New Red Light Cameras now live

Auckland Transport have announced that five more red light camera sites are now in operation.

Red Light Camera 1

Five new Red Light Camera sites have gone live in Auckland.

Auckland Transport selected the sites on the basis of NZ Transport Agency analysis, which identified intersections where red light cameras would likely enhance road safety.

The sites are part of wider programmes to encourage safer driving. Auckland Transport initiated a “Red Means Stop” education and enforcement campaign supported by the Police, and a follow up campaign is now in force.

In addition to Auckland Transport’s Red Light Camera sites, Police are preparing to run two digital, dual function cameras capable of recording vehicles that run red lights and/or speed through intersections. Infrastructure has been installed and they are currently going through a period of rigorous testing.

“Red light running is an issue of great concern in Auckland,” says Karen Hay, Community and Road Safety Manager at Auckland Transport. “We are pleased to be working with Police and our road safety partners on this initiative to both educate road users and enforce dangerous driving behaviours. We all need to take care at intersections to reduce the risk of someone getting killed or seriously injured. ”

The cameras are located

Intersection Owner Infrastructure installation Camera in trial mode Camera in enforcement mode
Auckland CBD – Halsey Street & Fanshawe Street Auckland Transport December 2014 December 2014 20 February 2015
Avondale – Ash Street & Rosebank Road Auckland Transport December 2014 December 2014 20 February 2015
Pakuranga – Pigeon Mountain & Pakuranga Road Auckland Transport December 2014 December 2014 20 February 2015
East Tamaki – Te Irirangi Drive & Smales Road Auckland Transport December 2014 December 2014 20 February 2015
East Tamaki – Chapel Road & Stancombe Road Auckland Transport December 2014 December 2014 20 February 2015
Lambie Drive Interchange (east-bound off-ramp) Police December 2014 January 2015 2015
Botany – Te Irirangi & Tī Rakau Drives Police December 2014 January 2015 2015

This will hopefully help to make these intersections (and others) safer.

MoT’s review of capital spending on roads, part 3

This is the second post in a series on the Ministry of Transport’s working paper on New Zealand’s capital spending on roads, which was prepared as an input to the 2015/16 Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport Funding. It was released to Matt under the Official Information Act just before Christmas. Previous posts:

In the previous post, I took a look at the MoT paper’s findings on the economic efficiency of state highway spending. MoT showed that since 2008 spending on the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) has gone up, while benefit-cost ratios have gone down. As a result, we have almost doubled our spending on state highways without achieving any more economic or social benefits from that spending.

This week, I’ll take a look at a different question: Is it possible to spend our road budget more efficiently? If we chose to build other roads instead, would we get more benefits from them?

The MoT paper examines this issue quite comprehensively, and comes up with an unambiguous “yes”. But before I get into it, it’s worth reviewing the system that the Government is currently using to assess transport investments. Projects are ranked on three criteria:

  • Strategic fit [i.e. is this project trying to do something that the Government cares about?]
  • Effectiveness [i.e. will this project actually do what it’s intended to do?]
  • Benefit and cost appraisal [i.e. will this project deliver more benefits than costs?]

In short, the BCR is only part of the picture. In practice, it’s less important than strategic fit. However, it’s still an important criteria for determining whether we are getting good value out of our transport investments, especially as many of the strategic outcomes that the Government wants are accounted for in a transport cost-benefit analysis.

With that in mind, Section 5.4 of the MoT paper compares BCRs for local road and state highway projects which have committed funding versus those that will probably receive funding or which will remain unfunded.

This analysis, summarised in the chart below, shows that BCRs for state highway projects tend to be lower than BCRs for local road projects whether or not they have committed funding or not. This might be an indication that too much money has been allocated to new state highways – effectively, there are worthy local roads that are going unfunded.

Another worrisome finding is that BCRs for “committed and approved” state highway projects are considerably lower than projects that are merely “probable” or which have not been given funding. This suggests that even within the state highway budget, funding isn’t going to the projects that offer the best returns.

MoT BCR by funding priority chart 1

However, the MoT paper notes that these figures include “significant spending on large strategic projects” – the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) in  local roads and the RoNS in state highways. Is it simply the case that a few big funding calls are skewing the results?

Here’s what the chart looks like with those projects removed. As you can see, “committed and approved” state highway projects other than the RoNS also offer a lower return than the “probable and reserve” projects that may or may not get funding. What the hell is going on here?

MoT BCR by funding priority chart 2

Elsewhere in the paper, MoT sums up the situation as follows, with a nod to the idea that traffic forecasts are over-predicting growth:

MoT state highway benefits

It also compares these figures with BCRs for other transport spending, including NZTA-funded PT infrastructure and services and walking and cycling projects, and concludes that:

MoT BCR by activity class summary

In other words, the focus on big state highway projects means that the Government is passing up higher-value spending that serves other modes. Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t offer a lot of additional analysis. But it would be interesting to know how much analysis NZTA or MoT has done on the bus infrastructure projects that are needed to get good transport outcomes in Auckland, such as the Northern Busway extension, the Northwest Busway, extensions of the AMETI busway, and bus interchanges to support Auckland’s New Network.

With all that in mind, how would we be spending money if cost-benefit analysis was the key criteria?

Section 6.2 of the MoT report contains a number of colourful charts to illustrate how we could be doing things differently. Here’s the bit that stuck out for me. It classifies new state highway projects, excluding RoNS, according to their BCR (vertical axis), funding priority (horizontal axis), and total cost (size of bubble).

If BCRs were the key criteria for project funding, the black-coloured bubbles would be de-funded and the red-coloured bubbles funded in their place:

MoT de-prioritised projects 1

MoT de-prioritised projects 2

As you can see, if the Government were focused on getting the highest benefits out of its transport budget, it would have to de-fund most large state highway projects that are currently underway. Yikes.

It’s not clear what conclusions MoT’s drawing from this analysis, as the final paragraphs are entirely blacked out. However, I’d be surprised if they weren’t a bit skeptical of the way that public money is being spent…

Next week: MoT’s analysis of roads spending by region. Preview: Canterbury’s getting a raw deal.

Pohutukawa Saved

The roller-coaster ride that has been the fate of the six Pohutukawa at the St Lukes intersection came to a head yesterday at the Auckland Transport board meeting where a decision needed to be made one way or the other on their fate. Given the history, both of the trees themselves and of the process we’ve seen it’s understandable that this had become quite an emotional issue for many people. We’ve written a lot about the saga over the past months including:

St Lukes Rd interchange to get bigger

Have your say the St Lukes Pohutukawa Trees

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

Why the “Pohutukawa 6″ has got people so passionate

On engineers, politicians, and pohutukawas

AT digging in over Pohutukawa Six

Too High a Cost.

Many who supported the trees turned up at the meeting packing out the room. I wasn’t there myself but I’m certain it’s a sight that not many of the board directors had seen before as these meetings are usually devoid of public in attendance. In fact I even believe there were people who had been denied entry as the room was too full. There was also a sense of irony in that the meeting was held in the NZTAs offices where the meeting rooms are named after trees – the board meeting was in the Kauri room.

Only two people had been allowed speaking rights at the meeting, Shale Chambers – the chair of the Waitemata Local Board and Jolisa Gracewood who has led the campaign to save the trees. Jolisa delivered a wonderful speech which you can read after the break if you want to. Auckland Transport staff maintained the line that they had looked at a number of other options and that this was the only feasible one. Of course this isn’t surprising as if AT had planned on changing their mind they would have done it before it reached this point. St Lukes Interchange Plan After going into a closed session to discuss the matter and they emerged just over an hour later with the fantastic news that they had voted by unanimous decision to keep the trees and send staff back to the drawing board. Poignantly AT Chairman Dr Lester Levy stressed that Public and Active transport users were not served well by the proposed design.

This is a fantastic outcome and well done to all who have helped retain the trees but especially to Jolisa who has put a lot of effort in to this cause. 

I’d also like to say well done to the Auckland Transport Board who have shown they are prepared to listen to the public and show leadership on critical issues. With this sort of attitude it’s perhaps no surprise that we’ve been seeing some great direction coming out of the organisation recently. AT can add the St Lukes decision to their growing list of impressive accomplishments that includes:

  • the installation of more bus lanes
  • bringing forward the AMETI busway by deferring the Reeves Rd flyover
  • investigating light rail in the central isthmus to combat bus congestion in the city

Perhaps more critically while this fight was about saving these trees it was always about much more than them. It was really a question about how we want our city to develop. For decades and particularly through this area we’ve handed over large swathes of land solely for the movement of cars and larger and larger intersections. Fights such as this or the Respect our Community one against an East-West Link ploughing through Mangere represent Aucklanders no longer accepting the sacrificing of our city to the unquestioned movement of cars. That can only be positive for how our city develops in the future.

There are still a few questions that remain about this project including:

  • Where has Len Brown been in all of this, his silence has been notable despite many people encouraging him to get involved
  • Why did Auckland Transport staff dig in so much and let it get this far – were there too many egos at play
  • Just what alternatives have been looked at and when will AT talk more about them
  • How much of the desire for this outcome stem from the NZTA who likely have much more say of this area than in other local road projects due to the spread out nature of the interchange.

Once again well done to all those who fought against this plan and click on to see Jolisa’s speech.

Continue reading Pohutukawa Saved

Too High a Cost.

AT are doing some very very good things at the moment, they are showing leadership and courage to make rational but bold decisions.  Like dropping the Reeves Rd fly-over in favour of a BRT solution, creatively investigating ways to bring modern light rail to over-crowded bus routes, and quickly rolling out long overdue bus lanes on arterials. These are all fantastic and are signs of a nimble and lively institution, one that is responding to a changing world with a changed response. One that is resisting the natural tendency of public agencies to just roll on doing the same as before and not risk trouble. I applaud this and the hard working and dedicated individuals who are carrying out.

But at the same time, at least at the time of writing, AT has lost its way on Great North Road. So why have they got it so wrong here?

Looking at that first list we can see what all these issues have in common; they are all discretely transport issues; as you’d expect this is AT’s core competency. BRT versus a traffic flyover in Pakuranga? This is a debate between competing transport projects, each can be costed and outcomes evaluated. Analysing whether more buses will be able to deal with the demand on Isthmus and City routes or whether a higher capacity technology may be needed? Again this is problem of spatial geometry, vehicle size, route speed, likely passenger volumes, boarding times, vehicle dimensions etc. All the kinds of things a transport organisation ought to excel in, and that AT increasingly shows it does.

St Lukes Interchange Plan

But in examining the widening of Great North Road as if it only has transport outcomes they are showing the limits of this competency. That ‘place value’ just doesn’t compute is shown by the bewildering array of excuses being rolled out by AT to justify an act they clearly consider trivial: The removal of the six 80 year old Pohutukawa. First was an attempt to blame the need for killing these trees on improved cycling and public transport amenity in order to ‘bring long-term environmental benefits':

We regret that the trees will be lost but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended bus lane and bus priority measures in Great North Road.

Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with Auckland Transport’s drive to encourage the use of public transport. This will bring long-term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car.

This is to draw an extraordinarily long bow. There are no ‘cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge’ in the proposed plan. There is absolutely no more cycling amenity on Great North Rd than there is currently, ie a wide footpath, except the new one will have no shade nor glory from the grand Pohutukawa. There is proposed to be a slightly longer but still intermittent bus lane. And as all this takes place as part of a massive increase in traffic lanes, including a double slip lane, to say that this project is designed to ‘bring long term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car’ is frankly, an untruth.
That statement would be justified if fully separated cycle lanes and proper Rapid Transit was at the core of the project. They are not.
Now we have a new justification, signed by the same high level AT executive, published in Metro Magazine: Cost.
Both AT and NZTA spend public money and it is our legal and moral responsibility to deliver the most objective cost-efficient solutions to the ratepayers and taxpayers that planning and engineering can devise, for the least possible cost.
Absolutely right. Cost, and value, is exactly the issue here. We all certainly want our money spent wisely by our public servants. But there are obvious problems with this assertion, first the cost is only relevant in the context of the value; a cheap thing is a waste if it is not very good. And the people of Auckland see losing the trees as too high a cost for what they propose. That AT don’t see they value of the trees how and where they are, or so discount it so, is essentially the heart of the disagreement. We understand that they have a low transport value, but AT cannot ignore values outside of their core discipline, particularly place values, as their actions have huge effects on the quality of life and place that are not captured by driver time savings, traffic flow, or PT ridership numbers. Neither AT nor NZTA can just ignore these issues and simply hide within their speciality. And nor can they claim that a couple of new trees are the same as magnificent ones that have witnessed the last 80 years at this spot.
Additionally, there is no evidence that the preferred option is less expensive in direct financial cost than say Option Six, which the peer review found to have no significantly different traffic outcomes. In fact Option Six must surely be cheaper to construct as it is one lane narrower and doesn’t involve removing the trees:
Pohutukawa Option 6
There are other issues that could be raised with this text like the bold claim the whole purpose of the Super City is to reduce congestion:
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.
Both this idea of the centrality of congestion busting to the whole purpose of the city and the quoting of a $1billion annual congestion cost figure show how blind AT have become to other issues of value. Other costs. Especially perhaps things that are hard to quantify. But then congestion cost itself is a very hard thing to quantify. The most recent attempt in New Zealand, published by NZTA itself [Wallis and Lupton 2013] find that the figure for Auckland is more likely in the realm of $250 million.
Wallis and Lupton 2013
But regardless of this supposed quantum it has long been understood that congestion is not solved by building more roads, that in fact while temporarily easing one route, overall this only encourages more driving and auto-dependency for a place, and ultimately worse congestion everywhere. It is, quite literally, the loosening of the belt as a ‘cure’ for obesity. It is also understood that the best outcome for all road users, the best way to combat congestion, is to invest in the alternative Rapid Transit route, particularly where none currently exists:
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
So again the heavy cost of this work, both financially and in the loss of the trees, a massive reduction in place value, is too high for this outcome.
As some levels of AT seem to admit they place no value on the trees, or indeed anything that isn’t directly transport related, the best outcome would be for the Board to give them direction to find a solution that both keeps the trees and meets reasonable near term traffic demand and in fact meaningfully incentivises the mode shift that AT correctly values:
Urban roads and state highways working together to keep the traffic flowing and fast, efficient road, rail and ferry passenger services that — together with walking and cycling — entice Aucklanders out of their cars.
 -Auckland Transport Metro Magazine
This is an issue of cost, and value. The people of Auckland, Auckland Transport’s ultimate customers and employers, find the cost to place-value too high, and the value of the proposed outcome too low, to justify this action. The public may have been slow to realise what was planned here but have now made their views clear. Recently we have come to expect bold and innovative solutions from AT for all sorts of difficult problems. So it would be very unfortunate if the Board were to miss an opportunity to call a halt to this irreversible action and to seek a smarter solution.
And because work has begun the most efficient and cost effective solution is probably to make the small but significant change to Option Six, leaving the trees, adding the additional slip lane, but settling at least for now, for the two east bound lanes away from the motorway overbridge instead of three. It would be good to see the real effects are after the opening of the Waterview connection before rash actions are taken. If a third lane is deemed necessary here [even though only two lead into it] it is clear that could be added in a few years as MOTAT as planning to restructure their whole relationship with this corner. AT can save some cost and some grief now and revisit the issue with more information and without the pressure from a NZTA deadline. It could be that they find that an east facing buslane and separated cycle way is of higher value through here…?
Pohutukawa Blossom, Elsewhere

Pohutukawa Blossom, elsewhere

AT Board Report Feb-15

Auckland Transport’s board meet tomorrow and I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. Here’s what caught my attention.

Projects

East West Link Connections

A detailed business case for the project is being worked on and will go to the board in April. AT still haven’t officially said which option they’ve chosen from their consultation back in October however this image – from a draft version of the RLTP (page 57) in the December Board meeting and which includes a note saying the map is not to be released to public prior to January 2015 – suggests it’s either option C or D.

East-West Priorities Dec-14

South-Western Multi-Modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART)

AT say work on the design of the Kirkbride interchange includes future proofing for either light or heavy rail. The RLTP notes that this future proofing is costing AT $30 million which seems extremely high considering the rest of the interchange costs $140 million. One reason it could be so high is I understand the the NZTA team working on the project didn’t originally include rail in their designs despite rail to the airport having been on plans for decades along with other parts of the NZTA working with AT on the route.

Wynyard Quarter – Integrated Road Programme

We should start seeing more roadworks in the Wynyard Quarter in April with AT expecting to issue a contract mid Feb. Works for stage one are Halsey Street South and Gaunt Street between Daldy and Halsey. I’m not quite sure just what changes we’re going to see yet though.

Franklin Road

AT say they will feed back analysis of the submissions in March and I’ve heard rumours the current thinking greatly improved on what we saw earlier. An email update a few weeks ago suggested they were looking at whether parking between the trees could be retained in some situations.

Westgate

AT say the new mall being built as part of the new town centre is due to open in October this year and that new bus services to the area (new network) are due in October 2016. Those bus services will also need an interchange constructed and AT are trying to work out just how they will do that. They say resource consent will be needed and almost certainly will be publicly notified for which any submission will delay the project. A temporary interchange is being planned

Penlink

Work is still going on to update and amend the designation for Penlink and consent will be notified in early 2015 however a recent press release states that due to funding constraints, construction of Penlink is not anticipated until 2025. There are two open days about it, one this afternoon.

  • Thursday 19 Feb, 2pm-7pm, The Peninsula Retirement Village (441 Whangaparapoa Road, Whangaparaoa)
  • Saturday 21 Feb, 10am-2pm, Stillwater Boat Club (70 Duck Creek Road, Stillwater)

Otahuhu Interchange

The demolition of the old foot bridge and piling for the new station happened over the Christmas shutdown and AT say the construction for the interchange itself will begin in June. It’s due to be completed in February 2016 at which time the New Network for South Auckland can finally be rolled out.

Manukau Interchange

Consent is currently being sought for the enabling works for the interchange and AT are hoping to have the project completed in the first quarter of next year.

EMUs

At the time of writing the report AT say there were 42 of the 57 trains in the country and 32 of them had provisional acceptance. They also say that services in December were affected by issues with the signalling system and there had been some door closing issues. The door issues were upgraded over the break but the signalling ones are still being worked on.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level Crossing)

AT have created three concept designs and have taken feedback from residents and Manu Whenua into them. AT are wanting to lodge resource consent for the project in February and in the past have said that this project is required before they can deliver 10 minute frequencies on the Western Line. Given the stage it’s at and that some of the residents of Cowie St are bound to go to the environment court over it, it could be years before we see any peak frequency improvements out west.

Puhinui

AT are planning to upgrade Puhinui station with most of the works completed in March and April and with a new canopy installed in June

Swanson Station Park and Ride

The extended park & ride is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Onewa Rd

Also to be completed by the end of April are the works to deliver the westbound transit lane and shared path.

Other stuff

Parking

One piece of good news is that parking officers are experiencing the lowest recorded volumes of aggression towards them and there have been no serious harm injuries since October

AT also say the removal of earlybird parking has meant lease revenue is ahead of forecast and in addition casual occupancy and revenue in the downtown carpark is increasing. The latter part is particularly good as it means the carpark is being used by more people throughout the day which was exactly one of the aims of removing the earlybird prices.

Taxi’s on Grafton Bridge

A 12 month trial allowing taxi’s on to Grafton Bridge will start in late March and AT will be monitoring bus travel times, cyclist safety and amenity along with how many infringements get issued. If any significant issues arise during the trial it can be stopped. AT say the Taxi Federation and Cycle Action Auckland have been involved in the development of the proposal.

Personally I don’t think AT should have even entertained the idea of allowing Taxi’s on the bridge and should have actually gone the other way and making it bus only 24/7.

Double Decker Bus Mitigation Project

To get double deckers on the streets AT need to complete a whole lot of mitigation works to ensure the buses don’t damage things or get damaged themselves. This includes moving power poles, veranda modifications, kerb build-outs and tree pruning. They plan to have this work done by June to enable double deckers from Howick and Eastern to start running. Mt Eden is the next route planned for mitigation works which is meant to happen in the next financial year however AT are awaiting the outcome of the LRT proposal before making any changes.

On the Howick and Eastern Double Deckers, a press release yesterday announced the company was spending $12 million on buying 15 double deckers – most of which would be built in Tauranga. They will operate between Botany and the City Centre. The most interesting aspect of these buses is that they will also include free WiFi, power points and USB ports. Those are great additions and hopefully something we start to see become standard on all PT vehicles and I certainly think they should be on our new trains. The buses are from Alexander Dennis – the same maker as the small NZ Bus buses.

Waterview Connection January Timelapse

Here is the latest time-lapse video from the Waterview Connection Project

Some of the key highlights includes construction of the three sub levels of the Southern Ventilation Building, and the Great North Road Interchange and at the Northern Approach Trench Gantry 2.1 (Temporary Gantry) enters the tunnel.

AT digging in over Pohutukawa Six

The Auckland Transport board meet on Friday for the first time and a paper in the open session gives an update on the fate of the six Pohutukawa at St Lukes. Unfortunately it doesn’t make for good reading with AT continuing to push the line that removing the trees is the only option. Additionally they disingenuously continue to claim that that the improvements are all about bus users and cyclists when there is barely any improvement for buses and no cycle facilities are included at all (a shared space doesn’t count). Here’s the executive summary.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is upgrading the St Luke’s Interchange (the Project) to accommodate future increased traffic demand at the intersection as a
consequence of the opening of the SH16/SH20 Waterview Connection in March 2017.  NZTA’s proposed upgrade offers Auckland Transport (AT) an opportunity to provide bus priority, cycling and pedestrian improvements (Improvements) at this location as part of the NZTA project.

The Improvements were not included in the 2012-2015 RLTP, as the opportunity to deliver the works early through the Project had not been identified. In August 2012, AT and NZTA made an agreement in principle (subject to Board approval if required) that AT would deliver the Improvements through the Project and contribute to the related costs, then estimated to be between $4.5m and $8.0m. The most recent assessment, received in January 2015, puts the estimated total AT cost at $5.5m for which budget is allocated in the 2014/15 Annual Plan.

Works to increase the number of lanes on the St Lukes section of the motorway are already underway (Stage 1) and consents to lift and widen the motorway overbridge as well as associated works affecting the St Lukes Interchange were granted to both AT and NZTA for their respective portions in February 2014.

NZTA and AT are seeking to provide an additional turning lane for westbound access to the motorway overbridge on Great North Road and additional lane allocation to provide for bus priority through the St Lukes Road-Great North Road intersection. These works are known as Stage 2, the preferred option, and result in the removal of six Pohutukawa trees.

Alternative options to avoid removal of the six Pohutukawa trees were investigated including; reduced lane widths, relocating traffic lanes, alternative land take, reduced lanes and a do nothing option. Only the preferred option delivers AT’s required outcomes, being improved passenger transport facilities (lengthened bus lane), improved cycle/pedestrian facilities (widened footpath to provide a shared use facility) and improved traffic flows (additional left hand turn from Great North Road to St Lukes Road). None of the alternative options could provide these overall improvements; therefore Stage 2, the current Works proposal was progressed to consenting.

In May 2014, AT lodged a NoR to alter two designations to enable progress of the Stage 2 works. The application was publicly notified on 6 June 2014. As is standard practice for applications where council land is involved, an independent hearing panel was appointed to hear the application. Following a hearing on 5 & 6 November 2014, the hearing panel concluded that AT has adequately considered alternatives and the works are reasonably necessary to meet the transport objectives of the immediate and wider network.

The Group Manager Property and Planning has reviewed the hearing panel’s recommendation and at the time of writing a decision on whether to formally accept or decline the recommendation is imminent. The decision is required to be notified to council (a statutory requirement of the NoR process).

There’s a few key points in here that are worth highlighting.

  • The existing works on the motorway interchange and widening of St Lukes Bridge also involve raising the bridge up. As part of that consent the intersection itself also needs to be raised. The report states (page 4) that even if the trees stay they will need to – and already have consent for pruning 25-50% of the canopy out of four of the Pohutukawa. This is because they need a 6m clearance “to achieve over height route dimensions“.
  • Because the intersection is going to be raised anyway AT want to make their changes at the same time. They say that if this doesn’t happen it would likely need to happen as a standalone project which would likely take more than 10 years and that doing so would increase the cost as it would be a standalone project rather than hooking into the work the NZTA is already doing.
  • That seven alternative options were considered including, some of which kept the trees. These options included reduced lane widths, relocating traffic lanes, alternative land take, reduced lanes and a do nothing option. To me AT need to release the details on all of the alternative options that were considered along with why they were rejected.

Below is the plan that’s currently consented to happen which will see the intersection raised and 25-50% of the canopy from four of the Pohutukawa removed. Also note the eastern side pedestrian crossing has also been removed from this design too.

St Lukes Interchange Plan - Current

And here is Auckland Transport’s plans that double up the slip lane, only adds 100m of bus lane and for which the cycle facilities consist of just a 3m shared path that most people won’t brave the eastbound on/off ramp intersection to be able to reach in the first place. You can see Cycle Action Auckland aren’t impressed by this either.

St Lukes Interchange Plan

And all of this disruption is just so that there’s slightly fewer vehicles on the eastbound off ramp.

St Lukes Interchange PM Peak traffic modelling

Of course there’s still no thought to sending the footpath behind the trees or considering the use of the space behind the trees currently used to store private property as this landscape plan shows

St Lukes Interchange Plan - Landscape Plan

To me it seems like AT are digging their heels in on this issue however it seems the more they do that the more determined the community will be to oppose it.  To me here are the things that AT need to urgently do on this issue.

  • They need to explain why it is there HAS to be a double slip lane.
  • They need to publicly release all of the options that have been considered and information on why they weren’t proceeded with.
  • They need to be honest that this upgrade isn’t about people on buses or bikes but about giving more space over to cars.
  • They get some independent designs produced .

Below is a press release from many of the people fighting to save the trees.

Continue reading AT digging in over Pohutukawa Six

Reeves Rd Flyover dies

For the second time in less than a month Auckland Transport have been able to surprise and delight us with fantastic news. The first was the announcement they are seriously looking at light rail for the isthmus and now the wonderful news that they’ve killed the Reeves Rd Flyover. Not only that, they are putting the $170 million they save by not building the flyover into getting the AMETI busway built sooner plus are looking at putting bus lanes up Pakuranga as far as Highland Park.

reeves-rd-flyover

Major new public transport improvements will arrive earlier for people in Auckland’s south east.

Auckland Transport is aiming to open the full Southeastern Busway to Botany sooner than the 2028 completion date proposed earlier AT is also investigating extending bus lanes to Highland Park.

Recent work on the Auckland Manukau Transport Initiative (AMETI) has identified that the busway can operate through Pakuranga town centre without the need to build Reeves Road flyover first.

This allows funding to be used to deliver more public transport improvements sooner by deferring the $170 million flyover until next decade. Targeted traffic improvements will also be made to relieve congestion at the intersections of Ti Rakau Drive/Pakuranga Road and Ti Rakau Drive/Pakuranga Highway.

Auckland Transport AMETI Programme Director Peter King says the change means better transport choices for people in the area sooner and supports the roll out of the new public transport network in 2016.

They say the project is deferred but I understand it’s effectively over and that is pretty much confirmed by the comments in the rest of the press release – which I’ll cover shortly. This is a great outcome and we’ve suggested it a number of times, especially when talking about the how we can cut unnecessary costs from the transport budget. A few of the reasons why it’s good include:

  • It means there’s no longer going to be a hulking flyover cutting a swathe through the town centre, an area ripe for intensification – including some decent zoning provided for in the Unitary Plan.
  • Saving $170 million is a huge boost when the cities budgets are already tight.
  • Getting the busway sooner means the benefits from it start to flow sooner and these are likely to be huge. This is especially important in East Auckland which has the worst PT in Auckland and consequently the lowest PT use.
  • AT are now looking at including bus lanes up Pakuranga Rd as far as Highland Park providing even more benefits to PT in the area.
  • Along with the busway, AT’s plans also include high quality cycle lanes which will also be completed sooner.

Reeves Rd Flyover

I been told in the past the key driver was for the flyover was so that buses didn’t get held up at the large intersection of Te Rakau Dr/Pakuranga Highway/Reeves Rd. This location was also where they planned to move the busway from the side of the road to the centre of it. To address the intersection this AT say they are looking at a potential change or route through the Pakuranga Town Centre which would allow buses to bypass that intersection entirely. With buses no longer affected by the intersection the need for the flyover disappeared. I wonder if it means it will also help save some of the homes on and around William Roberts Rd. I think a potentially slightly longer journey for buses through or around the back of the Pakuranga Town Centre is probably a reasonable compromise if it means we don’t have to build the flyover.

Reeves Rd Flyover - Pakuranga Rd end

Some of the other justifications for the change in approach are also particularly telling:

“The recent decision on the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington shows the challenges of consenting a flyover that has impacts on an urban area and the potential for long delays. This decision allows us to extend the AMETI transport improvements made in Panmure to Pakuranga and Botany as soon as possible while continuing to build the case for the flyover.

“Large numbers of passengers are expected to be attracted by quicker, frequent and more reliable bus journeys on lanes separate to traffic. About 7.4 million trips a year are expected on the busway.

“There are time savings from opening the busway between Panmure and Pakuranga, however they are much greater when the full busway to Botany is open. For example catching the bus and train between Botany and Britomart will take 38 minutes, 17 minutes quicker.

“The change to timing reflects Auckland Transport’s prioritisation of rapid, high frequency public transport and will not require extra funding.”
Work to develop the flyover showed its congestion benefits would be limited until further significant investment along the South Eastern Highway. It also indicated a likely increase in costs with the need to create a quality urban environment beneath it.

So AT have learnt from the outcome of the Basin Reserve Flyover which is great to see and it’s this reason why I suspect the project has actually been killed rather than just deferred. I think it’s also telling that they note the flyover would have just shifted the congestion further along South Eastern Highway, a point that many projects seem to forget.

Ti Rakau Dr central busway

 

A few other thoughts have struck me about this decision

  • For years AT’s engineers have been saying that the flyover is the only solution but now they’ve found another way. Will the same thing happen with the St Lukes Pohutukawa?
  • AMETI started out life as a road fest designed to try and replicate as much of the Eastern Motorway proposal as possible. Over the years it’s slowly morphed into almost exclusively a PT project which is what was needed. I think AT deserves a lot of credit for this as it was only really once they came into existence that things really started changing. I suspect that 38 minutes from Botany to Britomart will be quite compelling, especially in the peak and that time could get faster still with the CRL which would see trains running at higher frequencies which means reduced transfer times.

MoT’s review of capital spending on roads, part 2

This is the second post in a series on the Ministry of Transport’s working paper on New Zealand’s capital spending on roads, which was prepared as an input to the 2015/16 Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport Funding. It was released to Matt under the Official Information Act just before Christmas. Previous posts:

As I said last week, MoT’s paper suggests that there are big issues with the land transport budget. Current road spending does not seem to represent good value for money. To their credit, MoT appear to be acknowledging this. However, it doesn’t seem to have percolated up into the investment decisions being made by the Government.

This week, I want to look at what NZTA’s money (the National Land Transport Fund, or NLTF) is being spent on, and how economically efficient that expenditure has been.

Section 4 of the MoT report contains a lot of useful data on past and future spending on roads. Here’s what’s happened to the roads budget over the last 15 years, and what’s expected to happen over the next decade:

MoT spending on new roads 1997-2022 chart

Basically, about a decade ago we started spending a lot more on new or improved roads. A lion’s share of new spending went to state highways, in spite of the fact that local roads carry more traffic. As we have previously discussed at length, this spend-up coincided with a flattening of growth in vehicle kilometres travelled. (It also coincided with an acceleration in price inflation for civil construction.)

In other words, we’ve spent a decade spending increasing amounts of money on roads for which demand is not increasing. And the last three Government Policy Statements plan for state highway spending to increase further.

In order to pay for state highway spending, it’s been necessary to divert money from other activities – local roads, maintenance, PT, and walking and cycling have all taken a hit. The Government has also raised petrol taxes several times. The MoT report offers some analysis of how spending priorities changed between the 2008 GPS and the 2012 GPS.

The following chart compares projected spending ranges for new and improved state highways (the darker uppermost bands) and new and improved local roads (the thinner, lower bands). It shows that funding for state highways – the Roads of National Significance – was raised by around half a billion dollars a year, while local road funding was cut back.

MoT GPS 08 12 road spending comparison

One would hope that the Government’s decision to allocate vast amounts of funds to state highway projects was based on a sound economic rationale. Unfortunately, there is no hard evidence of this in the MoT paper. Section 5 of the MoT paper analyses benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) for road spending. It notes some caveats with the data – BCRs for some projects had to be inferred from “efficiency scores” – but there is enough data to paint a picture.

Here is MoT’s picture. It is not a pretty one:

MoT state highway BCRs 2005-2012

Essentially, MoT finds that average benefit cost ratios for state highway projects declined significantly in 2008/09 and have stayed low ever since. An eyeballing of the graph suggests that BCRs prior to 2008 averaged a bit over 3.5 – meaning that state highway projects were expected to return $3.5 in social benefits for every dollar invested. Since 2008, they have averaged a bit over 2 – meaning that state highway projects now only return $2 in social benefits for every dollar invested.

MoT’s analysis of this graph is entirely blacked out in the released document. Nonetheless, the implications are simple: we have almost doubled our spending on state highways without achieving any more benefits from that spending. BCRs aren’t everything, but it’s really, really hard to understand why the Government would want to spend money so ineffectively.

The answer is that they feel that the Roads of National Significance offer a better “strategic fit” with their overall objectives for the land transport budget. I’m not necessarily opposed to this evaluation approach. In my experience, cost-benefit analysis invariably has some blind spots. Using qualitative “strategic fit” criteria can allow policymakers to take account of broader goals that aren’t well covered in NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual.

However, I don’t think that strategic fit should override all other analysis. If you think that a project is important for supporting a productive economy, that’s fair enough. But if an evaluation of the project’s impact on freight costs and agglomeration effects in urban areas results in a low BCR, you should question your prior assumptions about its economic benefits. It’s foolish to think that four-lane divided highways are magical devices for creating economic growth. Economics simply doesn’t work that way.

Next week: Do we have better options for spending the transport budget?

Waterview Aerials

Some new aerial photos from the team building the Waterview Connection project which show the extent of it.

Waterview Aerial 1 Feb 15

Waterview Aerial 2  - Feb 15

Don’t you love the little stub road with cycle lanes on either side

 

Waterview Aerial 3 - Feb 15

Waterview Aerial 4 - Feb 15

Waterview Aerial 5 - Feb 15

It’s like a monument to the gods of motorway building

 

Waterview Aerial 6 - Feb 15