The transport benefits of street trees in cities

A while ago Kent and I made a proposal for a tree lined boulevard in Auckland. Curiously, the biggest theme of the comments section was about the perceived lack of value that trees bring to the street corridor. It seems that most people consider street trees to be at best, decoration, and at worst a waste of time and money, dangerous even. Indeed I have seen road design handbooks whose only mention of trees was to outline all their problems in the section of ‘non-frangible fixed hazards’ (in traffic engineering terms, frangible means something that will break off when you drive into it, rather than stay solid and crumple your car around it).

I wanted to use this post to outline some of the reasons why trees are beneficial for our city streets. Not just beneficial from appearance or character, but beneficial in the sense of making the street work better in terms of its transportation and land use.

A word of clarification up front however. I am  talking about trees on city streets, particularly urban inner city streets with speed limits of 50km/h or less and ‘stuff’ around that people actually do there (like live, work or play, and not just move). Trees on rural highways and back roads with nothing going on but through traffic are a different story.

So my point is street trees are not merely decoration and can be included in street design specifically for several practical, technical reasons. In no particular order, these are as follows:

 An outer row of trees can provide physical separation between the traffic lanes and the footpath, cycleway and retail frontages.

Your friendly local highway designer will tell you that trees are a fixed hazard, according to the Austroads design manual at least, and that a high speed highway needs a wide exclusion zone either side so that speeding drivers who run off the road can careen onwards without hitting anything. While this is a very appropriate safety treatment for a state highway out the back of Waipukarau, it is completely inappropriate for a city centre arterial.

For a start we don’t want a high speed highways through our inner city. That what the motorways are for and we don’t want cars and trucks to speed through dense people-focussed places at street level. Rather we want move plenty of vehicles in an efficient manner while keeping to a reasonable speed limit for a city arterial. Consistent reliable travel times and total throughput are far more important that high speed alone.

Secondly, we certainly don’t want vehicles running off the traffic lanes at high speed. In an urban context this means running over whoever happens to be walking on the footpath at the time and smashing into the front window of a shop or office building! We want to keep traffic in the traffic lanes.

Thirdly, we don’t want to waste scarce city land on wide empty shoulders for our main roads: we can’t afford the land and don’t want the severance it creates. Nobody wants downtown to look like Albany (and in fact I’m not sure if anyone especially wants Albany to look like Albany either!), and we shouldn’t really be spending good money to create empty verges in town centres.

So indeed, one very practical reason for street trees is to keep traffic in the traffic lanes and out of the footpath and shops. We could use bollards or Jersey barriers for separation, or wide swathes of land, or we could use trees.

Better to hit a tree than a primary school?

Better to hit a tree than a primary school?

Trees provide a physical barrier to prevent vehicles being parked across the kerb.

This physically stops people from parking vehicles on the footpath, or in medians or other non-traffic spaces. Again we could install bollards all the way along the edge of the road, but trees can do the same job too.

A physical barrier to stop people parking on the footpath.

A physical barrier to stop people parking on the footpath.

 

Street trees provide shade to the footpath and cycleway.

Shade would not be of concern to someone designing a rural highway, where they don’t want nor expect any pedestrians or anyone else not in a vehicle for that matter. But if we are talking inner city streets such things must be considered. People walk, cycle, wait, linger and loiter on city streets and a little shade goes a long way in the summertime. Indeed in Melbourne they have started a program of street tree planting to mitigate the increasing number of heatwaves, and shading the tarmac is a good way to reduce the urban heat island effect and manage stormwater. Trees are a handy component of a complete street that has many simultaneous uses, and users.

Well placed trees can shade the footpath to provide a comfortable walking environment.

Well placed trees can shade the footpath to provide a comfortable walking environment.

Trees can visually screen heavy traffic from the footpath and adjacent buildings.

…and to a lesser degree provide some containment of noise and fumes. Once again this is a very practical concern if we are discussing inner city corridors, particularly those that are ripe for commercial development. Heavy traffic is a necessary evil on city arterials, generally speaking, but it’s impact can be mitigated through design elements such as this.

Trees provide a perceptual barrier that visually narrows the the carriageway.

Perhaps most importantly, a rows of trees can be used to visually narrow a simple two way street or split the opposing directions of a multi-lane arterial with a physical and perceptual barrier. In the case of a multiway boulevard a row of trees can be used separate the local and through lanes from each other.

Overseas, using trees to separate lanes is an intentional feature designed to break up the wide roadway into discrete sections, each section being relatively narrow. The purpose of this is to perceptually narrow and contain each piece of road to no more than two  narrow lanes to remove the visual cues that encourage speeding. In effect the trees act like side walls, narrowing each part of the road and forcing drivers to maintain limited speeds. Without them, any multi-lane street would present you with a wide, straight, flat roadway many lanes wide, all if which tell your subconscious mind that you are able to put your foot down. Of course the highway handbooks define this as the problem of ‘shy lines’, assuming lanes should be as fast and wide as possible and describing anything less in terms of reduced capacity. But this capacity reduction comes from lower speeds, which is precisely the thing we are after on streets, if not highways. Furthermore the shy line effect is almost negligible on 50km/h arterials, it’s really a highway thing.

The literature is quite clear on this topic: people drive fast on big wide roads, and creating a visually constrained roadway is the best means to keep then to the speed limit (ever been infuriated driving on the highway behind someone who is slow on the single lane sections, but who speeds up second they get to the passing lane? That’s them simply responding to the form of the road: going slow and cautious on the narrow winding bits, and driving faster when it goes wide and straight. Its a simple, instinctive perceptual response…)

So we prefer to see this ‘problem’ as part of the solution. Here the trees become a perceptual traffic safety device for reducing speeding and keeping traffic moving efficiently at the proper speed limit.

Octavia Boulevard, SF. Rows of trees turn an eight lane monster into groups of two lane streets.

Octavia Boulevard, SF. Rows of trees turn an eight lane monster into groups of two lane streets.

But what about simple beautification? 

Finally however, what if the trees were just ‘useless’ beautification? And what of the potential for ‘useless’ good quality paving, street furniture, artworks even? Is it a waste of time to make things attractive? Should we spend money on a nice looking and pleasant urban environment?

In the case of the city centre or other town centres, absolutely we should. Recall what we are talking about here are on the whole prime commercial redevelopment sites, where we should aim to maximise both the sale value of the land release, and the intensity and value of the subsequent developments. Simple ‘beautification’ would reap big dividends on the final form of development in the corridor. That’s not to say street trees are all you need to create a blue chip commercial precinct bringing in rates and business investment, but they definitely contribute. Beautification is a practical function when it comes to catalysing redevelopment.

 

An "un-beautified" road. What sort of development would this attract? Hat tip stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com

An “un-beautified” road. What sort of development would this attract? Hat tip stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com

 

So there we are, several reasons why street trees should be considered as technical components of street design with specific transport outcomes. For a wider discussion of all the benefits of street trees, transport and otherwise, check out the 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden.

Northland, Politics, Transport, and Pork

On March 28 the (normally safe) National-held electorate of Northland heads for a bye-election. The outcome of the bye-election will be fascinating for several reasons.

The first reason is that it’s politically important. If Winston Peters wins then it will be more difficult for National to pass controversial legislation, because they will need the votes of not just one but two support parties.

Legislation like the Sky City casino-for-convention-centre deal and RMA reforms suddenly become pawns in a three-way game of arbitrage between parties with somewhat different support bases and philosophies. Amusingly, National could end up leading a government not too dissimilar to what they warned the opposition would have been like, had the latter prevailed at the last election.

david_cunliffe_is_in_labour_s_ad_while_national_go_53f39d7296

The second reason the bye-election is so interesting is that transport has, somewhat unexpectedly, become a major campaign issue.

Early in the campaign, the Minister of Transport (Simon Bridges) suddenly found $69 million in previously stretched transport budgets for two-laning a number of bridges in Northland. This funding announcement was apparently made without any information or advice being sought, or received, from transport officials. This is an announcement that Winston himself would be proud of, indeed he’s pulled similar stunts in the past.

The reality for National, however, is that few people seem to have been impressed by the transport funding announcement. Instead, it has received considerable attention for delving so blatantly into pork-barrel politics.

Northland-morepork

Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of the spend. For many of the locals interviewed by Campbell Live, two-waying bridges seem to be far from the top of the priorities list.

National have also apparently linked funding for the Puhoi-Wellsford highway to the outcome of the bye-election. Amazing how an apparently essential piece of transport infrastructure can so suddenly becomes not so important when there is a bye-election.

I’ve personally found it interesting watching National’s transport pork-barrel approach in Northland, especially in light of recent political happenings in Australia, where I am currently based.

In Victoria, Dennis Nathpine’s Liberal Government tied their political fortunes to the eye-wateringly expensive $18 billion “East-West Link”. It was a bad pick, with polls showing the East-West link had levels of support that were half of comparable metro rail projects. Napthine was subsequently kicked out of office.

Article Lead - wide6165269910pke2image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.10pfiz.png1412250883220.jpg-620x349

Meanwhile, in Queensland, Campbell-Newman built a reputation for delivering large, expensive, and largely unnecessary motorway tunnels. His Government’s promises of more roading pork were spectacularly dismissed after only one term in office after a 12% swing back to Labour.

And at the Federal level Tony Abbott’s unwillingness to fund passenger transport improvements in Australia’s rapidly growing cities is receiving growing criticism. This is in stark contrast to the former (and possible future) Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who supports passenger transport.

As an economist, I think there’s a key message for National in all of these events. It’s not just that roading pork hasn’t been sufficient to save political bacon, but also that there is often a large gap between stated and revealed preferences.

Why is this important? Well, I suspect what all of these conservative parties have done, including National, is held focus groups where they’ve asked people whether they support more investment in roads. In response, many of these people have said “yes”. Something like these guys.

 

itchyscratchypoochie_03

 

The problem with stated preference surveys is the trade-offs are usually not made explicit. More specifically, when you invest more in roads, you often find that you don’t get much bang for your buck.

So while people say they want more investment in roads, after a couple of years of fluffing about with largely ineffective road investments, they suddenly realise that they’re not actually much better off. Political strategies based on stated preferences may therefore work in the short run, but they are likely to run out of gas in the long run.

The lesson for National in all this, I think, is that they increasingly run the risk that people will catch onto the fact that their transport pork is failing to return much value. Every new road that opens which fails to meet forecasts, every new business case that is shown to be baloney, eventually creates the case for your opponents to shred your credibility. It won’t happen overnight, but it probably will happen.

This is especially true when you’re foolish enough to do what National have done, i.e. hang your dirty transport laundry out to dry in the blazing heat of a Northland bye-election.

This seems to be a timely and early lesson for Simon Bridges: Emulating the pork-barrel approach employed by Joyce and Brownlee will not necessarily bring you enduring political success. Just ask Nathpine, Campbell-Newman, and Abbott if you want to see the proof in that political pudding.

The Demographics of Travel to Work

The last census was two years ago and there’s already been a lot of analysis of the results of it. In terms of transport the census asks about Journeys to Work and while it is a fairly flawed metric due to it ignoring other trip generators like journeys to education – a large component of the morning peak in particular – it still has shown some interesting results. From it we know that in Auckland the number of people commuting to work by car increased, however it has partially come from fewer people carpooling and even more importantly it was eclipsed by the number commuting by PT. Add in the strong growth in people using active modes and there’s been the below shifts in modeshare.

modeshare-change-percent

PV = private vehicle

 

I just happened to be looking at Stats NZ a few days ago and came across data giving a demographic break down of the results which is something I haven’t seen before and the results are fascinating. In particular the results that caught my attention the most were those by age and gender and how that had changed over time.

First up the total number of people who said they worked on Census day and you can clearly see from this the aging of the baby boomer generation.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland - Total

Unsurprisingly the number of people driving a private vehicle to work looks fairly similar to the graph above. What is interesting are the other private vehicle categories of driving a company vehicle, driving a motorbike or scooter and being a passenger in a car.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland -  Private Vehicle

Moving on to public transport I’ve only shown bus and train below because ferries are included in the Other category. What’s remarkable about the changes is that it so clearly shows that the growth in PT is being driven by the younger generations. The question is what the people in these younger age groups will do once they start getting older and having families etc. The changes in the older age groups suggest that the numbers using PT won’t drop off as much as they have in the past which will have big implications for mode share in the future.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland - Public Transport

I’ve also looked at the data for Wellington and while most categories have a fairly similar profile to Auckland, the one that stands out as being dramatically different is in train use. I suspect that as Auckland’s network matures it will start to look more like Wellington’s does now.

Census Journey to Work by Age - AKL & WLG- train

Next up are the active modes of walking and cycling with two very different trends. For walking its young people driving the change whereas for cycling it’s older generations making the shift.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland - Active

Lastly it’s the Other – which is likely to primarily be ferries – and those who worked from home. The latter is primarily made up of people who live in rural areas and the wealthier coastal areas places within the urban area.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland -  Other

 

Overall there are some very interesting changes happening with how we travel and those are primarily occurring in non-car modes. If the younger generations continue to keep the current trends up then it’s likely to have big implications for how people get around in the future. The question is whether what we’re building is going to support that change or hinder it.

The other piece of demographic information available is mode usage based on gender. Unlike age the gender split over each mode doesn’t seem to be changing much over time but what the data does highlight is that there is quite a lot of variance between the two based on which mode is looked at. Overall 54% of those who said they were working are men versus 46% women.

In the graph below are the total numbers of each gender for each mode – with the exception of Driving a Private Car as it’s so large it makes it difficult to see the other results. The first thing you notice is how over represented men are in driving a company vehicle. This is also the case for riding motorbike or cycling. In the other modes more women than men are likely to be a car passenger, use PT, walk or work from home.

Census Journey to Work by Gender & Mode - Auckland

To highlight the degree of over or under representation the graph below shows this for females (the opposite can obviously bee seen for males). Of these the quickest and easiest I think that we could change would be cycling and to do that it is essential we make our roads safer through far greater use of cycle infrastructure.

Census Journey to Work Female Over-Under Representation - Auckland

If anyone wants to look into this deeper this info is also available by local board level which I’m sure would show some interesting results between different parts of Auckland.

Guest Post: Orange Smoothy

This is a part one of a two part guest post by highly visible e-cyclist and regular reader Greg Nikoloff

This post is about my experiences with my Pedego brand (http://pedego.co.nz) electric bike (e-bike), which I purchased from Bute Bikes (who also trade as Electricbikes.co.nz) in February 2013. This post was prompted by Patrick sending me an email asking for me to do a post on “that electric bike of yours”, so here goes. This is part 1. Part 2 which has details of my commute and some thoughts on the future will follow.

The Bike:

Orange Pedego

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you have probably seen it, the bright Orange “Beach Cruiser”- style electric bike at events like the Cyclovia event, Meet the Bruntlett’s event, the opening of the Grafton Gully Cycleway and various times around the CBD. I and the “Orange Smoothy” were at the recent pilot Bike Rave on Friday night recently past, so you’ve may have seen it then, or even just along the roads along Remuera way or out and about in parts of the CBD at times before or since.

Some of you that have seen it, may not have noticed it was an electric one. Indeed an AT Train Manager on one of the EMUs I took it on recently asked me if that silver thing on the back was my lunchbox. When I said “No, that’s the battery pack”, he expressed amazement that it was an e-bike and wanted to know more about it. Which is a common situation – people see it as an attractive bike first, an e-bike second, that’s if they even notice. And when they find out it’s both, the questions about it always arise.

A small history lesson:

I’ve owned this bike for just on 2 years now, and have clocked up over 2400 kilometres of “riding”. I put riding in quotes, as the electronic odometer which records distances covered, ticks over whether you are pedalling at the time or not, so I estimate the actual “pedalled” distance is about 90% of that number. Its only 90% because sometimes I just decide to cruise on electric battery alone to enjoy the scenery in peace, as I motor along almost silently, sometimes I just cruise down the many hills I come across without power or pedalling. The odometer still ticks over in both those cases.

I’d wanted an e-bike for years, back when I was a kid at school in fact, before such things could have become practical – due to the lack of lightweight battery tech and no high-performance brushless DC electric motors with solid state electronic control systems as we have now.

In those days the closest you probably could have come to would be some steam-punk like creation using big “coil springs” in the rear wheel hub to somehow to capture braking/stopping energy, for storage for a quicker start. An idea I think based on the fact that there was a lawn mower that had a similar “clock-work” wind-up mechanism for starting it, instead of the usual “pull on the rope” style starter. In those days, it was either that or bolting on an internal combustion engine – my brother tried that with a 2 stroke lawn mower engine mounted between the frame near the pedals on a regular man’s bike – it worked ok but was noisy, and without a doubt dangerous and illegal (neither of us had motorcycle or car licenses then).

Why the Pedego?

Despite looking on and off for years, I never found one that ticked all the boxes, or pushed all the buttons for me. And that I could also afford to buy. I’d tried some other e-bikes a few years before and they were pretty underwhelming and gutless. But after some research and a test ride, it seemed the Pedego did met most my requirements. I was also wondering how I’d cope in Auckland traffic, not having ridden in traffic for years. A very valid concern, so that’s why I got the biggest and brightest bike I could – hence why its orange! The big tyres I got added as an after-factory option, allow me to go off road (or across rough ground like a local park), that normal bikes (and me) might struggle with and the bigger seat means my back or backside doesn’t get too sore when I do so.

As this is an upright style bike, you don’t have to hunch over the handle-bars, instead you can ride looking at the scenery and keeping an eye out for dangers. Plus being upright, it makes you “higher” off the ground than the motorist in the cars you ride beside.

While the Pedego model is a top-spec e-bike chock full of name-brand componentry, it is not the cheapest, nor the most expensive e-bike out there. The cost of my model was $2,690 for the base model, plus upgrades to a 50% higher capacity battery (15 Watt/Hr v 10 Watt/hr Std) and the bigger “Fat Bastard” oops Schwalbe “Fat Frank” tyres, a bigger seat, and some other upgrade features. The total cost with those add-ons was $3,300 inc. GST from the previously mentioned Bute Bikes in Browns Bay. All prices in early 2013 dollars. This being a Transport blog post, I’ve indexed my CAPEX spending to the actual year of spend i.e. 2013.

Yes, you can buy a cheaper e-bike but many look to me that they are designed in China for lighter weight Asian riders and won’t cope well with NZ-sized riders (or crappy Auckland roads). Some of these come with Lead Acid or other “low-tech” batteries, and the many I’ve seen look pretty flimsy to me. And then there is the after-sales service aspect. I knew from my reading that Electric Bikes as a distributor had been around for years. In fact I’d heard an interview with them on National Radio a few years ago but they were based in Tauranga back then – but that meant I couldn’t easily test-drive one. Now they’re Auckland based, and Bute Bikes have their own NZ-designed models, similar to the Pedego in functionality, but which work out about $500-$1,000 cheaper for similar features. The style and features (and the lack of colours!) didn’t appeal as much to me as the Pedego did.

Pedego is “America’s number one e-bike brand” by sales so they say – not that means much to me or you, I’m sure. After all the Ford F150 truck, being America’s most popular vehicle by sales, is not very relevant for NZ. So some e-bike for rich yanks may not be what it seems, or is it?

Ok, cut to the chase – what’s it like?

My first go on the Pedego was on a grey windy Saturday, with wet roads, not ideal for the first time cycling in years. Bute Bikes set me up on a demo model, adjusted seat and handle-bar height. They showed me the 2 throttle control modes, and turned me loose on a cruiser model like the one I figured I wanted. They encouraged me to take a spin on it around the damp streets of Browns Bay. Within minutes I was hooked on the experience. I hadn’t ridden a bike for many years so I wasn’t sure how I would cope with an ordinary bike let alone an e-bike. Anyway, a 10-minute spin showed this was nothing but an extra-ordinary bike, which produced a very big and ever-widening grin. After a 30-minute hoon around the local park and surrounds and it was back to Bute Bikes complete with huge grin to discuss the cost and factory upgrade options. Two years on, here we still are – same bike, 2,400 km on the clock, one puncture (last December: cost me $20 for a new tube at the local bike shop and they fitted it while I waited), and not much more in maintenance.

When riding its like a heavyish (25kg or so) bike that rides well. But when you turn on the power and crank power up to max, it’s like having a massive hand at your back pushing you along – remember when you first learned to ride a bike and a parent or older sibling helped you get up to speed and pushed you along as you pedalled to help on the hills? Well imagine that, except that push never goes away, it’s there all day, every day, as and when you want it – that’s the e-bike experience in a nutshell. An e-bike simply lollops along, and takes you with it.

The motor in mine is the maximum legal power allowed on an e-bike by NZ law – 300 watts. That doesn’t sound like much (the European limit is 250W and some other brands keep the 250W same maximum power limit in NZ models). When you’re on an e-bike and you dial up 100% power, you can definitely feel it, and it’s like having legs that are 20 years younger at once. You can almost become a “Steve Austin: 6 Million dollar Man” wannabe. Beat that, you MAMIL!

The e-bike goes about 38-40km/hr top speed (exactly how fast much depends on the battery charge) as the electronic controller under the battery limits the top speed to 40km/hr, Beyond that speed you are on your own again – no more e-bike; it’s just a regular “me-bike”.

They say “power corrupts”, and having that sort of power on tap definitely corrupts changes your riding style. For instance when you have to pull up at the lights suddenly while still in top gear (7th for me), normally it’s a real bugger to get that sorted before the lights go green – you either hobble off at 5 km/hr or you have to get the back wheel off the ground to peddle it around in to a lower gear. With the e-bike, just leave it in 7th, and open up the throttle when the lights go green, pedal away, and you’re usually at 30+ km/hr by the time you leave the other side of the intersection!

Another point, you don’t need to run red lights or sneak across with the pedestrians to keep on schedule. You can afford to be legal, wait with/at the front of the cars, then safely zoom away when the light goes green – and catch up those cyclists who rode through the red lights ahead of you – and you’ll do that in a few hundred metres or so, without breaking a sweat. So you can get the virtuous glow of exercise and of being a more law abiding cyclist at the same time, as well leaving the motorists behind in your dust at the lights.

Going up hills is where the e-bike really comes into its own. Yes, the obvious one is you don’t have to peddle as hard. Generally you still have to peddle – the e-bike can easily do smaller hills on its own. Really big ones, not so much – I’m sure it could make it up Carlton Gore Road on its own at about 6-8km/hr if you didn’t peddle. I know some of the back streets I cycle near the Orakei boardwalk are pretty steep in places and I’ve gone up those on battery alone just to see how it manages it, and they are over a 10% grade.

The second point, which is just as relevant is this – when you do pedal, it’s much faster to get up the hill. Which means your time spent straining at the pedals is very much reduced; you’ll still need to get some huff and puff up though. But I never have to get up on the pedals to get up a hill – I can ride seated all the time if I choose. So e-bikes make it easy to become a “gentleman/woman rider”.

The best way to visualise this, is that it simply “flattens the hills”. What it won’t do well is push you up a hill very fast if you don’t pedal. But this simply means that you can pedal your e-bike, as if it’s flat everywhere. i.e. it turns Auckland into Amsterdam. And you know what – when you cycle up the hills faster than the cars in the next lane because they’re grinding up the hill in slow crawl traffic and you, in the bus lane next door are not – that’s priceless! You can’t buy that sort of pleasure and satisfaction as cheaply, or anywhere else I know of.

And lastly, the dreaded head wind – that can be pretty tiring to ride into especially on an upright. I know from my dreaded easterly winds when I lived in Christchurch that winds are a real drag. On an e-bikes it still is, except that you are doing it at 30km/hr instead of 15km/hr or less. You get a bit more wind-buffeted but then you spend a lot less time in it. So in theory, for half the overall effort – you get there, quicker, and feeling more refreshed.

When you go downhill, the bike doesn’t recharge. The guys at Bute Bikes have some good discussion on this on the FAQs area of their website, but basically the mechanical and electrical complications you get as a result of doing so don’t actually extend the range much, so they say it’s better to buy a bigger battery and go that way and have a bike you can peddle normally. So it’s eminently do-able and worthwhile for regenerative braking on a $15m EMU – not so much on a $3K e-bike.

I know from 2 years regular use and charging that the battery is starting to lose its “freshness” – you can tell as the bike goes faster when it’s just off the charger in the morning, as compared to the go-home trip at the end of the day. Even so it still goes like a rocket. As for electricity cost, I haven’t really calculated that, but I know it will charge up in about 3-4 hours on the charger provided – which is little more than a large sized laptop charger with 48 volt output. So maybe 5 cents per charge is probably the actual cost. I think I pay more money on my power bill for running my 32 inch LCD TV a few hours each day than charging my e-bike.

The battery will probably need to be refurbished/replaced in the next 2 or so years, but it’s designed for that, with the battery being removable and is built from standard cells inside. So I don’t expect to have to scrap the e-bike ‘cos the battery is worn out. The capacity (in watt/hours) of the battery controls the distance you can get. My rules of thumb for my set up is up to 40km/hr speed for about 30-40km distance – your mileage will vary.

Having said that, I have cycled into town, up and down Grafton Gully a couple of times, gone to the new Waterfront Promenade and headed back home on it along Tamaki Drive, into a stiff easterly breeze, all at top speed/full throttle, I’ll have done the thick end of 30km and the battery will be nearly tapped out by the time I get home, with top speed dropping to about 32-35 km/hr on the way back. So yes mileage does vary. I took the bike last year on the Hauraki rail trail from Waihi to Kopu (via Paeroa) and the battery was full at the start and about 1/3 charged at the end, even after pedalling along the boring flat from Paeroa to Kopu at a good clip. And while doing the Hauraki Rail trail I saw a couple of (suggested collective noun for a group of e-bikes –“a fleet”), near new Pedegos going the other way (up the hill).

So that’s part 1 of my experiences with my e-bike. Part 2 will look more closely at my daily commute in detail to get a feel for how it works in practise.

Lastly, just before I go (for all you Star Trek TV series fans, this is the episodes “tinkly bit” – I’ll explain in part 2 more what a “tinkly bit” is if you don’t know).

Todays, tinkly bit, is a small graphic design note.

If you look at the Pedego logo, you can see it, like, the well-known FedEx logo, uses negative space to some effect – heres a close up of the Pedego (NZ) logo:

Pedego_NZ_Logo

 

 

 

You can see the D and O of word PEDEGO use the negative space to show an electric plug and electric socket (albeit a US socket). Which neatly reminds you that this is an electric bike i.e. technically a “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” (PHEV). Hybrid ‘cos it has two fuel sources electric powered and human powered.

While I’ve not read/heard the exact pronunciation of the Pedego brand name, I assume it is said as 3 words “PED” “E” “GO” , I suspect some would see/say it as “PED” “EGO”.

Part Two next Saturday.

 

Franklin Rd update

Last year Auckland Transport started consultation on improvements to the iconic Franklin Rd that is in some serious need of improvement – in part due to the damage caused by the roots of the trees that give it its character.

Franklin_Road_Credit_Craig_Flickr_stream_10240761194_c0e14a455e_o

Photo: Craig

 

Back in October AT presented two different options for the street and one aspect that was common among them was to push the kerb out past the trees to better protect their roots however that caused its own issues. The two options are below

Franklin Rd Original Options

Like many others we felt there were a number of issues with both of these designs and that AT could do much better.

AT have now released the results of the feedback they received which falls under 12 key issues.

Cycling – There was significant support for cycling facilities – 18% of responses raised cycling as an issue, 6% of those questioned the need for cycling facilities.

Pedestrians – Catering for pedestrians was a significant issue, with the safety of pedestrians a key focus.

Speed – Reducing the posted speed limit was suggested by a number of people with either 30kph or 40kph suggested. The speed limit on Ponsonby Road has been lowered to 40kph and is perceived to be working well.

Parking – Retention of parking between the trees was supported by the majority of people.

Carriageway configuration – Carriageway configuration includes the cross-section, or how the road looks from one side to the other. Key themes were:

  • Retaining parking between the trees.
  • Ensuring safety.
  • Suggestions for alternative configurations.

Options presented in November 2014 were considered to create safety issues.

Detailed design/services – Comments relating to the detailed design of the final option included:

  • Improvements to the road surface to reduce noise.
  • Undergrounding the power.
  • Ensuring raising the pavement (if this is the design) does not increase runoff into adjacent properties.

Flush median – There was significant support to maintain the flush median, primarily for safety reasons.

Trees – The London Plane trees are recognised as being iconic and important to protect and retain. Experience from overseas was also provided to demonstrate the resilience of the trees

Footpath/berm – Most people preferred low growing native plants. Other suggestions included:

  • community garden,
  • fruit trees,
  • flowers

Intersections – Safety at intersections was raised, in particular the Wellington Street intersection.

Ensuring safe traffic flow through Franklin Road is critical. At peak times bottlenecks are experienced:

  • turning right from Wellington Street onto Franklin Road,
  • turning from Scotland Street onto College Hill,
  • the Victoria Park New World where the reduction of road width (due to entry / exit barriers) prevents cars moving to the left for turning into side streets or Victoria Street West.

Franklin Road residents suggested a roundabout or traffic lights for the Wellington Street and Franklin Road intersection. It was decided that traffic lights could increase street noise for local residents and impede traffic flow, so options for a roundabout needs further exploration.

Streetscape – The visual appearance, symmetry and iconic views of the wide street are valued by many. Both original options were considered to narrow the view corridor and diminish the “beautiful and wide boulevard that has become so iconic in Auckland”.

There’s also a desire to consider street furniture such as rubbish bins and seating.

New World entry – While not a road intersection, the entry to New World was raised as a safety issue.

Following the feedback and further technical assessments AT have come up with two revised options that they are progressing. The biggest change is that AT are looking at keeping parking between the trees – although presumably on a more controlled basis than currently exists so as to achieve the aim of protecting the roots. Both options also now contain a flush median.

In the first option there are painted cycle lanes on each side leaving the footpaths for people.

Franklin Road revised plan option A birds eye view

Franklin Road revised plan option A cross section

In the second option parking on the downhill side is pushed further out and the cycle lane is raised above the road. For uphill, riders share the foothpath with pedestrians.

Franklin Road revised plan option B birds eye view

Franklin Road revised plan option B cross section

The key issue with both options remains that any on road cycle facility would exist outside of parking which will always lead to concerns. In other locations I’d probably be more critical of AT for this but given trees can’t be moved – and removing any more parking than currently planned would start a local revolt – it’s probably the best we can hope for. It’s worth noting that these plans result in the removal about 40% of the current parking on the street. As such AT will include Franklin Rd in the Freemans Bay residents parking scheme which will be rolled out later this year.

Overall it seems AT have improved the design however a combination of the two still seems like the best outcome. By retaining the recessed parking on both sides like in option 1 and probably narrowing the median a little then they could have that downhill Copenhagen lane replicated uphill.

AT have also given an update about the intersection Wellington St. They say that traffic lights wouldn’t work as they would be too obscured by the trees until drivers were too close to the intersection. Instead they say they think they can fit in a roundabout which is shown in the image below. They do say there’s much more work to do to improve it for walkers and cyclists but that they think it’s possible.

Franklin Road proposed roundabout

Overall it seems like there are a few good improvements but that there are also a few more to go.

Additional Harbour Crossing back on agenda

The government has announced it is restarting the process to protect the route for an a third harbour crossing that raises a huge number of questions.

New Waitemata Harbour crossing future proofed

Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, has taken steps to future-proof the route for an additional Waitemata Harbour crossing in view of the rapid growth Auckland is set to undergo in the next 20 years.

“I have asked the NZ Transport Agency to recommence work on what will be a critical transport link for Auckland and the upper North Island.

“The preferred route for the additional crossing is a tunnel east of the Auckland Harbour Bridge between the Esmonde Road interchange on the North Shore, and Victoria Park Tunnel and Central Motorway Junction in central Auckland.

“Advisors are preparing for the designation process and are putting together a business case focusing on the timing of construction and potential funding options,” Mr Bridges says.

In 2013 the Government announced its support for a tunnel in preference to a bridge.

“With increasing demands on Auckland’s transport network, the Government will continue to work closely with its local government partners to provide a resilient network and wider transport choices,” Mr Bridges says.

The NZ Transport Agency says an additional crossing is likely to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, and is likely to be needed between 2025 and 2030. A construction start date will depend on a number of factors, including the rate of freight and traffic growth.

Mr Bridges says that the additional Waitemata Harbour crossing will work in conjunction with the existing Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The business case will look at a range of public transport options, including heavy rail. The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport will be working together on this part of the project, including any necessary route protection for public transport.

“The Government knows that investment in all modes of transport will ease congestion and bring lasting benefits for Auckland and for New Zealand as a whole,” Mr Bridges says.

The NZTA last studied an additional crossing five years ago and the reports from that study are available here. The questions I have are in no particular order.

With construction depending on factors such as traffic growth, will the new business case take into account the actual traffic volumes from the last 8+ years. After almost 50 years on constant increases, traffic volumes fell after 2006 and have been so stubbornly flat that they are still less than they were in 2003. Not only did the previous business case – produced in 2010 – predict growth that hasn’t materialised but they also used a model to predict the volume for the starting year of their prediction (2008) which was well above the observed actual volumes.

AHB Volumes

Related, what will be the employment and traffic volume targets the project must achieve. After all if the City Rail Link is going to have bogus targets foist upon it then why shouldn’t the single most expensive project we’ve ever considered.

With the project costing between $4 and $6 billion how will we pay for it. To put things in perspective we currently spend about $3.4 billion on transport per year for the entire nation and that includes costs for state highways, NZTA contributions towards local roads, road policing, and of course NZTA contributions towards public transport. Within that budget we spend $1 to $1.4 billion on state highway improvements. In short an AWHC would suck up massive amounts of cash and that would impact on a huge numbers of projects from all around the country. Even if built as a PPP the ongoing payments would likely cripple our transport budgets for decades. As an example Transmission Gully which is costing around $850 million will have repayments once it opens of about $125 million a year. AWHC would be significantly more than that.

Will the business case achieve a Benefit Cost Ratio of greater than the 0.3 it did last time (Answer: presumably it will because of the changes since then to the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Model allowing for a longer assessment period and reduced discount rate – still won’t be above 1 though)

AWHC 2010 BCR

It’s all very well talking about a horrifically expensive tunnel under the harbour but what constantly seems to be ignored is what happens on either end of the tunnel. Studies prior to the 2010 one have talked about how any new crossing would also require major expansions to the Northern Motorway to cope with the increased capacity thrown at. How much is it going to cost to duplicate SH1 to Albany and beyond? If not then we just get this situation.

WestConnex

What impact will the $4 billion we’ve been spending to create the Western Ring Route have on traffic and travel behaviour. At the very least we should probably be waiting till after that work is completed and traffic volumes have settled down before we do any analysis of traffic demand over the harbour.

WRR project location

Regardless of how much it costs or what the benefits are one fact that can’t be ignored is that this project will have major impacts on the environment it passes through. It effectively creates a new motorway out in Shoal Bay with all the red hatched parts in the images below being reclamation and the blue parts being viaducts. I wonder what the likes of the Herald’s John Roughan will say about – note:  I still don’t think he’s admitted he was wrong about the Northern Busway.

AWHC north of Onewa AWHC Sulhur Beach

Further if some of the residents of Northcote got so upset about the idea of Skypath, I wonder what they’ll think of having a mini spaghetti junction on their doorstep. Even more so when they realise that the two square boxes on the image above where the new lanes change from tan to purple colour (to the right of the 1 symbol) are 35m high (~10 storey) ventilation stacks for the exhaust fumes inside the tunnel. There is also one on the city side next to the current Air NZ building (below).

AWHC Westhaven

One mini positive is that the government are at least saying the business case will consider a rail crossing however in my mind the NZTA also need to assess options that involve building a PT only crossing first. A dedicated PT crossing along with Skypath are the real missing modes across the harbour. This is especially important given the huge growth we’re seeing in bus passengers from the shore and in the morning we’re seeing up to 30-40% of people crossing on a bus – up from 18% in 2001. This growth in PT is likely to continue for some time yet, especially once the new network eventually makes PT much more useful to a wider variety of people. One risk is I suspect there are quite a few people behind the scenes that will think an acceptable solution to PT across the harbour is just to leave it on the existing bridge.

Car and Bus trips across AHB

The 2010 and 2011 car results seem like they could be incorrect but I can’t confirm it

 

Overall route protection itself isn’t a bad thing but any suggestion that this is project is needed any time soon is fanciful thinking. There are far greater priorities in Auckland such as the CRL and significant upgrades to PT in many other areas. The government should be focusing on getting those projects consented and underway first.

More on the Reeves Rd Flyover Decision

Auckland Transport held the first of their community nights yesterday to discuss with locals the AMETI works. They’ve also released a copy of the information boards they’re using online. Crucially the documents give a hint in to the reason behind the recently announced decision to delay the Reeves Rd Flyover.

The plan for years has been for the busway to turn right off Pakuranga Rd into Te Rakau Dr. After stopping at the bus interchange the busway would then carry on towards Botany and would do so by shifting to a busway in the centre of the road. That shift would occur at the intersection with Reeves Rd and would need it’s own phasing. The issue – as explained to me – was that because of the other demands on the intersection the but phase wouldn’t be frequent enough and would have created huge delays. The flyover was to get some of that traffic out of the way.

AMETI Pakuranga

The image above suggests that AT is looking at alternative routes for the busway with one of them going around the back of the mall. In many ways this is quite an elegant solution. Going around the mall doesn’t add to much to the time it would take for buses but gets them out of that Te Rakau/Reeves intersection thereby negating the need for the flyover. Where the busway crosses Reeves Rd it could be via a very simple intersection that phases quickly as there would be no turning movements and the shift to the centre busway would just occur a bit further south.

It’s innovative thinking like this that AT should be applauded for as it gets the outcomes for much less money. Of course not everyone is happy with the decision. MPs Jamie Lee-Ross and  Maurice Williamson along with Councillor Dick Quak have been very vocal in condemning it and I understand have been lobbying the Minister to intervene and get the flyover back on the agenda. I certainly hope AT do a good job of explaining their reasoning.

We need to stop lying to ourselves about congestion

Without getting back on the topic of pohutukawas or St Luke’s Road again, I did notice something funny in the statement that Greg Edmonds, Auckland Transport’s Chief Operating Officer, made in Metro Magazine in response to the issue:

The founding premise of the Auckland super city was that the city’s congestion was costing $1 billion a year in lost productivity and this had to change.

[…]

Auckland Transport (AT) was created to solve the congestion problem…

Some people might think that this is a slightly too narrow view of Auckland Transport’s mandate. Whatever. Fair enough.

However, there is actually a much more serious problem with Mr Edmonds’ comments. Simply put: the notion that we can “solve the congestion problem” is not at all realistic. (Unless we are willing to try out road pricing, which is unlikely given the tepid response to the last few studies of the issue.)

I don’t want to pick on Mr Edmonds in particular. It’s common to hear politicians, bureaucrats, and advocates from all over say similar things. We constantly hear that Project X or Project Y will “fix congestion” or “solve gridlock” or “save us [some unthinkably large amount of money] in congestion costs”.

As an economist, I’m baffled by these statements. The empirical evidence on congestion overwhelmingly shows that it is not possible to reduce it by building more roads. This is because people change their behaviour in response to bigger roads. They shift from walking to the store to driving there; they buy a house further out of town; they travel at different times.

Here’s what two North American economists, Duranton and Turner, had to say on the topic after undertaking a comprehensive, multi-decade study on induced traffic in US cities:

Our data suggests a ‘fundamental law of road congestion’ where the extension of most major roads is met with a proportional increase in traffic. Not only do we provide direct evidence for this law, but also show find evidence that three implications of this law; near flat demand curve for VKT, convergence of traffic levels, and no effect of public transit on traffic levels.

All earlier studies, such as this comprehensive 1998 study of 70 US metro areas over a 15 year period cited by walkable city advocate Jeff Speck, have come up with identical findings:

Metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro areas that did not. Trends in congestion show that areas that exhibited greater growth in lane capacity spent roughly $22 billion more on road construction than those that didn’t, yet ended up with slightly higher congestion costs per person, wasted fuel, and travel delay.

Consequently, all we can realistically do about congestion is to give people good alternatives to participating in it. Other modes, such as grade-separated rapid transit and walking and cycling, do not get congested in the same way as roads do. While the research shows that providing alternatives to driving does not necessarily reduce road congestion, it does give people a way to reduce their exposure to it.

In light of these fundamental economic realities, it is essential that transport agencies stop talking about “fixing congestion”. This is nothing more than a dangerous fantasy.

Suggesting that we can solve congestion creates unrealistic hopes among the public. Every time a politician or transport agency opens a new road and promises that it will reduce congestion or speed up people’s journeys, they are feeding expectations that can never fully be met.

The result of this is that transport agencies are constantly dealing with demands for more roads that will not actually deliver long-term solutions to the problem of congestion. This sets the transport profession up to constantly fail to satisfy people’s desires and demands. This has to be a tremendously disheartening situation to be in.

My personal view is that instead of talking about “fixing congestion”, transport agencies should instead promise to deliver outcomes that are actually achievable.

This could include, for example, committing to deliver transport choice to underserved areas of the city by investing in rapid transit infrastructure, frequent bus services, and safe walking and cycling infrastructure. While transport agencies would have to work hard to deliver on all this, they could expect that the end result would be more transport choice for residents.

Transport agencies could even commit to some traditionally roads-centric goals, like, say, building new roads to enable the development of a new subdivision at the edge of the city. At least, as long as they weren’t making unrealistic promises of fast, frictionless commutes to the future residents…

Northern Express delays on the way?

The NZTA have announced works that should result in an improved experience for bus users from north of Constellation Busway Station but that while it’s constructed is likely to cause delays to both bus users and car/truck drivers.

North Shore commuters are advised to allow additional journey time as work starts on the upgrade of the citybound shoulder lane on State Highway 1 leading to the Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation Drive) exit.

The temporary motorway shoulder lane closure, citybound between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway, will be in place for 10 weeks, while the shoulder is widened to take buses continuously between the two interchanges.

Providing a continuous bus shoulder between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway off-ramp will mean citybound buses no longer have to merge in and out of traffic lanes heading to the Constellation Park and Ride,” says NZ Transport Agency’s Acting Auckland and Northland Highway Manager Mieszko Iwaskow.

“These improvements, along with the upgrade of the Greville Road interchange, and the additional northbound lane between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Road, will provide better journey time reliability for those travelling along the Northern Motorway.”

Due to be completed in June, the shoulder widening is the final stage of the Upper Harbour Highway to Greville Road Northbound Three-Laning Project, which is part of the Northern Corridor Improvements Programme.

For further information please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/UHH-Greville, or call 0800 72 74 74.

For Northern Corridor Improvements, please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/auckland-northern-corridor/ or the Project Information Hub located at 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale.

image002

While the outcome should certainly be an improvement I do worry about the impact this work will have on bus reliability, especially with it starting in the middle of March.

Now if only they’d build a full busway instead of our at least as part of the massive interchange they have planned.

AT wants electric car sharing

Auckland Transport have announced they want a large region wide electric car sharing scheme in Auckland

electric-cars-berlin_497x260

Auckland Transport is looking for a car share operator to launch a large scale scheme in Auckland, based on Plug-in Electric Vehicles.

Auckland Transport has released a Request for Proposal (RFP) from car share operators to create a scheme here. It would initially have 250 – 300 vehicles which AT will match with a similar number of car parks dedicated to care share vehicles. It’s expected that, in time, the fleet would increase to at least 500 cars.

A new large-scale scheme in Auckland would be a private venture with all significant costs borne by the operator, not by Auckland ratepayers. Auckland Transport’s main contribution would be to designate dedicated car parks around the city.

Car share schemes are based on members who pay a membership fee which entitles them to use a scheme-owned car on demand, for which they pay a per-trip charge based upon the time used.

There are already about five million people, world-wide, who are members of a car share scheme and the numbers of both users and cities with a scheme, are growing rapidly, changing transport habits in the process.

Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy says evidence shows members reduce the number of cars they own, with some giving up ownership altogether. As a result, one shared-car can replace between eight and 20 privately-owned cars, depending on the scheme and the city.

Dr Levy says if a large scale scheme in Auckland achieved at the lower end of the scale, it could replace 2000 private cars and at the higher end, as many as 10,000.

He says besides reducing their car ownership, scheme members tend to travel fewer kilometres each year in a car and significantly re-orientate their transport habits onto a mix of car-share, public transport and walking and cycling.

Mayor Len Brown says, “A scheme like this can make an important contribution to both our transport network, our commitment to lowering carbon emissions, and our sustainability initiatives. Once again, it is about offering Aucklanders alternatives – a new transport option, an alternative energy source, and if people want, an alternative to private car ownership to complement public and active transport.”

In addition, car-sharing schemes had the potential to allow operators of large fleets to significantly reduce the number of vehicles they own.

Dr Levy says, “We estimate that Auckland Transport could reduce its fleet by between 25 and 50%, which would represent a significant saving to ratepayers. All of these changes would make a contribution towards Auckland reducing road congestion and encouraging people out of private cars into alternative forms of travel.”

When a scheme is based on electric vehicles, as favoured for Auckland, there would be an accompanying reduction in environmental pollution, an encouragement for more people to move to electric vehicles and the substitution of a clean, “home-grown” fuel for imported fossil fuels.

These benefits will tick a number of the boxes in Auckland’s Low Carbon Action Plan and assists our existing initiatives to also meet low carbon objectives, Dr Levy says.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) Chief Executive, Mike Underhill, applauds Auckland Transport for its leadership in this proposal which will help get Auckland moving, support the Low Carbon Auckland Action Plan and play an important part in supporting the uptake of electric vehicles nationwide.

“Auckland Transport’s proposal will offer Auckland businesses and residents an exciting alternative to using their own car in the city.”

Mr Underhill says electric vehicle car share programmes have been successfully running overseas for years. “It’s time for New Zealand to grab the opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions and make the most of our abundant renewable electricity.”

“Wearing his hat” as chairman of both the Auckland and Waitemata District Health Boards, Dr Levy says an average of 126 premature deaths each year in Auckland, of adults over 30, are attributed to transport emissions in the air.

“Anything that brings that figure down is worth doing – and this is but one of the health benefits that will come from cleaning up Auckland’s air,” he says.

Dr Levy notes Auckland already has a commercial car-share operator, City Hop. There is also a community based scheme, NZ Car Sharing on Waiheke Island. Auckland Transport has worked with both for a number of years, they are relatively small-scale operators and the RFP released today is for a large-scale scheme.

Dr Levy say both existing schemes are welcome to respond to the RFP but even if they don’t, Auckland Transport will continue to work with them.

I think this is a really positive step. As mentioned car sharing has the potential to really change behaviour, especially amongst those who also have good PT, walking or cycling options available.

This is how AT see car sharing fitting in with other transport modes.

car-sharing-transport-mode_499x265

One aspect of the announcement that has surprised me has been the reaction from Cityhop who already provide car sharing in Auckland. They have appeared to be very angry at the news. That might seem understandable however given they’ve been doing this for seven years. However given they already have an established customer base they are also probably best placed to take advantage of AT’s new found support.