Auckland Transport Early October Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is on Thursday and below are sections from the various reports that caught my attention.

The first thing I noticed was the huge number of items on the closed agenda with 18 specific items for decision/approval or for noting. The topics include a number of items that I imagine a lot of people would be interested in these include (but are not limited to).

  • Papakura Pukekohe Electrification
  • Auckland Rail Development Implementation Pathway
  • Rail Procurement Strategy – Presumably around the re-contracting of rail services
  • PT Network Name & Bus Livery – there is some more on this later in this post
  • Wayfinding – there is some more on this later in this post
  • CRL Update
  • Mill Road
  • Rail Fleet Disposal Update – What’s going to happen to our old diesel trains post electrification
  • EMU Implementation/Timetable update – there is some more on this later in this post.
  • Bus Development Initiative
  • EW Connections – The infamous East West Link
  • CCFAS2 – This is the first I’ve heard of a second City Centre Future Access Study. Hopefully his is just fixing up the modelling issues in the first version.
  • Newmarket Crossing – The grade separation of the Sarawia St level crossing. AT’s plan was to build a bridge to Cowie St but residents there are challenging the decision in the environment court.

The trend of lots of closed session items continues for the months ahead too according to this document

End of October November December
CCFAS2 Ferry Services Strategy HOP Extension and Loyalty Programme
Integrated Fares Business Case Parking Strategy Digital and Social Media Strategy
PT Security & Fare Evasion Transport Funding Agreement
Bus Service Commercial & Sth Auck Tender Dominion Road
EMU Costings AMETI
Draft RLTP CCFAS2
Customer First Strategy

On to the information that is available and from the business report we have

On specific projects:

  • AT are only just now getting around to talking with locals affected by the alternative cycle route being built as part of the Tiverton/Wolverton upgrade. From memory the alternative cycling route was originally meant to have been completed as one of the first stages of the project but we now have the road finished but the cycling portion yet to start.
  • The new AMETI Link Rd – which has been named Te Horeta Road is almost complete and will open on 1 November. This is the road I highlighted the other day for its unprotected cycleways on what is almost a motorway.
Te Horeta Rd - AT Report

Te Horeta Rd looking South – Looks like there’s already a car in the cycle lane ;-)

  • For the East West Link Connections, AT say an indicative business case has now been completed. In addition to the plans for the Onehunga-Penrose area they say they have also identified some improvements needed to planned bus route between Mangere, Otahuhu and Sylvia Park. Presumably that will mean more bus lanes/priority being added.
  • A separate paper says AT will replace 40,000 of Auckland’s 108,000 street lights with LEDs and a management system for them which allows control over each individual light. It will take place over a 5 year period for a cost of $22 million and over the next 20 years is expected to bring savings of at least $36 million.

Historically AT have travel planning for schools (Travelwise) and for some businesses but never really focused on individuals.

The Birkenhead Personalised Journey Plan ran from April to August 2014. The project recruited 438 commuter car drivers and provided advice on alternative travel options – public transport, carpooling and active modes (including to public transport). Although 76% were aware of the AT HOP card around 30% of recruits had never used public transport for commuting. There were strong perceptions that public transport offered a lesser quality of service and experience than their private car.

The programme was effective in getting participants to try an alternative to driving for their commute, with 61% trying an alternative during the trial period. This was particularly focused for the city bound trips with 86% of completing participants (111 completed full evaluation) trying another travel choice.

The project achieved a 49% reduction in morning peak single occupant trips and 42% reduction in vehicle kilometres in the morning peak. This included an extra 282kms of walking, to destinations or public transport, equating to 5km every week on average per participant and an extra 17,640 public transport trips annually.

The programme achieved a high level of satisfaction with 85% stating they were satisfied or very satisfied with the customer service they received and 60% agreed that the programme had helped them think about their travel options.

A Personalised Journey Planning project is now in development for Titirangi and Green Bay to support the new bus network implementation (which sees higher frequencies and more direct routes).

Getting people to try other ways of getting around is the hardest part so I hope this is something that can eventually be rolled out to a much larger audience.

Not really related to transport other than the impact on the road corridor but about the rollout of Ultra-Fast Broadband AT say

In an effort to reduce the costs of deployment, Chorus are now trialing a new build approach of single sided core network deployment with road crossings being installed to every second house boundary. While this approach is not favored it does provide an upside to AT through less customer and asset disruption. If these road crossings cannot be installed with trenchless technology then deployment is required on both sides of the road.

For PT:

HOP usage increased to 71% of all trips in August, up from 67% in July. I suspect a large part of this was the fare changes in early July which for buses and trains increased cash fares but reduced HOP fares by increasing the HOP discount. They say over 38,000 cards have been sold over the last 90 days. As noted earlier a paper to the board at the next meeting will about the installation of additional gates across the rail system (including potentially security gates). That is the same meeting another report will go to the board with the business case for Integrated Fares.

They say “concept development for 1/3/7 day and customized HOP cards for visitor / tourist PT and tourist attraction discounted access is nearing completion“. I hope this development includes multi day pass options for regular users too. In addition they have come up with “a NRL Nines AT HOP card with discounted tourist attraction passes is targeted for January 2015. This is a collaboration exercise with ATEED and pivots off Auckland visitor research.

A new rail timetable has been approved by all parties which will be implemented in early December and see some substantial changes for the Southern Lines.

The new timetable will provide for full 7-day EMU Manukau via Eastern Line services with increased frequency to 6 trains per hour peak, and 3 trains per hour in the interpeak and off-peak, with weekends at 2 trains per hour. Diesel shuttle services will run an hourly service between Pukekohe and Papakura on Saturdays and Sundays and connect with arriving/departing EMUs at Papakura. Papakura / Pukekohe diesel services will all operate via the Southern Line (via Newmarket) rather than operating an alternating via Southern Line and via Eastern Line. This will improve the customer legibility of the Eastern Line (Manukau) and Southern Line (Papakura / Pukekohe) service patterns and improve resilience and robustness of the timetable.

So effectively will see this service pattern implemented although the off peak/weekend services will need to be increased at or before the new network is launched next year. Disappointingly there is no mention of any service improvements for the Western Line which has seen basically no change for a number of years now.

service-pattern-post-electrification

On the new network, AT say they received over 900 feedback forms for the Hibiscus Coast consultation and nearly 400 on Warkworth. This is in addition to over 1200 people spoken to at consultation events. AT are now working through these. They also say the consultation for all of West Auckland is due to launch on 21 October and is something I’ll be keep a very close eye on seeing as I live in the west.

AT say work is continuing on a series of bus priority measures, which involve both quick wins as well as longer term programmes. There are 16 quick wins and 10 corridors for investigation. Hopefully this means lots more bus lanes around the region soon helping to make buses more efficient, reliable and therefore attractive to the public.

AT are currently testing displaying comparative bus travel times for the Northern Busway and motorway on the motorway signs. This sounds like a fantastic idea and another way to encourage people to give PT a go. The only problem I foresee is that it will lead to even more calls for big and really expensive park n ride facilities.

Also on the real-time front AT will be displaying real-time train departures on ANZ Bank digital displays in both the Customs/Queen and Victoria/Queen branches from early next month. This idea is one that will hopefully be increasingly rolled out to locations near the rail network.

Details about closures to the rail network over Christmas are included in the report. They mention the works needed to build the new Otahuhu Interchange but there’s no mention of why the Western Line will be shut for 2.5 weeks. The network will be shut for the following times

  • Sunday 23 November: diesel trains required to operate on the Manukau via Eastern Line all day replacing EMUs.
  • Saturday 29 November: diesel trains required to operate on the Manukau via Eastern Line all day replacing EMUs.
  • Saturday 6 December: bus replacements south of Penrose and Sylvia Park replacing trains.
  • Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 December: bus replacements south of Penrose and Sylvia Park replacing trains.
  • Thursday 25 December to Sunday 4 January: full network shutdown with bus replacements on all lines.
  • Monday 5 to Sunday 11 January: Western Line only closed between Waitakere and Newmarket with bus replacements. All other lines open.

And saving perhaps the most interesting part till last. AT say they have completed a redesign of bus livery that will be rolled out as part of new contracts with operators. They say they’ve used the EMU livery as the starting point for their designs and the intention is to deliver a consistent look across the modes. This is something we’ve needed for a long time so it’s great that it will be finally happening and will really help in highlighting that we have single integrated PT system rather than the multi coloured mess we have now. On the designs themselves they do feel like evolutions of what we have now on some services which is probably a good thing. I like that they’ve cut back from the massive AT sign that currently exists on the NEX to one that doesn’t obscure the view out the rear windows. It also appears they are planning some large wayfinding signs on the side of the buses which should hopefully help customers.

2014 - October - Bus Livery

It is also the first time I’ve heard about NEX2 and all I can assume is it’s another service pattern on the Busway. Also with AT going for a multi-modal look I wonder if they’ll do anything about the look of the ferries.

Lastly linked to the bus livery AT is looking at improving wayfinding signs. Below is an example of what this

2014 - October - Wayfinding

They say improving wayfinding is an AT led all of council project which presumably means the same types of design will also pop up in other places such as parks.

NZTA appealing Basin Flyover

The NZTA have announced they are going to challenge the decision of the Board Of Inquiry (BOI) to decline the consent for the Basin Flyover.

The Basin Reserve flyover battle is heading to court.

The New Zealand Transport Agency will today reveal its intention to fight the decision by a board of inquiry to decline resource consent for the controversial highway project.

The agency is worried that, if the flyover ruling is allowed to stand, it will set a legal precedent that could jeopardise all major infrastructure projects planned throughout the country.

Appeal documents were filed with the High Court at Wellington late last night.

Appeals against board of inquiry decisions can be made only on points of law, and Transport Agency acting chief executive Dave Brash said the board’s 504-page final decision contained “concerning” errors. Those errors had left NZTA, other agencies and councils uncertain how they should deliver vital infrastructure, he said.

“These uncertainties have the potential to create legal precedents that would constrain progress, not just on roading projects but on future … non-transport infrastructure.”

In my opinion the decision made by the BOI clearly showed they understood the implications of the project and the decision they were making. I think someone the NZTA forget that there’s not a clause in the RMA that states all road projects get rubber stamped.

The board of inquiry’s four commissioners voted 3-1 to reject the $90 million project in July, saying NZTA had failed to properly consider alternative ideas and solve the damage the flyover would do to the surrounding heritage area.

The three who voted against the project felt it was inappropriate to consider the benefits of the flyover within the wider context of a proposed second Mt Victoria tunnel and bus rapid transit network, because those projects had not been fully developed.

Brash said: “Disregarding future projects simply because they are not yet consented creates a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.

It sure was a chicken and egg situation and the NZTA were the eggs. The BOI rightly said each project has to stand on its own and this project didn’t as many of the benefits claimed for it were actually attributed to other projects.

It could take to to another year for the hour court to make a decision and if that goes the NZTAs way for the BOI to reconsider the out application. That’s time the NZTA could be getting on with a better solution.

Basin Bridge Image 2

Airport Motorway upgrade

The NZTA have announced that next year they will be starting construction on grade separating the intersection of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd and bringing SH20A up to full motorway standard. The project was announced last year as part of the governments Accelerated Roads Package which is seeing them pump $800 million into making bigger motorways. For those that don’t know the area well the intersection being grade separated is below. The NZTA don’t explicitly say however the intersection of SH20A with Montgomerie Rd will be closed as part of the motorwayification of the road.

Kirkbride Rd Grade Separation location

This specific project is costing $140 million and it appears the NZTA have let their most mono-modal engineers loose in the asylum to design it.

Key features of the project include the construction of a trench that will carry SH20A – the main road link to and from Auckland Airport – under Kirkbride Road, new facilities on local roads for walkers and cyclists, and the provision for future bus shoulders on the state highway.

Mr Gliddon says keeping Kirkbride Road at its present level and sending motorway traffic underneath will improve local connections and safety for people on either side of the current intersection.

“Separating the two roads means children will no longer have to cross a busy state highway to get to and from school,” he says. “The airport’s also expected to become a lot busier in the future and separating SH20A from Kirkbride will help manage that.”

The SH20A to Airport project is one of four transport programmes that are being accelerated by the Government to help manage the projected growth in population, jobs, and freight in Auckland. The others are the East West Connection on the north side of Manukau Harbour, and improvements to the Northern and Southern Corridors along State Highway 1.

Construction is due to start in 2015. To minimise disruption to people, it is timed to coincide with work to construct Watercare’s Hunua 4 pipeline across the Kirkbride Road intersection.

Mr Gliddon says that in addition to next month’s public information days, community newsletters and a project website will be used to help keep people informed of what is happening.

”We are committed to working with the community and keeping them up to date with what is going on,” Mr Gliddon says.

Kirkbride Rd Grade Separation

Here are some of the issues I have with this

  • Despite Kirkbride Rd being only a single lane to the east of the intersection it seems like the engineers plan to monstrously oversize the interchange with it being six lanes wide in a bid to cater for almost every kind of movement in it’s own lane. On top of that the very suggestion of making it easier for kids to walk to school is plan and simple BS. Every corner of the intersection has slip lanes for cars and trucks to hurtle through which is hardly the place we’d want kids crossing the road or riding their bike. On the NZTA page for the project they even try to claim that this will reconnect the currently severed community – it will do nothing of the sort.
  • The NZTA say they are designing the project so that it only has the provision for bus shoulders some time in the future. Why not at the very least build those bus shoulders at the same time.
  • Cyclists are being kicked off SH20A which is probably a good thing seeing as it’s already a very high speed road but are being dumped on to the local road network instead with no indication that those local roads will be upgraded (other than the diagram below which shows that at least one section of Kirkbride Rd (presumably between SH20A and Ascot Rd) will have both shared paths and on road cycle lanes although the on road lanes also don’t appear to be protected.

Kirkbride Rd Layout

  • One area that the NZTA suggest a lot of effort will be put is in the landscaping around the road to make it more welcoming for visitors. What’s the bet that they will probably spend more on landscaping than they do on other transport modes?
  • The big elephant in the room of course is the question around Airport rail. Auckland Transport have yet to even release a rough route despite work on the project happening as long as 3.5 years ago (I understand they do have one planned/agreed on though). If the NZTA were truly muilti-modal like they try and claim they would at the least be building the project like the Maioro St interchange which has an extra span so rail can be added later easily.

CFN - Maioro St

According to the Herald, the NZTA are predicting 140,000 vehicles a day using the road by 2041. That figure seems insanely high so to put that figure perspective there are currently about 40,000 vehicles per day using the state highway to get to/from the airport. There are also approximately another 18,000 vehicles per day on Kirkbride Rd. The only sections of state highway  that carry more than 140,000 vehicles as day is on SH1 between the Mt Wellington and Grafton and again between St Mary’s Bay and Onewa Rd. All of those sections need vast expanses of asphalt to move that number of vehicles so having 140k trips a day on a four lane motorway seems like a recipe for congestion.

Overall while I can accept some of the need for the project it ends up feeling just like it’s spending $140 million of to remove a set of traffic lights (maybe two if you include Montgomerie Rd) and not really getting much in return.

If you want to find out more about the project the NZTA is holding some open days in a few weeks.

  • Saturday 11 October: Mangere Markets, Mangere Town Centre (7am-2pm)
  • Monday 13 October: Mangere Central Community Centre, 241 Kirkbride Road (3pm-7pm)
  • Wednesday 15 October: Mangere Central Community Centre, 241 Kirkbride Road (3pm-7pm)
  • Saturday 18 October: Sudima Hotel Auckland Airport, 18 Airpark Drive, Airport Oaks (11am-3pm)

Economics and the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

The final decision from the Board of Inquiry confirming the Puhoi to Warkworth toll road was published on 12th September but, what with one thing and another, I’m only now getting round to writing about it. The final report is largely unchanged from the draft version.

Here’s a reminder of the route, which runs from Puhoi to a point 2km north of Warkworth:

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

The toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing SH1 and reduce travel time to the north of Warkworth by just three minutes compared to the current journey time.  Most Warkworth residents will find the new toll road won’t be quicker (and in some cases slower) than the existing SH1.

Probably the most perplexing thing about the BOI Report is the complete absence of any consideration of the economic impacts on the community.

Section 8.5 of the report is headed “Economics” and starts off promisingly, but it is only three paragraphs and really just sets the scene for the Board’s consideration of economic impacts:

[200] It is necessary to consider the economic impacts of the Project in the context of the Act. These impacts are particularly relevant to the Part 2 assessment that the Board conducts later in this Report.

[201] The purpose of the Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in a manner which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (s 5). Under s 7 of the Act it is necessary to have particular regard to certain matters
including the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources.

[202] A number of representations and submissions questioned the adequacy of NZTA’s consideration of alternatives. Also questioned were the wisdom of the use of public monies on the motorway Project and whether or not there had been an adequate cost-benefit analysis. These issues are dealt with in another section of this Report.

Regular readers will recall that the toll road hasn’t been subject to any economic analysis (even the standard Economic Evaluation Manual), however the Board discusses this in section 10.5, para 374:

[374] One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based. Nonetheless, the submissions generally, and the statutory status of “alternatives” in particular, require the Board to deal briefly with these issues.

In comments to the Board, CBT responded by pointing out that “no economic evidence in chief was supplied by the applicant in support of the project, so there was no evidence to challenge.”  CBT sought an amendment to the report, asking for some commentary from the Board as to why it considers an economic analysis of the Project’s impact on the community is not necessary, but none was forthcoming in the final version of the report.

Further on, the Board states in paragraph 379:

…Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it.The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion.

Again, in comments to the Board, the CBT pointed out the “value for money” criterion on p.144 of the AEE refers to the “ability of the option to be tolled”.  In this context, “value for money” refers to value for money for the applicant, and not to the value to the community.  Value to the community, alongside possible negative economic impacts to the community should be the primary consideration of the Board.

Neither of these and other comments resulted in any changes to the draft report. Instead, in a separate document, the Board notes the following with regard to the CBT and Generation Zero’s comments on the draft report in section 1.6

[18] There may, in respect of any proposal, be positive or adverse economic effects. These positive or negative economic effects may impact on entire communities or on individuals. It is also clear law that the financial viability of a proposal is not an appropriate matter for a consent authority to consider.

[19] It was against that background that the Board’s Draft Decision contained the various passages which the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero seek to be further justified. But it is not for the Board to scrutinise the economic viability of the Project (regardless of whether the proposed highway is a toll highway or not).

[20] There were many representations from territorial authorities in Northland and transport groups that the Project would bring significant regional economic benefits and cost savings.

[21] Consent authorities and Boards established under the Act are required to make planning judgments which inevitably (as is the case with all decision makers) engage the common sense and life-experience of Board members. The effects of a heavy truck and trailer unit moving slowly up a steep hill, with other traffic stretching out behind it, on fuel consumption and journey times is self evident and need not be a matter for direct evidence.

[22] Whether or not improved highways designed for vehicular transport of goods and private motorists, with the resulting consumption of fuel, is desirable (economically, socially, or otherwise), or whether motor vehicle use should be discouraged and public transport enhanced, are indeed “high policy” matters and cannot properly be dictated or influenced by this Board.

[23] The Board accepts that Mr Pitches’ cross-examination of NZTA’s Traffic Report as it related to traffic flows in and around Warkworth5 indeed challenged some of the information provided by NZTA. But it was not, in the circumstances, necessary for the Board to make further factual findings beyond those which it did relating to Warkworth traffic generally and the Hill Street intersection in particular.

[24] As stated, the Board has noted the comments of the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero. It is unnecessary, however, for the Board to do anything further. The economic concerns of both organisations were, to the extent that they can be, carefully considered. Those concerns certainly cannot be described as minor or technical.

And that’s it. So the Board hasn’t considered any evidence about the economic impacts on the community at all, as they set out to do in section 8.5.  Instead they conflate the economic viability of the project (which they don’t have to consider) with the economic impact on the community (which they do). It is also worth pointing out that the representations referred to in para 20 didn’t contain any economic evidence either. The Northland territorial authorities simply asserted that the toll road would be good for Northland’s economy.

So, all in all, a disappointing decision that doesn’t really address economic impacts on the community, other than accepting the assertions of the applicant which aren’t based on any hard economic studies.  I’m not an RMA lawyer, but potentially I see this as setting a precedent for all future infrastructure projects whereby economic benefit cost studies need not be supplied at all.

The decision is also in stark contrast to the Basin Bridge decision, which declined the Basin Reserve flyover. In that decision, the Board carefully discusses economic effects in the context of a cost benefit framework.  In the consideration of alternatives, the Board appointed its own peer reviewer and found that consideration had been inadequate.

NB: Any appeal would need to be lodged by the 3rd October, however the CBT decided at its last Committee meeting that we will not be pursing this option. The cost and effort would be prohibitive and the result of an appeal would simply direct the Board to reconsider their decision.

Our love affair with personal mobility

We often hear that New Zealanders have a love affair with their cars. Some people argue that driving is an essential element of our national psyche: even if we succeeded in providing good walking, cycling, and public transport options, Kiwis would doggedly insist upon taking their cars. Even if it didn’t make any sense to do so.

There is some basis for this idea. We do, after all, have an unusually high rate of vehicle ownership. We’re the eighth-most vehicle-owning nation in the world, with 712 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2010. If you take out the anomalously wealthy micro-states – San Marino, Monaco, etc – we’ve got the fourth-highest rate of vehicle ownership, behind the US, Iceland, and Australia.

Let’s set aside the question of whether Kiwis are freely choosing to own loads of cars, or whether car ownership is required by our poor public transport system, and take a look at the cultural aspects of car ownership.

As it turns out, if we take a historical perspective, New Zealanders do have a real preference for personal mobility. But that hasn’t always meant owning cars – the preferred means of getting around have changed as technology and society changed. We expect this process of change to continue – New Zealanders will get rid of their cars as better options become available. (In fact, they already are.)

So let’s take a look at the history of personal mobility in post-European settlement New Zealand.

te ara waka 2003

People also had some pretty awesome means of getting around before the Europeans arrived (Source)

In his brilliant history of the New Zealanders, Making Peoples, James Belich comments that the relatively sparse population density of early European settlements was associated with a surprisingly low rate of social isolation. This was because pakeha New Zealanders tended to travel faster than their forebears in Britain, as a result of extremely high levels of horse ownership:

Horses were expensive in the early 1850s; bullocks were cheaper and preferable on poor roads. There were 115 horses per thousand Europeans in 1851, and some of those were actually owned by Maori. But by 1858, there were 254 per thousand, much of the breed stock having been imported from Tasmania. By 1867, despite the large inflow of people, there were 302 horses per thousand, and 333 by 1878. The equine ratio peaked at 400 per thousand in 1911, and declined slowly thereafter with the development of the petrol engine.
[...]
One horse for every three people was a vastly higher ratio than in Britain, and, from the 1860s, New Zealand horses were cheaper to buy. Mild winter and more easily available grazing meant they had always been cheaper to keep. Easier access to horse ownership, like house ownership, had interesting social implications… [p 354]

I note briefly here that it wasn’t the petrol engine that did in horse transit in the early 20th century. It was actually a combination of the urbanisation of the NZ population, which meant that it was increasingly hard to clear away manure piling up in cities, and the invention of the humble bicycle, which was cheaper to own and run while enabling similar levels of mobility.

Back to Belich – he argues that horse ownership enabled relatively high levels of social interaction even in seemingly isolated rural areas:

Further out of town, high access to horses must have increased the power to associate. In 1881, New Zealand had about six times more horses per thousand people than Britain. Roads were often very bad, but roads and tracks impassable to wheeled traffic were sometimes still traversable by riders. Poor roads were more of an obstacle to economic transport than to social transport. ‘The attitude to travel and distance of the rider or [coach, trap or buggy] driver was totally different to that of the pedestrian or dray driver.’ Riding was several times faster than walking over substantial distances. Even if allowance is made for bad roads, widespread horse ownership must have significantly reduced the social effects of geographical isolation. [p 419-420]

A few decades later, the technology had changed but the social dynamics of transport remained the same. After bicycles were invented and commercialised in the 1860s, they swiftly spread across New Zealand. A few technological innovations later – chain-driven safety bicycles, brakes, etc – the price of bikes was coming down and ridership was on the way up. Personal mobility was still king – but two wheels were now preferred over four hooves.

The book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand, written by the Kennett brothers, provides an interesting window into New Zealand’s “golden age” of mass cycling in the first half of the 20th century:

Between 1900 and 1950, New Zealand imported nearly 800,000 bicycles and manufactured thousands more. By the late 1930s, an estimated 250,000 bicycles were being ridden in New Zealand – one for every six people. [p 21]

Cycling, unlike horse ownership, was most heavily concentrated in urban centres, where it was taken up in massive numbers:

Christchurch, nicknamed ‘Cyclopolis’, was the centre of New Zealand’s cycling boom. In 1924, the Christchurch City Motor Inspector estimated that there were 40,000 cyclists in the city – almost half the population. There were 56 cycle dealers and no fewer than 33 cycle clubs. On 4 March 1936, a Christchurch traffic census recorded that 11,335 cyclists had passed the BNZ corner of Cathedral Square between 8 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. – a rate of 19 per minute…

Despite the huge popularity of cycling in Christchurch, a cycle workers’ representative claimed in 1938 that many more bicycles were being imported into northern cities and that “twice as many are absorbed by the North Island as in the South in proportion to the distribution of population”. This suggests that while most people already had bikes in Christchurch, many North Islanders were still taking up cycling in the late 1930s. [p 32-33]

The bicycle’s egalitarian nature was a good fit with New Zealand society – bikes transported the young and old, men and women, and people of all social classes. The book provides all sorts of interestingly suggestive examples – Palmerston North’s cycling fire brigade, Christchurch’s wheeled female nursing corps, bushmen and deer-cullers outfitted with bicycles to make it in to town, etc.

Christchurchs's Atalanta Cycling Club combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women's lib (Source)

The Atalanta Ladies’ Cycling Club in Christchurch combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women’s lib (Source)

As we know, bicycles didn’t remain the mode of choice. After World War II, rural New Zealanders replaced their horses with cars and urban New Zealanders replaced their bikes with cars. We now define personal mobility as the possession of four wheels and a ton of metal and plastic. But it’s important to realise that car ownership itself is not necessarily the be-all and end-all here. It’s just a means of getting around.

History teaches us that New Zealanders will eagerly embrace new and better transport options. We’re less attached to individual technologies, including the car, than we are to mobility. Why would we insist upon travelling in a certain way, regardless of how costly and inconvenient it becomes?

At this point New Zealand is an urban nation, and urban transport solutions are different. Urban transport systems based solely around the car suffer from congestion and the need to spend increasing amounts of money on roads in a Sisyphus-like effort to reduce it. Fortunately, public transport networks can be excellent at offering personal mobility if they are designed well. Transport consultant Jarrett Walker, who helped design Auckland’s New Network, is a big proponent of this idea. His slogan is “frequency is freedom” – meaning, essentially, that buses or trains that turn up every few minutes and connect to other frequent services allow people to get to wherever they’re going, whenever they want.

Frequency is freedom

Frequency is freedom!

Finally, as someone who bikes to work, I can vouch for the speed and ease of urban cycling. When I bike down Symonds St in the morning, I am usually the fastest-moving thing on the road. I often beat the cars back up the hill at the end of the day, too. So I’ll give the last word to the Kennett brothers, who recall an idea that we should perhaps get started again:

Publicised races to work, from the suburbs to the centre of NZ cities, were common around 1980,”with bicycles usually winning hands down. [p 51]

Waterview Connection July Time Lapse

The latest time lapse from the Waterview Connection project

The TBM is getting very close to the end of the first tunnel with it less than 300m to go.

The difference between Traffic Engineers and Planners

We often deride traffic engineers for the road dominant nature of Auckland. Sometimes this can be a bit unfair as we know not all engineers are bad and the term is often be a bit of a catch all phrase for those involved in the road design process. So when I refer to traffic engineers I’m referring perhaps more to the people and processes that sees the focus on movement and storage of vehicles over a public realm that focuses on people, the type that an urban planner might try to deliver. This post from Greater Greater Washington highlights these opposing ideas perfectly. A freeway was closed along a section of the Anacostia River in Washington DC after a new and updated freeway bridge was built over the river and the old freeway bridge turned into a local road.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT’s options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.

Washington Freeway replacement Option 2

So basically a road and a few cycle lanes surrounded by likely a lot of not very useful green space (the option above even included underground parking under the road for almost the entire length). The other options were all variations of the same theme and this is exactly the same type of thing we would see here in Auckland – and are seeing with proposals to upgrade local roads e.g. Lincoln Rd.

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT’s analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells’ urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP’s options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:

These are just some of the options they came up with and include various versions of parks, and development options.

Washington Freeway replacement Planner options

What’s worth noting is that the planners options contained just as many traffic lanes as the traffic engineers options did due to the transport engineers making it a requirement. The post questions the need for it to be four lanes but what is clear is that there are some quite different thinking going on between those just responsible for the movement of vehicles and those who also consider people and the city as a whole.

In Auckland if we could get more of the latter and less of the former then we could end up with a fantastic city that still allows for a wide range of movement even for those that want to drive.

 

Lincoln Rd consultation feedback

Between last November and February this year Auckland Transport ran consultation for a plan to further widen Lincoln Rd. It’s a road I’m particularly familiar with seeing as I use it regularly.

The upgrade seeks to

  • widen Lincoln Road to provide an additional bus and high occupancy vehicle (transit) lane on each side of the road to increase capacity and improve passenger travel times.
  • upgrade existing intersections to reduce congestion and improve safety
  • build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety
  • install shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the road
  • implement stormwater treatments to minimise surface flooding
  • relocate and upgrade existing utility services
  • integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s current motorway interchange upgrade.

The plan raised a number of concerns for me, in particular that despite all the widening buses still wouldn’t have a dedicated lane. That despite having to buy up land for the widened road AT were still only proposing shared paths for walking and cycling – which happens to go against the region wide standards they were separately consulting on. Lastly that the intersections where horrifically massive blowing out to 9 lanes in places in a bid to try and cater for every single direction of movement in a dedicated lane or two. Here’s a cross section

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

And a video of the proposal

Auckland Transport have finally provided the feedback from the consultation and all up they received 162 responses and here are the results of some of the key themes.

Of the 162 people who made submissions, only 12 did not support any aspect of the proposals. Of the 162, 79 made a postal submission and none opposed the project overall.

The major issues identified by submitters, were:

  • AT’s proposal is to widen Lincoln Road to create include a bus/T3 lane in both directions. This would convert to a bus-only lane when demand is great enough

23 submissions supported having bus lanes
25 submissions suggested that if Lincoln Road is to be widened a bus lane should be installed immediately and not also be a T3.

Decision:
It may not be possible to make bus-only lanes immediately. This is being explored.

17 submissions supported T3 lanes.
27 submissions supported T2 instead of T3 lanes
19 submissions suggested converting an existing road lane to T3

Decision:
Many more vehicles would use the transit lane if it is a T2 and this would interfere with the efficiency of the bus service.
Converting an existing lane to T3 was explored and will cause greater congestion and delays because it will restrict the majority of vehicles to one lane

  • AT’s proposal is to have off-road shared paths on either side of Lincoln Road, for pedestrians and cyclists.

16 submissions appreciated improved cycling provisions and a further four supported improved pedestrian provisions.
60 submissions favoured separated cycle-ways.

Decision:
A separated facility for cyclists will be investigated as part of the detailed design

  • AT’s proposal is to have a raised solid median which would enable centreline planting and restrict right turn opportunities, including right turns to and from driveways.

29 submissions supported a solid median and only six submissions opposed a solid median.

Decision:
With clear support for the solid median, AT will include this in the final design

  • AT’s proposal included connecting Preston Avenue to Lincoln Road.

31 submissions opposed this aspect of the proposal.

Decision:
Because of the clear majority opposed, AT will not make a vehicle connection between Preston Avenue to Lincoln Road.

  • AT proposals covered a variety of other measures, such as pedestrian crossings, slip lanes, right turns, signals, etc.

39 submissions were received in total in relation to these issues, but no more than five submissions on any one individually

This feedback raises some questions. Why do they say AT may not be able to make the new lanes bus only, after all they do control the road and the widening project. In addition why do they only say separated cycling facilities will only be investigated as part of the detailed design. That seems very non-committal and hints that they may turn around later and say “we investigated separated facilities but decided against doing them”.

Driverless in the rain

Occasionally someone will argue that we don’t need to invest in public transport as new technology like driverless cars will come along and render our roads much safer and more efficient. In some cases they say the impact on the transport system will be similar to the one that private vehicles started having on transport. At the transport debate just over a week ago Transport Minister even spoke about a future of diverless vehicles after being given a ride in one of Google’s prototype autonomous vehicles.

We’re told this technology is just around the corner and it will soon be on the market. However in many ways it seems much like a carrot that’s constantly hanging from a stick in front of us as despite the progress being made by Google the technology is still a long way away from becoming a reality.

Many motorists dream of the day they can sit back and relax while their car drives itself.

And while Google and other companies are working hard to make autonomous vehicles a reality, it could take years to create a car that can negotiate complex situations on the road – including wet weather conditions.

Google’s self-driving cars can’t currently cope in heavy rain or snow – or find their way around 99 per cent of the US, an insider has admitted.

According to MIT Technology Review, the current prototype cars are very reliant on maps to navigate and can’t react like a human driver, dodging potholes and other hazards.

Google’s cars have driven themselves over 700,000 miles (1,126,540km) but they can’t cope in snowy conditions and cannot negotiate heavy rain.

Chris Urmson, director of the Google car team, said this is because the detection technology is not yet strong enough to separate certain objects from weather conditions.

While the cars’ cameras can spot a traffic light changing, they can be confused by strong sunlight.

They don’t distinguish between an empty plastic bag – which could be easily driven over – or a rock, so cars must drive around both. They also can’t detect uncovered manholes or potholes.

Mr Urmson told the publication: ‘I could construct a construction zone that could befuddle the car.’

The cars ‘see’ pedestrians as moving blocks of pixels and know to stop, but unlike a cautious human driver, they could not spot a traffic policeman at the side of the road, waving for traffic to stop – which could lead to trouble.

Those seem like some fairly serious issues that need to be addressed before the technology could even be considered for public use. For their part Google thinks the issues could be resolved in 5 years-time but I suspect that timeframe could turn out to be a pretty wild guess. Going further, even if Google manage to get everything working fantastically within that time frame  it’s unlikely there’ll be more than a handful in the country for quite some time and it would take decades before they’re owned  in any quantities. For the time being at least it seems like we still not going to see any change to the status quo.

Wellesley St Underpass Timelapse

The timelapse below shows what it took for the NZTA and their contractors to build a cycling underpass at Wellesley St. While the road was narrowed the street itself was only closed for about a week. Now if only we could get some similar underpasses at interchanges like St Lukes.