Today is the latest Auckland Transport Board meeting and it appears to be a big one with a lot of items to cover. I’ve gone through the documents to highlight the parts I’ve found interesting.
The closed session in particular has a number of interesting topics on the agenda, these are some of them up for approval/decision
- Matakana Link Road – this is the road that is planned from roughly the end of the Puhoi to Warkworth Motorway across to Matakana Rd so all those using the motorway to get to their holiday homes at Christmas don’t have to travel through the Hill St intersection. I’ve heard suggestions the NZTA and AT are looking to have this built at the same time as the motorway even though it hasn’t been budgeted for and that they might try to include it as part of the motorway PPP. The link road is shown below in green and extends past Matakana Rd to a Quarry I believe they want to source material for the motorway from.
- North Western Rapid Transport Corridor – Otherwise known as the Northwest Busway, AT currently have a tender out for an Indicative Business Case for this which includes confirming the preferred mode and alignment.
- AMETI – While most items are listed as being confidential due to commercial sensitivity, this one oddly states: “To prevent disclosure or use of official information for improper gain or improper advantage“
- Rail Operations Procurement – AT extended Transdev’s contract to run trains in Auckland a year or so ago, presumably this is about extending it again or restarting the process to put it out to tender
- South Western Multi Modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) – We’ve heard before that the Airport company has said that a decision was needed fairly soon on whether heavy or light rail was preferred option for rail to the airport so they can finalise their development plans. I assume AT are making that decision. (Edit: appears I was right. AT have for me they’ll get send me a copy of the report this afternoon)
And for noting
- Deep Dive – Enforcement – I assume this includes information about both road and PT enforcement.
Rapid Transit – Perhaps as a response to the issue of the AWHC we raised a month ago, AT say
AT and NZ Transport Agency are working together to ensure a future Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing (AWHC) is delivered as a multimodal transport solution providing more options for moving people and freight across the harbour while supporting growth and resilience. Both organisations are currently investigating which modes of rapid transit will best service the growing needs of the city along with future roading requirements. This information will feed into the AWHC project and ensure the protected route enables and is fully integrated with a future public transport network.
Parnell Station – AT say planning work is still in progress “to complete the station ready for initial timetabled operations by second quarter 2017 in line with wider passenger rail timetable improvements.” Last I remember timetable improvements were planned for around Feb so this suggests they may have been pushed back too. If so this would be disappointing, particularly in the south where the new bus network will be implemented without the rail network being improved to support it.
Street Lighting – You may recall that last year AT started replacing around 44,000 high pressure sodium streets lights across the region with LEDs that over a 20 year period were expected to have net savings of about $32 million. They say so far around 10,000 have been installed which is about 9% of all street lights in Auckland. Positively they say both the technical performance is improving and cost of the lights is reducing so more will be able to be done within the funding allocated.
Bus Lanes – On bus lanes AT have this comment which perhaps suggests they weren’t going to have enough money to roll out the Gt North Rd bus lane which is meant to go in when Waterview opens “We are working with NZ Transport Agency on options to manage the funding of Great North Road Bus lane to alleviate a potential compromise of next year’s work programme“.
Red Light running – Back in May, AT announced that in conjunction with the police they were doing a blitz on four intersections on the North Shore for red light running. They say around 400 warnings/infringements were issued over the two-week period.
Integrated Fares – go live 31 July but we are yet to have prices or details of it confirmed which I assume will be a focus in July. The other day I mentioned that Monthly Passes were changing. After that post went up the details went up on AT’s website. From Friday, instead of three different monthly pass options there will only be one covering the entire region which will normally be $200, but for July AT are running it at an “introductory price” of $140 for July. If you make a lot of trips or normally have a fairly long PT commute and don’t normally use a monthly pass it might be worth picking one up and as a tip, once one has been bought and activated you can buy and load up another one. I already use the $200 monthly pass so this should save me around $120 which is nice.
Station Gating – We already knew AT were looking at gating a number of train stations but it appears they could be doing it fairly soon, saying “Electronic gating designs are underway for Manurewa, Papatoetoe, Middlemore, Glen Innes, Henderson and Papakura Stations; electronic gates have been ordered“.
Another item at the board meeting is AT’s draft statement of intent for the 2016/17 financial year. The SOI is refreshed is a three-year work plan but is refreshed annually and so combined with other council/AT documents shouldn’t present too much of a surprise. What is interesting is seeing some of the changes that have been made following feedback from the Council. Some of the interesting changes/issues raised seem to be:
- The council has asked AT to improve train travel times – we know some work has been done on this but we are still waiting for the next timetable change to actually see any improvement.
- AT have a history of trying to downgrade their PT patronage targets and obviously they tried to again but the council have said they have no intention change them without a very good case for doing so. This means that AT are going to need to put a lot more effort in to ensuring that patronage grows over the next few years so it will be vitally important they get changes like the new network rolled out as soon as possible.
- The PT patronage target is for all PT so the council have requested a rail specific target be added which AT have done and which gives a hint of where they think patronage will be in the next three years. Rail patronage is at 16.6 million to the end of May and the future targets are 2016/17: 19.5 million, 2017/18: 20.7 million, 2018/19: 21.6 million. That suggests they expect another significant jump in ridership over the next year before tapering off before the CRL is built which is what I would expect to see.
- AT wanted to focus their cycling targets on the counts from around the city centre to reflect where most of the current cycle spending will impact however the council have said they want to keep the monitoring at a regional level
Not changing the targets does have some benefits for AT though, especially when it comes to PT farebox recovery. As of the end of April they remain ahead of the target set for 2018/19 of greater than 50%.
Is there anything else you’ve seen in the reports you’ve found interesting?
Well, well, well. What a week.
For those who are interested in Brexit, I am currently writing a short paper on the topic that I hope to make available via the Blog.
Right now, however, I want to cover political issues closer to home. Specifically, the release of the ATAP report. What is ATAP? Well, it’s simply a collaboration between Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and Central Government that is designed to align plans for transport in Auckland. Not a bad idea.
ATAP recently released a report that has breathed fresh life into the road pricing debate. As many of you will know, TransportBlog has over the years expressed qualified support for the idea of road pricing. While we think it’s important to carefully consider 1) distributional impacts; 2) revenue neutrality; and 3) complementary transport investments (of all modes), these issues should not be allowed to scuttle discussion and research into road pricing. The potential benefits of road pricing are simply too large to ignore, IMO.
Not everyone, however, seems happy with ATAP’s recommendation that road pricing be investigated in the Auckland context. In this post I’m going to review statements made by three political parties in response to the ATAP report. In future posts, we hope to cover some of theory behind road pricing in more detail, and consider their implications for road pricing in Auckland.
1. The Government – Simon Bridges
In the past few years I’ve been somewhat critical of the Minister, as evidenced by posts on Bridges’ bridges and subsidies for electric lemons. We’ve also criticized the ineffective mega-motorway projects this Government has promoted, such as the East-West Link and Auckland Waitemata Harbour Crossing.
On the other hand, I’ve really been impressed with Bridges’ comments on road pricing, which have been refreshingly candid, informed, and balanced. Here’s a selection of what Bridges has had to say about the ATAP report in general, and road pricing in particular (source):
In the short term, more roading and public transport may … be necessary,” Mr Bridges told the Herald. “But that alone isn’t enough. We can’t keep building new lanes on highways.
We will need a combination of demand-side interventions if we are going to deal with congestion over the next couple of decades.
When pressed on his Government’s tepid support for road pricing in the past, Bridges made the following comment:
Asked why the change of heart, Mr Bridges said: “It is the evidence. What’s been shown quite clearly here is that a combination of technology, including pricing, can dramatically lessen congestion on the network.”
In the same interview, Bridges noted that (1) road pricing was intended to manage demand, not raise revenue (even if the revenue could be used to accelerate some specific projects) and (2) road pricing would only be introduced over a period of 10 years, if further research found it to be effective. In these comments, Bridges demonstrated:
- An awareness that supply-side transport interventions will not, on their own, be a cost-effective way to manage the growth in travel demands Auckland is experiencing;
- A willingness to engage with complex issues, and to change his position if doing so is justified by evidence. This is something that is often hard for politicians to do, and I think is something to celebrate when such changes are based on new evidence coming to light;
- An acceptance that if road pricing is implemented, then it should be to manage demand – not raise revenue. This is an approach the Blog has supported for many years.; and
- An understanding that several years of research and discussion are necessary before road pricing can be implemented.
In short, I thought Bridges’ comments were candid, informed, and balanced. Bravo. The two issues he doesn’t appear to discuss in detail was (1) distributional impacts, although further research would seek to clarify the nature of these impacts and (2) the need for complementary transport investments to manage anticipated demands from road pricing. While there’s still room for improvement, it’s heartening to seem Bridges take a somewhat bold position on an important issue.
2. The Labour Party – Phil Twyford
Now for a different perspective. In response to the ATAP report, Labour Party MP Phil Twyford commented as follows (source):
The Government wants to tax Aucklanders thousands of dollars a year just to use the motorway network … the average Aucklander … would pay new congestion charges of between $185 and $2461 per year.
National has allowed the gridlock on Auckland roads to get steadily worse over the past eight years, leaving Aucklanders to sweat it out daily in traffic jams … Now they want to whack commuters with a massive tax for the privilege of using a road network that they’ve already paid for with their petrol taxes and road user charges.
I feel Twyford is being overly dramatic, and would like to clarify a few relevant issues from my perspective:
- The last Labour Government also looked into road pricing; you can still find the reports here. While it ultimately didn’t go anywhere, ATAP is simply a continuation of a debate that started under Labour. In the intervening decade, technology has of course improved considerably.
- In a revenue neutral situation, the revenue from road pricing would be used to reduce taxes elsewhere. Or increase welfare payments to low income households. Until we know the precise details of the scheme, we won’t know who wins/loses, or to what degree, so any statements to this effect are simply premature.
- As the ATAP report shows, government spending on transport in Auckland has increased to approximately 2.5% of GDP. This is high by historical standards, and more than most OECD countries. In a nutshell? Both Labour and National have spent buttloads on transport in recent decades; the supply side has received plenty of attention.
- Transport projects take time to design and construct. Most of the highway projects being completed now were planned under the last Labour Government, even if they have been accelerated under National. Thus, you cannot blame all of today’s problems on National; the transport system reflects decisions made over decades.
- The road network is never “paid for”, at least not in the way that Twyford implies. Operating costs, the opportunity cost of land, capital improvements, and externalities, such as congestion, noise, and air pollution, are all examples of costs associated with roads that are incurred continuously over time.
On the other hand, it is true that this Government has spent billions on relatively ineffective road projects, such as Puhoi-Wellsford, SH18-SH1 connection, the East-West Link, and Kirkbridge Rd grade separation. These projects do little for congestion compared to their costs, and is something that Twyford is justified in criticising.
Twyford also had this to say:
Without a massive improvement to the public transport system as a viable alternative to driving on the motorways at peak hours, it would be utterly unfair to charge people thousands of dollars extra a year …
The first thing I want note is that it’s not immediately clear road pricing requires complementary public transport investment. The experience in London and Stockholm, for example, was that road pricing caused a ~20% reduction in vehicle travel but only a small shift to PT. In London’s case buses were the big beneficiary of less congested roads, as you can imagine. Personally, I’d expect road pricing would justify some selective investments in PT, but this shift should not be overplayed. The second thing to note is that the statement is duplicitous. Why? Well, the ATAP report considers how road pricing impacts on the demand for PT, and identifies where PT infrastructure and services may need to be improved. Put simply, the ATAP report does not present road pricing as a standalone solution, but instead considers it as part of a wider transport plan. As it should be.
Some of the issues with Twyford’s argument are highlighted in this Radio New Zealand interview, in which he moderates some of his positions under pressure by the interviewer. Twyford makes an excellent point with respect to the North-western Busway: It does seem to be a clear situation where road pricing might create the need for a project to be accelerated.
One other issue worth considering: In a recent press release, Twyford advocated for removing Auckland’s urban growth boundary and shifting costs on developers (NB: evidence suggests costs will ultimately be paid for by occupants, but that’s besides the point). ATAP shows that even with additional infrastructure investment, Auckland would still experience ongoing congestion. The latter might even worsen without an urban growth boundary. So while getting rid of regulations is well and good, it won’t mean congestion disappears. To put it another way, changing the way we fund transport infrastructure from rates to development taxes doesn’t mean that demand management is not beneficial.
Ultimately, I think Twyford needs to take a longer-term perspective on the issue of road pricing. Rather than trying to assail the Government to shut the conversation down, Twyford should be supporting the need for a 5-10 year investigation that gives serious attention to distributional impacts and complementary transport investments. I really don’t see any reason to get emotional before the details of possible schemes are worked through.
3. The Green Party – Julie-Anne Genter
In this interview Genter advances the Green Party’s position on ATAP’s road pricing proposal and also argues for more investment in public transport before road pricing can be implemented. As noted above, I suspect this issue tends to be over-played, simply because the benefits of road pricing don’t necessarily require huge mode shift, as Stockholm and London demonstrate. There’s also several other reasons to push back on the notion that road pricing is not a priority until public transport is improved.
The first reason is that investment in public transport won’t reduce congestion for those who continue to travel by car. In a city that is growing as fast as Auckland, even massive investment in public transport won’t maintain vehicle demands at present levels. By extension, even with significant public transport investment, there will be many, many vehicle trips that will continue to suffer from congestion. Commercial vehicles being a prime example: Why leave these vehicles sitting in congestion, when they are prepared to pay for faster and more reliable travel? One of the key benefits of road pricing is that it enables commercial vehicles to do their thang. And that generally benefits all of us.
The second issue is that, as noted above, ATAP does consider complementary transport investments to support road pricing. There is probably sufficient time between now and when road pricing is implemented to complete the CRL, extend electrified rail services to Pukekohe, progress extension of the Northern and AMETI busways, and construct key elements of the North-west busway. It may even be possible to implement LRT on Dominion Rd within 10 years. Auckland will within 10 years have a much better bus network with higher frequencies and capacity. Now, I appreciate completing all these projects would require a change in Government priorities, and that it’s important to highlight this need, but such things are kind of what the ATAP process is all about. Of course, if and when PT investments are rolled out, we may find that we can delay implementing road pricing, which is all well and good – but the opportunity to avoid road pricing through PT investment shouldn’t stop us (a priori) from discussing how we might implement road pricing.
Basically, I’m suggesting that the Greens should express conditional support for the idea of road pricing, subject to more detail on the nature and timing of its implementation. I don’t think saying “it’s not a priority we should do other things first” is a sufficiently strong reason to object to the recommendations of the ATAP report, at least at this stage.
All in all I am happy to see the road pricing debate reinvigorated. I’m particularly impressed with comments from Simon Bridges, which are candid, informed, and balanced. Twyford and Genter are justified in highlighting that (1) implementing road pricing will likely require some complementary transport investments and (2) this will likely require the Government place a greater emphasis on public transport than the have in the past.
On the other hand, the positions adopted by both Labour and the Greens come across as overly negative. While I can appreciate this is the general nature of political opposition in New Zealand, I feel that they might want to step back from the political coal face on this particular issue. Road pricing is not a discussion that needs to be rushed, nor should it be shut down. It seems to me that the more reasonable position is to express conditional support, with some specific caveats on where the ATAP research should head.
As something that will take several years to develop, we have the chance to discuss the nitty gritty of road pricing means in the Auckland context without committing to anything. Why fall into hard and fast negative positions before then?
Auckland Transport have announced that they’d received consent for the Newmarket Crossing project which should also mean they can start getting on with the Parnell Station.
AT has received approval from independent planning commissioners for the construction of a bridge to replace Sarawia Street level crossing. AT has 30 working days to review and formally accept the recommendation.
AT sought consent for this last year and the bridge that will link Cowie St in Newmarket with Laxon Tce allowing for the Sarawia St level crossing to be closed.
The crossing needs to be closed as AT/Kiwirail say its proximity to the Newmarket Junction and rail safety procedures limit capacity and flexibility on the line between Newmarket and Britomart. AT have also said in the past that getting the level crossing closed is required before the Parnell Station can be opened.
In a tweet earlier today they suggested that with the consent issued they will start construction on the project later this year.
Of course that would assume there is no environment court appeal and given the attitude of some of the residents so far, I wouldn’t rule that out.
On the Parnell station, the platforms were completed last year but the station is waiting for Kiwirail to move the old Newmarket station building to the site as it was intended to be part of a faux heritage precinct but that’s now been scuttled after the Mainline Steam sheds were demolished to make way for a retirement village – although that’s better than an earlier suggestion for the site of bus parking. It also needs other station features like lights, signs and hopefully some shelter on the side opposite the old building.
Another thing missing and that so far AT have no intention of providing is some way convenient to get across the tracks. If the station gets developed as AT say on their website, the only option will be a minimum 230m detour up to the existing underpass although if you were coming from the proposed access to Nicolas Lane it will be about double that.
Of course pretty everything about the planning for the Parnell station has been wrong. It should have been a few hundred metres further north with access from the end of Heather St which is closer to where more people live or are going for work or education along with an easier walk to Parnell. A few hundred metres can make quite a lot of difference, just look at the impact of Grafton Station compared to its predecessor of Boston Rd.
Lastly we’re hearing suggestions that only Southern Line trains will stop at Parnell although this hasn’t been confirmed. Based on discussions I’ve had in the past I assume this relates to modelling showing that if all trains stopped there it would have severe impacts on rail capacity and reliability.
Last week I wrote about the East West
Link Connections and how the cost of the project were ever increasing and how the staging for the project had changed. The post was based on a number of papers I received from the NZTA as a result of an OIA request.
The preferred East-West option
One aspect I didn’t cover were some of the major risks that have been identified for the project. These are described in the paper from December 2015, I’ve left out the funding risk as not really relevant to this post.
- The underlying land use and travel demand assumptions for the project are based on an agreed medium growth scenario associated with the Auckland Plan. Given the preferred option is a long-term response to current and planned future growth, there is a risk that the growth assumptions and associated travel demand may not materialise as planned. This could result in a transport response that is misaligned with the future needs of the network and as such, this will need to be reviewed at each funding stage as the project progresses.
- Given the early stage of the project, there is a future cost risk that outturn costs will exceed the expected estimate, based on incomplete knowledge. This has been accounted for by providing additional contingency in the current estimates. The top cost risk items are:
- Property – the proposed alignment has attempted to minimise impact on industrial zoned property as far as practicable, however there are still a number of properties which will likely be required either in part or whole. Based on the current state of the Auckland property market, any delays to the property acquisition process are likely to result in inflated property costs above and beyond current market rates.
- Neilson St Interchange – the design of the interchange is a complex task requiring careful balancing of competing priorities and community interests. There are significant consenting challenges both with the presence of natural volcanic features (Hopua tuff ring), but also the close proximity to the town centre and the foreshore, both of which have strong public interest. There is a risk that through the consenting process an alternative proposal is put forward that is significantly more costly (CapEx and/or OpEx) than the currently preferred option.
- Foreshore – having regard to the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and recent case law, there are significant policy hurdles to pass with the proposed alignment along the foreshore. Conversely, early engagement with key partners has indicated conditional support on the basis that the proposed response could have the greatest opportunity for mitigation, particularly in tidying up historical reclamation and contaminating activities. It is expected that more than just mitigation will need to be considered to enable reclamation to be considered favourably, though the extent of works required and associated costs is unknown at this stage.
Let’s just step through them a bit
Land Use and Travel Demand assumptions – A lot of assumptions seem to be based most of the Onehunga/Penrose area staying industrial. Most of the area to the west of Onehunga Mall is already earmarked for mixed use and with land prices and demand the way they are it’s likely that over the medium to long term all of those will end up residential. It’s also quite likely that over time, a lot of the other commercial land in the area will be converted to residential, most likely through private plan changes. That will fundamentally change the transport demand for the area and likely the whole purpose of this project.
Neilson St Interchange – The NZTA’s predecessor originally planned to build this interchange as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project before revising their consent to not include it. From memory this was due to the significant impact it would have had on the area, especially the Hopua Tuff Ring and the need reclamation to accommodate it. It appears the road builders are emboldened to try again and with what appears to be very similar to what was originally proposed in 2006.
It’s also worth noting that Panuku is meant to be redeveloping the Onehunga Port area to be more people friendly just like they’ve done at the Wynyard Quarter. It remains to be seen how they’re going to make that a success when it will be cut off from the rest of the city by what is effectively a motorway and seemingly poor access for PT and active modes.
Foreshore – The impact on the foreshore where the main thing that originally inspired this post. A number of the documents referenced in the post last week made mention of it and in particular mentioned NZ Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS). Looking at it the NZCPS it’s easy to see why they’re concerned as it basically says they shouldn’t do it. Now to be fair I haven’t read all 30 pages of the document but if you have and I’ve got parts of it wrong then please let me know in the comments. For this I’m just going to focus on a couple of sections.
- Reclamation – As mentioned it basically says that reclamation should be avoided unless there are no other options. But that isn’t the case with the East-West project as we know that other options not only exist but also perform better economically. Here’s what the NZCPS says about reclamation:
Reclamation and de-reclamation
- Avoid reclamation of land in the coastal marine area, unless:
- land outside the coastal marine area is not available for the proposed activity;
- the activity which requires reclamation can only occur in or adjacent to the coastal marine area;
- there are no practicable alternative methods of providing the activity; and
- the reclamation will provide significant regional or national benefit.
- Where a reclamation is considered to be a suitable use of the coastal marine area, in considering its form and design have particular regard to:
- the potential effects on the site of climate change, including sea level rise, over no less than 100 years;
- the shape of the reclamation and, where appropriate, whether the materials used are visually and aesthetically compatible with the adjoining coast;
- the use of materials in the reclamation, including avoiding the use of contaminated materials that could significantly adversely affect water quality, aquatic ecosystems and indigenous biodiversity in the coastal marine area;
- providing public access, including providing access to and along the coastal marine area at high tide where practicable, unless a restriction on public access is appropriate as provided for in Policy 19;
- the ability to remedy or mitigate adverse effects on the coastal environment;
- whether the proposed activity will affect cultural landscapes and sites of significance to tangata whenua; and
- the ability to avoid consequential erosion and accretion, and other natural hazards.
- In considering proposed reclamations, have particular regard to the extent to which the reclamation and intended purpose would provide for the efficient operation of infrastructure, including ports, airports, coastal roads, pipelines, electricity transmission, railways and ferry terminals, and of marinas and electricity generation.
- Walking Access – As mentioned in the quote above, public access should be provided to the coastal area. The section on walking access expands on this more and none of the reasons given for reasons to restrict public from the foreshore seem to be relevant to this project.
- Recognise the public expectation of and need for walking access to and along the coast that is practical, free of charge and safe for pedestrian use.
- Maintain and enhance public walking access to, along and adjacent to the coastal marine area, including by:
- identifying how information on where the public have walking access will be made publicly available;
- avoiding, remedying or mitigating any loss of public walking access resulting from subdivision, use, or development; and
- identifying opportunities to enhance or restore public walking access, for example where:
- connections between existing public areas can be provided; or
- improving access would promote outdoor recreation; or
- physical access for people with disabilities is desirable; or
- the long-term availability of public access is threatened by erosion or sea level rise; or
- access to areas or sites of historic or cultural significance is important; or
- subdivision, use, or development of land adjacent to the coastal marine area has reduced public access, or has the potential to do so.
- Only impose a restriction on public walking access to, along or adjacent to the coastal marine area where such a restriction is necessary:
- to protect threatened indigenous species; or
- to protect dunes, estuaries and other sensitive natural areas or habitats; or
- to protect sites and activities of cultural value to Māori; or
- to protect historic heritage; or
- to protect public health or safety; or
- to avoid or reduce conflict between public uses of the coastal marine area and its margins; or
- for temporary activities or special events; or
- for defence purposes in accordance with the Defence Act 1990; or
- to ensure a level of security consistent with the purpose of a resource consent; or
- in other exceptional circumstances sufficient to justify the restriction.
- Before imposing any restriction under (3), consider and where practicable provide for alternative routes that are available to the public free of charge at all times.
Now the reason this is important is so far the NZTA have yet to say whether provision will be made for the public to have access, like they currently – a photo essay of which can be seen here. So far from what I’ve seen the NZTA have only resorted to saying that they haven’t decided yet.
The drawings developed for the detailed business case (46MB) suggest there will be a narrow path along the seaward side of the massive reclamation as well as the existing walking/cycling path but the new path appears a fairly barren and exposed place to be – perhaps a bit like the cycleway on the causeway along SH16. You can also see the intersection for this new road with Captain Springs Rd will also require people on foot or bikes to make up to three crossings to get across this new mega road.
The drawings also highlight the massive extent of the planned reclamation. As a quick estimation, it appears to be at least 50m wide, if not wider in places and even straighter than the current foreshore which doesn’t seem to meet the requirements in the NZCPS.
It’s worth noting for these drawings the comments in the grey box which says that the “alignment is for cost estimation and to establish an indicative footprint” and that “the actual footprint and location is subject to change“. These drawings are also just a selection of what is in the document but for the foreshore are all fairly consistent.
The red part is a bridge
If this project does go ahead, it seems like a much better job needs to be done on the on the foreshore. As it stands, it appears the NZTA are going for the cheapest option available – which at $1.8 billion is not cheap.
I recently received back an OIA request from the NZTA on a few projects. One part of that was related to the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the other which I’ll cover in this post was about the East West
Link Connections. Among other things the documents highlight a project that is rapidly increasing in cost to a level around three times initial suggestions. Like I did with the AWHC post, I’ll highlight what I found interesting from each of the nine documents in chronological order.
The preferred East-West option
A briefing to the former Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee giving an update on the project and informing that they would soon start public consultation on the various options they had come up with. They also offered to walk him through the options and “get any input you wish to make on the next phase of the project”. A later document hints at some of that feedback.
A paper to the NZTA board with the recommended approach following the public consultation. This first highlights the initial expected cost at well less than $1 billion.
The East West Link (as it was previously known) was considered by the Board in February 2014 (14/02/112) and was reported to the Minister as part of the Auckland Accelerated Package. The basis for the recommendations at that stage was a scope that is roughly equivalent to the current Option C, with a cost range of $550 million to $660 million.
For reference this was Option C was an upgrade of part of Neilson St and then a route in a little from the foreshore but the costs mentioned don’t quite add up with the ones also listed in the document as shown below
The NZTA ended up choosing option F but also bringing in some of the elements of other options too. In their listing of the reasons for choosing it they praise it for being a new route and one without driveways like Neilson St has. That highlights one of the odd things about this whole project, it’s supposedly about improving freight connections but it’s being pushed mainly for through traffic so all of the local freight traffic will still be trudging through all of the local routes.
They also like Option F as they’d identified four distinct phases. These are shown below along with some of the information about each stage. Stage 2 looks to be over a bridge over 1.2km in length. The section on risks also acknowledges it creates issues for rail to the Airport.
As mentioned earlier there was some mention of the Ministers response with the NZTA saying this.
The expectation was that the Transport Agency would report back to the Minister and Treasury on the preferred option to inform funding decisions as part of Budget 2015. Included in this, the previous Minister of Transport asked the Transport Agency to investigate an option for providing a complete link between State Highway 1 and State Highway 20.
The paper says this in relation to rail. This seems to suggest that rail improvements are a justification for more roads. But why then is the third main not included as part of the East-West project, the cost of doing it would be tiny in comparison the cost of the overall project and would go some way to addressing the MOAR ROADZ feeling of it all.
A memo for the CEO’s board report. It suggests that the board didn’t confirm the preferred option listed above at that time and that more work was being done for approval in April. It notes that if approved to move towards consenting, which is currently happening, that part of the process is expected to cost $20-25 million over a two-year period.
A paper to the board seeking approval of the preferred approach to the project. The first thing I note is they’ve reduced the project to three stages and suggests progressing stages 1 and 2 in the short the medium term with stage 3 not being needed till later, possibly around 2035.
The cost for the project is also confirmed and that it’s not possible to fund it based on normal funding sources.
- The expected scheme cost of a complete staged link is in the range of $1,050 million (at the 50th percentile) to $1,400 (at the 95th percentile) with a benefit cost ratio range of 1.4 to 1.9.
- The financial case being progressed indicates that delivery of the full staged project within a ten year timeframe is not affordable with funding from the NLTF alone. This view is based on the current mix of the forward capital works programme. A change in the forward capital works programme mix or additional sources of funding may change this view.
Following the above, a briefing note was sent to the Simon Bridges as Minister of Transport. There isn’t a lot of new information that wasn’t in the document above but it does note that property costs alone are expected to exceed $100 million. It also says Iwi are supportive of the planned reclamation.
Another briefing was sent to Simon Bridges on the feedback from the Auckland Business Forum ahead of a meeting between Bridges and Michael Barnett. It responds to some of the talking points you occasionally hear in the media such as why not widen the bridge at Mt Wellington. It also suggests that the new E-W road is being designed to expressway standards rather than motorway standards. This is what the NZTA say about the difference between the two.
What’s the difference between a motorway and an expressway?
Motorways are access-controlled, high-speed roads that normally have ‘grade-separated intersections’ – which means they have overbridges (or underpasses) so road users don’t have to stop at traffic lights.
Expressways are also high-speed roads, but they may include well-spaced ‘at-grade intersections’ – which means they often have accesses and driveways on to them and sometimes traffic signals or roundabouts.
Next we have an internal memo in to the CEO giving an update about the project. It mentions that the detailed business case was close to being finalised confirming the route all along the foreshore and also highlighting that the costs had increased further.
- The Detailed Business Case is currently being finalised and will be considered for approval by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport Boards in December. The business case recommends a new full link between SH1 and SH20 along the northern foreshore of the Mangere Inlet as the preferred long term response to the issues in the Onehunga-Penrose area (refer Attachment 1). It is proposed that the new link is a new state highway, to be planned, delivered, operated, and maintained by the NZ Transport Agency.
- The cost of the project is estimated to be in the range of $1.25 billion to $1.85 billion (escalated costs) with a BCR range of 1.4 to 1.9.
So the project has potentially increased in cost more than threefold. It’s interesting how there are politicians who decry spending on the CRL just in case costs increase but stay eerily silent on this project. Further how is it the costs increase but the BCR manages to stay the same?
The memo notes that the earliest they could possibly start the project was in 2018 after going through a Board of Inquiry process. It seems this memo could have been in response to press release from the Auckland Business Forum complaining that the project was going too slow. That press release is at the end of the document.
Another paper to the NZTA board, it seeks approval to move towards the consent process following the completion of the Detailed Business Case. It notes that they now want stage 3 started immediately after stage two and the entire project completed by 2028 because they say Neilson St will be too congested “because of additional traffic attracted to Neilson St through the improved access from SH1”. A classic more roads beget more roads scenario. I wonder if they’ve addressed some of the issues with the indicative business case that Cam highlighted very well in December.
As part of the “key outcomes” of the project they talk about travel time savings and reduced congestion but they also claim it will deliver “At least 5.5km of new dedicated cycle paths”. Given that about 4km of cycle paths already exist along the foreshore is this being double counted?
They think they will be able to fund this out of the National Land Transport Fund as a result of the Basin Reserve decision delaying spending in Wellington by what they estimate to be 5 years. If the Wellington planning work is finalised sooner than expected they will either need to re-prioritise work or potentially get a short term interest free loan from the government. On the costs they sought or noted the following amounts:
- $30 million for the NZTA to progress the project for consents etc.
- $135 million to start property acquisition along the route.
- $15 million for the NZTA’s early works projects.
- $32 million for Auckland Transport’s early works projects (which would be subject to NZTA funding assistance).
The early works are a series of projects mainly in and around Onehunga such as widening the motorway, widening parts of Neilson St and removing the bridge on Neilson St over the rail corridor, presumably to supersize the intersection. This work with the exception of the Galway St link was recently put out to tender.
I’m not sure if there is enough space under the bridge for two tracks but regardless, removing the bridge is surely just one more nail in the coffin for rail to the airport (light or heavy) which would now likely have to be built on bridge over the road/intersection. The East-West project has already made getting across the harbour difficult as shown in the video a few months ago from AT.
The final paper and is a briefing to Simon Bridges summarising some of the information from the paper above.
This project is looking to be a classic example of how differently we treat projects. The cost of it is already ballooned to $1.8 billion, seemingly without a single drop of concern and at the current rate it is quite possible it will end up costing taxpayers over $2 billion. Yet despite this and unlike the CRL it hasn’t been subject to detailed cross examination by other government agencies, it hasn’t had usage or job growth targets imposed on it. It was even pulled out of the ATAP process even though that is meant to include projects not yet committed to – which at that stage East-West wasn’t.
A few weeks ago Auckland Transport announced that the Reeves Rd Flyover was back on again. I happened to be looking through some info for the AT board meetings and found that they’ve published the paper that was used to make that decision. As you’d expect, it contains quite a bit of interesting information.
The report states that AT, the NZTA and the Council have been reviewing the project and its sequencing since late 2014 “in light of its strategic changes that now express the desire to prioritise rapid transit”. The also says the review “identified potential risks with the flyover in terms of providing value for money”.
The original plan for AMETI was that the Reeves Rd Flyover would be built first, followed by the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga and then from Pakuranga to Botany. This would have meant we’d be waiting for many years for even the first section of the busway, and given Auckland’s history we’d be just as likely to have some political change cancelling the vital public transport component anyway.
So AT say they’ve been looking at ways to bring the busway forward, and came up with two other options. In both of them the Panmure to Pakuranga busway would be built first, as among other things, it’s the most advanced with a Notice of Requirement already lodged.
The two options differ as to whether the Reeves Rd Flyover or the Pakuranga to Botany busway section came second. This is shown below but under the assumption of no funding constraints.
The two options even had different busway designs, which AT say was a result of needing a different layout if the flyover wasn’t built.
Below shows what they would do if the flyover wasn’t built:
As we now know, AT have gone with option 1, which staff say performs better overall based on a multi-criteria analysis that looked at:
- Economic Efficiency;
- Transport networks performance;
- Ability of option to enable ‘planned growth in accordance with the Auckland Plan and Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP);
- Ability of option to maximise opportunities or reduce risks;
- Construction impacts and disruption; and
- Rating against the Transport Agency’s Strategic Fit Assessment.
AT have then further refined the preferred strategy to even out construction impacts, and to reflect a more realistic cash flow.
You’ll note that to meet the timeframes AT want, there is a shortfall of $172 million of funding. They also say the timeframe is influenced by the CRL:
The optimal time for completing the busway will be as soon as CRL enables additional train frequencies (i.e., capacity) through Panmure. This is programmed for 2023/24 financial year. However, the available funding envelope within the current Long Term Plan (LTP) is inadequate to complete the entire AMETI programme by 2025 ($172m shortfall). This will impact on our ability to complete the Busway by 2025.
One of the big factors in deciding the options was the impact each of them would have on travel times. AT’s preferred strategy is effectively the bright blue line, which for the future options is generally modelled to be the best performer.
But this chart raises a couple of big issues for me, and it’s not even directly related to the flyover. Why in all scenarios are the buses expected to take so damn long? Based on the figures earlier, we’ll be spending close to $500 million on building a busway from Panmure to Botany, which includes reducing side street intersections and wider stop spacing. Yet even in the best case scenario, it is still expected to take 26 minutes to get between those two locations, that’s also almost twice as long as driving. Further at a distance of around 7 km it also represents an average speed of just 16km/h. If this is the outcome, then AT need to do better.
Oddly the Howick to Panmure bus times are around 17 minutes, despite only getting normal bus lanes and the route being about 2km longer, making buses from Howick almost twice as fast.
The comments from AT about improving the performance of the network are also countered somewhat by the quote below, which will be based on the fact that building the flyover will still see the traffic reach the intersections just down the road a little faster. It also makes me question just how accurate those car travel times will be, even a decade from now that seems fanciful that traffic will be better.
Introducing the Flyover will however release a bottleneck in an already congested transport network and there is a risk that this may negatively impact on the overall network performance.
Those travel times are also bound to have an impact on the use of the busway, and the modelling below suggests that at peak around 5,000 trips will take place on it in 2046. Looking closely that it seems about 3,450 will be towards Panmure in the AM peak. That might not sound like a lot but it represents about a full double decker every 3-4 minutes. Like other transport models, this one is also probably under-predicting the usage, especially since the area is a bit of a PT desert.
It also appears that AT and the NZTA are looking to join the South Eastern Arterial (SEART) to the East West Link. That would give a motorway or near-motorway road all the way from Pakuranga to Onehunga and the airport:
The road user benefits provided by the Flyover are not dependent on providing more capacity at the SH1/South Eastern Highway (SEART) on-ramp. However, to potentially release significant wider network benefits, AT- in collaboration with the Transport Agency, are currently looking at the possibility of better connecting Pakuranga, Onehunga and SH20 by linking SEART with the proposed East West Connection. The investigation of this work is still in early stages. Key findings will be presented to the Board in due course.
As a final comment, it is good that AT have agreed the section of busway to Pakuranga is still going ahead and before the flyover, but there are a lot of hurdles to pass yet.
Welcome back to Sunday reading this long weekend.
We start this week with a borrowed slide explaining the way that the quality of your city’s Transit system controls the quality of your driving commute:
This explains what’s wrong with current expansion of SH16 and the completion of the Western Ring Route. The Transit part of this project is woefully inadequate: Intermittent bus lanes on the shoulder of the motorway are unlikely to lead to sufficiently fast or reliable bus travel times, this means the choice of taking the bus will probably not be attractive enough to tempt enough people away from driving on the newly widened motorway. This will lead to more induced driving and an increase in traffic congestion [which ironically will further slow those buses, because they are not on their own RoW]. Perhaps not immediately on the new parts of motorway itself, but certainly on local feeder roads and especially in the city and CMJ where the State Highways 1 and 16 and city exits all meet.
The biggest beneficiaries of high quality Rapid Transit are those who need or choose to drive. The better the alternative; the better your drive.
Staying with the value of Rapid Transit let’s head to Montréal where plans for a new layer of Rapid Transit has just been announced [in Lime Green below, with existing networks], which raises important issues around driverless technology:
Similar to Vancouver’s Canada Line, a system that CPDQ also has a financial stake in, trains will run every three to six minutes along the mainline and every six to 12 minutes on the three branch routes, including the train service from the airport to downtown. In contrast, the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is limited to every 20 to 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour outside of rush hour on weekdays.
But these high frequencies are only possible due to the nature of automation, which makes frequent train services significantly more economically feasible to operate. If there is a surge in demand, operators can easily and quickly increase frequency by deploying more trains by switching the controls at the operations centre.
With driverless technology, the operating costs are markedly lower than systems that require drivers and it has the potential to attract more ridership given that frequent services and superior reliability increase the utility of a transit system. Knowing that a train or bus will come soon, a transit service with a high frequency means transit users do not have to worry about service schedules. This reduces waiting times and connection times between transit services.
We really need to have a Transport Minister and Ministry just as excited about the opportunities for these technologies in the PT space as they are about them for private vehicles, the value is huge and the technology proven. SkyTrain in Vancouver has been driverless since 1985, carries 117m pax pa, and has run at an operating surplus every year since 2001.
Staying in Canada, here is how Montréal can have such ambitious city-building plans, central government is chipping in:
The new Canadian government is shifting investment to sustainable and social assets, away from Carbon intensive assets likely to become a burden on future citizens, and away from the failed ideology of austerity:
Investing in infrastructure creates good, well-paying jobs that can help the middle class grow and prosper today. And by making it easier to move people and products, well-planned infrastructure can deliver sustained economic growth for years to come.
At the same time, new challenges have emerged that make the need for investment more acute: things like the rapid growth of Canada’s cities, climate change, and threats to our water and land.
Congestion in Canadian communities makes life more difficult for busy families, and has a negative effect on our economy—when businesses can’t get their goods to market, it undermines growth.
A changing climate is also hard on communities. From floodways to power grids, investments are needed to make sure Canada’s communities remain safe and resilient places to live.
Investing in infrastructure is not just about creating good jobs and economic growth. It’s also about building communities that Canadians are proud to call home.
With historic investments in public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure, Budget 2016 will take advantage of historically low interest rates to renew Canada’s infrastructure and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.
In Budget 2016, the Government will implement an historic plan to invest more than $120 billion in infrastructure over 10 years, to better meet the needs of Canadians and better position Canada’s economy for the future.
Frankly I expect this kind of approach to become orthodox this century. That is once we can shake the stultifying grip of last century’s habits and world view, and properly start to address the issues in front of us.
More on vehicle speed and safety, this time from Nate Silver’s 538:
Given the social and economic toll of speeding, one might assume that we set speed limits with careful calculations aimed at maximizing safety. But that’s not exactly how it works, and a history of questionable applications of data is partly to blame.
Roads are planned according to a concept known as design speed, basically the speed vehicles are expected to travel. Engineers often apply the 85th percentile rule to a similar road to arrive at the design speed for the proposed road. It might make sense, then, that the design speed would become the speed limit. However, in practice, the design speed is often used to determine the minimum speed of safe travel on a road.
Confused? So was I. Norman Garrick, a professor of engineering at the University of Connecticut, explained how this works using the example of a commercial office building.
“It’s completely unacceptable for someone to die in a plane crash or an elevator,” he said. “We should expect the same of cars.”
And for some local flavour via Stuff: Drivers not coping with Christchurch’s new central city 30kph limit:
Acting Senior Sergeant John Hamilton said police spent 90 minutes on Friday to see if drivers were abiding by the new limits. Stuff witnessed about 10 drivers being pulled over for speeding on the corner of Montreal and Cashel streets within 30 minutes, including two Christchurch City Council staff.
Hamilton said most of the drivers ticketed were driving between 50kmh and 60kmh, with one motorist spotted driving 65kmh.
Now I have some sympathy with these drivers for the simple reason that the both street [see above] and vehicle design mean that to stay below 30kph in anything other than congested traffic takes a huge amount of attention and control. You might argue that we should be attentive and ‘in control’ whenever we are driving, and of course that’s true, but the fact is that most operation of the vehicle for anyone but learner drivers is a subconscious act, and in fact needs to be as we should be focussing on the environment and not constantly checking the speedo. But of course, in truth, half our minds are really elsewhere, on other things when we drive; we do it on a kind of human autopilot. So if we want drivers to keep to safer slow speeds in cities, or around schools, or wherever, we really need to change the physical environment to forcibly slow the ‘natural’ speed of those places.
As for the cars themselves, well that’s a lost cause, even the simplest little car is way overpowered and torquey for these environments: they just want to get up to highway speed and stay there. Perhaps these slow streets won’t really work until those law abiding pendants the bot-cars are ponderously pootling us around…? Note these drivers weren’t just breaking the 30kph limit they were all also breaking the old 50kph one!
Christchurch 30kph network
Related: we do like this more creative communication from some Transport Department:
Below a very interesting chart showing population change in London. I like that it has a name, and a good one, for the cycle we are clearly in now: City Renaissance and that it dates its beginning unambiguously to the early 1990s:
Note also that London’s population growth in this City Renaissance period has decidedly been both up and out, not just up. The rest of the paper, City Villages, PDF, from the Institute for Public Policy Research is very interesting too and relevant to Auckland’s situation. Basically the housing supply problem can be pretty clearly matched to the abandonment of public housing construction under neoliberalism, same as in NZ. Despite population growth, State and Council dwelling numbers have been falling not growing in recent decades:
And lastly, something from the energy transition department. Luís de Souza is a scientist from Portugal who is always worth reading on energy supply, especially for anyone interested in the longer term trends than the noise of the trader market as reported in the MSM. Here he is calling 2015 as the year of Peak Oil:
Titling the last press review of 2015 I asked if that had been the year petroleum peaked. The question mark was not just a precaution, the uncertainty was really there. Five months later the reported world petroleum extraction rate is pretty much still were it was then. This is not a surprise, but the impact of two years of depressed prices is over due.
Nevertheless, during these five months of lethargy the information I gathered brings me considerably closer to remove the question mark from the sentence and acknowledge that a long term decline is settling in. Understanding the present petroleum market as a feature of the supply destruction – demand destruction cycle makes this case clear.
So happy Birthday Queen Victoria [yes it’s actually her birthday], and happy reading…
The next AT board meeting is tomorrow and as I always do, I’ve been having a look at the publicly available reports to see what’s interesting. I usually cover off the items at the closed session of the board meeting however at the time of writing this post that agenda hadn’t be published online.
The board report usually contains quite a bit of information although this month there doesn’t seem a whole lot that’s new and interesting. What did catch my attention is below.
Rapid Transit – There are two pieces of busway news. AT say they’re starting an indicative business case this month for the North-Western Busway between the city and Westgate and that it will identify the alignment and station locations. They also say they’re developing an agreement with the NZTA on planning and consenting processes for a new Northern Busway station at Rosedale Rd which will be built as part of the Northern Corridor works.
Nelson Street Cycleway – News on the next phase of the of the Nelson St cycleway from Victoria St to Quay St has been pretty hard to come by since the consultation and AT saying that they were investigating some of issues we raised. AT now say it:
has been re-scoped due to changes to some AT Metro bus routes to accommodate CRL construction; this meant that cycleway and bus traffic could not safely co-exist in parts of the planned cycle route. Design began in May for a route from Fanshawe Street to the Waterfront via Market Place. Construction is planned to commence around January 2017.
I always thought the route along Sturdee St wasn’t ideal and it seems bus changes have confirmed that. It’s great that AT seem to have come around to the Market Pl option. With an upgrade and addressing the parking I think that route will be popular.
Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level crossing removal) – AT expect a decision back on the Notice of Requirement this month although residents who have been opposing it may yet appeal to the Environment Court.
Otahuhu Bus interchange – This is still reported to be on track for completion in August
Route Optimisation – AT say they’ve completed upgrades to 145 intersections out of the 212 they have planned for this year with the rest under way.
HOP and Integrated Fares – Integrated fares still on track for the end of July and interestingly “Development of a product transition plan will result in the new monthly pass being marketed in May 2016 for June 2016 launch”. As May has now passed I’m assuming we’ll hear something soon. The report also says AT were going to go live with HOP on Explore ferries on May 18, just 3 weeks after Explore pulled the plug on services to Waiheke. They are also working to have HOP on Sealink ferries for SuperGold use. Another positive is they say HOP use had it’s highest use ever on May 9 with 84.3% of all trips being via HOP.
New Network – The final route decisions for the Central and East Auckland new bus networks are expected to go to the board in the meeting at the end of June although at this stage it may not be rolled out till early 2018.
Bus Shelters – The new design shelters are being rolled out, particularly in South Auckland in advance of the new network although in other places too. The first intermediate size one was installed outside the Homai station.
Managing Traffic in the CBD
A separate report to the board is titled Managing Traffic in the CBD and covers off how AT have created a dedicated team to manage the road network within the city in response to there being so much construction happening in the city over the next few years.
The City Centre Network Operations (CCNO) team has been set up to co-ordinate the operation of the transport network in the city centre both in real-time and for planned events. This team will oversee proposals for changes on the network resulting from planned projects such as the CRL and private development. The team is empowered to undertake changes on the network to manage traffic flows, pedestrian safety and public transport reliability.
One aspect that is good is that they’re noting that PT trips now account for more than 50% of trips to/from the city in the peaks. Growing numbers of pedestrians and cyclists help boost the non-car mode share up even higher.
The area covered by the CCNO team is shown below with the black dots being signalised intersections.
Having a team focusing on the city centre should be a good thing but ultimately it will depend on what their priorities are. For example, the Downtown Mall has now closed and as part of the demolition that will soon be taking place the footpath along the northern side of Customs St has been closed off (as has the eastern side of Albert St). This means that pedestrians in this area only have the northern side of Albert St to use, which itself is often busy with people waiting for buses. It seems that this in order to maintain traffic flow more than anything else. This has already resulted in people walking along the traffic lanes to get to their destination rather than wait to cross multiple intersections.
One of the agenda items is what AT call the forward programme which gives an idea of what topics will be coming to the board and its committees in the future. Some of the interesting topics set for the next closed session of the AT board meeting (27 June) include:
- The North Shore Rapid Transit Network work that AT have been doing looking at the future of the rapid transit to the shore.
- An electric bus strategy
- Their future Parking platform which I’m guessing is related to the app we saw in the parking strategy video last week.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some misguided commentary on road safety that implied that “distracted walking” was a serious problem. It isn’t by any reasonable measure, but many of our other transport practices are unsafe.
On average, around 300 people die as a result of road crashes. Around 15 percent of the deaths are pedestrians and cyclists, who would have been perfectly fine if a motor vehicle hadn’t run into them. Another 1500 people suffer serious injuries in road crashes. And while road deaths are on a downward trend, the number of serious injuries has hardly changed over the last decade.
Some of these people chose to take on the risk of death or serious injury when they got behind the wheel. But others had the decision made for them – by someone else’s recklessness or by bad street design. So it’s worth asking: are there things that we could do to reduce these risks?
A few years back, Citylab published an excellent interview with Swedish traffic safety expert Matts-Åke Belin, who helped design Sweden’s “Vision Zero” approach to road safety:
Since approved by the Swedish parliament in October 1997, Vision Zero has permeated the nation’s approach to transportation, dictating that the government manage the nation’s streets and roads with the ultimate goal of preventing fatalities and serious injuries.
It’s a radical vision that has made Sweden an international leader in the area of road safety. When Vision Zero first launched, Sweden recorded seven traffic fatalities per 100,000 people; today, despite a significant increase in traffic volume, that number is fewer than three. To compare, the number of road fatalities in the United States is 11.6 per 100,000.
As of 2014, New Zealand had 6.5 road deaths per 100,000 people. So it’s roughly where Sweden was 20 years ago.
In the interview, Belin made one comment that particularly stuck with me:
In Vision Zero, the accident is not the major problem. The problem is that people get killed or seriously injured. And the reason that people get serious injuries is mainly because people have a certain threshold where we can tolerate external violence, kinetic energy. And we know quite well now how much violence we can tolerate.
One of the major things with Vision Zero now is to put that more explicitly on the table. It’s like if we’re talking about the environment, and you know you have a certain threshold when it comes to poison, or whatever. You can tolerate up to a certain level. So it’s not just to stop the traffic. You can actually allow traffic. But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour [18.6 mph].
Because if you have, as we did in Sweden before, 50 kph [31 mph] as the default speed in an urban area — if you get hit by a car at 50 the risk for a fatal accident is more than 80 percent. But it is less than 10 percent when you have 30 kilometers per hour.
Clearly we have seen it is not enough to, for example, change the speed limit. You maybe have to put in speed bumps. You have to think through all the conflict spots that you have in your traffic system. And do things about it.
Speed, in short, is a fundamental determinant of whether people die in crashes or walk away. We can’t eliminate accidents entirely, because humans aren’t perfect (and neither are machines), but we can reduce the consequences of making a mistake.
The role of speed was highlighted by the Cycling Safety Panel convened by the government in the wake of a 2013 coroner’s inquest into cycle fatalities. They published the following graph to illustrate: The risk of death or serious injury for pedestrians hit by cars is four times higher at 50km/hr than at 30km/hr:
However, as Belin observes, speed isn’t just a function of posted sign limits – it’s also about the design of roads. Road geometry must encourage people to keep to safe speed limits.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that road design standards encourage speeding. That’s illustrated in this chart from a Ministry of Transport review of speeding-related crashes, which found that the average free-flow speed on urban roads was higher than the posted speed limit. 15% of cars travel more than 5km/hr over the speed limit.
In short, our default urban speed limits are too high for pedestrians and cyclists to be safe in the event that they’re hit by a car… and road designs encourage people to drive even faster.
This has a number of direct and indirect consequences. The direct consequence is that people die, needlessly. The indirect consequence is that many people choose not to walk or cycle at all – a rational response to a dangerous road environment. That in turn leads to health problems and premature deaths down the track as a result of physical inactivity.
So what could be done?
The good news is that safety is a major priority for the NZ Transport Agency. They recognise that speed is a big part of that, but I’m not aware of any concerted effort to reduce urban speed limits, or make it easier for local road controlling authorities to do so.
The bad news is that there isn’t a major public conversation about safe speeds. But it’s starting to come up on the political radar. For example, the Green Party made lowering speed limits near schools a key part of the “safe to school” policy they released in March:
Safety is the number one concern that stops parents from sending their child to school on foot or by bike.
When parents wave goodbye to their child in the morning they should know they’re going to be safe when riding their bike or walking with their friends to school. […]
- Reduce the speed limit outside urban schools to a much safer 30 km/h
- Reduce the speed limit outside rural schools to 80 km/h, with the option of a 30km/h limit during drop-off or pick-up times
- Allocate $50m a year for four years to build modern, convenient walking and cycling infrastructure around schools: separating kids and other users from road traffic, giving a safe choice for families
- Get half of kids walking or cycling to school by 2022: reducing congestion; improving health and learning; saving families time and money
The devil’s always in the details with proposals like this. For example, how far around schools would the 30km/hr zone apply? But if we were looking to trial lower speed limits in urban areas, it would be really sensible to start with the roads around schools. The benefits are likely to be higher, as kids are especially vulnerable when walking by the road.
What do you think we should do about urban speed limits?
It seems that Auckland Transport have found a use for the large medians they so often like to include in road projects, another lane. They announced on Friday that they would be trialling what they call a Dynamic Lane Control system on Whangaparaoa Road.
Dynamic Lane Control, uses the existing road more efficiently for moving people and goods. It is a travel solution which makes use of Traffic Control Devices and an adaptive LED light system instead of traditional painted on-road markings.
LED lights show road markings that can change configuration quickly and safely, creating an extra lane during peak hour traffic. Traffic control gantries will clearly display which lanes motorist are to use.
Around the world different kinds of Dynamic Lane Controls have been used to get traffic moving at peak times. In Auckland similar arrangements operate on the Panmure Bridge and Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Dynamic lanes are relatively quick to build and cost effective compared to road widening. They allow for the better use of existing road space, accommodate peak period movements and reduce the need to widen roads or build new roads.
AT has been investigating the concept of dynamic lanes on road corridors since 2014. Following a driver behaviour study conducted with the University of Waikato, AT is now aiming to do a full scale trial in the second half of this year.
Whangaparaoa Road, between Hibiscus Coast Highway and Red Beach Road has been selected for the trial, as the road has two lanes with a wide central flush median equivalent to a third lane. This stretch of road has pronounced tidal traffic movements during weekday peak periods. The installation of dynamic lane controls along Whangaparaoa Road would also require relatively low use of surrounding land, which will minimise disruption to residents.
Andrew Allen, Auckland Transport General Manager of Transport Services says “We are currently finalising our investigation and design of an appropriate system to be tested on Whangaparaoa Road. Rest assured that the safety and convenience of the local community will be a key priority for this trial and affected members of the community will be consulted with.”
The results of the trial will determine the suitability and best approach to potentially introducing the controls along Whangaparaoa Road as a permanent feature as well as its suitability in other parts of Auckland.
Some impressions of how it would work are below.
It’s not the first I’ve heard of the idea after AT conducted some online consultation on designs for this some months ago.
On the surface it seems like a good idea. It obviously saves AT from having to expensively widen roads which is good as they don’t have unlimited funds but I can also see a number of potential downsides too, especially if used in other locations like AT say they want to consider. So here are a few thoughts I’ve had about the idea.
- This section of Whangaparaoa Rd is fairly unique in that it doesn’t have a lot of development either side of it and is unlikely to in the future unless there are significant zoning changes. The section in question is shown in red below
- If there are two lanes of busy traffic and no-where to wait safely, how will people get across the road – say to catch a bus. This could be a huge issue in other, more developed parts of Auckland. We’ve seen in the past the inclusion of medians as being justified on the bases that it also provides a refuge for pedestrians.
- If the idea is used elsewhere, especially in places close to centres, this could also impact on bike lanes or bus lanes.
- If AT are adding extra lanes through this method, perhaps they should be for the exclusive use of buses and high occupancy vehicles.
- In this case specifically, what happens when traffic gets to Hibiscus Coast Highway? I assume that HCH is already pretty full in the mornings and opening up another traffic lane might address the Whangaparaoa Rd volumes at the expense of everyone else who uses Hibiscus Coast Highway.
- AT have said in the past that widening this section of road is a key alternative to Penlink. Given how expensive Penlink is, delaying it would be a positive outcome.
Do you think this is an appropriate idea and where else do you think it could be trialled?