Will driverless cars make things better, or worse?

There continues to be a lot of hype and excitement around driverless cars, with the first vehicles hitting roads in Britain recently and the NZ Herald running an opinion piece by Paul Minett earlier this week that was generally good, although perhaps a bit excitable about the need to stop all current investments in roads and public transport.

One of the big promises of driverless cars is that they will significantly reduce congestion, as their computer-controlled driving will enable much closer following distances between vehicles, alongside much more efficient operation of intersections. But how will this play out in practice? One of the most detailed pieces of analysis was undertaken by the International Transport Forum (part of the OECD), which modelled in quite a lot of detail what might happen under different scenarios involving the uptake of driverless cars.

Two types of “driverless vehicle” were analysed:

  • Taxibots – self-driving cars that can be shared simultaneously by several passengers
  • Autovots – self-driving vehicles that pick-up and drop-off single passengers sequentially

The analysis used Lisbon, Portugal as the case study city for the analysis. The different scenarios also looked at whether high-capacity public transport would be available or not, as well as how things would work at 50% and 100% penetration levels of these new vehicles. Some of the results of the analysis are pretty interesting.

Firstly, looking at mode-share, in scenarios where high-capacity public transport is retained the driverless vehicles actuatlly result in an increase in PT mode share, although it seems that they replace all “not high-capacity” PT. This makes a lot of sense, driverless vehicles could make for great first/last mile solutions and for replacing those routes that wind through the suburbs designed primarily to provide coverage. Interestingly walking & cycling mode share is projected to decline from 18% in the baseline scenario to 8% with the new vehicles.


Next, if we look at fleet-size, the projections are pretty sensitive to the different scenarios – varying from a situation where nearly 90% of the private vehicle fleet is no longer required, to other situations where there would actually be more vehicles than the baseline. Once again the existence of high-capacity PT seems to make a big difference to the totals, as does the level of penetration (it seems that most people are expected to hold onto their private vehicles until there’s very high penetration).


Perhaps the most interesting finding relates to projected overall traffic volumes, which increase under all the modelled scenarios (although to very different extents). Scenarios without high-capacity public transport are projected to see substantial increases in car kilometres travelled, from both modal shift away from PT and also the empty “re-positioning” trips taken by the vehicles.


The study highlights that while scenarios with slight increases in travel would be manageable (due to the vehicles themselves being able to travel more efficiently), scenarios with much higher increases are not likely to be manageable at all. Some further detail is provided about the extent of travel increase at different times of the day:


The most interesting trend in the above graph is that the “AutoVots without high-capacity PT” scenario’s greatest increase in vehicle km occurs at peak times, which would be when the transport system is least likely to be able to cope with such an increase. Furthermore, the greatest level of travel increase seems to be on local roads (not motorways), which is probably where we would least want it to happen:


The study then looked a bit closer at where, under the “TaxiBot plus high-capacity PT” scenario, travel increased or decreased. Obviously this would vary depending on the city, but it is interesting to see that most increases are in more peripheral areas rather than central areas. The study itself also highlights that volumes stayed constant or declined on major routes and bottlenecks, with increases mainly confined to local networks (presumably for more local trips?)


Finally, scenarios with full vehicle penetration saw significant reductions in the number of parked vehicles, although once again the reduction was far lower at 50% penetration and actually increased in a couple of scenarios:


There are a few key takeouts from this study that are really important to keep in mind when it comes to discussing driverless cars and how they might change the transport system in the future:

  1. High capacity public transport remains crucial. Scenarios without high capacity PT saw really big increases in travel demand, especially at peak times. We can rest easy that our current and future rapid transit network investments will continue to provide value in the future – even with a gigantic shift to driverless vehicles.
  2. Ride-sharing and car-sharing results in very different outcomes. A system based around “car-sharing”, where the driverless vehicles are for individuals, results in a huge amount of travel and large number of re-positioning trips. It also needs a much larger vehicle fleet than ride-sharing.
  3.  All driverless vehicle future suggest a massive reduction in the amount of land required to park vehicles. This could be truly transformational for our urban areas as this land can be repurposed into housing, businesses or open space.

The big take-away though is to note that the introduction of driverless vehicles could play out in a variety of different ways in the future. Some could be really good, others disastrous. It’s pretty important that we get it right.

Could Morningside Drive Level Crossing be Closed?

Morningside Level Crossing Incident

Morningside Level Crossing Incident

After another unfortunate incident at Morningside Level Crossing, once again questions have been asked of our level crossings. Morningside Level Crossing alongside Walters Rd in Takanini have achieved a sense of infamy over the years, some incidents have been covered below in the media, and as anyone who with any HSEQ background will know for each Incident there will be countless more Near Misses.





This post will look into the feasibility of closing Morningside Level Crossing to traffic, however still creating grade separated access for pedestrians/cyclists to the station on each side of Morningside Drive, understanding in tight budgetary circumstances that fully grade separating the crossing for all modes may not be feasible.

The area in question is below

Morningside Crossing Area

Morningside Crossing Area

Removal of the Level Crossing to traffic would hinder three major groups, each which could be mitigated

  1. Users trying to access St Luke’s Mall via Car.
  2. Bus Users for routes 220, 221, 222, 223, & 224 some who may use the service for access to St Luke’s Mall.
  3. Residents who use Morningside Drive Level Crossing to Access New North Road.


Users trying to access St Luke’s Mall via Car

The closure of Morningside Drive may not adversely effect these users, at current St Luke’s is also accessible by two parallel major arterial routes, St Luke’s Mall via St Luke’s Road & New North Road, as well as St Luke’s Mall via St Luke’s Road & Sandringham Road.


Bus Users for routes 220, 221, 222, 223, & 224 some who may use the service for access to St Lukes Mall

Under the New Network these routes have been simplified into 1 the 22, this service could easily diverted down New North Road which is better placed to have Bus Lanes due to its 2 Lane-Flush Median-2 Lane layout & according to AT documents have planned Bus Lanes as part of the Central New Network.

New Network Central - Bus Lanes

New Network Central – Bus Lanes

The users wanting to access St Lukes Mall will at glance lose out from doing this of course, however would they? The New Network suggests not, under the New Network 22 users have the ability to transfer onto 1 of 3 Services heading to/past St Luke’s Shopping Centre, these are the Outer Link, 202, & Crosstown 6. Both Peak & Off Peak these services have the aggregate of 10BPH each way, therefore someone transferring at New North Road from a 22 service would have a wait maximum of 6m, or on average around 3m for a transfer, with Simpler Fares now in place transfers no financial penalty exists.

Also in the New Network, the old 233 which is now the 24 no longer goes past St Lukes Mall at all. So in conclusion Bus Users wanting to get to St Luke’s Mall may not be worse off  due to more likely Bus Lanes speeding up travel times as well as not being subject to delays at the level crossing which will only worsen when the CRL is completed and train frequencies increase further. Users of the 22 not intending to go to St Luke’s Mall will also benefit greatly due to not having to divert via St Luke’s.

St Lukes New Network

St Lukes New Network

Residents who use Morningside Drive Level Crossing to Access New North Road

These residents may also not be to impacted due to being able to access New North Road via Sainsbury, or having 4 local routes to access Sandringham Road as can be seen by the map of the area above.

So in final conclusion, it would be feasible to close one of Auckland’s most infamous crossings to traffic due to other options existing, as well as the New Network having sufficient services to transfer to if the 22 was changed to follow North New Road instead of Morningside Drive.

What do you think?

CRL and the opportunity to fix city streets

From the significant disruption of building the City Rail Link we get two huge benefits. First and foremost, we get a tunnel that transforms our rail network and allow significantly more people to travel around the region free of congestion. But for many of our city streets, it also delivers us blank slate from which we can deliver on the visions that have already been created for the future of the city. It is an opportunity too important to waste. And yet as we highlighted last week, Auckland Transport seem determined to waste that opportunity with their awful plans Albert St and the roads that cross it.

At their heart, AT’s plans once again show that many transport engineers and institutions seem to desperately cling to the belief that their role is to find ways of accommodating a set (and growing) level of traffic demand. In doing so they often fail to recognise that drivers respond to road network provided to them.

Adding traffic lanes and supersizing intersections is almost always a vain attempt to ‘solve congestion’. But any relief is normally only short lived because traffic tends to act like a gas, expanding to fill any space made available to it. Conversely it has now been seen time and time again that removing capacity from the road network results in traffic melting away as drivers respond to the changes.

Some of the most famous examples worldwide have been the removal of an elevated highway and restoration of the stream under it in Cheonggyecheon, Seoul, the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after it collapsed in the Loma Preita earthquake and recently Paris has permanently closed off a section of road along a bank of the Seine. These have actually resulted in net reductions in vehicle numbers as drivers find alternative routes or change how and when they travel.

Back here in Auckland we now have our own real life experiment underway right now thanks to the works to construct the CRL. Parts of Albert, Customs, Victoria, Wellesley and Wyndham Streets are currently shadows of their former selves having been narrowed down for works, in some cases significantly. An example of this is highlighted well by the image from my post the other day on the construction progress of the City Rail Link looking at the Albert/Customs/Fanshawe intersection. As you can see:

  • Albert St south of the intersection has been narrowed down to just one lane southbound with the other five lanes closed off for construction works.
  • Albert St north of the intersection only allows for vehicles to travel northbound. The southbound lanes are closed due to the proximity to the under demolition Downtown site.
  • Customs St has also been narrowed down to just one lane each way through the intersection. Previously there were three lanes westbound and two eastbound.


While the works are the scale they are for a reason, in many locations AT also appear to have adopted a policy of trying to minimise disruption for motorists resulting in footpaths that have been cut back and pedestrian phases changed to provide as much capacity for cars as they can. Yet for months now Auckland Transport have pushed the message that people need to change how they travel to avoid carmegeddon including through the use of Jerome Kaino to help push the message.

Based on results so far, I think we can say that Auckland Transport’s message has got through and/or that we’re seeing the same result as those examples mentioned earlier. This is because one of the most notable outcomes from the works so far has been a lack of major traffic issues. Peak time congestion doesn’t appear to be any worse than it was before the works started and during the day these roads can still be eerily empty, as this picture from looking South of Wellesley shows.

These works and previous city centre improvements show that the drivers will adapt to changes, that the city doesn’t grind to a halt. It confirms we can shape or city to promote more of the things we want and less of the things we don’t.

Therefore we believe we need to start looking differently at how we approach roads in the city centre. In some cases, plans that even a few years ago were considered visionary or even just “the best we could hope for” are now starting to look tame. We need to completely rethink how we approach space in the city centre and we can start but looking overseas.

Most great cities that we look to have come to realise that right priority for transport in cities is something like below.


We need to start thinking the same way too. And not just on those streets most directly affected by the CRL works. Take Customs St as an example. In places it is currently up to seven lanes wide. The City East-West Transport Study (CEWT) suggested the pedestrian space increase a little bit but that there would still be at least three lanes each way.


CEWT Customs St

Yet the image above shows that at one location at least, Customs St has been reduced to just one lane each way and last time I looked the sky was still well above my head. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rethink what we want for the city. Let’s be bolder and perhaps start by answering questions like:

  • Do we really need four general traffic lanes on Customs St?
  • Do we need traffic on Quay St at all?
  • How soon can we pull down the awful Hobson St flyover?
  • Can we be bolder in how we redesign Hobson and Nelson Streets, including returning them to two way streets?
  • Why do we still even have cars in Queen St?
  • Can we make Fanshawe St less like a motorway sewer?

We obviously can’t do everything at once what the CRL works perfectly show is that drivers will adapt, that the sky won’t fall so we might as well be bold and design a world-class city. And of course until we can deliver that bold design, we can always start by trialling it New York style with some planters and temporary solutions.

Making Trucks Safer in Cities

Improving vehicles is a key aspect in achieving better safety outcomes on ou roads. This video from Transport for London highlights what they’re doing to make trucks safer on city streets.

The new design appears to be a huge improvement, begging the question of why it has taken so long and how long till authorities in this country start to push for these kinds of improvements to the truck fleet.

Onehunga ceded to the NZTA

We’ve long been concerned about the East-West Link, from the when it was suddenly catapulted out of nowhere from not even being on long term plans straight to being one of the city’s top transport priorities, to effectively becoming one of the governments Roads of National Significance.

From its increasingly eye-watering cost that has ballooned from around $600 million just a few years ago to over $1.8 billion, more than the cost of the Waterview tunnels and without a skerrick of concern from the media, to the fact cheaper and effective options stack up even when compared against those original construction costs.

And of course from when it was planned to plough through houses in Mangere severing communities, to filling in large swathes of the Mangere Inlet, severing pleasant access to the water – unless you like having an expressway next to you – and impacting on future development in and around Onehunga.

And that last point is important Onehunga is an area where Panuku Development Auckland – the city’s urban redevelopment agency who have had huge success with Wynyard Quarter – had picked as one of their key areas to focus on saying:

Onehunga’s strategic location on the edge of the Manukau Harbour, 10km from both Auckland’s CBD and Auckland Airport, makes it ideal to prioritise as a development location.

Panuku Development Auckland will use its land holdings in the area, including the Onehunga Port in the future, to enable developers to build high quality, mixed styles of housing close to the town centre, public transport and the water’s edge.

We’ve raised the issue of the East-West Link and its impacts on development in many posts in the past and now it finally seems to confirmed with the Herald reporting on Friday:

A plan is being drawn up to sell land earmarked for a waterfront development on the shores of the Manukau Harbour for a new motorway.

Political sources have told the Herald that council bosses have dumped a plan for Panuku Development Auckland to buy the Port of Onehunga wharf to develop along the lines of Wynyard Quarter.

Instead, the land will be sold to the Transport Agency for a new $1.8 billion east-west motorway between Onehunga and Mt Wellington. When the agency has used land it needs, it will sell the remainder to Panuku for development.


“It’s going to make life easier for the transport agency, which is good for them, but not good for Auckland,” said one source about plans for a waterfront village, apartments and commercial uses at the wharf.

Another source said the deal will “shaft the good folk of Onehunga”.

The plans we’ve seen to date show the impact on the Onehunga port site is significant. It will effectively be an island, cut off from the rest of the area and difficult to access. Furthermore, having trucks and cars thundering along at speed is simply not conducive with trying come up with trying to develop the area into a people friendly space.

East-West - Onehunga-Neilson St

Here’s an image of what the design could look like, also showing significant impact on the Hophua Tuff Ring and areas north of SH2o.

East-West - Neilson St Interchange Recomended Option

It’s crazy that in 2016, given all the knowledge that society has gained in recent decades, that we’re still even contemplating building such a massive road along the foreshore like the NZTA are.

The Herald carries on, quoting Jim Jackson of The Onehunga Enhancement Society (TOES):

Jackson said the port was the key to unlocking the Manukau Harbour and it had to be done properly. The fishing industry was interested in taking the area over and Panuku wanted to cover it in apartments, he said.

About $1.8b was about to be spent on the east-west link and no-one knew how it was going to connect into Onehunga. The transport agency had consent for a $25m pedestrian bridge and no idea how to connect it into Onehunga, plus there were environmental sediment issues, he said.

Panuku did not have the management skills to oversee development of the port area, said Jackson, who said he had only just been informed of the plan by transport agency highways boss Tommy Parker.

Wait, so the people behind the internationally award winning redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter have no clue about redeveloping a port area? TOES were key in pushing for the great new foreshore redevelopment on the western side of Onehunga which they pushed as mitigation for the motorway being built through the area decades ago. Unfortunately, the experience seems to have affected them as they have been supporters of the East-West project in the hope getting more mitigation out of it to fix the trashing of the inlet in the past. Pushing for a motorway just so you can fix environmental issues is a completely backwards approach.

Onehunga Foreshore Development

The new Onehunga Foreshore

And TOES solution for the East-West is even crazier than the NZTA’s, calling for an even bigger road complete with tunnels and new bridges across the harbour.

East-West Business Assciation proposal

Given everything it almost feels like it would be more honest if we just went for the Dutch solution, close the inlet off completely and pump it out and create 5.8km² of developable land. Note: I’m not actually saying this should happen.

Of course all of this new roading development is at a time when many people and officials believe two transformational changes could revolutionise transport in the next few decades.

  1. Dynamic road pricing that can be used to ensure existing roads stay clear and likely avoiding the need to build many of the big roading projects currently on the plans. What’s more some of the biggest proponents of road pricing in NZ are the business and infrastructure lobby groups who have been key in pushing the East-West Link.
  2. Driverless vehicles are likely to be adopted by the freight industry faster than other areas involving transport and if the hype is correct, will remove many of the barriers and costs associated with moving goods thanks in part to being more efficient. That could render investments like pointless.

At what point to we stop ceding the city to the whims of the NZTA?

Driverless cars, sprawl and density

This is a guest post from reader Frank McRae

Google Self Driving Car

The emergence of driverless vehicle technology has created much excitement, and speculation about how these vehicles will affect the development of cities. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that a major consequence of driverless vehicles will be the outward sprawl of cities (Driverless cars to fuel suburban sprawl):

Here is the weirdest thing about this hypothetical future: where you live….you will be able to escape your cramped apartment in the city for a bigger spread farther away, offering more peace and quiet, and better schools for the children.

..there is something akin to a law of nature about new transportation technology: The faster humans move, the bigger and more sprawling our cities become.

While it is true that lower transport costs and faster travel speeds will generally incentivise the outward spread of the city there are other forces at play. I want to put forward the case that the outward spread of cities will not be an inevitable feature of driverless cars and that these vehicles can complement the ongoing intensification of cities.

Driverless cars are not viable without road pricing

Driverless technology will remove the labour cost of driving, and electric vehicle technology will significantly reduce the cost of fuel. While we don’t currently have road pricing, fuel and labour impose costs on the user that practically limit the amount of time their vehicle can be on the road. If there were driverless vehicles but no road pricing then the vehicles could be left on the road at almost no cost. Indeed if parking is priced, and road space for moving vehicles is not, then leaving vehicles circling the block with no occupant would be the rational thing to do. What would be the point of paying for parking or storage when empty vehicles could be left roaming the streets for free? It’s easy to imagine roads quickly descending into gridlock when the cost of leaving a vehicle on the road is so low. Road pricing would be a simple way to clear the roads of circling drive-bots.

While road pricing is a difficult political sell, the politics may shift when the alternative to pricing is completely dysfunctional roads. People generally don’t like paying for parking either, but it is politically palatable to charge for parking in centres when the alternative is the unavailability of parking spaces. Road pricing may become politically palatable when the alternative is roads gridlocked with autonomous vehicles.

Driverless cars will also improve the viability of road pricing by making it practically easy to calculate the distance travelled and to implement time of day charging. And driverless vehicles would remove the privacy case against GPS based road pricing as, for better or worse, users of on-demand driverless vehicles will already be giving up their privacy to the service provider.

Finally, electric powering will require a new source of funding to replace the fuel excise which goes towards funding the maintenance and upgrade of roads. Distance based road pricing can replace the fuel excise in a way that provides a much better link between funding and demand for infrastructure.

This distance based road pricing will provide a disincentive against living in outer suburbs.

Driverless cars will disrupt car ownership

Driverless cars will mostly be used through on-demand services. Uber has already provided the model for this, and it will not be a huge stretch to extend Uber’s model to driverless vehicles. Indeed Uber is already a major investor in driverless technology and is launching an autonomous taxi service in the US city of Pittsburgh.

If it is possible to get an affordable ride on-demand then why would anyone bother with the storage, insurance, and maintenance costs of car ownership? It seems likely that a major effect of the driverless revolution will be the end of car ownership for the majority of people. This disruption of car ownership will significantly reduce the need for car parking spaces. This has significant implications for the development of the city.

Driverless cars will remove the parking and traffic constraints on dense development

The need to accommodate parking sets design limitations on development, and minimum parking requirements create a regulatory barrier to intensifying housing where demand is highest. These limitations can reduce the financial viability of intensified developments. If on-demand driverless vehicles disrupt car ownership, development can be freed from these constraints.

Additionally, a major source of “community” objection to development is the effect of new dwellings on local parking availability and congestion. For example, a recently proposed development for an apartment tower in Glen Eden was opposed by the Local Board because of the potential traffic generation.

This is just one example but almost every development in Auckland (and elsewhere) is objected to on the grounds of traffic and parking. Also parking and congestion are a significant justification for the planning rules that limit density in the first place.

On-demand driverless vehicles will remove the real and perceived constraint that parking places on development. And the increased efficiency of driverless vehicles combined with road pricing will undermine using traffic as a reason for limiting and objecting to intensive development.

Electric vehicles will improve the amenity of central suburbs 

A major drawback of living centrally, and at density, in a car dominated city like Auckland is the air quality and noise disamenity caused by cars. The electric technology used in driverless vehicles will remove these problems making inner city suburbs a more pleasant place to live.

On-demand ride services will be better in the inner city than outer suburbs

Driverless technology will not change the fact that trips to outer suburbs will take longer and be more expensive than those in the inner city. And while passengers will be freed from the burden of driving themselves, driverless cars are unlikely to change people’s ultimate tolerance for being stuck in a vehicle for more than an hour.

Though it is difficult to predict what a ride in a taxi-bot will cost, an article in Bloomberg suggests that the average cost could be as low as 44 (US) cents per mile (1.6km). But the cost per kilometre could be much higher in outer suburbs to reflect the reduced likelihood of the vehicle picking up a return fare. So outer suburban travellers will not only have to pay a higher fare to reflect the greater distance, they may also have to pay for it at a higher rate.

The service is also likely to be of a lower quality in outer suburbs, with longer wait times due to the lower density of potential passengers. Higher density inner suburbs will have a larger pool of potential passengers and hence shorter wait times for a ride.


Trying to make predictions about an unpredictable future can be a foolish task, and many of the predictions made about driverless cars have been foolish indeed (Dump the cycleways – how driverless cars will save the world). But the impact driverless cars will have on the development of the city is not inevitable. As always, much of this depends on the policy settings we adopt. Driverless cars will not necessarily accelerate exurban sprawl and with the right policies there is plenty to suggest that these vehicles can complement the intensification of cities well.

Postcard from Bogota

Following a few days in Mexico City, I’ve had the pleasure of staying a week in Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is both the federal capital and the capital of Cundinamarca state, and while it probably doesn’t yet figure as a world capital of culture or clout, it certainly is a thriving mega city of regional importance.

Because of its position straddling the Andes, Colombia is a country with every climate conceivable, it has snow covered alps, temperate savannah, dense jungle, dry desert, not to mention both tropical Caribbean and temperate-maritime Pacific coasts.

The city itself sits on broad plain high up on the middle finger of the three-branched Andes mountains, in fact at 2,700m it’s high enough to cause altitude sickness in some people. The altitude gives the nominally tropical city a very mild temperate climate, with clear skies, low humidity and temperatures that sit around the high teens and low twenties every day of the year. You could call it the city of eternal Spring.
Bogota is big. At around 11.5 million people it is as populous as greater London, or all of New Zealand two and a half times over.

Bogota is also dense. The majority of inhabitants live in apartment towers, mid rise block or terraced house style developments. The north of the city has a very European feel, with four to six story apartments of brick or concrete on a grid of fairly narrow tree lined streets. If it weren’t for the language you could be in the Netherlands or Germany.

Curiously, the city is three sided. The original colonial centre was established on one edge of the plain at the foot of a great mountain range. It has since sprawled across the plain to the north, south and west, but not to the east on account of the mountains. This allows for one unique benefit: you can ride a cable car a further 400m up the mountain of Monseraté near downtown and take in the whole sprawling metropolis in a single vista, including the bizzare experience of standing on terra firma and looking down at the tops of fifty story skyscrapers in the commercial district far below. If the thin air doesn’t take your breath away, the view certainly will!


Accordingly Bogota has basically two types of land use structure. A long, thin, but dense band of apartment towers runs for 40km north-south along the eastern edge of the plain, taking advantage of the Andes foothills to provide spectacular view back across the city. These buildings are accessed by a circuitous web of winding narrow switchback roads not too dissimilar to western Wellington. For the most part the wealthy live here in gated apartment communities, however dotted amongst them are university campuses (Bogota has dozens of them for some reason) and patches of impoverished and dangerous barrios similar to the famous favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

The other structure is on the plain itself, an enormous flat and regular grid of broad multi-lane avenues, filled with three to thirty storey buildings. Think Los Angeles but consistently taller. This is perhaps Bogota’s downfall: it land use is what can only be described as dense sprawl, and it’s transport system is entirely road based. Not surprisingly the traffic is truly horrendous. I have to laugh whenever people complain about Auckland’s supposedly worlds-worst traffic. Puh-lease. If you want bad traffic, take a city the same area as Auckland, with an entirely road based transport network… then add another ten million inhabitants all trying to drive at the same time.

Naturally Bogota has spend decades trying to accommodate it’s traffic with more, bigger roads. The city is covered in a massive amount of six, eight, ten lane avenues. They appear to have tried a bit of everything, separated motorways, limited access avenues, boulevards, frontage roads, slip lanes, underpasses, overpasses, one way streets, the works. The system almost works too… when conditions are perfect. However that almost never happens. It only takes one small crash, a truck parked illegally to unload, a taxi doing a u-turn or one of a thousand other small disruptions to infarct the system. This is perhaps the folly of huge roads for huge capacity, on an eight lane road one disruption clogs up eight times the traffic.

Transport here has an interesting socio-cultural element. From what I understand Bogotano society has six distinct classes with a broad spread of inequality, from the destitute poor up to the untouchable elite with money and connections above the law. For the middle classes, there is a great preoccupation with not sliding down the ladder. Few in the middle classes would ever dream of catching public transport as that is the domain of the underclass. Maintaining a private car is a necessary symbol of status regardless of the cost or the traffic, and if one does not drive they rely on cheap and ubiquitous taxis or town car services. Either way, not escape from the traffic is possible and it’s one form of private car all the way.

The transit wonks among us must now be thinking, but what about the Transmillennio? For the less frothy-mouthed readers, the Transmillennio is a now-famous busway system with half a dozen lines running along Bogota’s main arterials forming quite a wide reaching and effective network. This system is A grade busway of world class design. It is based around a system of dedicated, physically separated median busway lanes, some of which are grade separate at key intersections. The are combined with train-style island platform stations accessed by elaborate overpasses and footbridges. The busways themselves are serviced by special red colour high capacity trunk-only metro buses, very long vehicles with two or three articulated sections, high floors that match up with platform level, and four or even five double doors per bus. At the end of each of the busways there are huge interchanges where green-coloured feeder buses of conventional design connect the surrounding suburbs to the trunk busways. In that regard it really is metro system writ with rubber.


So what is it like to use? I wouldn’t know myself, as I was consistently dissuaded from trying it by friends and family whenever I mentioned it. The locals advised it was too crowded, too dangerous, too much of a risk for any decent person to use. I do wonder if this is simply a hangover of the same cultural understanding that buses were for the poor and to be avoided. Indeed when I asked few of my advisors had ever set foot on the system. My one young cousin who did actually use it to get to university each day only complained that it was too crowded, and the station too far away from his apartment.

What we do know is that the system is indeed hugely popular and overcrowded, a victim of it’s own success. Preoccupations of class and status aside, hundreds of thousands of people use the system every day. For all its efficiency at beating traffic and it mega capacity buses ability to move the masses, the simple fact is it barely touches the sides of the transport task in Bogota. Imagine London with no tube, not overground, no suburban trains, no national rail, no DLR, no tramlink. Imagine a London with six busways as the only rapid transit. That is Bogota. They have a long way to go to turn the traffic situation around. So yes it is a massive success, and very worthwhile, but for Bogota it is just the start of fixing things.

So if the Transmillennio is so effective (if not comprehensive), one has to ask why we don’t build them in Auckland. Indeed we hear this quite often from certain politicians, why are we talking about CRL tunnels and trains and light rail, when the bus can do the job for half the price? It’s a good question, and one that deserves an evaluation. Nonetheless, the answer is pretty simple: space.


The Transmillennio takes up space, lots of space. More space than we have. The basic cross section of these busways is two bus lanes either side of a median. That’s basically the full width of most of our main roads to start with. However, once you get to a stop the situation blows out again. Each of the stations has a large platform, then stopping lanes either side, then passing lane beside those again. That means a cross section of four bus lanes and the station, about 25 metres wide. Now as most of Auckland’s arterial roads are one chain wide (about 21m), building a Transmillennio in Auckland would require buying and demolishing all the buildings down one side of the street just to fit in the bus corridor, let alone any other traffic lanes, footpaths or street trees. Indeed, the one place we are looking at a multilane street busway, the AMETI corridor in east Auckland, they are planning to do exactly that.

So while we can do busways alongside motorways like we do on the North Shore (and hopefully the northwest), we can’t fit them in the street for the most part. This is why AT is looking at light rail, because for the same capacity LRT needs only two lanes and compact platforms, where the bus systems need four to manage the greater number of vehicles.

Bogota managed this by building into their existing avenues, which had huge wide medians in addition to three or four lanes in each direction. The Transmillennio got away without any land or building purchases by virtue of having huge road reserves to start with. In fact they had such wide corridors that they actually widened the roadways at the same time, adding extra lanes for traffic to offset the squeals of indignation about spending proper money on public transport. So in one way Bogota was lucky to have a fair whack of empty space effectively lying around, or arguably they were wasting land to start with and found a better use for it.

My end evaluation? The Transmillennio was a good move for Bogota that fits the city well and takes advantage of spatial resources, however it’s only the start of much more for fixing their transport issues.

Porte Cochere 2 – Pedestrians 0

While looking at Auckland Transport’s website I found they’d uploaded a number of plans relating to the City Rail Link (the same place I saw the K Rd image from this morning’s post). One of the documents showed the plans for Albert St after the CRL has been completed. The image below shows the section between Victoria St and Wellesley St and highlights what I think is a major issue, the pedestrian environment.

As you can see the future NDG development like the existing Crowne Plaza next to it have large Porte Cochere’s sucking vehicles off the street potentially at speed and all in an area where there is likely to be a lot of pedestrians following the opening of the CRL. The NDG one is made worse by also being the access to the service lane that currently exists. It appears the pedestrians who are in the area might be restricted to some narrow footpaths.


It probably would have been better just to have required that both porte cochere’s be joined up and made into a lane with some activation between that and the street rather than what has been proposed.

If you can’t remember, this is what the NDG building is meant to look like


And here’s a close up of the vehicle entrance – although I guess the people who made the rendering weren’t so focused on the detail of things like the traffic direction


We haven’t heard anything about what’s happening on the NDG development so as much as I want to see that parking crater filled in, in some ways I hope it doesn’t go ahead and the next plan for the site can improve this situation.

Rail to the Shore Meeting Tonight


In case you missed it, the North Shore Rail campaign is holding a meeting tonight to draw out support from the public and Auckland Council candidates.

As the media release says, the campaign is really pushing for North Shore residents to turn up and demonstrate their support for a high capacity electric rail connection across the Waitemata, otherwise it might not happen at all. An online petition has so far garnered over 1,500 signatures from the general public.

If you aren’t familiar with the background, NZTA’s proposed road crossing has no economic business case and is likely to cause even more congestion in the central city and surrounding road networks unless further road widening takes place. The New Zealand Transport Agency are planning to lodge planning approvals with the Auckland Council for the road crossing some time early next year.

The free public meeting will feature Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland as MC, with speakers including:

  • Cameron Pitches from Better Transport
  • Patrick Reynolds from TransportBlog and Greater Auckland
  • Chris Darby, currently a North Shore Councillor and standing again in this year’s election
  • Richard Hills, current Kaipatiki Local Board Member and also standing this year for the Auckland Council North Shore electorate

To be held:

  • Thursday 15th September, 7:30pm
  • Onewa Netball Centre
  • 44 Northcote Road, Takapuna

Matakana Link Rd fast-tracked

Imagine you’re spent years pushing a motorway project, promising it will deliver travel time savings and economic nirvana for an entire region and then add in that you’re on the cusp on construction as the contract for the project, that will end up costing you over $1 billion, is about to be signed. Yet you also know that after it’s finished, the first time there is a holiday, the users of that road will wonder why you bothered as they’re all forced through an intersection that can’t handle the volumes thrown at it resulting congestion and frustrated drivers. There is a potential solution but it relies on a 3rd party and they don’t have it as a priority. What do you do?

That’s the situation the NZTA found themselves in with the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway which is due to have its PPP contract signed off in October. The vast majority of the users of the new motorway are expected not to head to Northland – like the rhetoric claims – but to Warkworth and the nearby eastern beaches such as Omaha. That would continue to see huge volumes of traffic forced through the notorious Hill St intersection which has long been the bane of many locals and holiday maker’s journeys. The solution is a new road that bypasses the intersection for those travelling to Matakana and beyond but is a project not on the current funding agenda till after 2025.

Hill St GIS

The Hill St intersection as it is today

To address this, yesterday Auckland Transport and the NZTA agreed to fast track the $25-40 million Matakana Link Rd (below) which is not in the council’s current Long Term Plan so it can open at the same time as the new motorway in 2022. The NZTA will even pay for it upfront and have AT pay it back in the future, or more specifically the NZTA won’t give them as much money for future projects.

Matakana Link Rd location

The Matakana Link Rd is shown by the green arrow


Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency have signed an agreement that will speed up improvements to transport links in and between Warkworth and the eastern communities and help ease some frustrations around Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection.

The Transport Agency will provide early funding for construction of the Matakana Link Road project if Auckland Transport funds are not available.

The agreement means the project can be delivered ahead of schedule.

Once completed the Matakana Link Road will provide a connection between Matakana Road and State Highway 1 (SH1), just south of the intersection with the Transport Agency’s Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Warkworth highway, expected to be open in 2022. It will give locals an alternative route between western and eastern areas of Warkworth and will bypass the SH1 Hill Street intersection, improving traffic flow and safety.

Both AT and the Transport Agency recognise that there’s an urgent need to improve transport links in Warkworth ahead of its expected future population growth, and to address frustrations around Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection.

Andrew Scoggins, Auckland Transport Group Manager Major Projects, says: “With Warkworth expected to grow by an additional 7,900 new dwellings over the next 30 years, the Matakana Link Road will be a key road network improvement to help address existing and future travel needs of the community”.

The Transport Agency’s Auckland and Northland Highway Manager, Brett Gliddon says the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway has always been a part of a bigger vision to provide Warkworth with the transport connections it needs to ensure its residents can easily move around the growing town for work and leisure, as well as improving safety and efficiency on the link to Auckland.

“Over the years the Warkworth community has told us that Matakana Link Road is a priority for them. We’re grateful for their ongoing support while we work with Auckland Transport to speed up the delivery of this important transport link.”

Planning and consenting works for the Matakana Link Road project are already underway and construction of the road is expected to begin in the second half of 2019. The new road is scheduled for completion just ahead of the Transport Agency’s new state highway opening in 2022.

The new Matakana Link Road will also align with AT’s new Warkworth Western Collector project – a three-stage plan to improve road connections to the west of the state highway. Stage One of the Western Collector route, connecting Mansel Drive to Falls Road, is currently under construction and will be completed in February 2017. The exact route of the remaining two stages have yet to be determined but will connect to the State Highway in the vicinity of McKinney Road in the south and the Matakana Link Road intersection in the north.

AT say the cost of the project is likely to be $25-40 million but that will depend on the final design and they haven’t even agreed on some of the basics yet, such as whether it will have two or four lanes, be a rural or urban road (footpaths, kerb & channel, lighting etc.). Some indicative costs were included in a closed session board paper that was later released.


Below are some basic cross sections for the types of infrastructure options suggested and priced above


What do you think of this project jumping the queue to get funding? Imagine if the same urgency was put into projects like needed bus and train interchanges which are a vital part of getting the new network to work.