Houston and the fallacy of “roads first” transport policy

Over the last 50 or 60 years, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and a number of other countries have pursued a “roads first” approach to transport policy. There have been significant public investments in (generally un-tolled) roads, and relatively few investments in competing transport modes.

It’s hard to justify this approach based on preexisting travel patterns. Take Auckland as an example. According to Paul Mees [Transport for Suburbia, p. 21], in 1954 Auckland’s public transport network “accounted for 58 per cent of trips by motorized modes, private transport only 42 per cent. When walking and cycling, which were not surveyed, are taken into account, it is likely that fewer than a third of daily trips were by car.”

However, from this date onward roads – not public transport, and certainly not walking or cycling – have dominated transport spending. Spending on a new system of motorways and arterial roads was considerably higher than spending on other modes that carried more journeys. In other words, public spending to enable car travel did not respond to existing demand – it was intended to shape future demand. (And in doing so, change the shape of the city.)

Another potential justification for disproportionate spending on roads is that it’s just what people wanted. Cars were invented and then cheaply mass produced, people wanted to use them to travel everywhere, so transport agencies had to build more roads.

There is some truth to this. Cars are very convenient for many journeys. But it can also be convenient and cost-effective not to own a car. PT tends to be cheaper than driving to places where you have to pay for parking, and cycling is often quicker than driving, and more enjoyable if there are enough safe bike lanes.

But this argument also ignores other policy factors that shape transport demands. In particular, planning regulations enacted and progressively tightened throughout the 20th century have tended to:

  • Make it more difficult for people to live near where they work, by zoning different areas exclusively for different uses
  • Discourage people from living at medium or high density by limiting building heights and setting minimum lot sizes for dwellings
  • Subsidise the ownership and use of cars by requiring all new buildings to have a significant amount of on-site parking.

But what, then, should we make of Houston, which lacks a zoning code but nonetheless has ended up with lots of driving, low public transport ridership, and a low-density urban footprint? Is Houston evidence that in the absence of planning regulations that distort people’s location choices, people will choose to live at a distance and drive to get around?

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Houston from space. This image is 100km across. Source: NASA Earth Observatory

In a word: no.

It turns out that Houston is not actually as unregulated as people make it out to be. While the city lacks a comprehensive zoning code that rigorously separates different uses, several other planning regulations (and similar measures) have distorted its urban form and transport choices. A 2005 article by law professor Michael Lewyn identifies four important ways in which planning has influenced transport outcomes in Houston:

  1. Houston enforces a byzantine and quite restrictive set of minimum parking requirements (MPRs). As I discussed last year, these include a parking requirement for bars that defies all concepts of prudent regulation. These requirements make parking cheap, and walking to the shops hard.
  2. While Houston doesn’t formally limit building height, it does establish a minimum lot size of 5000 sq ft (or around 460m2) throughout most of the city. This discourages PT, walking and cycling by increasing the distance between dwellings and discouraging space-efficient typologies like terraced houses and small apartment buildings.
  3. Houston requires streets to be wide, blocks to be long, and buildings to be set back a considerable distance from arterial roads. All of these policies make it dangerous and unpleasant to walk there.
  4. Lastly, new developments in Houston make extensive use of private covenants that restrict uses and building designs. These agreements often simulate zoning, with the result that Houston has similar levels of racial, income, and housing segregation to (zoned) Dallas. Houston has chosen to imbue private covenants with the force of public authority – the city will pay to enforce them even if the people subject to the covenant would rather not.

As a result of these policies, Houstonians cannot make free choices about where to live, where to work, and how to get around. Their decisions are strongly influenced by a suite of planning regulations that, as in many other cities, conspires against density and against non-car travel. Houston’s heavy use of the car is not a natural outcome, but one that has been engineered by policy.

Seen from this perspective, “roads first” transport policies seem less like an exercise in meeting demands, and more of a component of a large social engineering programme.

The results are not necessarily stellar. While the city is known for low house prices, Todd Litman points out that Houston is relatively unaffordable for its residents, compared with other large US cities, once transport expenditures are factored in:

Litman US city housing and transport costs chart

Furthermore, Houston’s commuters experience more hours of delay in traffic than most other US cities. New York, on the other hand, looks pretty good. Although it is large and congested, many commuters choose to opt out and take the subway instead. In Houston, they lack that choice:

Litman US delay hours per commuter chart

What do you think would happen if we tried to facilitate choice instead?

NZTA and a Rail Harbour Crossing

The issue of another road crossing of the harbour has been one we’ve discussed for quite some time. It’s a project that many Aucklanders like to think makes sense but that when you look deeply at the details it’s not so clear it’s a good idea. Without going over everything again – you can read some of our old posts on the subject – the project is hugely expensive and yet doesn’t actually appear to provide that much benefit.

In fact the impact seems to range from actually make some key things worse – to at best not actually changing all that much. It is expected that any road tunnel would plug in directly to the Central Motorway Junction and therefore only be used by those travelling through the city or to the connections with Grafton Gully or West Auckland. That would leave the existing Harbour Bridge as a giant off-ramp.

In fact it is actually likely to undermine many of the goals the council have been striving to achieve such as increased use of public transport and a more people friendly city centre. Both will be much more difficult to achieve if a firehose of traffic is turned on to the CBD.


From Sydney but appropriate here too

If spending $4-6 billion to undermine your city’s goals seems stupid, equally so is the more likely alternative version from the NZTA.

One thing that is widely accepted is the need to improve the rapid transit options across the harbour. The Northern Busway is fantastic however it’s missing any priority across the bridge despite buses carrying around 40% of the people going over it AM peak. They would use AWHC to finally dedicate some space on the bridge for PT but the actual number of vehicle lanes across the harbour will be about the same as they are now. In that case we end up spending a huge amount of money to add no vehicle capacity and just to add some bus lanes. It begs the question of why bother, why not just leave the bridge as is and build a better and cheaper dedicated PT crossing.

Because of the need to improve rapid transit options we’ve long advocated for a rail first option to be considered. This doesn’t mean we can’t build road tunnels in the future should they be needed but along with Skypath, rail tunnels more cheaply, directly and immediately address the modes missing across the harbour.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

And we’re not the only ones. The Campaign for Better Transport have created a petition calling for a rail only option to be considered. It’s managed to pick up a good amount of media coverage and forced some interesting statements from the NZTA and the mayor. Reading between the lines and combined with what we’ve heard it highlights a concerning situation.

First up from the North Shore times

But NZTA Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner says Pitches is “misleading” people.

Rail hasn’t been ruled-out, he says.

Although harbour crossing route protection work is underway, NZTA doesn’t know precisely when it will be needed or what form it will take, Zollner says.

Previous proposed plans include twin vehicle tunnels future-proofed for rail.


An Auckland Transport spokesman says a public transport study anticipating future growth will be completed mid next year.

The agency which manages local roading connected to NZTA’s motorway network, says it’s investigating how public transport options would integrate into future connections.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says central government has committed to starting a second harbour crossing within seven years.

Rail will either be part of the second crossing or complementary to it, Brown says.

Another proposal would see harbour bridge lanes repurposed to carry light rail to and from the North Shore.

The NZTA are intending to lodge designation documents for the crossing this year. That means there is no way they can be intending to include rail options within their plans. This matches with what we’ve heard elsewhere that they intend on building their road tunnels and leave the rail options to AT/council to sort out as a separate project. Despite what the mayor or AT say there is no way they’ll be able to justify spending huge sums of money on a rail crossing to the shore if we’ve just spent $4-6 billion on a road crossing.

The second piece is from the Central Leader

“At that point in time they either will build the capability for rail within the tunnels or as correlative part of it,” Brown said.

But the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which constructs state highways says no decisions have been made.

Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner said NZTA and local agency Auckland Transport were currently working to protect a future route for an additional harbour crossing.

“While we don’t yet know when it will be required, and precisely what form it will take, in a rapidly growing region it’s essential that we protect and keep our future options open,” he said.

The northern busway serving the suburbs north of the bridge had been a huge success, and one of the benefits of a second crossing would be to continue it across the harbour.

“(It) could then also be used for rail or other innovative public transport options in future,” Zollner said.

Again this all but confirms there is no intention to build rail as part of the next harbour crossing. At best it is happening as an afterthought and only once we’ve sunk billions into some road tunnels and massively upgrading the motorways either side – something the NZTA are being very quiet about. I suspect the only reason they’ll even consider having light rail on the bridge is that after they’ve built the road tunnels they’ll revoke the state highway designation and hang the bridge asking with its expensive maintenance costs over to AT.

The AWHC appears to be a classic case of the same gung-ho roads first approach that has left Auckland in such a mess for so many decades. So let’s build a great PT crossing first and then see if we still need more traffic lanes across the harbour.

Driverless thoughts

Two weeks ago posted some potential doomsday scenarios that could arrive from the introduction of driverless cars. They were intended solely as a bit of fun although some took them a bit seriously. This week the Herald on Sunday went big on driverless cars talking up the potential for the technology, including an op-ed and dedicating their editorial to it.

We read today of a future of driverless transport with a mixture of excitement and foreboding.

Excitement, because it offers the prospect of fewer accidents, fewer injuries and fatalities, fewer cars parked on city streets, fewer cars everywhere.

For along with driverless cars we will get the ability to use them more efficiently, ordering them with a phone app rather than owning one that is parked somewhere most of the time. They will drive closer together at permitted speeds, co-ordinating their movements more safely than human drivers can manage.

I think on the safety aspects alone driverless cars will become an essential part of the transport mix. I can’t think of any other area in our society where we so casually accept over 300 people being killed and over 11,000 being injured every year. While they wouldn’t have to be electric, I also suspect any roll out of driverless cars would speed up the adoption of electric vehicles which so far has been close to non-existent. This would obviously help reduce emissions and therefore help improve both the environment and people’s health.

Where I think the benefits are less certain are in many of the claims made about just what impact driverless cars will have on transport issues such as congestion or travel habits and preferences. For example, some experts now believe that while the benefits of cars driving closer together and co-ordinating their movements will increase road capacity, much or even all of that could end up being negated by vehicles making additional trips.

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the potential use case for driverless cars and one thing that’s struck me – and for which I haven’t really seen commentary on – is just how things would work in reality. What concerns me is that in many ways we could be heading towards a situation where driverless cars represent combining some of the worst features of driving with the some of the worst features of public transport – particularly the part where you have to wait for a service to turn up. That would hardly be the transport revolution we’ve been promised.

Let me explain. There are two main scenarios that have emerged as to how driverless cars could be integrated into our future. One is an extension of the status quo where individuals own vehicles and the second is that we move to a taxi type model where the vehicles are owned by a company and you just book a trip when you need one. Below are some of the downsides to each of these scenarios that may make driverless vehicles worse than what we have now. Before going into them I’ve assumed places like Albany, Botany and Manukau and many others are bustling from all housing and commercial buildings that have been developed on what became unneeded carparks – in the process going a long way to helping addressing housing issues.


Botany showing the existing buildings in red and parks in green.

Private Ownership

This is an extension of the model we have now. To many people cars can be more than just a transport tool, they can reflect individual personalities and act as an extension of our homes while at the same time being a part of the family – we often give them their own bedroom after all. It’s for these reasons I can see a lot of people still wanting to own a car rather than use the taxi/sharing model many predict.

Positively driverless cars may allow households to reduce the number of vehicles they own, for example instead of owning two or three cars many families may only need one. Perhaps it drives one parent to work early in the morning before quickly returning home to pick up the other parent and child, dropping the latter at school before driving before dropping the second parent at their workplace in a different part of town. It would then drive home and park waiting to be summoned for the afternoon.

It’s the latter part I’m particularly concerned about. Let’s say you’re at work and want to go home so you pull out your phone and open an app to summon the car. Do you then have to sit and wait for the vehicle to come and collect you, possibly from quite far away. Instantly we’ve added one of the most frustrating aspects of PT to the private car, having to wait for service. It could be a bit like walking to a bus stop and seeing a half hourly bus just pulling out leaving you with a long wait for the next one.

One of the strongest features of cars is that they essentially have an unlimited frequency. Will people put up with potentially having to wait a while for their ride home? Obviously some people could pre-plan their travel times so the car turns up as they’re leaving work but many people don’t work to a set schedule.

Shared Ownership/Taxis

Many people are predicting that in the future no one will own a car and instead we’ll all shift to a taxi/sharing/Uber model where we order a trip on our phones and a car turns up to whisk us to our destination. One big predicted advantage is we’ll be able to get better utilisation our of our vehicle fleet instead of them sitting idle for 95% of the day. Just how many driverless vehicles a city will need is unknown although suggestions from study on come cities suggest perhaps a low as only 30% of our current fleet. This means less vehicles overall although at peak it doesn’t necessarily mean less on the road at one time.

Because there are expected be so many vehicles there should be coverage across much of the city however as you’d expect the best coverage will be in areas with higher density. This is quite well shown by this map Uber released last year to mark their millionth trip in NZ. It shows trips taken with the service over a three month period (they say start and end points have been altered to protect privacy).

Uber Auckland Trip Map

Close to the city wait times for a service will be fairly fast however those living in suburbs further out people will likely have a longer wait unless companies dedicate a lot more resource to providing coverage – again introducing the wait time component that PT has.

The other PT like aspect is that of course you don’t own the vehicle. I suspect like taxis today there would be different levels of service available but tied in with the point above, the more expensive/exclusive services could result in longer wait times to travel anywhere.

Another aspect that gets lost is the extension of the house aspect private vehicles have.How many people that drive use their car to store stuff should they need it. Perhaps kids gear for after school activities or your golf clubs for that round at a council subsidised golf course – basically things you might not want to be lugging into work to sit next to your desk all day (if you work at a desk).

One last set of thoughts, what about animals. For example, many people drive their dogs to the beach or dog parks and of course to see a vet. Hopping into a car that smells like a wet dog has just been in it is hardly going to be a pleasant experience, especially if you don’t like dogs or worse are allergic to them. Similarly, what about parents with kids, will these cars carry a few car seats around in case one is needed with parents needing to go through the process of setting it up in the driverless car before every trip.


The situations above and many others could quite easily be addressed through specialised services targeting different parts of the market. Of course to do so is likely to involve additional costs, both financial and time.

I can’t help but feeling that driverless cars will require more than just a technology change but changes to how we think about transport too. I suspect ultimately we’ll ended up with a mix of the two scenarios above – which in itself is a departure from what we have now. Once available, adoption by and the disruption to the taxi market will happen fairly fast but that after an initial burst adoption will slow down as private buyers only get them when it’s time to buy a new car. Given the average age of vehicles in NZ is over 13 years that will take a while.

RoNS 2.0 (again)

The idea of continuing the Waikato Expressway all the way to Tauranga including a tunnel under the Kaimai Ranges has once again been come up after Transport Minster Simon Bridges suggested the idea has some merit. Now apparently called the Kaimai Connection it is being pushed by a number government MPs from the region.

The Kaimai connection – completing the golden triangle between Waikato and the Bay of Plenty – is being discussed at the highest levels.

On Friday, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said he is encouraged by the idea.

“It is pretty hard to argue against, at least in principle, the idea of carrying it on to some degree to the Bay of Plenty,” said Bridges. “It is a very compelling idea to continue.”

Early in January, Hamilton City Councillor Martin Gallagher and National MP for Taupo Louise Upston called for an expressway between Hamilton and Tauranga to be prioritised.

“Of course, I’m not digging myself into any election promises at this stage, because there is a whole lot of planning and investment required,” Bridges said.

An article on the call by Martin Gallagher and Louise Upston for the road is here.

Another Government MP is supporting the call and he was also calling for it around five years ago

National’s Hamilton East MP, David Bennett agreed it is time to turn concept into reality.

“The next phase for the Waikato is to connect with the Bay of Plenty,” said Bennett. “We have an existing connection, but it certainly can be improved.”

Tauranga is ready for the next step, said Bennett, and by 2020, the Hamilton and Huntly sections of the Waikato Expressway would be complete.

Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this project be raised. Almost exactly a year ago a fourth government MP was saying also the same thing.

A vehicle tunnel under the Kaimai Range needs to be considered with the same weight as a second harbour crossing in Auckland was given, Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller says.


He included an interesting analogy:

“I look at somebody like Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson. He looked at what Auckland could be “one million people by the turn of the century “and people scoffed at him.

And who was it that did the scoffing and cancelled Dove-Meyer Robinson’s plans again?

Five years ago when David Bennett was suggesting it he was also supported by the truck lobby – although they at least acknowledged it wasn’t something happening soon.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said road transport operators thought a road tunnel could stack up economically within 20 years as freight grew and time and fuel costs were taken into account. “When we look at the future projections, all the modes of transport have to step up. The bulk will go by road. We believe it could well be that in the longer term a road tunnel through the Kaimais would be viable.”

So there’s a lot of support for the idea but does it stack up?

As I understand it the long term strategy from the NZTA is to make SH29 (and SH1) the main route connecting Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland which is in part to get more trips on the Waikato Expressway which is currently being built. That would divert traffic off the SH2 route through the Karangahake Gorge and towns of Paeroa, Waihi and Katikati.

Kaimai Connection

If built as an expressway it would require something to be done about the steep grades on some parts of the road over the Kaimai Range and that’s where the tunnel comes in. Reports from a few years ago suggested the NZTA were looking at a number of tunnel options in three locations,

NZTA regional director Harry Wilson says one option involves building a road tunnel near the existing rail tunnel, another is building a tunnel near Thompsons Track, between Katikati and Apata. The third option, known as a summit-level tunnel, involves building a tunnel half-way up the existing alignment of State Highway 29.

So far 10 options have been identified in these three locations.

“To date, high-level cost estimates indicate the price for each option including approach roading would range from $1.5 to 2 billion,” Mr Wilson said.

“While we are not discounting the possibility of building a tunnel, the early indication from the cost-benefit analysis shows that the cost of building a tunnel could outweigh the benefits of the project.”

I don’t recall ever hearing what option they chose as the preferred one however I have heard the cost could be more than double the $2 billion figure suggested back then. The last statement about the costs outweighing the benefits is likely a massive understatement. The NZTA’s traffic stats indicate that SH29 over the Kaimais has only just reached an average of 10,000 vehicles per day within the last few months.

Kaimai Traffic Volumes

It’s a project that would make the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing’s very weak business case look saintly and that’s with AWHC expected to induce up to 60,000 more vehicles a day to cross the harbour. The SH2 route through Waihi and the Karangahake Gorge just over 8,200 vehicles per day.

Back in 2012 the idea was added to the 2012-22 Government Policy Statement on transport as part of a list of potential future RoNS

28. Possible new routes have been identified through the State highway classification system. This system categorises State highways based on the function they perform, such as moving freight to and from ports or linking major population centres. The classification system provides a national consensus on the role and function of different State highways, and thus the levels of service that can be expected over a 20 year timeframe.

29. Routes that may be considered on this basis for future RoNS include:

  • Hamilton to Tauranga
  • Cambridge to Taupo
  • Napier to Hastings
  • State Highway 1 north and south of the current Christchurch motorway projects.

30. Based on the State highway classification system these four routes have high volumes of traffic, and are important for freight movements including port access.

Interestingly there was no mention of them at all in the 2015-25 GPS.

It seems to me that perhaps a key main reason these MPs are pushing for this project is that the Waikato Expressway will be completed in around four years and they are keen for more money to be poured into the Waikato which has had the second highest per capita spend on transport.

Spending - NZ - 2015 - Per Capita 3



From driving the route a few times per year I suspect there are a lot of much lower cost improvements that could make a big difference to issues like safety and travel times.


Is Penlink about to be approved?

Next week John Key is expected to announce the government’s support for starting the main works of the City Rail Link in 2018, at least two years ahead of what he said in 2013. He is expected to announce this at a luncheon being held by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and it’s expected the announcement will cover not just the CRL but likely a package of projects. Many have suggested that they think he’ll also announce details about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the East-West Link, both of which the NZTA and Auckland Transport are expected to progress getting consent for this year. In the NBR’s article on Key’s announcement they included some thoughts from Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Michael Barnett.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said Key’s address would cover the issue of infrastructure funding for the region, similar to the June 2013 speech to the chamber’s membership in which he confirmed joint funding for CRL.

“I’m expecting a significant funding package similar to what Key gave in June 2013 and that he will use this occasion to say ‘ok, we can give more certainty to some projects’. What we have at the moment is so conditional, it’s difficult for plans to be put in place,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the other projects he expected Key to comment on include the East/West Connections project which would improve connections between Onehunga and Mt Wellington which is heavily used by industry, the $380 million Penlink arterial route between Whangaparoa Road and State Highway 1 which is touted as a potential public-private partnership business model, and a second harbour crossing.

It’s the middle of those three projects in the last paragraph – Penlink – that raised my eyebrows. There are a few reasons for this.

Penlink Map - 2015 Presentation

Auckland Transport recently applied for and obtained approval to widen the existing designation to create a 4-lane divided expressway. Perhaps Auckland Transport have been looking longingly at the NZTA and really want a motorway they can call their own. We also know that the NZTA had been pushing for Auckland Transport to progress the project as a PPP tied in with the one they are planning for Puhoi to Warkworth – however they’ve already short-listed contractors for that project.

The council and government are deep in the middle of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) which is meant to be reviewing options and timings for future transport projects in Auckland. Projects already underway or with funding confirmed for the near future are excluded, as are projects such as the City Rail Link but based on the timing as far as I’m aware that doesn’t include Penlink (I also believe AWHC is included within the ATAP scope). If Key was to come out and accelerate these projects or make funding announcements, it would undermine one of the key reasons for undertaking the alignment process in the first place.

Even putting aside ATAP, the councils recent Long Term Plan doesn’t have the project starting till the decade starting in 2025 (page 11). It did include the project in it’s everything including the kitchen sink funding package paid for by tolls or increased fuel costs but that wasn’t passed. Interestingly Auckland Transport’s website lists the project starting construction in 2021. What do they know that the council don’t.

The biggest reason for concern is the project itself and what AT claim it will achieve. They say the key objectives are:

  • Improve travel times and reliability.
  • Improve network performance and resilience.
  • Facilitate economic activity, planned growth and transport mode choice.

So let’s look at Penlink does based on information AT provide.

The project is about enabling more growth in the North however critically there is actually very little growth that is expected to occur on the Peninsula itself, most of the growth is around Silverdale or west of the motorway. A summary of the residential and business growth expected is below.

Penlink Map - Household Growth

There’s also almost no growth in employment on the peninsula

Penlink Map - Employment Growth

Developments in Orewa have access to the motorway at Grand Dr and at Millwater a new set of motorway ramps have been built at Wainui Rd so the main argument seems to be that Penlink is needed to get cars from the Peninsula off the Hibiscus Coast Highway where more business growth is expected. Given how much of a pet project Penlink was to the former Rodney District Council it makes me wonder how much the growth there was part of a deliberate strategy to help justify Penlink in the future.

Looking at the issue of travel time and reliability as well as network performance AT include a number of outputs from their modelling and they present some very odd results. The show the predicted travel times both with and without Penlink to three destinations, to Grand Dr, to Silverdale Township and to Beverly Dr which is where Penlink joins into Whangaparoa Rd. They’ve also broken down the journey into three parts. From Oteha Valley Rd to Redvale where the Penlink Interchange would be, from Redvale to Silverdale interchange and from Silverdale to the final locations.

Penlink Travel Time map locations

Here are the results for all three and they seem completely not believable or based on any kind of plausible reality. The first thing that strikes me about them are the claimed travel times in 2041 both with and without Penlink. At more than an hour just to get from Oteha Valley Rd they seem to be assuming that traffic is going to merrily just pile up and no one will attempt to change their travel time, mode or both. It’s worth noting that the base case for both options also assumes the NZTA will widen SH1 between Oteha Valley Rd and Silverdale to three lanes each way at around 2031.

Penlink Travel Time - Grand Dr

Penlink Travel Time - Silverdale Township

Penlink Travel Time - Beverley Rd

What I also find odd is that within none of the documents AT have published is there any mention of the impact of the traffic volumes on SH1 south of Oteha Valley Rd. If they’re this bad north of there it must require SH1 pumping a ton of traffic north or alternatively a lot joining at Oteha Valley Rd to head north. If traffic is this bad then as some readers like to frequently suggest, perhaps some road pricing to better manage demand is needed – and before we embark on spending $380 million on this motorway.

Speaking of road pricing the documents do talk a lot about Penlink being tolled. They say it would use the same system as used on the Northern Gateway motorway north of Orewa and the cost would match that toll road – at the time $2.20 for light vehicles and $4.40 for heavy vehicles. By 2041 the predicted 16,600 vehicles a day crossing the Weiti Bridge (where the toll gantry will be) will be paying about $13.5 million a year in toll revenue. Interestingly the modelling suggests that without a toll, traffic volumes would be 23k-24k per day across the bridge.

Penlink Toll Revenue Collectoin

Over 30 years they say the estimated toll revenue is $321 million which has a net present value of $112 million. Toll collection costs over that period are $77 million with a NPV of $28 million so at NPV that leaves around $84 million to go towards paying for the project. Of course the project is expected to cost around $380 million so the tolls won’t cover all that much.

Penlink Toll Revenue vs costs

Despite the cost of project roughly doubling over the last few years AT claim the project is positive economically. They actually list two Benefit Cost Ratio’s, a National BCR of 2.5 and a Government BCR of 3.1. Please correct me economists but as I understand it the Government BCR counts all benefits but only accounts for the net financial cost i.e. project costs minus toll revenue while the National BCR accounts for the full cost of the project.

Based on the language in the Business Case it seems almost certain that Penlink will be built as a Public Private Partnership where they finance, build and operate the road while AT pay for it to be open. This is the same as is happening with Transmission Gully in Wellington and will happen with Puhoi to Warkworth.

On the final objective facilitating transport mode choice. It seems to me there’s a very high chance that if built AT would leave buses to go the long way via Silverdale and Whangaparoa Rd which will only serve to further reinforce driving. The business case talking about buses seems boil down to a “buses can use roads too” argument and the only thing excluded from the project scope is:

Whilst facilitating and providing opportunities for improved public transport is part of the Project, the provision of public transport services and prioritised bus lanes on Whangaparaoa Road is not part of the Project.

Lastly it’s worth comparing the approach taken to the discussion back in 2010. 

Back then widening Whangaparoa Rd was seen as a better option as the $20-26 million cost delayed the need for the hugely expensive Penlink. They now say that option isn’t viable as they’ll eventually need Penlink anyway.

So overall it seems like Penlink stacks up but that’s on the back of some very odd figures around travel times. The business case suggests that in the absence of funding constraints the project could have started in July this year – although that would be unlikely given the lead in time needed to procure it through a PPP. So perhaps John Key will kick that process off next week.

Parking must pay its way

Parking, parking, parking! In many places in many cities – even eco-friendly German cities – the price of parking is distorted by minimum parking requirements (MPRs). In these places, local governments regulate an over-supply of parking, which in turn holds down prices.

The Auckland city centre is not one of those places, as MPRs were removed from the area inside the motorway cordon in the late 1990s. As a consequence:

  • New developments provide a lot less parking. For example, the new Commercial Bay building would have had to provide over 2000 carparks if it was subject to the same MPRs as the rest of the Auckland isthmus. It’s actually providing 278 carparks – 85% less.
  • The price of parking is higher, as new parking garages must “compete” with other land uses, such as valuable commercial, retail, and residential space. If parking doesn’t pay its way, it doesn’t get built.

Furthermore, the price of parking will tend to rise over time as a result of supply and demand interactions. New demand for parking will tend to be met with increased supply. However, new parking supply will tend to be costlier, as cheap surface carparks are likely to be redeveloped and new city centre parking will increasingly be provided in expensive structures.

In fact, parking fees has been rising. In November 2014, Auckland Transport announced that it would end earlybird discounts – meaning that all commuters would pay an all-day rate of $17 to park. In July 2015, AT hiked the all-day price to $24. Other operators have followed suit. For example, Sky City now charges $22 for earlybird parking – whereas it only charged $14 in 2013.

Of course, not everybody pays to park. According to a 2007 survey of city centre parking spaces summarised in a recent report, there were 22,639 public carparks in the city centre, and 22,121 private non-residential carparks attached to businesses. Here’s the table:

Auckland city centre parking supply 2007

In the Auckland city centre, it is almost always necessary to pay to use public parking – e.g. parking garages or on-street parking. Private carparks attached to businesses may be offered as part of compensation packages, which means that people give up a bit of salary in exchange for a carpark that they don’t have to pay to use on a daily basis. Alternatively, employers may choose to rent them out for a monthly fee.

But here’s the thing. This data suggests that at most 50% of the nonresidential parking in the city centre is being offered free of charge. People using the other 50% must pay to park, either on an hourly or daily basis. The price to park for a day is now in the range of $20, and hourly prices tend to be higher.

In other words, the average price that people pay to park in the city centre could easily be $10/day or more, assuming that 50% of drivers get “free” employer-provided carparks and the remaining 50% pay market rates of around $20/day. Furthermore, the cost for the marginal parking user will tend to be higher, as the removal of MPRs means that they will be more likely to pay full market rates for parking.

This leads me on to the curious case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). Or rather, the peculiar assumptions about city centre parking prices that are incorporated into the transport modelling for AWHC.

If constructed, AWHC would be New Zealand’s most expensive single transport project – coming in at a cost of $5-6 billion to bore road tunnels under the Waitemata Harbour. A project of this magnitude demands extra-special care to validate all the model inputs and workings and ensure that they are as realistic as possible. Errors on a major project can have costly ramifications.

With that in mind, here are the parking price assumptions from the 2010 business case for the project. (They can be found on page 42 of the project’s transport modelling report.) They assume that the average price to park in the city centre was $2.83 in 2006, rising to $7.72 in 2041:

AWHC parking price assumptions

It is not clear how these assumptions were chosen, but they do not seem plausible. As I discussed above, the average parking cost in the city centre today could easily be higher than the modelling is assuming for 2041. Getting parking prices back in line with the modelling assumptions would require them to fall by perhaps 30% over the next decade.

A reduction in parking prices is highly unlikely without a major policy shift and a boat-load of investment in uneconomic city centre parking garages. In the absence of MPRs, parking must pay its way. It will not be built if it does not provide a competitive return to business or residential floorspace. This means that new parking will tend to be supplied at a considerably higher price than the AWHC modelling envisages.

Lastly, it is worth noting that parking prices can have a significant impact on transport outcomes. Public transport tends to be cheaper than driving if you have to pay for parking – but more expensive otherwise. Consequently, unrealistically low parking price assumptions will bias transport modelling results by inflating demand for driving and depressing demand for public transport and other non-car modes.

What do you think will happen to city centre parking prices?

Doomsday Driverless Scenarios

Driverless cars are presented by some as a utopian solution that will solve our transport problems. I’m not convinced that the changes driverless cars will bring about will happen as fast or be as vast as those most enthusiastic about the tech. This is not to say driverless cars won’t happen or won’t have an impact, in fact I think some areas such as taxis will see considerable change.

Some of the changes might be great either. For example one prospect is that driverless cars will be zipping about in all directions meaning roads are busier off peak than they are now when cars are all parked up.

Google Self Driving Car

Twitter user Queen Anne Greenways from Seattle created a list of over 50 different doomsday scenarios that could occur if driverless cars eventuate. While they’re a bit of fun some also seem scarcely accurate.

  1. To save money on parking, people let their cars circle the block downtown all day.
  2. Unexpected re-boots kill thousands.
  3. Rich people buy dozens of cars and send them to run errands all day.
  4. Instead of dispersed crashes like we have now, systemic software glitches cause thousands at once.
  5. Terrorists hack every Prius, turning them into killing machines.
  6. Computers gain self-awareness. Self-driving cars make perfect hosts.
  7. Unfettered by safety concerns, cars become massive rolling entertainment capsules.
  8. Governments spend billions on research and infrastructure but the benefits never materialize.
  9. Auto traffic becomes more like *internet* traffic: mostly unnecessary and 40% porn-related.
  10. Self-driving doesn’t mean self-fueling. Stalled, driverless vehicles litter the roadways.
  11. Self-driving doesn’t mean self-repairing. Poorly maintained equipment still kills thousands.
  12. Everything works great until a sensor wire comes loose.
  13. Braking distance is the same whether the car is self-driving or not. Peds learn the hard way.
  14. Peds crossing everywhere causes permanent gridlock, which is “fixed” by restrictive ped laws.
  15. Stopping all traffic is as simple as placing a lifelike doll at a few intersections.
  16. Now that you can sleep in your car, a three-hour SOV commute becomes feasible.
  17. Long, private, pleasant SOV commutes make sprawl more attractive.
  18. Traffic deaths drop to 0. Yay! So, no reason to address pollution, noise or ugly streetscapes, ever.
  19. Efficiencies gained by “bunching” induce demand that completely offsets all efficiencies.
  20. Self-driving delivery requires menacing robotic solution to the “curb-to-door problem.”
  21. Human-driven cars quickly outwit the automated ones, completely neutralizing their benefits.
  22. Only the worst drivers keep their human-driven car.
  23. Enthusiasm for self-driving cars fuels outcry for more dedicated car space.
  24. They divert investment away from things we already know work. Like transit.
  25. Instead of mailing parcels across town, everyone just sends cars there and back.
  26. Carmakers develop new horns to make loud, complex announcements: “I’m here to pick you up, Janice!”
  27. They become the ideal platform for rolling billboards, which become cheaper and proliferate.
  28. Driverless but not carbon-free. The mechanism causing climate change has simply been automated.
  29. Two words: Road drones.
  30. Instead of taking shape of regular car seats, American butts take shape of *self-driving* car seats.
  31. Chevy unironically unveils model equipped with stationary bike so you can exercise while you commute.
  32. An hour on hold with tech support figuring out how to park in a field at the fairgrounds.
  33. Interaction with emergency vehicles proves problematic. Police given universal kill switch.
  34. Volkswagen decides to make one.
  35. To save money on parking, cars commute twice for each person, once at 8:00am and once at 5:00pm.
  36. Car manufacturers work hard to write algorithms that outwit competing algorithms.
  37. US government demands “back door” into all car sensor data. Opens new data mining possibilities.
  38. America’s “love affair” with the car is rekindled for yet another century.
  39. Two words: Apple Maps.
  40. Almost nobody buys one, so I just wasted 40 tweets.
  41. people stop buying houses and buy self driving RVs which endlessly circle city centre. (this one was by user @CarpenterBernie)
  42. Occupant-activated “emergency mode” lets cars drive in protected bike lanes, on sidewalks.
  43. All taxi, bus, delivery and long-haul truck drivers lose their jobs. Executives all get bonuses.
  44. Private cars are driverless yet, for some reason, buses and metro rail still need operators.
  45. Cities stop building bike infrastructure in anticipation of impending driverless utopia.
  46. Vehicular cyclists finally win (and they gloat about it to the rest of us).
  47. Cyclists banned from the road to prevent “system inefficiencies”.
  48. Without threat of death, cars must now honk continuously to get bikes and peds out of the way.
  49. Google and carmakers lobby Congress to severely limit their liability.
  50. Government adopts “standard algorithm.” Tea Party-type groups protest for more speed, less safety.
  51. Consumers prefer cars with algorithms that prioritize occupant safety, not bike and ped safety.
  52. The Self-Driving Indianapolis 500.
  53. New kind of political protest: the “vehicular DoS” attack. Sending 1,000 cars to the exact same spot. (as opposed to the analog version we currently have).
  54. Google writes the perfect algorithm but fails to consider the ways people will use it in the wild.
  55. Google achieves six sigma reliability: 1.5 trillion US trips * 0.00034% rate = 510 million “defects.”These ones I added
  56. To help pay for your trip you’ll be forced to watch in car advertising for the length of your journey.
  57. Prior to each trip you’ll have to watch to an airplane style safety video even if you’ve used that car before.
  58. You’ll have to click a button accepting a 1,000+ page EULA before the car will move.
  59. The term blue screen of death takes on a whole new meaning.


I could actually see quite a few of these becoming reality, what do you think?

Guest Post: Is Christchurch a provincial market town, or a diversified commercial city?

This is a guest post by Christchurch resident and urbanist Brendon Harre. An earlier iteration of this post originally appeared at Making Christchurch

Is Christchurch a provincial market town, or a diversified commercial city?

Sheep sale, Addington (ca 1920s)

Sheep sale, Addington, Christchurch, [ca 1920s]

Recently on the transportblog website Stu Donovan someone who I respect for his expert analysis and articles, wrote the following, as a comment about Auckland’s population growth.

…. I only wish central government policy-makers grasped that distinction. That while the rest of the country depends on good roads, Auckland city will increasingly depend on public transport and walking/cycling. That while the rest of the country depends on an efficient agricultural sector, Auckland depends on a diverse and innovative service sector….

Stu of course is allowed his opinion and I believe it comes from a good place. He loves the urban culture of Auckland and can see ways to improve it for all our benefit (a stronger Auckland strengthens NZ). The problem I have is the implication that the rest of the country doesn’t have or need an urban culture –that all they need from the government is some roads and an efficient agriculture sector.

For instance, I think Christchurch needs support to restore and grow its urban economy and this too would help New Zealand. In the 2013 census, Greater Christchurch’s population was 436,000. After a post-earthquake dip in 2011 and 2012, population growth has been strong at about 8,000 new residents per year and by the end of 2015 it is likely the metropolitan area has around 450,000 people. If growth drops down to a more typical increase of 4,000 to 6,000 per year then the city can expect to hit the ½ million mark by around 2025. This is a long way behind Auckland, which reached the ½ million mark in the 1960s, but by international standards it is significant.

Canterbury pop growth

If Christchurch was a city in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, then it would be the 6th largest city. Gothenburg in Sweden is the 5th largest city and has a population of 550,000. Tampere in Finland is the 6th largest city with a population of 317,000.

These cities are proud of who they are and would not accept being labelled provincial market towns. Gothenburg gives the world Volvo. While Nokia, which birthed the phone company of that name is a satellite town of Tampere. Mid-sized commercial cities, which is what Christchurch is, have more to offer than a nice leg of lamb or a surplus of milk powder. Of course you don’t even need to be a city to offer the world something more than raw commodities. Lego’s home town and still where Lego’s head office is located -is the small town of Billund in Denmark–population 6,000.

Denmark should be a fascinating place for New Zealand, because they have done something we in New Zealand struggle with. Before New Zealand was supplying the UK with food, Denmark had reconfigured its economy so that the UK would take all its bacon and butter. By 1900, 60% of Denmark’s exports were food items to the UK. Yet somehow in the intervening years Denmark has diversified their economy in a way that New Zealand has not. Perhaps, because Denmark embraced a diversity of new concepts, such as design, this has allowed them to progress their economy?

Made in Denmark

Further, Denmark has done it in a way that has given their people higher incomes and arguably at a lower environmental impact. I have asked various experts how Denmark has achieved this and nobody really has an answer. Most recently, I asked Michael Riddell former Reserve Bank economist and now blogger at CroakingCassandra.com. There seems to be no clear consensus on what New Zealand could be doing differently, although we both gave our opinions.

In Christchurch’s case it is slowly getting back its mojo from the devastating series of earthquakes five years ago. For instance, Canterbury has been the hub of outdoor design and manufacture since Fairydown, a Dunedin based sleeping bag firm created by the Ellis family in the 1920s was sold off to international interests in the 1980s. The next generation of the family set up Earth, Sea and Sky based in Christchurch, to be with other similar outdoor orientated companies. Earth, Sea and Sky have a philosophy of using local talent to create and make specialised garments here in our own back yard.  Macpac a garage start-up done good, is another firm in the outdoor design and manufacture cluster. A recent entry into the outdoor equipment stable is a firm –Uprising Climbing Holds -that makes rock climbing holds and exports them to the world. After the central city YMCA climbing gym was knocked out of action the company built a new gym near the trendy Tannery shopping complex in Woolston. The gym as well as being a business in its own right has the important side benefit of providing research and development information on new holds for the company.

Uprising climbing holds

Uprising Boulder Gym owner Sefton Priestley in the climbing room where customers test new climbing holds.

On another track, Tait Communications is a genuine Christchurch based export success story –it makes radios for emergency services and for the likes of London’s buses. It has had a tough year; revenues have retreated from earlier highs of over $200m to about $160m-$170m. Despite this setback they remain optimistic, recently targeting Rio Olympic security concerns and achieving big increases in sales through that marketing route.


The $35 million Tait campus development is set on 11ha of land alongside Tait’s existing buildings and features the construction of an über energy efficient new headquarters for up to 350 of its Christchurch-based employees

These examples demonstrate the diversified strength of Christchurch’s commercial city that is independent of Canterbury’s farming hinterland.

In the normal course of events I would have shrugged off Stu’s comments. He expressed an opinion, I was able reply with an opinion, which got some favourable comments –so no harm done on transportblog, just some healthy debate.

My opinion which I wrote at the time being;

…. if NZ developed a post farming economy based around a diversified urban economy of agglomeration, affordable housing, good transport provision, attractive amenities for skilled workers and business etc, that is often discussed here on tranportblog, then Christchurch would be the biggest winner.

But I have noticed the ‘urban Auckland versus the rural rest’ opinion is quite widespread and being touted by some pretty influential individuals. I wonder if it is the spreading of these sort of cultural/political ideas that is holding us back?

The newly formed Committee for Canterbury chair Gill Cox recently had this to say.

Boiling it down, it starts with the economic truth that the fates of Christchurch city and its rural hinterland are absolutely intertwined. “Christchurch is a market town,” says Cox simply. “Christchurch would struggle even to have a reason for being if Canterbury were not there. The economic driver is not the city but the region.” This is why it ended up as the Committee for Canterbury rather than the Committee for Christchurch, he says. The divergence from the “committee for” movement’s city-based template was quite deliberate. Cox says before the earthquakes, Christchurch had become somewhat politically disconnected from this fact. It had dreams about being a world-class small city riding the high tech “knowledge-wave” — a mini-Copenhagen at the bottom of the world.

Of course, says Cox, Christchurch should still want to do its best on this score. But really, as a long-term strategy, it just pits the city against every other city….

Christchurch has to concentrate on its true natural advantages, says Cox. And when it comes to NZIER’s analysis, these are simply the two things that Canterbury can be a premium-quality food basket for the world, and that Christchurch can get a free ride in being the tourist and freight gateway for the South Island.

Again, news that is no surprise for those who are in business in Canterbury. But Cox says our politicians and the general public may not have the same tight focus on how the region’s bread is buttered….

Note how in Gill Cox’s opinion Christchurch is a market town not a city, that economic opportunities lie in rural not urban areas (with the exception of the city being a freight and tourist gateway) and that wanting to be a diversified economy like Denmark’s is ‘disconnected’ and ‘dreaming’.

I don’t think Gill Cox speaks for all businesses –I think many city-based businesses would be surprised about his bias. Gill Cox’s comment that the general public cannot focus on how the region’s ‘bread is buttered’, is in my opinion code for saying that the region’s economy should be directed by ‘experts’ such as himself and that democracy and debate is unnecessary. That there is no need for Canterbury to have a public conversation on how regional public resources should be allocated.

Gill Cox CfC Case

Gill Cox delivers Committee for Canterbury’s Case for Canterbury at November launch party.

If Gill Cox was just a chair of an obscure think tank then his opinion wouldn’t matter much, but he is one of six NZTA board members (the board can have up to eight members). The board is appointed by the Minister of Transport and is responsible for making independent decisions on allocating and investing funds from the National Land Transport Fund.

Transport as everyone knows on transportblog is one of the key determinants of how a city grows. NZTA is the key funder for new transport projects. Local authorities spend a lot of money on transport, but it is mainly on maintenance –they lack the financial resources to go it alone with new projects –the existing framework of local government taxation means local authorities have to co-operate with NZTA funding with regard to new projects. Unfortunately for the commercial city of Christchurch it has a funder who is completely dismissive of its needs. For example, with Gill Cox’s attitude what are the chances that Greater Christchurch will get commuter rail or any other rapid transport solution to solve its congestion problems, as has been proposed by Christchurch City Council?

Christchurch congestion

Congested Christchurch streets

The NZTA has a history of being biased against Canterbury in the 2002 to 2012 period, when the NZTA significantly underspent in the region compared to elsewhere, the cynic in me says that will continue, at least for city residents and businesses, if not for the whole region. Recent per capita spending doesn’t look so bad for Canterbury. But considering the infrastructure deficit from a decade of under spending, the amount of earthquake damaged roads, the dispersal of residents post-quakes and the strong population growth (second fastest growing region in NZ). Then Canterbury is due for some high NZTA spending — will Gill Cox and his other Board members agree to that and if they do, which new transport projects will get funding?

I wonder if Gill Cox has read the research about how transport can improve a city’s productivity and income. Alain Bertaud in his paper –‘Cities as Labour Markets’ -compiled the following studies.

In Korean cities, a 10% increase in the number of jobs accessible per worker corresponds to a 2.4% increase in workers’ productivity.

Additionally, for 25 French cities, a 10% increase in average commuting speed, all other things remaining constant, increases the size of the labor market by 15 to 18%.

In the US, Melo et al. show that the productivity effect of accessibility, measured by an increase in wages, is correlated to the number of jobs per worker accessible within a 60-minute commuting range. The maximum impact on wages is obtained when the number of jobs accessible within 20-minutes increases; within this travel time, a doubling in the number of jobs results in an increase in real wages of 6.5%. Beyond 20 minutes of travel time, worker productivity still increases, but its rate decays and practically disappears beyond 60 minutes.

Both papers demonstrate that workers’ mobility –their ability to reach a large number of potential jobs in as short a travel time as possible, is a key factor in increasing the productivity of large cities and the welfare of their workers. Large agglomerations of workers do not insure a high productivity in the absence of worker mobility. The time spent commuting should, therefore, be a key indicator in assessing the way large cities are managed. (p. 24, 25).

Given the way people were re housed after the Canterbury earthquakes -being population fell in central/inner city areas and increased in distant peripheral satellite towns then it is likely that congestion and commuting times have increased. Also the number of jobs accessible by workers in 20 minutes has probably declined. This means Greater Christchurch’s economic potential has been setback and it will not be remedied until Canterbury receives a compensatory improvement in transport infrastructure.

On the issue of whether it is better to be a market town or a diversified commercial city, research from around the world shows that market towns have the lowest income when it comes to the different types of cities.

City Types

Note the small share of value added that agriculture (in black) contributes even in market towns. Cities are competitive diversified economies and to function at their best they need to be supported as such.  Christchurch as a market town is the past. Christchurch as a modern, diverse, competitive commercial city is the future.

2015 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

This is the third in a series of posts reviewing the year that has been. Part one reviewed public transport and part two reviewed walking and cycling.

As covered in the first two posts of the series there has been a lot of progress on public transport, walking and cycling over 2015 but that doesn’t mean roads have neglected and by far more is being spent on roads – particularly the state highways – than everything else combined.

Waterview/Western Ring Route

The biggest game in town remains Waterview and the other projects being built as part of the Western Ring Route. The second of the two Waterview tunnels started just before the end of last year and broke through in October. The TBM has now been dismantled and just before Christmas the NZTA announced all excavation had finished after the last of the cross passages was dug out. Work is now focused on fitting out the tunnels.

While at the Northern end the maze of ramps to feed traffic to and from the tunnels has continued to grow. So too has the widening of the causeway.

Waterview Aerial - Nov 15 - 1

While the formal date for completion is 2017 it wouldn’t surprise me if they get these parts open by the end of the year.

Further along the WRR work has being going on at Te Atatu and the NZTA say this will be completed by March.

In November the NZTA announced they will start next year on widening the section between Lincoln Rd and Westgate which will be the final part of SH16 to be upgraded.

Lincoln Rd to Westgate Motorway Widening Map

Northern Corridor

Technically part of the Western Ring Route the government announced in 2013 they would accelerate a number of motorway projects. One of those was the Northern Corridor, the junction of SH16 and SH1 through to Greville Rd. Following on from consultation in late 2014 in which there were some truly horrific options presented, the NZTA confirmed their preferred design this year and as discussed in the PT review, included bringing the busway back into the project. We’ll hear more about this in 2016 but construction is still expected to be a few years away.

Northern Corridor - July Design

SH20A – Kirkbride Road

Another of the projects the government accelerated in 2013 was the grade separation of Kirkbride Rd. The project is currently under construction. AT had to pay $21 million on top of the $140 million project to make the road being built 3.5m wider than the NZTA engineers wanted to so it was future proofed for rail as without it the NZTA would have effectively prevented rail to the airport from happening.

East-West Link

The East-West Link has rolled on throughout the year and in June the NZTA/AT confirmed their preferred option of an almost motorway along the northern foreshore of the Mangere Inlet that at this stage appears will cut off access to the water from the current walking and cycling path that reader Jeff provided a wonderful photo essay of.

East-West Preferred Option

Just before Christmas the NZTA and AT announced they will move to the next stage of the East West Link and apply for consent later in 2016. They will use the EPA process which is the same as was used for projects like Waterview, Puhoi to Warkworth and the Basin Reserve.

We have some serious concerns about the project – and not just that it cuts off access. We are hearing the cost of it could be blowing out to over $1.5 billion and the economic case for more than an upgrade to Neilson St doesn’t appear to have been made.

Southern Motorway

In October the sod was turned on the widening of the Southern Motorway, another of the governments accelerated projects. The $270 million project will see extra lanes added from Manukau though to Papakura.

Southern Corridor Stages

Albany Highway

AT have continued to work on Albany Highway and say the section between Bush Rd and Rosedale Rd is expected to be finished in January with the remaining section finished in late 2016 ahead of schedule.

Te Atatu Rd

AT started work on widening Te Atatu Rd. Typically with road projects these days the project page lists benefits of the project and number one is improvements to walking, cycling and buses. The reality is walking and cycling improvements essentially consist of a few shared paths and the bus priority is bus advance lane in one direction at one intersection. The main reason for the project is to add a flush median

Primary benefits

  • Make travel by bus, cycle and walking at peak times more attractive than commuting in private vehicles, by:
  • improving travel times for buses (via bus priority measures and better overall traffic flow),
  • improving cycle facilities (with particular benefit to school students) and connection to the Greater Auckland cycle network via the North Western Cycleway,
  • improving pedestrian facilities.
  • Improved traffic flow for commercial vehicles.
  • Improved ease-of-passage for emergency vehicles.
  • Improved road safety for all modes of transport.

Secondary benefits

  • Improved traffic flow for private vehicles.
  • Improved storm-water management and landscaping.


During the year AT got resource consent to widen the designation for Penlink for a four lane road.


Elsewhere in the country the RoNS have steamed on – with the notable exception the of the Basin Reserve Flyover for which the NZTA lost their appeal. More sections of the Waikato Expressway have been completed and other sections started including the $1 billion new bypass of Hamilton of which even in 2041 some sections are only expected to have less than 10,000 vehicles per day on.

One the RoNS, Peter wrote an excellent series of posts based a MoT paper reviewing the capital spending on roads that we obtained via an OIA. It includes charts such as below showing how we’re spending on projects with low economic returns while delaying projects with much better business cases.

MoT de-prioritised projects 1

Anything you think I’ve missed from my round up?


Drive Safe this Summer

With many people about to start hitting the roads for summer holidays – some of you probably already have – it’s perhaps a good time for a reminder to be safe out on the roads. It’s a time of year where people often travel longer distances than usual and on roads that they may not be familiar with. When combined with more people on the roads – including idiots who saving 10 seconds as worth the risk to pass on blind corners. December’s reputation is borne out in the stats, over the last 20 years December has been the worst month for fatalities in half of them. Of the other half the next most common month was April with three (April is high as a result of Easter I expect). The chart below shows the 12 month rolling total of road deaths over the last decade. As you can see since about February 2014 the number of deaths has trended upwards.

Road Toll by Month - 2015-12

For the second year in a row the number of people who have died on our roads has increased and at 313 deaths as of yesterday, 2015 already has the highest road toll since 2010 – although it won’t pass 2010 (375 deaths) unless things are particularly horrific.

Despite the larger road toll there are some small positives that can be seen in the figures. If they remain unchanged it will be the lowest year – at least for the last 20 – for deaths to pedestrians and cyclists (I’m not sure about injuries but I assume the same).

To me, one of the issues to bringing the road toll down lower is our funding priorities. Currently we are pumping billions into massive motorways across the country and while they will undoubtedly be safer than the roads they replace, the huge cost of those big projects is them is preventing the NZTA and likely important safety projects from being worked on. These are things like intersection improvements, curve easements, passing lanes and better road markings.

If you are travelling the NZTA have put together a website called Summer Journeys with some useful information highlighting areas where there are road works or common congestion points – such as the one below.

Upper North Island Summer 2015 Hotspots

So if you’re travelling please be safe and have a good break.

We’ll still be blogging over the next few weeks but as I’m sure you can understand things will be a little lighter as we too try to have a break and spend time with families