Waterview Connection July Time Lapse

The latest time lapse from the Waterview Connection project

The TBM is getting very close to the end of the first tunnel with it less than 300m to go.

The difference between Traffic Engineers and Planners

We often deride traffic engineers for the road dominant nature of Auckland. Sometimes this can be a bit unfair as we know not all engineers are bad and the term is often be a bit of a catch all phrase for those involved in the road design process. So when I refer to traffic engineers I’m referring perhaps more to the people and processes that sees the focus on movement and storage of vehicles over a public realm that focuses on people, the type that an urban planner might try to deliver. This post from Greater Greater Washington highlights these opposing ideas perfectly. A freeway was closed along a section of the Anacostia River in Washington DC after a new and updated freeway bridge was built over the river and the old freeway bridge turned into a local road.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT’s options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.

Washington Freeway replacement Option 2

So basically a road and a few cycle lanes surrounded by likely a lot of not very useful green space (the option above even included underground parking under the road for almost the entire length). The other options were all variations of the same theme and this is exactly the same type of thing we would see here in Auckland – and are seeing with proposals to upgrade local roads e.g. Lincoln Rd.

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT’s analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells’ urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP’s options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:

These are just some of the options they came up with and include various versions of parks, and development options.

Washington Freeway replacement Planner options

What’s worth noting is that the planners options contained just as many traffic lanes as the traffic engineers options did due to the transport engineers making it a requirement. The post questions the need for it to be four lanes but what is clear is that there are some quite different thinking going on between those just responsible for the movement of vehicles and those who also consider people and the city as a whole.

In Auckland if we could get more of the latter and less of the former then we could end up with a fantastic city that still allows for a wide range of movement even for those that want to drive.

 

Lincoln Rd consultation feedback

Between last November and February this year Auckland Transport ran consultation for a plan to further widen Lincoln Rd. It’s a road I’m particularly familiar with seeing as I use it regularly.

The upgrade seeks to

  • widen Lincoln Road to provide an additional bus and high occupancy vehicle (transit) lane on each side of the road to increase capacity and improve passenger travel times.
  • upgrade existing intersections to reduce congestion and improve safety
  • build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety
  • install shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the road
  • implement stormwater treatments to minimise surface flooding
  • relocate and upgrade existing utility services
  • integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s current motorway interchange upgrade.

The plan raised a number of concerns for me, in particular that despite all the widening buses still wouldn’t have a dedicated lane. That despite having to buy up land for the widened road AT were still only proposing shared paths for walking and cycling – which happens to go against the region wide standards they were separately consulting on. Lastly that the intersections where horrifically massive blowing out to 9 lanes in places in a bid to try and cater for every single direction of movement in a dedicated lane or two. Here’s a cross section

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

And a video of the proposal

Auckland Transport have finally provided the feedback from the consultation and all up they received 162 responses and here are the results of some of the key themes.

Of the 162 people who made submissions, only 12 did not support any aspect of the proposals. Of the 162, 79 made a postal submission and none opposed the project overall.

The major issues identified by submitters, were:

  • AT’s proposal is to widen Lincoln Road to create include a bus/T3 lane in both directions. This would convert to a bus-only lane when demand is great enough

23 submissions supported having bus lanes
25 submissions suggested that if Lincoln Road is to be widened a bus lane should be installed immediately and not also be a T3.

Decision:
It may not be possible to make bus-only lanes immediately. This is being explored.

17 submissions supported T3 lanes.
27 submissions supported T2 instead of T3 lanes
19 submissions suggested converting an existing road lane to T3

Decision:
Many more vehicles would use the transit lane if it is a T2 and this would interfere with the efficiency of the bus service.
Converting an existing lane to T3 was explored and will cause greater congestion and delays because it will restrict the majority of vehicles to one lane

  • AT’s proposal is to have off-road shared paths on either side of Lincoln Road, for pedestrians and cyclists.

16 submissions appreciated improved cycling provisions and a further four supported improved pedestrian provisions.
60 submissions favoured separated cycle-ways.

Decision:
A separated facility for cyclists will be investigated as part of the detailed design

  • AT’s proposal is to have a raised solid median which would enable centreline planting and restrict right turn opportunities, including right turns to and from driveways.

29 submissions supported a solid median and only six submissions opposed a solid median.

Decision:
With clear support for the solid median, AT will include this in the final design

  • AT’s proposal included connecting Preston Avenue to Lincoln Road.

31 submissions opposed this aspect of the proposal.

Decision:
Because of the clear majority opposed, AT will not make a vehicle connection between Preston Avenue to Lincoln Road.

  • AT proposals covered a variety of other measures, such as pedestrian crossings, slip lanes, right turns, signals, etc.

39 submissions were received in total in relation to these issues, but no more than five submissions on any one individually

This feedback raises some questions. Why do they say AT may not be able to make the new lanes bus only, after all they do control the road and the widening project. In addition why do they only say separated cycling facilities will only be investigated as part of the detailed design. That seems very non-committal and hints that they may turn around later and say “we investigated separated facilities but decided against doing them”.

Driverless in the rain

Occasionally someone will argue that we don’t need to invest in public transport as new technology like driverless cars will come along and render our roads much safer and more efficient. In some cases they say the impact on the transport system will be similar to the one that private vehicles started having on transport. At the transport debate just over a week ago Transport Minister even spoke about a future of diverless vehicles after being given a ride in one of Google’s prototype autonomous vehicles.

We’re told this technology is just around the corner and it will soon be on the market. However in many ways it seems much like a carrot that’s constantly hanging from a stick in front of us as despite the progress being made by Google the technology is still a long way away from becoming a reality.

Many motorists dream of the day they can sit back and relax while their car drives itself.

And while Google and other companies are working hard to make autonomous vehicles a reality, it could take years to create a car that can negotiate complex situations on the road – including wet weather conditions.

Google’s self-driving cars can’t currently cope in heavy rain or snow – or find their way around 99 per cent of the US, an insider has admitted.

According to MIT Technology Review, the current prototype cars are very reliant on maps to navigate and can’t react like a human driver, dodging potholes and other hazards.

Google’s cars have driven themselves over 700,000 miles (1,126,540km) but they can’t cope in snowy conditions and cannot negotiate heavy rain.

Chris Urmson, director of the Google car team, said this is because the detection technology is not yet strong enough to separate certain objects from weather conditions.

While the cars’ cameras can spot a traffic light changing, they can be confused by strong sunlight.

They don’t distinguish between an empty plastic bag – which could be easily driven over – or a rock, so cars must drive around both. They also can’t detect uncovered manholes or potholes.

Mr Urmson told the publication: ‘I could construct a construction zone that could befuddle the car.’

The cars ‘see’ pedestrians as moving blocks of pixels and know to stop, but unlike a cautious human driver, they could not spot a traffic policeman at the side of the road, waving for traffic to stop – which could lead to trouble.

Those seem like some fairly serious issues that need to be addressed before the technology could even be considered for public use. For their part Google thinks the issues could be resolved in 5 years-time but I suspect that timeframe could turn out to be a pretty wild guess. Going further, even if Google manage to get everything working fantastically within that time frame  it’s unlikely there’ll be more than a handful in the country for quite some time and it would take decades before they’re owned  in any quantities. For the time being at least it seems like we still not going to see any change to the status quo.

Wellesley St Underpass Timelapse

The timelapse below shows what it took for the NZTA and their contractors to build a cycling underpass at Wellesley St. While the road was narrowed the street itself was only closed for about a week. Now if only we could get some similar underpasses at interchanges like St Lukes.

 

Aucklanders are driving less

We’ve talked quite a bit about how trends in New Zealand are changing and one that regularly talk about is Vehicle Kilometres Travelled which is the distance that vehicles in New Zealand drive. The results come collating the distance travelled from vehicle odometers which is something checked each time someone gets a Warrant of Fitness. The distance we travel on a per capita basis has been dropping for some time.

Last week at the transport debate Gerry Brownlee said new data would show the trend of declining VKT was reversing as the economy recovered. His suggestion being that just around the corner we’re going to need roads like Puhoi to Warkworth to deal with the extra driving that we’re all supposedly meant to be doing. But are we actually driving more? Well new data from the Ministry of Transport suggests that on a per capita in Auckland basis we each are still driving less than we did decade ago.

Auckland VKT - 2013

Other regions show an assortment of outcomes with some results up and others down.

NZ VKT per capita table 1

In Auckland we’re driving less but of course we also know for the last decade or so the big story in transport has been the resurgence of PT use which has been growing strongly. This is growth is off the back of investments like Britomart, the Northern Busway and the bus lanes on the isthmus  e.g. Dominion Rd.

14 - July AK Annual Patronage

So how does this growth in PT trips compare to the changes shown above for VKT? The graph below shows the two and there’s quite a difference as to where the growth is occurring.

VKT vs PT Trips per Captia 4

Of course the number of PT trips is coming off a low base however a 30% increase in use is nothing to sneeze at. At the end of June 14 each Aucklander took approximately 47 trips a year on PT. That’s fairly low by international standards or even compared to what’s achieved in Wellington however with all that’s going on with PT right now we could see the result rise considerably in the next few years.

Stuart’s 100 #18 A Great South Rd?

18: A Great South Road?

Day_18_A_Great_Great_South_Road

What if Great South Road truly was great?

The creation of Great South Road was one of the great formational moves in the early expansion of Auckland. Starting in 1861, some 12,000 soldiers built the highway over 2 years to provide a direct route south out of Auckland to the Waikato hinterland during the New Zealand Wars. It quickly became the primary commercial and community link between areas to the south of the isthmus, providing opportunity for the garrison communities like Otahuhu that had sprung up along its route to become important centres in their own right.

That role has long been surpassed by the Southern Motorway, but the legacy of Great South Road remains. It is a highly important route connecting communities and large employment areas in the south. As a route however, the legibility of where it goes and what it connects to is perhaps not very widely known or understood for Aucklanders who live and work further afield, who will be much more familiar with the motorway.

Much of Great South Road already is great. Places like Otahuhu are vibrant and diverse with a bright future. Otahuhu has significant development potential underpinned by a fantastic legacy of a historic fine grain pattern of streets and subdivision on flat land. It can readily adapt to support further growth that will benefit both the town centre and forthcoming rail-bus interchange.

By contrast, other sections of the route aren’t so great, still feeling like the road is still the main highway out of town.

Wouldn’t it be great if Great South Road – in stark contrast to the southern motorway – could become a celebrated route through the south that relates to the urban fabric and communities of Auckland? A strengthening of the corridor and centres through greater mixed use development,  improvements for walking and cycling and a legible and frequent bus route with rail connections at Manurewa, Manukau, Otahuhu, Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera starts to add up to what sounds like a great urban corridor for this part of Auckland.

Great South Road, and other similar urban corridors, should have stronger alignment of land use and transport planning in the future to work steadily towards becoming positive forces in the city that can help shape and guide how Auckland grows and develops into the future.

 

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out – often for its comedy value – and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

Urban Farm Vehicles

Wow who knew there were so many farms in Remuera or have some locals just started taking the term Remuera Tractor a bit too literally.

Motorists are evading hundreds of dollars in vehicle licensing fees by incorrectly registering their cars as farm vehicles.

It follows the revelation earlier this week that hundreds of drivers were falsely registering their cars as ambulances to save more than $200 in fees.

Other categories, including farm vehicles, also pay reduced fees, which one testing station owner says is being exploited by some drivers of Remuera tractors.

Farm vehicles fall under the Class B category, which are exempt from paying ACC levies, fuel excise and excise duty.

The classification relates to vehicles which are designed for agricultural operations and have restricted use on public roads. Alan Parker, who owns a vehicle testing station in Auckland’s eastern suburbs, said he often sees cars with central Auckland addresses come into the testing station for a Warrant of Fitness that are registered as farm vehicles.

“When we go to enter them into the system we get red flags come up about these vehicles,” he said.

“A farm vehicle sometimes doesn’t need a warrant, so we override it and we tell the system we’re inspecting them as private vehicles.”

Such customers were typically from wealthy suburbs, he said.

“There’s so many up in Remuera that are registered as farm vehicles, Toyota [Land Cruiser] Prados and that,” he said. “And maybe these people do legitimately own farms, but they’re not legitimately using that vehicle for farm use. It gives the name the Remuera tractor a new slant.”

Other customers were struggling beneficiaries, he said.

“Sometimes I can’t blame them for doing it because they’ve got nothing, and at least they’re not picking up a $250 fine for no rego.”

Typically the licensing fee for a petrol-powered Exempt Class B vehicle is $50.22, the NZ Transport Agency said, compared with $280.55 for a petrol-driven passenger car.

At over $200 for a petrol vehicle it doesn’t take too long to rack up over $100,000 in licencing fees that should go to the government while for a diesel vehicle this could be even more as a Class B exemption also means the owner doesn’t need to pay Road User Charges.

As the article mentions it isn’t only farm vehicles that people claim their vehicle as with a lot also claiming their vehicles as ambulances.

Hundreds of motorists are falsely registering their cars as ambulances, avoiding more than $200 in fees.

The NZ Transport Agency said last month’s figures showed 2681 vehicles were registered as ambulances.

But St John and the Wellington Free Ambulance services have only 705 registered ambulances between them – meaning up to 1976 private vehicles could be falsely registered.

An ACC levy exemption for ambulances means it costs only $52.11 a year to register a non-commercial ambulance, compared with $280.55 for a petrol-driven passenger car – a difference of $228.44.

The difference is even greater for commercial vehicles, which cost up to $590.78 to register.

The total loss in levies to ACC is at least $392,500 a year.

A couple of hundred thousand or perhaps even as much as a million per year might seem small compared to the billions collected annually from the NZTA’s funding sources however it still represents a large sum of money. It also seems like this would be something fairly easy to resolve as after all the NZTA should have the address for the owner of each vehicle so surely they shouldn’t be too difficult to track down.

Auckland Transport August Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is today and below are the bits and pieces from the reports that caught my attention.

First up as usual there are a number of items in the closes session of the meeting that it would be very interesting to see the details about. These are

  • Ferry Services Contract
  • EMU Implementation
  • Tiverton/Wolverton
  • City Centre Access Options
  • Mill Road
  • Parking Services report
  • AT HOP Update
  • Rail Operations shortlisting

On to the Chief Executives report. These are generally just in the order they come up in the report.

AT are working with some of the teams from the HackAKL event and two of the top five teams will have a completed concept within three months.

Discussions have been held with the top 5 teams, 2 have progressed to a stage where the concept will be completed inside of 3 months, with the help of AT. The other 3 in the top 5 are still discussing within themselves how to progress. As well an additional application (hop Balance) from one of the other groups has been launched. We are still restricted in the data that we can make available, PT is working on this with the bus operators.

AT are creating a customer charter which includes specific measures that cover PT, roading, walking and cycling and they say they have been looking overseas to find out what the best practices are. They say the draft versions of the charters will go to a board committee in October. I think a customer charter with specific measures is a good thing and I would hope that there is some consultation from the public on final versions.

AT will be holding a consultation in late September on the rehabilitation of Franklin Rd and surrounding streets. They say Major focuses for the consultation include maintaining the heritage value of the
road (including the trees), parking, a lowered speed zone, walking and cycling. 

A detailed business case will finally be done for the East West Link. It’s something I would have thought should have happened long before it was moved near to the top of the priorities list.

AT say the Environment Court appeal against the Silverdale Park n Ride might delay construction till the next financial year (i.e. after July next year).

 

On the EMUs there were 22 in the country at the time of writing the report however some more arrived yesterday and provisional acceptance had been issued for 18 of them. After the August summer holidays production will be ramped up as the intention is that by the end of the year we will get four delivered a month instead of the current two per month. On the issues with the over cautious signalling system they say

The ETCS system has been modified by reducing the driver warning before curves and other infrastructure features and the resulting improvement in running times.

 

As part of the Otahuhu Bus Train Interchange AT are looking at connections to and from the station. The report notes that this will include additional bus priority and improved walking and cycling connections.

At Panmure the new road alongside the tracks is almost finished and due to open to use at the end of September. It’s been called Te Horeta Rd. The image below is from the board report showing the road and it’s looking very much like a mini motorway although I would be happy to be proven wrong once it’s finished.

AMETI - Te Horeta Rd from AT Board Report

HOP use keeps on growing which is a great sign. Overall 67% of trips were paid for with HOP which was up from 65% in June. By mode bus was up from 62% to 65% while rail was up from 75% to 76%. In some ways this is not surprising given the changes in fares that occurred and means the trend of increasing HOP card usage is likely to continue. They also say a strategic business case as well as revenue and patronage modelling for integrated fares is almost complete.

2014 - August - HOP Card graphs

Perhaps the biggest news from the report is about the next train timetable which is now targeted for November

Finalisation with KiwiRail and Transdev of the new timetable to support the increased frequency of Manukau services and the introduction of an EMU weekend timetable was progressed in July and early August. This provides 6 trains per hour from Manukau in the peak period and 3 trains per hour in the interpeak and off-peak, with weekends going to a 30 minute service plan. When the timetable commences, diesel shuttle services will run an hourly service between Pukekohe and Papakura on Saturdays and Sundays and connect with arriving/departing EMUs at Papakura. The target date for the timetable introduction is early November following progressive replacement within the existing timetable of diesel rolling stock with EMUs on the Manukau Line.

Some good news about the look of buses in the future with AT developing what sounds like a region wide design. This is long overdue although I’m sure some operators won’t be happy (I for one can’t wait to see the back of the horrid Birkenhead bus livery). They say the starting point for the new livery is based off the design used on the electric trains and the livery will be included in the future operator contracts which will be rolled out with the new network.

AT say they are also working on a wayfinding system which is something long overdue.