Traffic Preserves

Just before Christmas, Auckland Transport released this cute video about the causes of congestion and how to help avoid it,

The press release focused on the holiday period but I can also see them using this campaign later in the year, especially in February and March as the roads get busier.

Congestion on our motorways is frustrating at any time of year, but during the busy holiday season it can be worse than ever.

Auckland Transport’s ‘Spread the jam’ video has been produced to simply explain how traffic congestion can start.

AT’s chief transport operations officer, Andrew Allen, says there are generally four causes of congestion. “Usually it’s drivers cutting-in, following too close to the vehicle in front, rubber-necking or being distracted like using their cell phone. A heavy dab on the brakes can cause a ripple effect right down the motorway turning free flowing traffic into a sticky jam!

“All drivers have to do is always maintain their following distance and give plenty of warning before changing lanes, so use your indicators.”

He says if people are more aware of the causes of traffic congestion and modify their own behaviour our motorways will run more smoothly.

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association says the answer lies with motorists. “Driver behaviour makes a bad congestion situation even worse – AA members recognise it, and they want to see more done to raise awareness. ‘Spread the jam’ is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’re right behind it.”

A study in 2014 found that the annual cost of congestion in Auckland was $1.25 billion when compared with free-flow traffic conditions.

Remember, spread the jam:

  • Keep your following distance.
  • Don’t cut in.
  • Don’t rubberneck.
  • Avoid distractions like cell phones.

As cute as the video is, and it’s a decent start, there’s a couple things I wanted to point out.

  1. The primary cause of congestion is of course, too many vehicles on the road at the same time. Although getting people to drive better is certainly a good thing, especially on urban streets where more vulnerable road users (pedestrians and bikes) are around.
  2. Another way to spread the jam is to simply not participate in it. This can mean travelling at different times or by other modes, particularly those that aren’t affected by congestion such as the Northern Busway, rail network or bus routes with good levels of bus priority. This is obviously a bit harder on holiday trips like the press release was focused on but for regular commutes it may be a viable option.
  3. It is interesting that AT specifically mention the cost of congestion being $1.25 billion compared to free flow. The emphasis is important as the study (for the NZTA) that came up with that figure (actually from 2013) suggested that based on optimising the network capacity, the cost was only $250 million, considerably less. That’s because it absurd to build any transport network to be completely uncongested at all times of the day – in the absence of pricing. Particularly with roads, the financial cost of doing so would be astronomical, not to mention just how much land would be needed.

 

Overall a useful message but to me it’s just one part of the congestion equation.

AT’s Parking App delayed

Auckland Transport’s interesting looking parking app appears to have been delayed again. If you don’t recall, the app was first mentioned last year in a video about their recently adopted (and good) Parking Strategy.

In the video, it appears that you simply tag on within the app when you arrive and tag off again when you get back to your car so no need to fiddle around with parking machines or paper tickets.

Here’s what Stuff reports:

An app designed to replace pay-and-display parking machines in Auckland is facing delays of several months.

Auckland Transport’s $300,000 AT Park app was initially set to launch in September 2016 but was put off until early this year and now postponed again until late February or March.

The app, which will let people pay via credit card for on-street parking, would eventually phase out parking meters in the city.

Users would be able to log their location and car registration and then tag on and off.

Once the app was released AT would “thin out” the number of pay-and-display machines before scrapping them altogether over the coming years, AT’s parking design manager Scott Ebbett said.

Thinning out and then scrapping the parking meters sounds like a great long term goal as for one, it means one less thing to clutter up footpaths. I recall a few years ago reading that the parking meters we have are effectively obsolete and were in need of replacement. So replacing them with a phone app also sounds positive from a financial perspective, allowing more investment to be put into other areas of the transport system. Of course, I doubt removing all parking meters is something that will happen any time soon because smartphone usage is high but it isn’t 100%.

Based on these comments, I remain hopeful the app will integrate with HOP balances, plus also good to see that while delayed, the app has come in under budget.

An AT spokesman said it was “technically ready” for release but they were waiting to integrate it with the MyAT portal, where people can top up their HOP cards.

He said the app went through changes after its trial period, while technology for MyAT was also upgraded.

It had so far come in under the $300,000 budget, he said.

AT figures show there are 810 pay and display meters in the city, with the majority more than 10 years old.

 

Slowest City tag meaningless

The media seem went gaga a few days ago about a new report that looks at the impacts of congestion in Auckland and other Australasian cities. It’s no surprise they reported on it either, transport in Auckland is a common gripe and so the story of Auckland being the slowest city, confirming what many people already believe, was too much to pass up.

But even reading the news articles, it struck me that this was likely another case of the wrong questions being asked but that by in large, the right answers were reached, much like ATAP. Perhaps even more so it wasn’t the main findings of the report that were important but some of the ancillary comments.

The report is by Austroads, a key organisation in the development of road networks in Australasia. Here’s some of what the Herald said about it.

Auckland commuters can groan in agreement with a report that reveals the city has the worst travel times and reliability in Australia and New Zealand.

This is despite having the fastest road in the two countries combined.

Austroads Congestion and Reliability Review measured the levels of congestion and traffic across major cities in Australia and New Zealand and released their findings in a report.

The cities were categorised into groups of similar population size. Auckland was in group two alongside Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

In its group Auckland performed worst across “most measures”. These included the highest travel time delay, morning and afternoon peak reliability.

Auckland came out worst in it’s group with an average speed of 77.6km/hr. The other cities were between 82km/hr to 86km/hr. American cities of a comparative size went up to 104km/hr.

The slowest roads were St Lukes Rd, Wairau Rd and Lake Rd. While the fastest were the Northern Gateway Toll Rd (which topped the Australasian list with an average speed of 98.8km/hr), Upper Harbour Motorway and SH16.

By focusing on the speed of commutes, my immediate feeling was that this sounds like a very similar approach taken by Tom Tom and other organisations for their own congestion reports. This proved to be correct as this is what the press release says about the method they used.

The findings are based on an analysis of Google Maps data for 600km of roads for each major Australian city, enabling analysis of travel time along different road segments. The analysis was based on two months of data, comprising of 1km long road segments, with data points taken every 15 minutes, to calculate the six key congestion measures outlined in the report. An econometric analysis was then undertaken to provide insight into the drivers of network performance.

We’ve written before about TomTom’s reports, one of the key problems with reports that use this kind of methodology are that they are based on measuring the variance in the speed of traffic compared to the maximum speed limit allowed on the road. This ignores that roads can be more efficient and flow better with lower speeds, for example a motorway will move more vehicles an hour/flow better if they’re all travelling at 80km/h than 100km/h.

Also importantly, these reports only ever reference vehicle congestion/speeds, not the people using that corridor. Infrastructure like the rail network and Northern Busway allow a lot more people to be moved within a corridor, often faster and free of congestion. We know that 40% of people crossing the Harbour Bridge every morning on a comparatively small number of buses don’t suffer from the congestion those in cars next to them have endured.

But it’s here were we reach one of those right answer to the wrong question points. That’s because while we know that counting the speed of PT and other road users is key if we want a more accurate report, we also know that Auckland is one of the worst performers when it comes to use of other modes, something noted by the authors when they say

Auckland has fewer public transport options, compared with other cities. Plentiful low-cost parking in Auckland encourages commuters to drive.

Looking at the articles also raised a new potential issue with how these kinds of congestion metrics are created, in particular the mention that the Northern Gateway Toll Road was the fastest in Australasia. In short, why would you count a rural tolled motorway. Other than on holiday weekends, which wouldn’t be relevant in this discussion, this road has almost no bearing on the congestion most Aucklanders might experience. But that got me thinking, if the toll road is included in Auckland’s numbers, what else is included, especially in other cities.

So here’s Auckland’s map of the most delayed roads based on their methodology.

And as one example, here’s Perth which comes out much better in the metrics.

And Brisbane

One thing worth noting is it appears these maps are not at the same scale, the furthermost point away from the Auckland City Centre is about Drury, 30km away. By comparison in Brisbane and Perth some of the locations shown are over 50km away from the city centre. This hints at one of the potential issues, there are a lot more uncongested rural highways included in the numbers of other cities compared to Auckland. To be fair, in the middle of the report they do say that the types of roads selected for this report will impact the results i.e. more motorways generally results in higher average speeds.

The report also looks at some international cities as comparisons but oddly they decided specifically to choose cites with similar PT modeshares to the Australasian cities which means cities of similar sizes and densities in places like Europe and North America can’t be compared to see if there’s something cities here could learn if there was a different transport/land use focus.

As mentioned earlier though, despite issues with some of the ways this report has been approached, I do think it comes up with some useful points.

More important that the speed of a particular journey is the reliability of it. If you know it’s always going to be slow then at least you can accept that, or adjust when or how you travel to avoid it. But when that varies considerably every day it can be infuriating. Of course, Auckland fares poorly in the reliability rankings

They also make some very salient points about why Auckland performs poorly. These include:

  • Auckland’s geography, particularly its harbours and waterways, impose constraints on the transport system, meaning the main transport links are confined to narrow corridors
  • Compared with other cities there is a lower level of public transport provision for commuters
  • There exists highly available and low cost parking in Auckland which encourages commuters to drive

Auckland’s geographic constraints forces a lot of people to travel through narrow areas, if only there was a way to move a lot of people without needing a lot of space to do so. Despite what some urban myths would have you believe, that makes Auckland ideally suited to public transport, if was provided it well. This is something backed up to some degree by ATAP, which noted that there are only limited options for expanding road capacity within most of the urban area.

There is no one solution to ‘solve’ congestion but definitely a “more of the same but bigger” approach will not work. If Auckland wants a chance of improving congestion it will need provide better alternatives so the best option isn’t to sit in a car and hope for the best.

Driverless Impacts

The discussion around driverless vehicles has increased dramatically over the last few years and I suspect will only continue to escalate in the years to come. What’s also increased is the almost religious zeal by which some preach the technology, promising it will deliver some form utopian future. Many of the common claims used by were covered off in an opinion piece by Rodney Hide yesterday. There are a couple of points highlighted in there I want to explore further.

1. Safety

Improving safety on our roads remains the biggest promise of driverless vehicles. It means 300 fewer people in New Zealand and more than 1.2 million worldwide might not need to die on roads. Especially early on, this improved safety will be achieved by the vehicles being much more cautious on our roads as human drivers are much less predictable. More cautious also means slower and how will a trip taking longer by being driverless affect usage. Of course as I’ve pointed out before, it won’t take long for pedestrians to catch on and effectively reclaim the streets simply be threatening to walk across the road and all cars will stop.

Of course, driverless vehicles will only be as good as the technology behind them and based on. For example Uber’s driverless car that was being trialled in San Francisco ran red lights and performed dangerous turns that could have injured people on bikes.

2. Touch of a button mobility

The idea most talked about with driverless vehicles is that people will no longer own a car themselves but instead they will be companies like Uber providing fleets of vehicles for people to use at the push of a button.

Your ride will arrive with a tap of your phone. It will whisk you to your destination and disappear to the next fare.

That’s fine and a great vision but what does that mean in reality, especially when everyone is using the system. Particularly in the suburbs, does this mean there will need to be enough vehicles nearby so people never need to wait more than a few minutes and if so, where are these cars stored. Perhaps they’re just roaming the streets, racking up the kilometres just waiting for someone to need to make a journey. Do we really want to encourage the streets to be constantly filled with vehicles all waiting for a passenger?

3. Land use impacts

If the driverless utopia visions are correct then the land use impacts of the technology could be just as, if not more significant than the transport impacts. Rodney hits at a few of these in his article

No need to own, maintain or garage a car. No need to park it.

….

No wasted space for the parking of cars on the side of the road. No car parks.

If the promised revolution comes anywhere near as soon as some like to suggest then councils and transport agencies need to dramatically change their thinking now on many issues, especially parking. For example, while the Unitary Plan removed parking minimums from many locations, they will still be required in lower density developments. This could saddle property owners with a ‘feature’ which could shortly be obsolete. Freeing developments from parking and associated driveway infrastructure would likely have significant impacts on both the costs of development and the amount of land needed.

Perhaps an even greater impact from a city point of view is the amount of urban land in many of our town and metro centres that suddenly gets freed up and can be used for other purposes. It is interesting to think what impact that would have on urban land prices. As an example, in the map below of Botany, red is buildings and grey is parking.

By removing the need for parking it also means we do not need to invest in expensive park & ride and parking buildings become an obsolete asset. This raises the question of whether we should be making policy changes now in advance of the introduction of driverless vehicles such as divesting or redeveloping parking facilities now and diverting any planned expenditure on new parking facilities elsewhere.

4. Road impacts

Related to above, what happens to our roads if we no longer need to provide on-street parking. Demands for on-street parking by residents and businesses remains one of the biggest barriers to implementing better streets, providing more space for walking, cycling or transit. If driverless vehicles are coming then there should be no reason why agencies like Auckland Transport can’t be much more aggressive in rolling out these networks.

Interestingly the transition to driverless vehicles might not be as smooth as some assume. As this article from the BBC on research in the UK highlights, driverless vehicles will more safety conscious and therefore likely drive slower and more defensively than meat bag driven ones. That could result in a reduction in road capacity until there is enough of them on the roads.

5. Transit impacts

When reading the article, I was wondering at what point I would see the comment below, to be honest I was surprised it was so far near the end.

The investment in trains in Auckland will look as clever as if we had built canals for barges pulled by horses.

The idea that driverless vehicles will suddenly replace the need for well-designed public transport is frankly absurd. As we’ve commented before, driverless technology will also be able to be applied to buses and light rail, and it’s already possible to have driverless trains. Removing the driver will also removes a lot of the marginal cost of services so it means we can run more services for the same amount of money.

Additionally, while driverless vehicles are ultimately likely to improve road throughput, it still won’t be enough in dense cities. As Jarrett Walker points out, it’s not an engineering problem, it’s a geometry problem.

So a bus with 4o people on it today is blown apart into, what, little driverless vans with an average of two each, a 20-fold increase in the number of vehicles?   It doesn’t matter if they’re electric or driverless.  Where will they all fit in the urban street?  And when they take over, what room will be left for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, pocket parks, or indeed anything but a vast river of vehicles?

A driverless vehicle from your house is probably as likely to drop you at a train or busway station to continue your journey as it is take you all the way yourself.

6. Job impacts

The impact the technology will have on jobs is one not often discussed but rapid adoption is likely to be seriously disruptive to all of society.

There won’t be neighbourhood auto shops.

There will simply be fleets of driverless vehicles to maintain. The vehicles will be run 24/7 and serviced accordingly.

The savings will be dramatic. There will be no drivers. Freight and people will be shifted quickly, safely and efficiently.

Driverless vehicles will transport your children to school like a taxi, cheaper than a bus.

A trip to Christchurch will be done overnight while you sleep. The fare will be the running cost plus your minuscule share of the vehicle’s depreciation and maintenance.

According to Stats NZ, as of 2015 there were the following numbers of people employed in these industries:

  • 18,970 people in Automotive Repair and Maintenance
  • 17,390 people in Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts Retailing
  • 7670 people in Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts Wholesaling
  • 36120 people in Road Transport – this includes both freight (72%) and passenger transport (28%)

Combined, these make up about 4% of all jobs in NZ and I’m sure there are many others directly or indirectly associated with our road transport system. Now obviously not all will disappear with the advent of driverless technology but a good number would, almost certainly more than half. If it were to happen suddenly then the impact on employment in NZ would be greater than the Global Financial Crisis had where the number of people employed dropped by 2.5%.

6. Financial impacts

Finally, driverless vehicles are likely to have some serious financial implications with some potentially massive savings. One, even acknowledged in ATAP was that it “could present opportunities to defer or avoid future investment in additional road capacity”. In other words, we don’t need to spend more on new/bigger roads if the technology makes the current ones safer and have greater capacity. It also saves money in other areas too, such as road policing which is currently funded out of fuel taxes to the tune of over $300 million annually.

I do see driverless vehicles becoming an important part of our transport system but I don’t think they’re going to deliver the utopia some believe.

2017 – The Year Ahead

In this last post for the year, I want to look at some of the things I think will be big discussion points during the year as Auckland continues to transform into a better city.

City Rail Link

With works now well underway on the first sections of the CRL the project will remain a strong talking point in 2017 as we follow its progress. We start the year with changes at Britomart with the new temporary entrance coming into use. Early in the new year the CRL team are expected to put the rest of the project out to tender.

Well also be focusing a lot on what happens to the streets after construction is finished. The works so far have shown the city can still function well with the significant disruption that’s occurred already and so we believe there’s an opportunity to vastly improve them for pedestrians, not just put them back as they were.

Mass Transit

The government don’t like the idea of Light Rail on Dominion Rd but begrudgingly acknowledge the need for more rapid transit capacity. So in ATAP, they referred to the idea as ‘Mass Transit’ and said the NZTA would be looking at bus alternatives before confirming what would happen in the future. This work is already well underway and I’d expect it to be released early in the new year. We know AT had already put a lot of work in before deciding on the Light Rail option, including analysing many bus alternatives. So to be credible, this new study will have to show how it deals with the issues, like city centre street capacity, that led to AT picking light rail in the first place.

If they ignore those issues, it will put Light Rail on the same track to existence as the CRL did with the government and its agencies producing competing and often incomplete analysis before finally agreeing with the project.

The issue of congestion around the airport is also likely to be a big factor and one I think will only increase pressure on politicians to get this addressed.

Rapid Transit

I expect we will hear more in 2017 about how AT plans to develop the Rapid Transit Network. At the very least the Northwest Busway which was identified in ATAP as needed in the first decade. We know AT have already been doing some work looking at this. I also think we’ll hear more about other RTN projects such as AMETI and how to deal with electric trains to Pukekohe, either extending the wires or using battery powered trains.

New Network Rollout

In 2017 we are will see the roll out of the new bus network in West Auckland in June followed by Central Auckland a few months later.

Parnell Station and new rail timetable

In March the new Parnell Station is finally due to open. The old Newmarket Station building was moved to the site just before Christmas and is being refurbished as part of the station. The opening comes alongside a new rail timetable that AT say will speed up services – although that may be only by a couple of minutes so not the significant improvements that are needed.

Government Elections

Government elections will likely be a strong point of discussion in the coming year, especially in the latter half as voting draws near. It was of course made more interesting by John Key’s sudden resignation a few weeks ago. Transport is not usually a major talking point but we’ll certainly be watching it. Housing is certainly shaping up to be a massive issue though so it will be fascinating to see what impact that has.

Cycleways

We’re expecting to see a lot of progress on cycleways this year we move ever closer to mid-2018 cut off of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund. Some of the ones due to start this year include

  • The Nelson St extension from Victoria St to Quay St
  • Quay St extension to The Strand
  • The next sections of the Eastern Path
  • Ian McKinnion Dr
  • Franklin Rd

We’re also hoping to see progress on Skypath this year now that the consent issues are out of the way.

 

Waterview

After around 5 years of construction, in April the Waterview connection is finally due to open. It will be fascinating to see just what impact the project has as there’s a very high chance it will cause significant congestion, especially leading to the city.

SH20a – Kirkbride Rd interchange

The grade separation of Kirkbride Rd and SH20A is also due to be completed in 2017

East-West Link

The hugely expensive East-West link is going to get a lot of attention in 2017 as it moves through the consenting process. The NZTA lodged applications for consent just a few weeks ago and the EPA process needs to be completed within nine months of that. A lot of mainstream media focus will be on the Onehunga area where there is a lot of opposition to what the NZTA have proposed.

Northern Corridor

The Northern Corridor will also be going through the same process as the East-West link but so far there hasn’t been anywhere near the level of opposition to the project, especially seeing as extending the Northern Busway is now a key feature of the project.

Auckland Plan refresh

A big discussion this year will be the refresh of the Auckland Plan, the 30 year strategic plan for Auckland. Since the first Auckland Plan around six years ago, we’ve made significant progress on some issues, such as the CRL and Unitary Plan but we also face a lot of new challenges, especially around the provision of housing. It will be interesting to see how much the vision for Auckland changes.

Auckland Transport

We’ll obviously be following closely what happens with Auckland Transport in 2017. One big thing to watch is that AT will be hunting for a new CEO this year.

All up, 2017 is shaping up to be another huge year and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens. See you next year

2016 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

This is Part 3 of our series wrapping up the year and in this post I’m looking at Roads. You can also see:

Here’s my summary

ATAP

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been a huge feature of the year and while not strictly road related, I’ll include it in this summary. Importantly, despite I think asking many of the wrong questions and focusing too much on the modelling, it largely came out with the right answers. For example, it highlights

  • We can’t build out of way of congestion
  • A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
  • Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
  • We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.

Below is the proposed strategic road network for the next 30 years. As you can see most of this is already in place now.

Waterview/Western Ring Route

Near the end of 2015 the tunnelling was completed at Waterview over the course of 2016 the work has focused on fitting those tunnels out and completing all of the other aspects of the project, including the ventilation buildings and mitigation projects.

In September we revealed the NZTA had some new traffic modelling predicting the opening of the new connection to create havoc and that they were planning to emergency widen a number of surrounding motorways and local roads in a desperate bid to stop the shiny new centrepiece of their system from getting congested.

The tunnels are due to open in April, which is later than I thought it would be but I also wonder if that’s related to getting the emergency widening completed first.

In May the NZTA officially opened rebuilt Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd interchanges as part of the wider Western Ring Route (WRR) project. Both were over budget and Lincoln Rd was three years later than originally stated (and that was even after moving one leg of the interchange to another project). In October the NZTA also celebrated the completion of the St Lukes interchange, with the Pohutukawa still intact.

In July work started on the next stage of the WRR, to widen the motorway between Lincoln Rd and Westgate. A section of motorway that might need to be rebuilt again in just a few years to add a north-western busway – something the government agreed (through ATAP) that was needed within a decade. We have heard rumours though that the NZTA engineers are changing their designs for the Royal Rd and Huhuhuru Rd bridges to accommodate a busway after they were told they might be responsible for delivering it.

Northern Corridor

Related to the WRR, just a few weeks ago the NZTA applied for consent for the Northern Corridor which will turn the section of SH18 east of Albany Hwy into a full motorway and provide a direct connection to SH1 (northbound). Importantly it also includes the extension of the Northern Busway. That process will be concluded in 2017 and previous indications from the NZTA suggested construction would start in 2018.

East-West Link

The East-West Link loomed larger in 2016 as the project marched on, culminating in the NZTA applying for consent a few weeks ago, at the same time as the Northern Corridor. The NZTA is almost certainly going to face a much bigger fight to get this project over the line though as it also faces significant community opposition, especially to plans to effectively cut off the port area with a motorway and swallow large packets of land for various roads

In June we revealed documents from the NZTA showing the cost had ballooned from $600 million to potentially over $1.8 billion, more expensive than the Waterview Tunnels ($1.4b). Yet from what we can tell the economic assessment is still based on earlier cost estimates. The documents also revealed some of main risks identified for the consenting of the project, with designs at the time putting the roads completely on newly reclaimed land.

Some of those risks have been mitigated a bit over the year as the latest plans place the road mostly back on current land with most of the reclamation planned to be for more extensive mitigation.

Puhoi to Warkworth

While on the topic of big State Highway Projects, the NZTA announced in November they had awarded the contract for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. Presumably construction will start in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Auckland Transport consents for Mega Projects

Auckland Transport got consent for two of it’s mega road projects, both expected to cost north of $300 million.

Mill Rd

Penlink

They’ve also applied for consent for the Lincoln Rd upgrade which could cost more than $100 million.

Surprisingly little has been heard about AMETI this year. AT were meant to be applying for consent for the Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga but nothing has been made public yet.

 

Speed limits

In November the government announced a new speed limit guide which when in place would allow for some specific roads to have a 110km/h speed limit but also make it easier for local authorities to have lower speed limits in urban areas which would be welcome.

Road Toll

And despite the talk of safety, the road toll continues to defy the trends of the last few decades, increasing again over the last few years, as the graph below shows (to the end of October)

Are there any key changes I’ve missed?

Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus mainly on non transport stuff.

Applying for Motorways

A few days before Christmas and the NZTA have been busy little beavers, lodging not one but two consent applications for major Auckland projects last week. the Northern Corridor and the East-West Link (despite the council asking them to hold off for just a few more months). With thousands of pages worth of reports in each of the applications plus their supporting documents, perhaps the NZTA were targeting those looking for something to do over the Christmas/New Year period. Due to the volume of information I’m not going into much detail about each of these but you can be sure we will in the new year.

The Northern Corridor is expected to cost around $500 million and is described on the EPA website as comprising of:

  • SH1 widened to include extra general traffic lanes in each direction between Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation) and Greville Road;
  • A new dual direction busway adjacent to the southbound carriageway shoulder of SH1;
  • Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station, further north to Albany Bus Station;
  • A new off-road shared-use pedestrian/cycleway adjacent to the southbound carriageway of the Northern busway extension;
  • SH18 upgraded to full motorway standard from the Albany Highway interchange to SH1, with a motorway to motorway connection to SH1 (north facing SH1 – SH18 ramps only);
  • Direct connection of Paul Matthew Road to Upper Harbour Highway;
  • Local road intersection improvements; and
  • A new off-road shared-use pedestrian/cycle way initially tracking from Albany Highway along SH18 and up the length of SH1 to Oteha Valley Road.

Unlike the East-West Link further below, there isn’t much in the way of images for the Northern Corridor showing what it will look like. The images do show a couple of important things though, such as that the Constellation Busway Station will get an outbound platform accessed by an over bridge, like Smales Farm and Akoranga. As you can see the Rosedale drawing doesn’t include details about the proposed busway station as mentioned the other day.

While this one shows the proposed bridge that will give direct access from the busway to the Albany Busway station.

Here’s the plan version of that

The East-West is now expected to cost up to $1.8 billion, about three times what it was originally expected to cost. It is described on the EPA website as comprising of:

  • A new four lane arterial road between SH20 at the Neilson Street Interchange in Onehunga and the on and off-ramps on SH1 at Mt Wellington Highway;
  • SH1 widened in each direction between Mt Wellington Highway and Princes Street to increase capacity to allow connection to the Project. Several bridges will either be upgraded or widened to facilitate this;
  • Major upgrades to the Neilson Street Interchange to enable direct access between SH20 and EWL through free flow ramp connections in all directions;
  • A full pedestrian and cycling link between Māngere Bridge and Onehunga through to Sylvia Park Town Centre;
  • Local road improvements at Galway Street, Captain Springs Road, Hugo Johnston Drive and a new access road for the existing ports; and A grade separated intersection of Great South Road and Sylvia Park Roads to provide improved reliability and future resilience.
  • Landscape and recontour the coastal edge of Māngere Inlet to reflect the original foreshore which existed before extensive historic reclamation; and
  • Incorporate stormwater treatment wetlands located within new headlands on the foreshore of the Māngere Inlet.

 

Below are some images of what the East-West Link is meant to look like when finished.

This is the proposal for the Onehunga Interchange looking North and South. Notice in each of them how they show rail in the plan, which is now planned to go over the top of some roads. The also show the replacement walking and cycling bridge which the NZTA have gone very quiet on.

And here’s a shot showing the new road alongside the Mangere Inlet.

The map below shows the entire East-West plan which also includes widening of SH1 and upgrading the Princes St interchange. Click the image for a larger version or go here for the original (8.2MB)

This is a close up of the Onehunga Interchange.

As mentioned we’ll go into more detail about these posts in the new year, in the meantime, let me know if you see anything interesting in the technical documents

Airport Anarchy

For years, we and many others have been saying that better options are needed for accessing the airport and for even longer, politicians, officials and experts have either wilfully ignored the need to serve one of Auckland’s major destinations with public transport or have actively opposed and sabotaged it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost with roads reportedly clogged so bad that many are missing flights or commenting that it took longer to drive home from the airport than fly to Auckland from Sydney. It seems even Mayor Phil Goff got caught in the mayhem. And things could get worse with the airports busiest days of the year coming up.

The transport planners from the NZTA have pinned their hopes on upgrading the motorway to the airport by grade separating Kirkbride Rd – due to be completed next year some time – but one of the major problems with it is that while it removes an intersection, it doesn’t really add any extra capacity to the road network so going to do bugger all to solve congestion within the airport itself. There are of course some bus options but they suffer from the same congestion as cars.

To really have a chance of making a difference in getting to the airport, we need good alternatives. Perhaps one of the issues we’ve had is that almost all of the discussion is focused on long term solutions, currently expected to be light rail (we don’t need another debate about rail mode in this post thanks). Yet despite this route being a major issue for Aucklanders, in the six years since Auckland was amalgamated, almost nothing has been done to protect the route and ATAP doesn’t suggest anything will be build (from the north) till after 2026. That’s simply too far away.

 

One of the reasons things have come to a head so rapidly has been due to a surge in airport usage. In the 12 months to the end of October, 17.3 million people passed through the airport (domestic and international), an impressive increase of 11% over October 2015.

Essentially it appears that a tipping point has been reached where growth at the airport, along with the heavily auto-dependent development around it, have combined to cause chaos. It now appears to have caused enough embarrassment that authorities are pretending to do something about it.

Transport authorities and Auckland Airport have set up a taskforce to tackle traffic chaos that has led to some passengers missing flights.

The NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and the airport company have established a group to find immediate ways to improve travel times and congestion on the roads and state highways to, from and around Auckland Airport.

Of course, what’s proposed is mostly nothing more that tinkering around the edges.

The taskforce had agreed to accelerate a number of planned initiatives, including:

  • changes to lane configurations at the State Highway 20B (Puhinui Rd) / State Highway 20 interchange before Christmas to increase traffic flows through the intersection;
  • the Auckland Transport Operations Centre will optimise traffic signals to increase traffic flows at peak times on the state highways and airport roads, and publish additional airport-specific travel time information;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Tom Pearce Drive to improve traffic flows to both airport terminals;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Laurence Stevens Drive roundabout to improve traffic flows to the domestic terminal; and
  • deploying special temporary traffic management plans on Auckland Airport’s roads to increase the network’s resilience.

The immediate solutions are in addition to the major improvements already underway to deliver additional network capacity and improve travel times, including:

  • the $140 million upgrade of State Highway 20A and improvements to the State Highway 20A / Kirkbride Road interchange which will create significant extra capacity;
  • the upgrade of the George Bolt Memorial Drive / The Landing Drive / Verissimo Drive intersection; and
  • new bus lanes heading towards the airport on State Highway 20A.

So here are my views on solutions that need to take place.

Long Term – and that needs to happen within the next decade, not remain over a decade away like ATAP suggests, a dedicated Rapid Transit line is needed. As mentioned earlier that is currently planned to be light rail but the government and their agencies are trying to get that downgraded to just a bus connection.

Medium Term – As Patrick pointed out in this post, a quick first stem to getting an RTN style connection to the airport would be to build a busway connecting the Puhinui Train Stations with the airport. This would require a busway alongside Puhinui Rd (SH20B).

Short Term – Here are a few thoughts on some short-term options.

  • Skybus – Skybus operate services to the city with fares of $18. Unfortunately, like cars these buses also gets caught in congestion on the motorway. Further I’ve seen a number of comments in months that the quality of the service has been decreasing. Perhaps Skybus could be encouraged to run more services and with AT/NZTA covering some of the costs.
  • The 380 option – The 380 bus runs from Manukau to the airport via the Papatoetoe Train station which can have trains stopping in each direction to/from Britomart every 5-minutes. This could be a great option but it currently suffers from a few issues.
    • AT don’t market this option very much so many people don’t know it even exists – this could be easily fixed.
    • Last I heard, transferring between the train and bus wasn’t well advertised or signposted – this could be easily fixed
    • Unfortunately the congestion referred to above affects both SH20A and SH20B. With no bus lanes on the latter it means the bus gets caught in the same congestion as the cars.
    • The service is nowhere near frequent enough, only running every half hour during the day and this is an issue that we shouldn’t even have. Back when AT announced the result of consultation on the new bus network that has just rolled out in South Auckland, the ’30’ bus (a new name for the 380) was listed as one of the frequent services that would see a bus running at a minimum of every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7-days a week (as shown below). Yet after AT finished tendering for services this was dropped back to a secondary route running only every 30 minutes, despite AT crowing about saving money. As such, as a first step they should implement the new network as they told the community it would be and improve the frequency of this service back to frequent status.
      • The article says this: “Auckland Transport’s chief executive, David Warburton said AT would continue to focus on how it can increase public transport services to and from the airport “. So I’m sure David will be announcing improved services soon?

 

 

 

  • Interim priority lanes – If the NZTA were really serious about improving options, perhaps they could dedicate one of the motorway lanes to high capacity vehicles. This would obviously include buses but could also include other vehicles with a lot of occupants, perhaps T4 and above.
  • Park n Ride – Even if the NTZA got underway now with their plans to widen SH20B, it would be years before that work was finished. We don’t normally advocate for Park n Ride but perhaps in this situation, one along Puhinui Rd, near the whereas it could be justified along with a shuttle – or ideally a much more frequent 380 bus.

Those are just a few thoughts, what do you think should be done to make some quick wins?

The Ideology of Traffic

Sometimes we come across something that is so perfect and so timely that it just needs repeating as it is. This is one of those times. The following post by Charles Marohn is lifted in its entirety from StrongTowns.org

capacity

The Ideology of Traffic by Charles Marohn

The greatest accomplishment of any ideology is to not be considered an ideology; to be a belief system that is not considered a belief system. Millions of Americans went to church yesterday and every one of them knew their experience constituted a belief, that others in the world believe other things. It is when beliefs are not recognized as such that things get scary.

“This approach to design – speed then volume then safety then cost – reflects the ideology of the profession, an internal belief system so foundational that they don’t recognize it as the application of a set of values.”

Last week I was in Washington State speaking to a group of mostly transportation engineers and technical professionals. My presentation was all about questioning the core beliefs of the profession, of helping the people in attendance recognize that many of their core truths are actually beliefs, and that there are competing beliefs that they should consider.

For example, when engineers design a street, they begin with the design speed. They then determine the projected traffic volume. Given speed and volume, they then look to a design manual to determine the safe street section and then, once a cross section is selected, determine the cost. This approach to design – speed then volume then safety then cost – reflects the ideology of the profession, an internal belief system so foundational that they don’t recognize it as the application of a set of values.

Of course, when presented with these values discretely and not as part of a design process – not as part of the ritual practice of their belief system – they collectively identified a different set of values. I actually had them shout out their values in order and, like the thousands of people I’ve asked to do the same, theirs came back: safety first, then cost then volume and, last, speed. Their actual values are nearly a perfect inversion of those they apply to their design ritual.

This weekend, there was an article that appeared in the NY Post titled The Real Reason for New York City’s Traffic Nightmare. I know the Post is tabloidy; the story contained all anonymous sources and lacked even a rudimentary level of fact checking that you’d find in an actual news story. Still, it fits the ideology of the traffic engineering profession and I saw the piece widely distributed. Here’s a quote:

“The traffic is being engineered,” a former top NYPD official told The Post, explaining a long-term plan that began under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and hasn’t slowed with Mayor de Blasio.

“The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion, to slow traffic down, to favor bikers and pedestrians,” the former official said.

“There’s a reduction in capacity through the introduction of bike lanes and streets and lanes being closed down.”

Let’s apply a contrasting value system to this quote, not one based on moving traffic but one based on building wealth. Here’s how each of these statements could be rewritten:

Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to make property more valuable, encourage investment and improve the city’s tax base while reducing its overall costs.

Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to slow traffic.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to improve the quality of the space for the people who live, work and own property there.

Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to favor bikers and pedestrians.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to favor the access of high volumes of people over the movement of comparatively small volumes of automobiles.

Ideology of Traffic: There’s a reduction in capacity through the introduction of bike lanes and streets and lanes being closed down.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: There’s an improvement in the quality of the place and it’s corresponding value through the introduction of bike lanes and the closing of some streets and lanes.

Before the Suburban Experiment, cities were built with an ideology of wealth creation. That ideology was shared across the culture and, while some benefitted more than others, it provided opportunity for nearly everyone to get ahead. To understand why our cities are going broke, why they are struggling in a growing economy just to do basic things, one only needs to consider the dramatics of this ideological shift. We’ll bankrupt ourselves moving traffic and we don’t even understand why.

Time to adopt a Strong Towns mindset.

Guest Post: Airport parking idiocy in Wellington

This is a guest post from reader Andy C

According to media reports, there has been ‘an outbreak of tyre slashing’ in the residential roads around Wellington airport recently. And the cause – people parking legally (yes, within the law) on residential streets.

Like most Wellingtonians (I suspect) I’m keen to see this issue resolved, but I the potential solutions I outline below may not go down too well with some of my fellow local residents as they are a change from the current situation.

But let’s back up a bit and examine what the problem actually is.

For many years, astute Wellingtonians (and some out of towners) have been known to park on the streets around Wellington airport to avoid paying airport parking fees. It seems that in the past three to four years, with passenger numbers increasing markedly, that many more people have started to do this. And in some cases, it is alleged that cars are being abandoned by international travellers when they leave the country. And it is this that has got locals upset.

The main flashpoint has been around Kauri St, marked in red in the image. From there, it is about a 500m walk to the main airport terminal, marked with the red star. And with parking rates at the airport starting at around $33 a day for casual parking, you can see why people are avoiding paying. It is a rational decision and I have been known to leave my car on the local streets for a day or two when I’ve had to fly out of town.

Unfortunately, locals are so upset that all ‘their’ parking is being used by others that they have resorted to putting up barriers on the grass verges (one of which was ruled to have caused the death of a cyclist way back in 2013). And someone has clearly decided to slash tyres, with police confirming they have received ten reports of damage between Nov 26 and Dec 5.

Meanwhile, it feels like Wellington City Council have been sitting on their hands about the whole issue, and in their most recent statement say they will undertake community consultation sometime in January. To me that is an appalling lack of decision making by a Council, given that this issue has been running for some years now.

I have to say, in some ways I am sympathetic to the locals, who are dealing with alleged issues of cars being allegedly abandoned on their streets or blocking their driveways. But at the same time, streets are public spaces and do not belong to any one person. And a quick look at google streetview shows me that the majority of houses along Kauri St (and other local streets) have off-street parking, as you can see in the image below (which is a rarity in most of the rest of Wellington I can personally attest).

So here are my thoughts on some simple ways to reduce the heat in this battle.

Residents parking zone

If residents really are struggling to find a park, then the simplest thing the Council could do is introduce some designated residents parking areas. For years I lived in Mt Victoria in Wellington and paid a yearly fee for a residents permit. Yes it is over $100 a year, but if properly policed, it can work effectively. Yes it would mean that some locals might not be able to park directly outside their houses, but it sets aside space for them if they need it.

3-hour limit on parking

Another option would be to introduce time-limited parking in the area. Perhaps a 3-hour maximum during week days between 9am and 5pm. Again, if properly policed this could work, and it also means locals should not be able to claim that ‘people who come to visit us can never find a park’ as they do at the moment. And best of all, there would be no cost to locals for this (and potentially even some revenue for the Council from issuing parking infringement notices).

Making use of the old school playground

Finally, some people have suggested the large piece of empty land on the left Kauri St in the image above (which used to be a school) could be converted into an open air car park with at a simple daily rate. I understand the land is Crown owned and has been land banked ahead of a possible treaty settlement, so is currently not used. However this would only be a short to medium term solution I suspect and doesn’t introduce any penalty for parking on the street.

Other less effective options

One option raised earlier this year was to offer residents specific parks in the new car parking building being built on airport land. But the reality would be that few would even use it, because it would mean a longer walk home than simply parking in their own driveways.

Another option might be to offer some cheaper parking options at the airport itself to reduce the incentive to park for free, but given the Council owns a reasonable shareholding in the airport, it seems unlikely that they would want to risk cutting down the revenue they receive from that.

My choice

Personally I am all for either a residents parking scheme, a time limit on parks in the area, or a combination of the two. And as a local, the last thing I want to see are any more people being injured or killed because the Council is sitting on its hands leaving locals to do what they like.

So come on WCC, stop wringing your hands, and actually make some decisions.