greg Hewgill

The biggest barrier to substantial changes to the road is likely to be the sheer cost of it all. To put things in perspective, in the year to the end of June, the NZTA spent just $2.1 billion on new or improved state highways and on road maintenance ($1.67b on new & improved and $461m on maintenance). Assuming a similar level of spend this year, fixing this road is likely to take up a decent chunk of that spending and the big question is where that money comes from.

Bridges said that up to around $500 million might able to be found within existing budgets and a decent chunk of that comes from emergency works budgets. For example the National Land Transport Programme has a budget of $154 million over the 2015-2018 period for emergency works on State Highways. Unfortunately, the snapshot data is a bit old but indications are that a lot of that funding might still be untouched. There are also local road emergency works buckets too. But even combined these budget buckets don’t seem like they’ll be enough and so it appears inevitable that the improvement and maintenance buckets will need to be looked at too. This raises the obvious question of what projects get delayed as a result, although I can think of a few I’d like to see delayed *cough*East-West Link*cough*.

Former Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also said that he felt Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a factor in government taking so long to support the City Rail Link, although there’s more to it than just that. While the scale of  the damage to infrastructure doesn’t seem as extreme as Christchurch following its large quakes, could dealing with this quake have flow on effects in getting the government to fund their share of ATAP. Similarly, what does it do to the chances of light rail down Dominion Rd moved up the priority order.

One thing we can be thankful for with these slips is that at least it appears no one has been caught in them. I guess that’s a function of it being at midnight and the fact the road only carries very low volumes of traffic with fewer than 3,000 vehicles per day traversing the road, of which about 20% of them being heavy vehicles.

 

Speed Limit Changes

Our road toll is too high and over the last 12 months 330 people died on our roads. While absolutely that number is an improvement compared to decades ago, it is an increase on recent years with three years ago it reaching a low of 249. As a comparison, per capita Sweden has less than half the number of road deaths that we do.

Here’s our road toll over the last decade showing it having increased. If we had Sweden’s level of road deaths we’d have only 137 per year. The Ministry of  Transport say that in 2015, speed was a contributing factor in 101 deaths, 496 serious injuries, and 1,831 minor injuries.

road-toll-by-month-2016-10

Yesterday the government announced a new Speed Management Guide which the Ministry say will modernise how speed limits are set. It includes the ability to raise speed limits on some selected roads to 110km/h, which the media have latched on to, but also allows for speed limits to be lowered easier too. That’s good as it means once implemented could make it much easier to have lower speed limits in urban areas – I understand the process currently for doing so is fairly laborious.

The ministry say the current methodology for setting speed limits dates to the 60’s and narrowly focuses on speed limits. The new guide breaks down roads into one of four key classifications

  1. High Volume
  2. National, Regional, Arterial
  3. Primary Collector, Secondary Collector
  4. Access/Low volume access

Examples of these for urban and rural areas are below and includes information on modes and volumes that could be expected in situations.

speed-limit-urban-roads

speed-limit-rural-roads

The guide says

The Framework sets out safe and appropriate speed ranges taking into account road function, design, safety and use. The ONRC has been through a moderation process, but will still be sense tested through the speed management lens as an Important input to determining the safe and appropriate speeds on the network. This Guide steers RCAs to where the highest benefit opportunities lie on their networks. It should begin to underpin all speed management activity, such as engineering and investment decisions, land use planning, fleet management, communication and enforcement. It will also progressively become embedded into planning, engineering and network management.

With these in mind, the proposed safe and appropriate speeds for different types of road fall within the ranges shown in Figure 1.4. The proposed speed ranges are not in themselves speed limits, and no changes to the default limits are proposed. Risk can be reduced by investing In infrastructure improvements to make a road safer at current speeds, or by managing speeds down through a combination of road design, risk targeted enforcement and safe behaviour, all reinforced by the speed limit appropriate for the road.

And below are the proposed speed ranges. The guide does say these aren’t limits and no changes to the current default limits are planned.

speed-limit-speed-ranges

The various classification tools used to determine speeds are meant to be to ensure speeds are set appropriately for the conditions. Below is a table listing different urban road types along with various risk ratings and just what the proposed speed might be.

speed-limit-urban-roads-proposed

There are a couple of concerns I have with this approach. Reading the document, while I’m sure better than what we have now, still feels very engineering driven. In some ways it is pick the speed limit you want and then design the road to meet that. In urban areas that could have big consequences the amount of land needed for some roads. I also wonder if some cases if we could see agencies push to ‘Engineer Up’, upgrading roads at often great expense, rather than just lowering speeds to appropriate levels.

And what impact this will have on overall economic evaluations as travel time savings usually play a large role in the justification for projects – although to achieve the travel time savings for some projects, such as Puhoi to Warkworth, you’d have to be driving much faster than even the new proposed 110km/h limit.

As mentioned earlier, there are only a few places were the proposed new upper speed limit would be in place. The NZTA say just 155km of road, subject to minor changes, meet the criteria, although they’re currently assessing another 222km out of a possible 425km to see what work would be needed. The 155km proposed are:

  • Auckland Motorway network:
    • Johnston’s Hill Tunnel to Lonely Track section of the Northern Motorway (SH1)
    • Upper Harbour Motorway (SH18)
    • Takanini to Bombay section of the Southern Motorway (SH1).
  • Waikato Expressway (SH1):
    • Cambridge, Rangiriri, Ohinewai, Ngaruawahia and Te Rapa sections
    • Longswamp section of the Waikato Expressway — when completed in 2018
    • Huntly and Hamilton sections of the Waikato Expressway — when completed by 2019.
  • Tauranga Eastern Link (SH2).

They also say other sections likely to be eligible for a 110km/h limit are

  • Kapiti Expressway, SH1
  • Transmission Gully, SH1
  • Northern section of Christchurch Motorway, SH1.

Overall I don’t have too much problem with the proposal. The increased 110km/h limit is being confined to only a handful of locations but the changes proposed also provides the opportunity for more sensible speed limits in many of our urban areas.

Barnett: Do more of what we’ve done and see if we get a different result

A few days ago the Herald published an op-ed from Michael Barnett, the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. I found it an odd article as it was never quite clear about what Barnett’s key point was, seemingly jumping between two of them with liberal amounts of anecdata, logic leaps and outright incorrect data sprinkled in. So I thought I’d take a look at some of these.

After kicking things off with a “some people say their traffic is getting worse” statement, he dived headfirst into his first false fact and what first had me groaning internally at how bad the rest of the article might be.

the 400,000-plus North Shore residents are not getting back a fair share of the rates and taxes they pay towards fixing Auckland’s big transport issues.

Population figures are often able to be easily gerrymandered but even with some creative massaging it’s hard to see how he gets this figure. A look at Statistics NZ latest population estimates suggests that even including the Hibiscus Coast and the eastern half of Rodney all the way up past Wellsford only yields 336k people, well short of the 400k+ claimed.

As for the share of transport spending, we have a system with multiple parties involved. Auckland’s transport challenges are such that some areas need high levels of council spending (e.g. AMETI) while other areas the majority of funding will be from the NZTA due to projects more centred on upgrades to state highways. Even so, Auckland Transport have just completed a $40 million upgrade to the northern end of Albany Highway and looking forward, within the next few years the NZTA will be starting a $500 million-plus upgrade of SH18 and SH1 which also includes the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany.

Northern Corridor - June-16 Design

 

All this is before even considering that if the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is ever built, it would be the largest single transport project in NZ history by a significant margin. Speaking of harbour crossings, he says:

About 200,000 vehicles cross the Harbour Bridge each day, and the commute for many is up to two hours – well above the city average of 30 minutes.

I’m not sure if Barnett is aware of how averages work but by their very nature mean some results will be higher and others lower than what most people experience. Generally if you live a long way from where you work or study you’ll have a longer commute and if driving, have a greater chance of being a part of congestion.

As for the 200k vehicles across the bridge, I’ll let that one slide. The NZTA’s published information suggests about 168k per day but daily data they once provided us shows that on weekdays that can be around 200k. Of course as users of the bridge will know, despite being one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, it’s not the bridge that’s the bottleneck.

He then finally kicks in with I think may have been his main point, that he wants Penlink built. It is also where he makes the first part of his biggest leap of logic. Traffic he says, is backed up down the peninsula every morning and so Penlink will free up give an easier journey to the motorway freeing up local roads. That is followed by this statement.

The only excuse officials seem to have is that building Penlink would shift the congestion from Silverdale and the Peninsula on to State Highway 1. That’s unacceptable.

Unless he’s claiming that the northern motorway is free flowing at peak times, it’s not going to matter if they use Penlink or go through Silverdale, they’re still going to be sitting in traffic on their trip down the North Shore. There may be some net gain from using Penlink, but not likely a lot.

But it’s the next part of the piece, and the part that’s referenced in the headline, that helps to confuse the article and complete that large leap of logic.

Imagine the uproar then, and implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge, if any serious effort was made to relocate the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade to NorthPort near Whangarei.

Currently Auckland imports around 21,000 vehicles every month, or 252,000 a year. Eighty percent of the imported vehicles are for customers in South Auckland.

The car-carrying trucks on average take about eight vehicles. The industry advises that over a 24-hour cycle there would be a heavy truck on the road to and from Auckland-Northport every 2-3 minutes.

The pressure on the bridge and state highway between Northland and South Auckland wouldn’t cope. The freight sector is already under notice that trucks will be restricted to centre lanes of the Harbour Bridge from around 2020 due to stress on the clip-on lanes.

Having a state highway clogged with freight trucks would be untenable for Northland tourism, those who live along the State Highway and other traffic through Spaghetti Junction or the Waterview Tunnels.

First let’s just do a little bit of basic maths. There are 252,000 vehicles delivered a year (the ports themselves say 244k but close enough) and 80% of them are going to South Auckland, although I’ll ignore that part for now. That’s 690 vehicles arriving per day and if a car carrying truck can carry an average of 8 vehicles, that’s 86 return trips that are needed. With operations 24 hours a day it equates to 1,440 minutes. Dividing 1,440 minutes by 86 trips tells us there’d be a vehicle carrying truck in each direction every 17 minutes. That’s a lot but nowhere near the truck every 2-3 minutes.

Next, the trucks are heading to South Auckland so if they’re coming from the north they’d be bypassing the city centre. Isn’t that kind of trip exactly the reason we’ve been spending billions on building the Western Ring Route? And if the motorway can’t cope with this traffic, how is dealing with the traffic from Penlink?

Let’s not forget, one of the core reasons the government has pushed their RoNS projects like Puhoi to Wellsford is that they call them ‘lead infrastructure’, because they think building a bigger road will magically create economic growth. In short, the government want more trucks on the road to Northland.

rons-nzta-text

From the NZTA

Other options for moving vehicles, such as by rail, which based on his figures would only require 11 return trips per day, are claimed not to work because first a gold plated, $1.5 billion solution would be needed. I don’t disagree that upgrades are probably needed but whether they’re needed to that extent and before any changes is debatable. I also imagine the amount of land freed up from not needing so much space for parking would probably exceed that figure.

Of course all of that assumes imported cars would go to Northland, although according to Barnett, apparently the same issues apply to Tauranga. Yet the rail line to Tauranga is already the busiest rail freight route in New Zealand. Its capacity was recently doubled to four trains an hour (two each direction) by spending only around $15 million on additional passing loops. The cost of more of more of them to further increase capacity and the completion of the third main in Auckland would cost less than the average motorway interchange and have other benefits, especially in Auckland.

The Chamber’s suggestion to all of this is to build a large multi-storey carpark on the waterfront to store the cars but knowing such a building wouldn’t be possible, suggest putting a ‘green space’ on the roof will somehow hide it.

And with one last jarring lurch the piece ends on this:

Meanwhile, let’s get real. Fixing the acute “here and now” roading issues on the North Shore should be our shared priority. The Penlink Project is “ready to go”. There are no excuses or credible reasons for the new Council not giving the project the green light immediately.

With the project expected to exceed $350 million, I can think of quite a few reasons why it shouldn’t get an immediate green light. For many years, business groups like the Chamber and local politicians have claimed there are private investors lined up and ready to go with funding this project. If the Chamber wants it to happen now, perhaps it’s time they convinced these investors to start opening their wallets and get building.

Until that happens, it’s probably best we focus our limited transport investment in the areas that will have the most overall impact, which was the exact purpose of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project that suggested Penlink wasn’t needed any time soon.

atap-major-transport-projects-by-decade-map

Skypath and East-West; good, bad and ugly

To borrow a sports analogy, yesterday was a bit of a “game of two halves”. There was good, bad and ugly all thrown in from different sources. I thought I’d highlight them both in this post.

The good fantastic

After decades pushing the vision and years of hard work by some amazingly dedicated people, yesterday it was confirmed that Skypath will be granted consent.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

Consent was initially issued in July last year however as expected, some of the groups who have long opposed Skypath appealed to the Environment Court. Earlier this year two of those groups dropped out, the Herne Bay Residents Association claiming it would never happen anyway, and the Northcote Point Residents Association (NRA) who saying they couldn’t afford the costs that would sought against them if they lost. That left just the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society (NPHPS), a group set up only a few years ago and run by many of the same people as the NRA, to challenge the project in court.

In their appeal, the NPHPS sought some absurdly strict conditions placed on the project, likely in a bid to make it not viable. Our friends at Bike Auckland have more details, including the council’s response but below are the conditions the NPHPS wanted.

  • limiting entry to between 6am – 7pm (with exit permitted until 10pm), and
  • imposing a daily maximum limit of 1440 movements in and out of the Northern landing (NB this number has been revised upwards from earlier proposals, which were in the low hundreds), with trips to be booked online.

Insane, imagine trying to suggest someone impose those kinds of conditions on a road project, or perhaps even the Harbour Bridge.

Thankfully today Judge Newhook verbally confirmed that the consent would be issued. There may be a refinement of the conditions, such as allowing for the impacts on the point to be reviewed after construction but not the crazy demands the NPHPS tried for. Anyone out there who doesn’t think that if costs are awarded against the NPHPS that they’ll fold, not paying their debts?

All up awesome news and well done to everyone who’s been involved in getting this over the line, especially Bevan Woodward who has been pushing the project from the start.

The bad and the ugly

Yesterday evening I attended a community workshop/discussion about the East-West Link (while Auckland Transport tried to change the name to East-West Connections, the NZTA are using East-West Link). The purpose of the event was to discuss the project and issues in advance of the NZTA notifying it to the Environmental Protection Authority, something they intend to do in early December – just a month away. The EPA process was also used for Waterview, Puhoi to Warkworth and the Basin Reserve and means that a binding decision will be made within nine months of notification.

Given how much work goes into preparing for an EPA process, it means there’s unlikely to be a lot, if any change from what they showed. This suggests that the event was more of a box ticking exercise while also making sure they’re prepared in advance for the main issues that people will criticise them on. They did claim the design will evolve as the over the course of the process, like it did with Waterview but it’s unlikely to change all that much.

A key feature of the evening was the NZTA showing some of their latest designs for the project and there appear to have been some changes since we last saw them. For now we’re stuck with some phone photos but I’m sure they’ll release higher quality versions online in time.

The first and most obvious thing you may notice in the images below are the connections around Onehunga. I’ll come back to that in more detail later. Next you may notice the large areas of reclamation that are now proposed, this is quite different to the stark straight lines we saw in some earlier designs. These serve both to deal with stormwater and serve as mitigation to plonking a giant road down over what is currently a bit of a hidden gem. Through these areas are meant to be walking and cycling connections, including a boardwalk over the water between those two areas that jut out.

One of the big changes not really evident from these images is that the road had been pushed back and is now almost all on the existing land along the waterfront (where the cycleway is). This is mainly due to the difficulty they would otherwise have had in getting consent to reclaim land. There will still be some reclamation though, mainly for a bund to help stop stuff leaching into the harbour like it currently does.

east-west-overall-design-1

Further east you can see the connections to SH1 which includes upgrades through to past Princess St. The section over the port car storage area through to Gt South Rd is about a 1.4km long viaduct – one of the reasons the project is so expensive. One aspect they did confirm is that it has apparent the design allows for grade separation of the rail junction.

east-west-overall-design-2

Here are a couple of cross sections. The cycleway on the foreshore side but next to the road was described as a ‘high speed cycleway’

east-west-foreshore-road-cross-section

east-west-foreshore-road-cross-section-2

As mentioned, here’s a closer look at the design at the Onehunga end, perhaps best described as a sea of roads. One thing that I did learn was that the area past the port will actually be in a bit of a trench so will be partially hidden from the port area. The graphics are shown over the motorway bridge for clarity but they will be under it in real life.

east-west-onehunga-interchange-design

and here’s a more artistic view of it.

east-west-onehunga-interchange-design-artistic

Unfortunately, the photos I took of the design elements (highlighted by the pins) didn’t really come out well. It’s also not clear just how rail of any kind will get through this area if it’s getting to the airport.

The East-West Link is clearly a project that is going to be something that sees a lot of discussion over the next year so.

Will driverless cars make things better, or worse?

There continues to be a lot of hype and excitement around driverless cars, with the first vehicles hitting roads in Britain recently and the NZ Herald running an opinion piece by Paul Minett earlier this week that was generally good, although perhaps a bit excitable about the need to stop all current investments in roads and public transport.

One of the big promises of driverless cars is that they will significantly reduce congestion, as their computer-controlled driving will enable much closer following distances between vehicles, alongside much more efficient operation of intersections. But how will this play out in practice? One of the most detailed pieces of analysis was undertaken by the International Transport Forum (part of the OECD), which modelled in quite a lot of detail what might happen under different scenarios involving the uptake of driverless cars.

Two types of “driverless vehicle” were analysed:

  • Taxibots – self-driving cars that can be shared simultaneously by several passengers
  • Autovots – self-driving vehicles that pick-up and drop-off single passengers sequentially

The analysis used Lisbon, Portugal as the case study city for the analysis. The different scenarios also looked at whether high-capacity public transport would be available or not, as well as how things would work at 50% and 100% penetration levels of these new vehicles. Some of the results of the analysis are pretty interesting.

Firstly, looking at mode-share, in scenarios where high-capacity public transport is retained the driverless vehicles actuatlly result in an increase in PT mode share, although it seems that they replace all “not high-capacity” PT. This makes a lot of sense, driverless vehicles could make for great first/last mile solutions and for replacing those routes that wind through the suburbs designed primarily to provide coverage. Interestingly walking & cycling mode share is projected to decline from 18% in the baseline scenario to 8% with the new vehicles.

modeshare-comparisons

Next, if we look at fleet-size, the projections are pretty sensitive to the different scenarios – varying from a situation where nearly 90% of the private vehicle fleet is no longer required, to other situations where there would actually be more vehicles than the baseline. Once again the existence of high-capacity PT seems to make a big difference to the totals, as does the level of penetration (it seems that most people are expected to hold onto their private vehicles until there’s very high penetration).

fleet-size

Perhaps the most interesting finding relates to projected overall traffic volumes, which increase under all the modelled scenarios (although to very different extents). Scenarios without high-capacity public transport are projected to see substantial increases in car kilometres travelled, from both modal shift away from PT and also the empty “re-positioning” trips taken by the vehicles.

traffic-volume

The study highlights that while scenarios with slight increases in travel would be manageable (due to the vehicles themselves being able to travel more efficiently), scenarios with much higher increases are not likely to be manageable at all. Some further detail is provided about the extent of travel increase at different times of the day:

traffic-volume-by-time

The most interesting trend in the above graph is that the “AutoVots without high-capacity PT” scenario’s greatest increase in vehicle km occurs at peak times, which would be when the transport system is least likely to be able to cope with such an increase. Furthermore, the greatest level of travel increase seems to be on local roads (not motorways), which is probably where we would least want it to happen:

traffic-volume-by-road

The study then looked a bit closer at where, under the “TaxiBot plus high-capacity PT” scenario, travel increased or decreased. Obviously this would vary depending on the city, but it is interesting to see that most increases are in more peripheral areas rather than central areas. The study itself also highlights that volumes stayed constant or declined on major routes and bottlenecks, with increases mainly confined to local networks (presumably for more local trips?)

vkt-change-by-location

Finally, scenarios with full vehicle penetration saw significant reductions in the number of parked vehicles, although once again the reduction was far lower at 50% penetration and actually increased in a couple of scenarios:

parked-cars

There are a few key takeouts from this study that are really important to keep in mind when it comes to discussing driverless cars and how they might change the transport system in the future:

  1. High capacity public transport remains crucial. Scenarios without high capacity PT saw really big increases in travel demand, especially at peak times. We can rest easy that our current and future rapid transit network investments will continue to provide value in the future – even with a gigantic shift to driverless vehicles.
  2. Ride-sharing and car-sharing results in very different outcomes. A system based around “car-sharing”, where the driverless vehicles are for individuals, results in a huge amount of travel and large number of re-positioning trips. It also needs a much larger vehicle fleet than ride-sharing.
  3.  All driverless vehicle future suggest a massive reduction in the amount of land required to park vehicles. This could be truly transformational for our urban areas as this land can be repurposed into housing, businesses or open space.

The big take-away though is to note that the introduction of driverless vehicles could play out in a variety of different ways in the future. Some could be really good, others disastrous. It’s pretty important that we get it right.

Could Morningside Drive Level Crossing be Closed?

Morningside Level Crossing Incident

Morningside Level Crossing Incident

After another unfortunate incident at Morningside Level Crossing, once again questions have been asked of our level crossings. Morningside Level Crossing alongside Walters Rd in Takanini have achieved a sense of infamy over the years, some incidents have been covered below in the media, and as anyone who with any HSEQ background will know for each Incident there will be countless more Near Misses.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK1610/S00124/level-crossing-crash-morningside-drive.htm

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/65580642/auckland-rail-crossing-death-raises-questions-over-safety

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11394457

http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/8347480/Train-hits-woman-in-wheelchair

This post will look into the feasibility of closing Morningside Level Crossing to traffic, however still creating grade separated access for pedestrians/cyclists to the station on each side of Morningside Drive, understanding in tight budgetary circumstances that fully grade separating the crossing for all modes may not be feasible.

The area in question is below

Morningside Crossing Area

Morningside Crossing Area

Removal of the Level Crossing to traffic would hinder three major groups, each which could be mitigated

  1. Users trying to access St Luke’s Mall via Car.
  2. Bus Users for routes 220, 221, 222, 223, & 224 some who may use the service for access to St Luke’s Mall.
  3. Residents who use Morningside Drive Level Crossing to Access New North Road.

 

Users trying to access St Luke’s Mall via Car

The closure of Morningside Drive may not adversely effect these users, at current St Luke’s is also accessible by two parallel major arterial routes, St Luke’s Mall via St Luke’s Road & New North Road, as well as St Luke’s Mall via St Luke’s Road & Sandringham Road.

 

Bus Users for routes 220, 221, 222, 223, & 224 some who may use the service for access to St Lukes Mall

Under the New Network these routes have been simplified into 1 the 22, this service could easily diverted down New North Road which is better placed to have Bus Lanes due to its 2 Lane-Flush Median-2 Lane layout & according to AT documents have planned Bus Lanes as part of the Central New Network.

New Network Central - Bus Lanes

New Network Central – Bus Lanes

The users wanting to access St Lukes Mall will at glance lose out from doing this of course, however would they? The New Network suggests not, under the New Network 22 users have the ability to transfer onto 1 of 3 Services heading to/past St Luke’s Shopping Centre, these are the Outer Link, 202, & Crosstown 6. Both Peak & Off Peak these services have the aggregate of 10BPH each way, therefore someone transferring at New North Road from a 22 service would have a wait maximum of 6m, or on average around 3m for a transfer, with Simpler Fares now in place transfers no financial penalty exists.

Also in the New Network, the old 233 which is now the 24 no longer goes past St Lukes Mall at all. So in conclusion Bus Users wanting to get to St Luke’s Mall may not be worse off  due to more likely Bus Lanes speeding up travel times as well as not being subject to delays at the level crossing which will only worsen when the CRL is completed and train frequencies increase further. Users of the 22 not intending to go to St Luke’s Mall will also benefit greatly due to not having to divert via St Luke’s.

St Lukes New Network

St Lukes New Network

Residents who use Morningside Drive Level Crossing to Access New North Road

These residents may also not be to impacted due to being able to access New North Road via Sainsbury, or having 4 local routes to access Sandringham Road as can be seen by the map of the area above.

So in final conclusion, it would be feasible to close one of Auckland’s most infamous crossings to traffic due to other options existing, as well as the New Network having sufficient services to transfer to if the 22 was changed to follow North New Road instead of Morningside Drive.

What do you think?

CRL and the opportunity to fix city streets

From the significant disruption of building the City Rail Link we get two huge benefits. First and foremost, we get a tunnel that transforms our rail network and allow significantly more people to travel around the region free of congestion. But for many of our city streets, it also delivers us blank slate from which we can deliver on the visions that have already been created for the future of the city. It is an opportunity too important to waste. And yet as we highlighted last week, Auckland Transport seem determined to waste that opportunity with their awful plans Albert St and the roads that cross it.

At their heart, AT’s plans once again show that many transport engineers and institutions seem to desperately cling to the belief that their role is to find ways of accommodating a set (and growing) level of traffic demand. In doing so they often fail to recognise that drivers respond to road network provided to them.

Adding traffic lanes and supersizing intersections is almost always a vain attempt to ‘solve congestion’. But any relief is normally only short lived because traffic tends to act like a gas, expanding to fill any space made available to it. Conversely it has now been seen time and time again that removing capacity from the road network results in traffic melting away as drivers respond to the changes.

Some of the most famous examples worldwide have been the removal of an elevated highway and restoration of the stream under it in Cheonggyecheon, Seoul, the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after it collapsed in the Loma Preita earthquake and recently Paris has permanently closed off a section of road along a bank of the Seine. These have actually resulted in net reductions in vehicle numbers as drivers find alternative routes or change how and when they travel.

Back here in Auckland we now have our own real life experiment underway right now thanks to the works to construct the CRL. Parts of Albert, Customs, Victoria, Wellesley and Wyndham Streets are currently shadows of their former selves having been narrowed down for works, in some cases significantly. An example of this is highlighted well by the image from my post the other day on the construction progress of the City Rail Link looking at the Albert/Customs/Fanshawe intersection. As you can see:

  • Albert St south of the intersection has been narrowed down to just one lane southbound with the other five lanes closed off for construction works.
  • Albert St north of the intersection only allows for vehicles to travel northbound. The southbound lanes are closed due to the proximity to the under demolition Downtown site.
  • Customs St has also been narrowed down to just one lane each way through the intersection. Previously there were three lanes westbound and two eastbound.

crl-site-visit-2016-09-albert-st

While the works are the scale they are for a reason, in many locations AT also appear to have adopted a policy of trying to minimise disruption for motorists resulting in footpaths that have been cut back and pedestrian phases changed to provide as much capacity for cars as they can. Yet for months now Auckland Transport have pushed the message that people need to change how they travel to avoid carmegeddon including through the use of Jerome Kaino to help push the message.

Based on results so far, I think we can say that Auckland Transport’s message has got through and/or that we’re seeing the same result as those examples mentioned earlier. This is because one of the most notable outcomes from the works so far has been a lack of major traffic issues. Peak time congestion doesn’t appear to be any worse than it was before the works started and during the day these roads can still be eerily empty, as this picture from looking South of Wellesley shows.

These works and previous city centre improvements show that the drivers will adapt to changes, that the city doesn’t grind to a halt. It confirms we can shape or city to promote more of the things we want and less of the things we don’t.

Therefore we believe we need to start looking differently at how we approach roads in the city centre. In some cases, plans that even a few years ago were considered visionary or even just “the best we could hope for” are now starting to look tame. We need to completely rethink how we approach space in the city centre and we can start but looking overseas.

Most great cities that we look to have come to realise that right priority for transport in cities is something like below.

reverse-traffic-pyramid

We need to start thinking the same way too. And not just on those streets most directly affected by the CRL works. Take Customs St as an example. In places it is currently up to seven lanes wide. The City East-West Transport Study (CEWT) suggested the pedestrian space increase a little bit but that there would still be at least three lanes each way.

 

CEWT Customs St

Yet the image above shows that at one location at least, Customs St has been reduced to just one lane each way and last time I looked the sky was still well above my head. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rethink what we want for the city. Let’s be bolder and perhaps start by answering questions like:

  • Do we really need four general traffic lanes on Customs St?
  • Do we need traffic on Quay St at all?
  • How soon can we pull down the awful Hobson St flyover?
  • Can we be bolder in how we redesign Hobson and Nelson Streets, including returning them to two way streets?
  • Why do we still even have cars in Queen St?
  • Can we make Fanshawe St less like a motorway sewer?

We obviously can’t do everything at once what the CRL works perfectly show is that drivers will adapt, that the sky won’t fall so we might as well be bold and design a world-class city. And of course until we can deliver that bold design, we can always start by trialling it New York style with some planters and temporary solutions.

Making Trucks Safer in Cities

Improving vehicles is a key aspect in achieving better safety outcomes on ou roads. This video from Transport for London highlights what they’re doing to make trucks safer on city streets.

The new design appears to be a huge improvement, begging the question of why it has taken so long and how long till authorities in this country start to push for these kinds of improvements to the truck fleet.