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Robert Ellis’s apocalyptic vision of Auckland

This blog has often written about Auckland’s 1950s-era motorway development plan, which transformed the city in fundamental ways. New Zealand painter Robert Ellis was one of the first to grasp the significance and character of that transformation. His Motorway/City series, painted in the 1960s and 1970s, shows roads invading and dividing urban space. (As they proceeded to do in real life.)

The Auckland City Gallery is about to host an exhibition of Ellis’s paintings that will run from 9 August 2014 to 15 March 2015. From the press release:

Opening on Saturday 9 August at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Robert Ellis: Turangawaewae | A Place to Stand is the first solo exhibition in a public museum by senior Auckland artist, Robert Ellis in his ‘hometown’. Including many of his most important paintings, the exhibition will present Turangawaewae Maehe 1983, painted in 1983, a gift from the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery to mark their 60th anniversary this year.

‘Together with Auckland artists Colin McCahon, Milan Mrkusich, Pat Hanly and Gretchen Albrecht, Ellis is nationally regarded for producing ambitious paintings on a large scale,’ says Auckland Art Gallery Senior Curator New Zealand and Pacific Art, Ron Brownson. ‘As a major figure, Ellis’ art addresses many cultural issues. His subjects range over tensions between transport and urbanism, contrast ecology with spirituality and look at the on-going nature of Māori-Pākehā relations.’

Here’s one of the more well-known works from Ellis’s Motorway/City series, which can usually be seen in the City Gallery:

Now, I’m an economist rather than an art historian, but Ellis’s vision of the city seemed to be something new in New Zealand art. New Zealand artists had not tended to focus on cities – think of all the attention Colin McCahon lavished on New Zealand landscapes – and when they did, it was to present vague, idealised scenes. Ellis was different. He showed the city in the process of expanding and mutating, and in the process creating a different New Zealand.

Here’s number 15 from the Motorway/City series. It contrasts New Zealand’s stereotypically bucolic rural space (below) with the encroaching city (above). The latter is dynamic, disordered, vaguely sinister. (What was it that Allan Ginsberg wrote about “Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone”…) And it is ceaselessly growing into the countryside.

In other paintings, Ellis depicts the city not as the invader of a rural landscape but as an invaded space. Motorway/City number 22, for example, appears to show an existing urban fabric, complete with a more or less rectilinear street grid, that has been overwritten by the smooth curves of the motorway. The pre-existing city has rendered incomprehensible in the process – notice how the lines of the motorway draw in your attention instead.

I’m often struck by how quickly artists and writers grasp emerging truths, especially when compared with technical experts of various stripes. Robert Ellis’s art was an especially prescient view of New Zealand cities – painted at a time when New Zealand had barely begun to think of itself as an urban country and when the promise of the motorway was still novel enough to be seductive. I highly recommend going to see the upcoming exhibition.

Basin Bridge Bowled

In stunning news yesterday the Board of Inquiry hearing the case for the Basin Bridge bowled out the NZTA by declined consent for the project.  This is what it would have looked like had it been approved:

All up the bridge would have been 265m long and carved a slice out of Wellington’s urban fabric at a time when other cities around the world are starting to pull these kinds of structures down – and finding it doesn’t cause traffic chaos.

The independent Board of Inquiry delegated to hear and decide the Basin Bridge Proposal of National Significance has released its draft report and decision.

The Board by majority decision (3 to 1), has cancelled the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Notice of Requirement and declined its resource consent applications for the construction, operation and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street.

The draft report and decision is available on the EPA website here: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx

A total of 215 submissions were received, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses and representations by a further 74 submitters.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.

The Board will provide its final decision to the EPA by 30 August 2014.

Basin Bridge Image 1

This is quite a setback for both the NZTA and the government as the project is a key part of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme and the Board of Inquiry (BoI) process was specifically set up to try and streamline the consent process for large projects. One of the key changes the government made in creating the BoI process was that appeals against can be made to the High Court on points of law only, and any decision cannot be overturned by the Minister. The outcome of this is that it’s meant agencies have had to do much more work upfront as there’s no second chance if they get it wrong. This led to the process taking longer to ensure all I’s were dotted and all T’s crossed and that extra length of time along with the risk of getting it wrong is one of the reasons Auckland Transport went with the traditional consenting method for the CRL.

But the NZTA clearly got this one wrong and have paid the price by not getting consent. This has effectively sent them back to square one and a flyover option is now off the table.

Basin Bridge Image 2

The report on the BoI’s findings runs to almost 600 pages so naturally I haven’t had time to go through it all yet however I here are some points I picked up on about their decision which starts from page 444 (page 453 of the PDF).

  • That while the project would improve the cities transport system that it would do so at the expense of heritage, landscape, visual amenity, open space and overall amenity.
  • They are uncertain how the plan would have actually accommodated for Bus Rapid Transit as proposed in the Spine Study.
  • That the quantum of transport benefits were substantially less than what the NZTA originally said in lodging the NoR as they included transport benefits from other projects.
  • That while North/South buses would be sped up, that the modelling doesn’t show any impact effect of this on modal change.
  • That while there are some improvements for cyclists it’s mostly in the form of shared paths which will introduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
  • That the dominance of the bridge would cause severe adverse affects on the local area and the mitigation measures proposed would do little to reduce that. They also found the new building proposed for the Basin Reserve would exacerbate this.

Perhaps some of the most damming criticism is in relation to the consideration of alternatives. The board say that despite there having been 73 different options considered since 2001 that the methodology wasn’t transparent and replicable. They say that weightings were applied to some criteria at different stages of the process but that it wasn’t clear how criteria were weighted and the reason for any weighting. They say that in their view it was incumbent on the NZTA to ensure it adequately considered alternative options, particularly those with potentially reduced adverse effects. This simply was not done. Of course you may remember that the issue around alternatives was one of the critical issues highlighted in the independent review the BoI arranged.

I think the issue of the inadequacy of the assessment of alternatives is particularly important as that has been a key criticism of the Puhoi to Warkworth route, a decision on which is due back shortly.

Basin Bridge Image 4

Interestingly not all of the commissioners on the panel believed that the consent should be declined. Commissioner David McMahon voted to the project saying that in his mind the benefits outweighed the impacts of the project will have. His reasoning for doing so are also in the report.

The big question now is what next. The NZTA has to go back to the drawing board to find or progress some alternative options but how will the government react. As of the time of writing this post I still hadn’t seen any response from the government despite this putting a huge dent in the RoNS programme.

Overall this is a fantastic result for Wellington and congratulations to all those like Save the Basin who put huge amounts effort in to fighting this project.

Roading in Northland

There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the last week about roads in Northland following storm damage that saw part of State Highway 1 closed due to large washout. The severity of the slip saw traffic diverted on lengthy detours on roads clearly not designed to handle more than a handful of cars per day. Another series of slips have happened in the last few days, this time closing SH1 over the Brynderwyn Hills.

Understandably it’s led to people in Northland saying that their roads simply aren’t up to the same quality as roads in other regions. Oddly though it also led to Labour’s Kelvin Davis saying he supported the the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance.

“They want a safe and solid highway that’s going to get our people and goods in and out and that’s not at the whim of Mother Nature.

“This weather event has shown how vulnerable and susceptible the North is and it’s really important that we have a road where emergency services and whatever can get through, but also we’ve got to have a road that’s going to be able to export our produce outside of Northland and one that’s not going to be washed away in the next storm or flood.”

If the statement above was to be a blanket statement and not referring to P2W then I would be in complete agreement however I say it’s odd for him to bring up P2W as doesn’t even leave Auckland and would not have done anything to help with the slips that have occurred. In fact in many ways P2W is actually likely to be working against Northland as it will suck up funding that could be being used for widespread upgrades to address issues that exist in the roading network.

All up P2W is said to cost ~$1.6 billion with the first section to Warkworth estimated at $760 million. If the goal is truly about helping the Northland economy as the government love to claim then we need to be asking what else we could do with the money. What if we spent ~$300m on operation lifesaver to address the key issues with the existing road. We could then spend about $500 million on actual roads in Northland while still leaving up to $800 million which could be used for other projects – like part of the governments share of the City Rail Link.

But how would $500 million compare to what’s currently spent in the region and is it a significant enough amount of money?

Data from the NZTA can help to answer that question. Unfortunately the 2013/14 data isn’t available yet but this is for the 10 years to 30 June 2013.

Transport Spending in Northland 2003/04 to 2012/13 NZTA Local Authorities Total
State Highways – New and Improved $163,617,783 $163,617,783
State Highways – Maintenance, Operations & Renewals $249,305,778 $249,305,778
Local Roads – New and Improved $174,917,159 $56,850,123 $231,767,282
Local Roads – Maintenance, Operations & Renewals $312,908,053 $226,434,207 $539,342,260
Public Transport $9,481,230 $8,440,738 $17,921,968
Walking & cycling $342,494 $90,300 $432,794
Other $24,816,399 $2,661,551 $27,477,950
Total $935,388,896 $294,476,919 $1,229,865,815

And here’s the new and improved road spending over that 10 year periodNorthland New and Improved Roads Spending

So spending $500 million (on top of what would normally be spent) would be more than all the money that was spent on new and improved state highways and local roads for over a decade.

That seems like it could deliver more game changing outcomes for transport in Northland than a motorway to Warkworth/Wellsford ever would. As an example of what might be able to be delivered, the governments Accelerated Regional Roading Package named two projects that would see road realignments happen. One was on State Highway 73 near Arthurs Pass and the other was just south where the large slip occurred the other week with the project known as the Akerama Curves Realignment and Passing Lane. The latter is a 3km section of road that will be upgraded and have an additional passing lane added for a cost of $10-13.5 million. Comparing the costs for each project it suggests that for $500 million we could probably get 100-150km of upgraded state highway which is a substantial amount.

I guess the big problem with this suggestion is that small scale projects like road realignment and passing lanes aren’t the types of projects that get politicians in the national media cutting turning a first sod or cutting a ribbon.

Gerry’s strange RoNS justification

On Friday transport minister Gerry Brownlee spoke to the Road Transport Forum (RTF) on the government’s key transport priorities. Over the years the RTF have been a generous donor (not just to National) and have certainly received a transport policy very much tailored to their needs. There was nothing new in the speech in terms of project announcements and I guess this was perhaps not the audience to talk about the cancelling the Northern Busway extension, for example.

However, there were a few paragraphs that pick up on traffic trends in recent years – with the Minister making some rather weird connections between these trends and the success of the RoNS programme:

Between 2005 and 2012 total road travel – in terms of kilometres travelled – was almost unchanged.

There are likely to have been a number of contributing factors, including the Global Financial Crisis, population changes, and technology changes affecting the way people meet and communicate.

Heavy vehicle traffic was affected more than light traffic, dropping by over 4 per cent in 2009 – clearly an impact of the GFC.

But now we are seeing that vehicle kilometres travelled are beginning to increase again.

Heavy vehicle traffic on all roads increased 2.1 per cent in 2013, while light vehicle traffic grew 1.4 per cent.

NZ Transport Agency traffic counts for State highways shows a 4.1 per cent growth in heavy vehicle travel in the year to May 2014.

New Zealand’s vehicle fleet is also growing.

Average vehicle ownership growth has increased more than twice the speed of population growth, and recently released data shows new car purchases at their highest level since 1981.

These increases are not only because of population increases and the improving economy, but also because of the choices people make about their preferred modes of transport, and this is in the face of the biggest investment in public transport seen in decades.

So the case for investing in strategic State highways through the Roads of National Significance programme has been proved correct.

Gerry seems to be mixing up a few stats here as vehicle kilometres travelled is quite different from individual traffic counts and they aren’t always going to move in unison – but it’s the strange logic of the final paragraph that is difficult to understand. There are a few options below for what he could be trying to say:

  • The case for spending $11 billion on the RoNS is to make people drive more.
  • With per capita VKT declining a lot in recent years, it makes a lot of sense to spend $11b on a few motorways to try (unsuccessfully) and reverse this trend
  • Construction of the RoNS projects themselves generate heaps of truck trips to move earth around, which is the point of the projects and therefore they are a success

Just as a reminder here’s a comparison of per capita VKT and per capita public transport use in recent years:

What’s your interpretation of what Gerry means?

East West Link and Old Mangere Bridge Open Days

Another series of consultation events that will happen this week will be for the East West Link and the replacement of the Old Mangere Bridge.

Communities will get the chance to have their say about two significant transport projects in their area – the East West Connections and the replacement of the of the old Mangere bridge.

The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport say there is an open invitation for people to attend three community days planned for later this month. Two of them – at the Onehunga night market (Thursday 24 July, 6pm-10pm) and at Sylvia Park shopping mall near the foodcourt (Sunday 27 July, 10am-1pm) – focus on the East West Connections project. The third – at Waterfront Road Reserve, Mangere Bridge (Saturday 26 July, 10am-4pm) – will focus on both the East West Connections and the next stage of replacing the old Mangere bridge.

The Transport Agency’s acting Highways Manager, Steve Mutton, says the community days deliver on earlier commitments from the Agency and Auckland Transport to work with local people.

“We want to build on the great feedback we’ve had from people to replace the bridge and carry that on into the East West Connections programme. This is the latest step for us to ensure that we fully understand what people are experiencing when travelling in Onehunga, Mt Wellington, Otahuhu, Penrose, Mangere and East Tamaki,” Mr Mutton says.

Community input will help the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport develop their East West Connections programme to improve commuter and freight links, public transport and walking and cycling options over the next 30 years.

“We have already identified freight issues that need immediate attention in Onehunga-Penrose – that’s a key priority given the area’s importance for jobs and the Auckland and New Zealand economies. We will be working with stakeholders and the community in coming months as investigations progress for those improvements.

“But we are not losing sight of the issues people are facing in the wider area. The vibrant communities in the area are likely to experience a growth in the number of people who chose to live and work in them. The predicted growth will put additional pressure on the existing transport network”

“We’ve already identified the need to improve reliability of public transport between Mangere and Sylvia Park – there will be other areas for improvement. We want the conversation with local people now so that as we progress with improvements in Onehunga-Penrose, we can also continue to work with communities to address their issues,” says Mr Mutton.

The community day at Mangere Bridge on 26 July will also be a chance for people to see the proposed design for the new bridge connecting Onehunga and Mangere Bridge.

“The earlier feedback from the community was a catalyst for the project and guided the bridge design,” Mr Mutton says. “We’ve worked hard to integrate the community’s requests, and we’re optimistic that they will be pleased with our design when they see it.”

Some features of the original bridge will be retained, with the new structure curving towards the motorway bridge. It will be high enough for small boats to pass underneath. A wider span also means that some form of opening for larger craft is not precluded in future. Two artists have been commissioned to incorporate the area’s history and values into the design through art.

“Replacing the old bridge and the East West Connections are two very different projects with one similar outcome – helping the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport get the best solutions to improve the area’s transport network. We want to hear the views of people to help achieve that,” Mr Mutton says.

On the East West Link it will be interesting to see if they actually show what they plan to do for the project or if they will just talk about the need for it. This is especially the case as I know they showed business and road lobby groups exactly what they plan to build about 7 months ago.

We can get a bit of a background as to what they will show from some of the information on the AT website including this image which highlights all the issues they’ve identified in the area.

East-West Issues

For a big click the photo or for the original it’s from here (5MB).

This image (on the NZTA website) shows all of the projects going on in the area.

East West Other Projects Large

As for the Old Mangere Bridge Replacement this newsletter shows a couple of impressions of what it may look like.

Mangere Bridge Replacement Total

 

PARKING: Searching for the Good Life in the City

A good little video from Streetfilms and the non profit Institute for Transportation Development Policy on the issues of parking, particularly parking minimums.

Streetfilms is proud to partner with ITDP to bring you this fun animation that’s sort of a cross between those catchy Schoolhouse Rock shorts and a 1960s-style, Saul Bass film credits sequence.

For too long cities sought to make parking a core feature of the urban fabric, only to discover that yielding to parking demand caused that fabric to tear apart. Parking requirements for new buildings have quietly been changing the landscape of how people live. Chipping away at walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods has been a slow process that finally turned cities across the U.S. into parking craters and a few in Europe into parking swamps.

Many cities around the world are now changing course by eliminating the requirements while also investing in compact walking, cycling and public transit oriented neighborhoods. Soon cities in the developing world will follow, providing many new lessons of their own.

At Streetfilms, we realize that while parking is a difficult topic for most to comprehend, it is at the core of the transportation problems of most cities. We all hope this film helps change some minds and enlighten others

Perhaps this is something the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board need to watch after they had the Council submit this on the Unitary Plan.

UP council submission on minimum parking reqs

Photo of the Day: St Lukes Motorway Median

The motorway lanes at St Lukes have been parted as part of the project to widen the St Lukes Rd bridge.

St Lukes Motorway Median

In many other cities when you see the motorway parted like this it would be for a busway or rail line to be installed. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this work was for the creation of a Northwest busway (Admittedly it probably isn’t quite wide enough).

Below are a couple of examples of median running transit.

Perth

Perth Rail Median

Los Angeles

LA Rail Median

Bogota

Bogota BRT Median

 

Istanbul

BRT Istanbul

City centre parking rates: economic literacy versus special pleading

This weekend the NZ Herald’s motoring correspondent Matt Greenop published an article denouncing the “insult” of parking fees. Now, at Transportblog we’re always up for a good debate over the merits of different parking policies, but this doesn’t add much to the conversation:

Parking used to be a doddle. Now it’s just another cost of car ownership that makes us feel we’ve committed a heinous crime against humanity by daring to buy and use our own vehicle.

Every little bit that gets added on to the cost of driving a car in the city is an insult — and the next insult we’re facing is another hike in parking fees.

From an economic perspective, this is a totally absurd statement. It completely ignores the supply and demand dynamics at play in urban areas. Parking takes up space, and as anyone who’s been downtown in the last decade has noticed, there’s a limited amount of space in the city centre. Demand for commercial and residential space in the city centre is increasing. The residential population tripled from 10,200 to 31,300 between the 2001 and 2013 Censuses; over the same time period, employment in the city centre rose by a quarter, from 81,000 to 100,100.

Using prices to manage demand for scarce resources is an efficient and sensible response. This is basic Econ 101 material, and we accept it in most areas of life. City centre office space is priced, and priced highly, due to the fact that a lot of people want to locate there.

It would be ridiculous if companies leasing space in the city centre to complain that a rent increase was an “insult”. And if they insisted on paying no rent at all, we’d recognise it as special pleading for a market-distorting subsidy.

It’s the exact same thing with parking. Essentially, the Herald’s using emotive language to demand a costly, distortionary subsidy for a small number of people.

If the Herald wants to avoid printing such embarrassing nonsense in the future, I strongly recommend that they run their articles by an economist first.

Designing Quay St

Some of the big improvements needed in the CBD seem to be finally starting to move along. First there was the announcement that AT will be doing some more detailed design work on the CRL at the northern end and yesterday the council announced they’re starting the process to get the design for Quay St nailed down.

Auckland Council is seeking proposals from designers to assist with the future redevelopment of Quay Street.

Quay Street has been earmarked for change under the City Centre Master Plan – a blueprint for the future use of the central city.

The council is issuing a request for expressions of interest from design consultants.

Concept designs for development of Quay Street will be considered by the Auckland Development Committee, and Aucklanders will have an opportunity to have their say before designs are finalised.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a great waterfront and city centre, and we need the best designers working with us as we develop our proposals to transform this area,” Deputy Mayor and Auckland Development Committee Chair Penny Hulse said.

City Centre integration general manager Rick Walden, said the project was at a very early stage. “As options are developed we will be seeking input from the wider community.”

The council aims to complete the appointment of a design team in November.

This follows work done last year on draft concept designs for the area and one of the images from that work is below

Quay St Concept

There’s not a huge amount to go on from that image but from what I can gather it appears the concept has

  • Shared space intersections
  • Two lanes of traffic each way and no separate turning lanes at intersections
  • A central planted median with Trees
  • Slightly widened footpaths
  • No parking
  • No Cycle Lanes

My understanding is that the design contract will cover from Hobson St potentially all the way through to Tangihua St.

Of course already some Councillors aren’t happy. Cameron Brewer is asking where the cars will go and Mike Lee is suggesting we have to build an insanely expensive tunnel for them.

Quay St - Mike Lee

It’s amazing and disappointing that both of these two only seem to think we should upgrade our city and make it more pedestrian friendly as long as we somehow keep drivers happy.

This is obviously a project we’re going to be focusing on very closely.

The Grafton Gully Multiway Boulevard

On Wednesday Kent presented a plan to the Waitemata Local Board for dramatically improving one of the worst corridors in the central city – Stanley St and The Strand. The plan was originally dreamed up by Nick (who is currently overseas). You can read the full presentation here and below is the area he sought to improve.

Grafton Gully Blvd - area

The route is a crucial one for Auckland yet it serves none of it’s users well. It’s fed directly from the motorway network so gets a large volume of vehicles many of which are trucks heading to/from the port. In addition it serves people moving east-west from Parnell as well as the growing developments between Stanley St and the rail line.

Grafton Gully Blvd - Traffic

The photos below show how bad the area is, particularly for people walking and cycling. Let’s also not forget that a man recently lost his life on the intersection of Parnell Rise and Stanley St. It’s been said that he was at fault however it’s my view that no one should have to pay for a mistake with their life.

Grafton Gully Blvd - existing

Grafton Gully Blvd - existing 2

A large part of the problem is that the current thinking involves extending the motorway to the port which is no easy task the development that already exists. It has been assumed a tunnel would need to be built but that would cost huge amounts of money we simply don’t have, it would take up a lot of land, especially as it would need a full interchange and probably create even more severance, not less. An elevated structure would be no better and also made difficult but the rail lines. The indecision over what will happen has left the area in limbo creating urban blight and stagnation, particularly on the pieces of land that the NZTA already own primarily to the east of Stanley St. A summary of many of the issues is below

Grafton Gully Blvd - Issues

So if a motorway too expensive and creates even more severance what can we do to improve things for all road users? One potential solution is a Multiway Boulevard.

But what is a Multiway Boulevard, the key functions are:

  • Designed to separate through traffic from local traffic
  • Parallel roadways serve distinctly different functions
  • Side roads designed for slow speeds, high access (including parking), and pedestrian movement and comfort
  • Central roadway designed for vehicles travelling longer distances (through) at higher speeds

Examples can be found around the world, particularly in Europe but also increasingly in other places like San Francisco.

Grafton Gully Blvd - Multiway Blvd Examples

Key design concepts involved include

  • Different realms for different tasks e.g. a movement realm, a pedestrian realm
  • Buildings that face the street with direct pedestrian access and parking/loading areas on the street.
  • Intersection Priority
  • Closely spaced street trees to provide a full canopy.

So how would it work on Stanley St and The Strand? With just the removal of a handful of buildings, most of which would go as part of any motorway type development anyway, a continuous 40m corridor can be created. This includes under the rail bridge which already has a 40m main span over The Strand. The buildings that would be needed for 40m are in yellow, but it looks like a slightly narrower corridor might avoid them? Note that the curve next to St Georges Rd is already a road reserve, long planned to cut the corner and straighten out the route.

Grafton Gully Blvd - Corridor Width

Within a 40m cross section you could fit the below layout.

Grafton Gully Blvd - 40m Cross Section

A smaller cross section could be provided if the local access road was only provided on one side.

Lastly addressing the corridor would open up a large number of sites for development/redevelopment. In San Francisco a Multiway Boulevard replaced the Central Elevated Freeway and the selling off of the excess land more than paid for the redevelopment of the road.

Grafton Gully Blvd - Development

Overall this seems like a fantastic idea, we address an important corridor while still allowing and improving the experience for a significant number of vehicle movements. At the same time it improves the experience for walkers, cyclists as well as local traffic. It opens up land for more development and in the process might actually help pay for a significant amount of the project. Importantly it also allows us to cross off the list what would have otherwise been a large and expensive project, that’s good for taxpayers and ratepayers. I really can’t see any downside to this proposal. Great work Nick and Kent.