The “Interim Transport Programme”: a game-changer

The big news to come out of last week’s Long Term Plan announcements was a big boost to transport spending over the next three years to be funded through a “transport levy” of $99 per household and $159 per business per year. As Friday’s NZ Herald editorial noted, this was a somewhat inevitable outcome given the Basic Transport programme outlined in the Draft LTP was terrible over the next few years (interchanges to support the new PT network were delayed till 2021, there was no walking and cycling funding for the next five years etc.) while the Auckland Plan network required government agreement on new funding tools, something that wouldn’t be possible in the timeframes of setting the budget from July 1 this year.

The “transport levy” enables an additional capex spend of approximately $523 million over first three years of the LTP period – approximately $170m per year with a bit of inflation for years two and three. This is being called the Interim Transport Programme. Budget Committee documents released on Friday highlight where that extra money will be going – still at a summary rather than project by project level of detail. It generally looks pretty good – here’s a quick overview by part of the budget:

interim-programme

The increase to public transport, walking and cycling is very significant. The report goes on to provide a bit more detail in what can be achieved with the extra funding. Firstly for public transport:

PT-interimSo the new PT network can be rolled out successfully – no more need for stupid compromises like we saw with consultation on the western network. ATs bus priority works can go ahead which should also see significant length of new bus lanes added, the ability to run double-deckers on much of the network and a major programme of improvements to bus stops. What the report says about light-rail is also quite interesting, that further planning and investigation is required before budget can be allocated.

The next area to see a big boost in investment is walking and cycling taking advantage of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund:

WC-interim

A $124 million walking and cycling investment over three years is a huge increase on what we’ve been doing in recent years (around $10 million per annum) and a huge opportunity to make a step change in the quality of infrastructure provided for cycling in particular. This should mean sufficient funding is available to fund Auckland Transport’s exciting cycling programme that was discussed a couple of weeks ago. Together with solely government funded projects, or cycling as part of other major projects, more than $200m is proposed to be invested over the next three years.

Increased funding for eliminating the Sarawia Street level crossing, advancing rail to the airport (SMART project) by making sure the new Kirkbride Rd interchange as allows for a rail line in they future (it’s insane that this wasn’t part of the project from the start), ensuring AMETI can maintain momentum (it was essentially paused for five years in the Basic programme) and providing a major boost to safety funding are also big winners from the extra money that’s now available.

CRLmajorprojects-interimBeyond the first three years of the LTP the funding drops back to what was in the Basic – as the transport levy is meant to be a “stop gap”. However, because some projects have been brought forward from the outer years, there’s now some capacity to add in a few more projects to years 4-10 of the budget. These are listed below:

outer-years-LTP

Probably the most interesting addition here is the $43 million for the Northwestern Busway, which is excellent news and responds to the clear need for this project sooner rather than later. With the bulk of the busway likely to be funded by NZTA (as per funding of the Northern Busway), it seems quite possible the busway could start construction within the next 10 years.

Overall, and without yet seeing all the details of the updated transport budget, it seems that there has been a good prioritisation of “what gets added in” with the extra money available. The extra investment in making the new PT network a success and making a step change to the level of walking and cycling funding are clear highlights and mean that this really is a game-changer of a transport budget for Auckland.

Why are we building dangerous intersections?

Two stories have recently caught my attention for the appalling treatment of people using roads who are not in cars.

The first was a few days ago from the local paper that covers the Hibiscus Coast and details the issues with a relatively new intersection that people keep running red lights at. It’s so bad parents are making kids waive silly flags as they cross the road.

It is only a matter of time before a child is killed at a dangerous Auckland intersection where up to 14 drivers a morning run red lights, concerned parents say.

There are four schools and a preschool near the four-way intersection at Millwater Parkway and Bankside Road, and near misses are a daily occurrence, the mums and dads say.

Silverdale School parents are so worried they have been doing surveys of the intersection, counting up to 14 red light runners a morning.

The group mans the site each school day for 30 minutes wearing high-visibility vests and handing out orange flags to children crossing the road in an effort to keep them safe.

The situation came to a head in the week before the school holidays when two cars crashed in the middle of the intersection, coordinator Penny Howard says.

“It was at 8.20 am when one car obviously ran a red and hit an oncoming car. Shrapnel was sent flying across the road. Thankfully a pedestrian wasn’t hit by it.”

Yes there are bad drivers out there but 14 red light runners a morning it suggests that perhaps there’s also a design issue with the intersection and surrounding area. I suspect one of the issues is the large empty fields on two of the corners plus having the school effectively set back behind a row of trees and a large berm are contributing to giving drivers visual cues that this is an area they can travel faster. I’d be interested to know from readers what options they think would help make the area safer and more kid friendly.

Millwater Dangerious intersection

On a related note, why the hell are we still allowing roads like this to be built without dedicated cycling facilities. It wouldn’t have taken much to add them when the road was being constructed but now it’s likely to be an expensive and difficult retrofit job.

The second example is from Hamilton where the NZTA yesterday announced plans to spend $2 million upgrading the intersection of SH1 and SH26. Despite the state highway designations the area is thoroughly in a residential area with houses, shops and a school all nearby.

The Hillcrest roundabout will be replaced with a new, larger roundabout which will have three entry lanes for city bound State Highway 1 traffic and a slip lane for vehicles heading onto State Highway 26 (Morrinsville Road).

The Transport Agency’s Waikato Highways Manager, Kaye Clark says the new roundabout will improve safety and help to ease congestion at the intersection.

“The Hillcrest roundabout is the city’s busiest with 37,000 vehicles using it every day,” she says.

“At peak times it is a major pinch point which we know causes a lot of frustration for people travelling through.

“The new, larger roundabout will make a difference to traffic flow.”

Mrs Clark says the Transport Agency investigated all possible improvements for the intersection, including traffic lights.

“We looked at installing traffic lights with a pedestrian crossing however our modelling showed this would have added to the congestion issues and caused more delays,” she says.

“More lanes would have been required to get traffic through as well as the larger roundabout will and having a signalised pedestrian crossing on a section of SH1 with such a heavy traffic flow would have caused significantly more congestion.

“We are confident that expanding the roundabout is the most balanced and effective solution possible here.”

As part of the project the Transport Agency plans to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists by building new paths and a new pedestrian crossing on SH26, so people can cross the road safely.

“With high traffic areas like this pedestrians and cyclists are safer on separated facilities,” Ms Clark says.

“We plan to build new paths on both sides of the entrance to the shopping centre and a new pedestrian crossing on SH26 (Morrinsville Road). The pedestrian crossing will have a raised refuge, so pedestrian can safely cross one lane and wait in the middle of the road before crossing the next lane.

“An existing underpass that takes pedestrians under SH1 will remain in place and a cycle lane will be formed from SH1 into SH26 giving both pedestrians and cyclists safe options to get around.”

Despite what they say it’s pretty clear the only thing the NZTA engineers cared about was the movement of cars and the intersection gives a giant middle finger to anyone not in a car. On the SH26 branch pedestrians have to either cross multiple lanes of traffic to reach the ‘refuge’. That’s may be fine for many people but what about those who can’t run such as the elderly or those with disabilities and would the designers let their children cross there? On the southern side of the SH1 branch the option is a likely dingy underpass that most people will probably ignore – like they clearly do now giving the number of desire lines through the planted median that are visible.

Hamilton SH1 -SH26 upgrade

I wonder how many parents let their children walk let alone cycle to that school.

Below is an example of one of the existing desire lines through the planted median and angled to just avoid the pedestrian barrier. I expect pedestrians will continue to prefer this more risky crossing than the pedestrian underpass a few meters away.

Hamilton SH1 desireline

To make matters traffic volumes through this intersection will likely drop in the near future as early next year the NZTA expect work to start on the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway which will see SH1 diverted to the east of Hamilton and away from this intersection. That is expected to be completed in 2019 and is shown below (and even by 2041 is expected to have remarkably low traffic volumes.

hamilton-2041volumes

What they’re proposing is obscene in an urban environment and will almost certainly have to be redone again in a few years time into a form that isn’t so hostile to people.

Waterview March Timelapse and Aerials

The latest timelapse and aerial shots from the Waterview Connection project

The completed Ernie Pinches Bridge

The completed Ernie Pinches Bridge

Waterview Aerial 2 - Apr 15

Waterview Aerial 3 - Apr 15

Waterview Aerial 4 - Apr 15

AT April Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is next week and as usual I’ve scoured the main report looking for the interesting bits of information. I also normally highlight the topics being discussed at the closed session of the board meeting however at the time of writing this the agenda is not available as doesn’t appear to have been uploaded correctly.

Project updates

Te Atatu Rd Rd – They now has all the consents needed to start construction and AT are targeting work to start in July. Also about Te Atatu, AT say that within the next three months they will lodge notices of requirement for the Te Atatu Bus Interchange.

AMETI – The Notices of Requirement are being prepared for the Panmure to Pakuranga busway and are expected to be lodged within the next three months.

Great North Road/Surrey Crescent – AT are looking to upgrade the intersection which will also require moving bus stops. It’s not in the report but I understand local retailers are very opposed to the bus stop even existing and want more car parking instead. I’ve even heard that local councillor and AT board member Mike Lee supported this view at a public meeting

Franklin Road – AT are still working through the Franklin Rd project however are finding resistance from residents who don’t want cycle lanes on the road and are using AT’s silly and outdate road classifications against them AT say that following an internal safety audit they are now having an independent safety audit commissioned to consider one of the four options before proceeding further.

  1. On-road cycle lanes on both sides
  2. On-road cycle lane on the downhill side and ‘shared path’ on the footpath (uphill side)
  3. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides and normal footpath
  4. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides but ‘shared path’ on the footpath (both sides)

That the last to in particular are even being considered is frankly insane.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – AT are working towards the main construction works to happen in July. In preparation for that over Queens Birthday weekend the old signal box will be lifted off the platform and relocated and foundations for additional canopies will be installed.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level crossing) – The Notice of Requirement will now be lodged in May as final changes are made to the design. Separately AT say they are targeting this to be completed in 2017 but that relies on the process going smoothly and it’s almost certain some of the local residents on Cowie St will complain to the environment court.

Parnell Station – As many train users may have noticed, works have started to build the station with platform edging appearing. The works to enable the platforms to be built are planned to be completed by August and Kiwirail are expected to complete the refurbishment of the heritage Newmarket station by the end of the year. However the opening of the station is two years away as AT want to tie that in with the closing of Sarawia St which is likely due to the increased complexity in signalling it would cause. They say if that can be resolved then the station could open from early to mid-2016.

Westgate Transport Interchange – AT are still trying to work out how they are going to operate buses in the new Westgate town centre which wasn’t designed well with public transport in mind. The initial plan was to have bus interchange spread around the town centre which wouldn’t have been very good from an operational or customer focused perspective. This difficultly that AT seem to have having with getting this changed highlights how important it is that we design our PT networks and infrastructure into new greenfield development properly right from the start.

Half Moon Bay – Funding has been approved for improvements to the ferry terminal. It is hoped the project will be completed by September 2016

Proposed Northcote Cycleway – AT say the final design for the cycleway was presented to the Kaipatiki local board yesterday and will be made public in early May. The main issues they have been dealing with is the complaints about losing publicly provided space to store their personal possessions.

City Rail Link – Of the six appeals against the notice of requirement AT say they have resolved two of them and they’re making significant progress on another three following mediation over the last few months. Only one is outstanding and a hearing on it is due in late June.

PT

AT HOP – AT say that HOP car usage increased to its highest ever level in March with 74% of all trips being made using it. In addition with patronage also increasing, fare revenue has also been increasing which is good.

A separate paper – I assume to the closed session – will cover off AT’s roadmap for integrated fares including boundaries and indicative pricing

PTOM – AT are still waiting on the NZTA to finalise its review of the PTOM contracts so they can start tendering services for the new network

EMUs – There are now 50 out of 57 electric trains in Auckland, 42 have achieved provisional acceptance and 33 have achieved acceptance for normal service.

Mid May is the next significant step for the electric trains which is when they will be rolled out to all weekend services – except Pukekohe to Papakura (no mention of when Waitakere will close). They say additional services on the Southern Line are targeted for June

Bus Lane Rollout – At has an update on some of the bus lanes they’re rolling out and some of the time savings are impressive – such as two minutes faster for every bus that using the Symonds St improvements.

Onewa Road T3 Lane (city bound) – under construction.

  • Symonds Street Bus Lane improvements – construction completed; initial analysis shows 2 minute time savings for a number of peak services – schedule adherence has increased to 93%.
  • Fanshawe Street Bus Lane (inbound) improvements – construction completed.
  • Victoria street Bus Lane Extension – construction has commenced in March.
  • Wellesley Street Bus Pocket – construction to commence midApril.
  • Khyber Pass Road Bus Lane Extension – construction completed.
  • Dominion Road Bus Lane (Richardson Road to Denbigh Ave) – 21 March construction completed – initial analysis shows that a number of peak services are saving 4 minutes on travel times compared to the previous year.
  • Park Road Bus Lane – hospital to Carlton Gore Road – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Parnell Road Bus Lane – St Stephens to Sarawia Street (outbound) – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road Transit Lanes – designs near completion; Local Board workshops to be progressed in April.
  • Great North Road Bus Lanes – New Lynn to Ash Street – final concept plans completed – due for consultation 20th April.
  • Totara Avenue Signal Removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange –– construction complete targeted for 20th April

Customer Experience – AT say that this is improving which I find interesting considering the number of issues we heard about in March

2015-04 - Customer Satisfaction

City Centre Investment Map

The last five years have seen Auckland change dramatically for the better. If you were in the city then you wouldn’t have found any of the shared spaces, much of the area surrounding Britomart was still run down and unused and Wynyard Quarter as a people place didn’t exist. While we’ve already seen a lot of change the next 10 years promises even more and much of it – such as the CRL – will fundamentally alter Auckland for the better.

In fact there is so much going on in Auckland’s City Centre right now that it’s starting to resemble a sand pit. There are a huge number of publicly and privately funded improvements happening. Importantly they are leveraging off each other to make Auckland a more liveable and attractive place. That’s good for Auckland’s economy which in turn is good for the entire nation. It also bears reminding that the changes and growth that’s occurred in recent years hasn’t spelt doom on the regions roads as all the growth in travel to the centre has happened not on in cars but via PT and active modes.

To highlight all of the known changes that are planned or desired for the next decade the council have created a map showing all the ones they know about (there are bound to be more appear over that time – especially private developments). Note: not all of these projects have funding confirmed yet so not all might happen. Click to enlarge the images or go here for the PDF version (2.6MB).

City Centre Projects April 2015

City Centre Projects April 2015 Legend

There are of course a few things missing from this map. A few I noticed quickly are AT’s Light Rail plans, Cycle lanes on Pitt St as part of the Nelson St Cycleway and cyclelanes on Karangahape Rd as part of the city centre priority routes.

The major criticism I can see in all of this is that the map is focused on the city centre. That’s understandable seeing as it’s come from the city centre integration group however perhaps the council should create an interactive version for the entire region. It could show what’s going on and how projects like the CRL benefit the entire region.

I’m looking forward to the changes that planned. It should make the city centre a much more vibrant and interesting and liveable place.

What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
RTN + LRT
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
CFN
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Reeves Rd back down?

Auckland Transport appears to be backing down on one of their best and boldest decisions – to defer the Reeves Rd flyover and use the money to bring forward the construction of the AMETI busway. This is after what I’m aware has been intense lobbying directly to the government and minister from politicians like Dick Quax and the local MPs. I understand they’ve even been pushing to try and have it declared a State Highway so the NZTA can pay for it.

reeves-rd-flyover

Here’s AT’s press release:

Chairman, Dr Lester Levy, wishes to clarify the Auckland Transport Board’s position on the Reeves Road flyover, part of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

An AT media release dated 12 February 2015 implied that a Board decision had been made to accept a new delivery strategy, which included deferring the flyover and opening the full South Eastern Busway (to Botany) earlier. Dr Levy says the board of Auckland Transport has not made any decision to accept the proposed new delivery strategy including the deferral of the flyover. Rather the board simply noted a report presented to its December meeting which suggested a delay in the timing of the flyover, subject to further technical and funding feasibility work.

“That work to assess the feasibility of busway route options through Pakuranga town centre and how funding can be secured for Reeves Road flyover to be delivered earlier continues,” he says.

“The Board has not agreed to the proposed new delivery strategy at this point in time, as it still awaits the technical and funding feasibility. When that work has been completed the Board will be able to give this matter further consideration.

“It is regrettable that this AT media release resulted in stakeholders and the community receiving a mixed message, but I want to be very clear that no firm decisions have been made at this time” Dr Levy says.

As a comparison here is the press release they now say was wrong which clearly talks about using the money to bring forward the busway, the challenges of consenting the project and the extra cost to fix more bottlenecks created by the flyover. I’ve added some emphasis of these points but perhaps I too have read it wrong. What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The change to timing reflects Auckland Transport’s prioritisation of rapid, high frequency public transport and will not require extra funding.”

Work to develop the flyover showed its congestion benefits would be limited until further significant investment along the South Eastern Highway. It also indicated a likely increase in costs with the need to create a quality urban environment beneath it.

Auckland Transport will update the community in early March on the new delivery plan for AMETI and a potential change to the busway route through Pakuranga town centre. Following further feasibility work there will be consultation on any change to the busway route.

Consultation will be carried out on the latest design for the next construction stage between Panmure and Pakuranga, before a Notice of Requirement is lodged in April.

The Panmure to Pakuranga projects include:

  • Replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights and more direct pedestrian crossings.
  • Panmure to Pakuranga busway on lanes separate to traffic congestion.
  • Panmure to Pakuranga shared cycle/foot path separate to traffic.
  • Second Panmure Bridge for busway and shared path.

Mill Rd Horror Show

Auckland Transport are about to publicly notify the Northern section of the massive Redoubt Rd-Mill Rd Corridor project. This section of the corridor was estimated two years ago to cost up to $374 million and the recent draft 2015-18 Long Term Plan documents suggest the entire project all the way to Drury will cost around $800 million over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of money but seems unsurprising once you realise that AT are basically planning a mini motorway along the route. The road is said to be needed to cater for all of the greenfield growth that is expected to occur in the area.

Future housing in the Redoubt Rd Mill Rd Area

AT are holding public open days tomorrow and Saturday about the project.

  • 17 April 2015 – Westfield Manukau (centre court), 11am to 2pm.
  • 8 April 2015 – Westfield Manukau (centre curt), 10am to 1pm.

They have however already published online the information they will be presenting to the public. Overall the main reason given for the project is to cater for up to 24,000 new dwellings and 6,000 jobs in and around the corridor as well as address the safety issues with the existing road that roads. They say that in the four years to 2013 there 293 crashes, four of which have sadly been fatal.

Mill Rd - Crashes

These are what AT say the features of the project are:

Project features

  • Redoubt Road widened to two lanes in each direction between State Highway One and Murphys Road
  • Westbound bus lane along Hollyford Drive and Redoubt Road towards Manukau
  • On road cycle lanes on both sides and an off road cycle and foot path for the length of the upgrade
  • Replacement of the existing Mill Road with a new arterial with two lanes in each direction between Murphys Road and Popes Road
  • Murphys Road widened to two lanes in each direction between Flat Bush School Road and Redoubt Road
  • Murphys/Redoubt Road intersection realigned and traffic lights added to improve safety
  • 17m and 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and South Mill Road gully above native bush
  • Widened footpaths on both sides of Redoubt, Mill and Murphys roads with pedestrian crossings at key intersections
  • Replacement planting and stream restoration
  • Improved stormwater facilities, including new wetlands areas
  • Landscaping of the new road corridor.

I haven’t had a chance to go through the documents yet however I have had a look at the images provided and what I see scares me. It scares me because while the road may already exist, this project is more like starting from scratch as involves significant property purchase and widening. Yet despite that widening AT still appears to be short changing some modes along the route – in particular cycling. The examples below show the cross sections of parts along the route and you can see in places cycle lanes as narrow as 1.5m and with what appears to be only a narrow painted median to separate them from the traffic.

Cross Sections

In my view, if we’re going to the trouble of buying houses to widen the road then we should be building worlds best practice right from the get go. And here are some impressions of what the completed roads will look like.

So what happens to the buses, they have to force their way back into traffic?

Mill Rd - Totara Park

Motorway to Totara Park

 

Murphys Road

Totara Park (Hilltop Road)

 

How many people are going to be brave enough to use that cycle lane sandwiched between lanes of traffic. Would you let your kids cycle on that?

Mill Rd - Murphys Rd Bush

Murphys Road

 

Mill Rd - Totara Park - Ranfurly Rd

Murphys Road/Murphys Bush

 

Without protection those cycle lanes will see vehicles veer into the lane to save precious fractions of seconds by not having to slow down a little bit – much like a truck did to me a few days ago almost knocking me off my bike.

Totara park to North of Ranfurly road

Totara Park to north of Ranfurly Road

 

That roundabout looks horrific for anyone not in a car. How is a child or someone who can’t run fast meant to cross the two lanes of traffic on either side of the road.

Mill Rd - Totara Park - Alfriston School Roundabout

North of Ranfurly Road to Alfriston School

Overall there are some improvements from what we traditionally see in at least there are some cycle lanes but in the end they seem so poor it’s more like they are to tick a box rather than being a serious part of the design. It’s clear even the designers don’t think their creation is safe as the length of the road they’ve also created a shared path on one side “for less confident cyclists”. If they were creating cycle lanes like have on Beach Rd (but on both sides of the road) then cyclists of all abilities would feel safe in them.

To make things worse it’s not just the road design that’s causing concern as locals are also worried about the proposed massive viaduct over bush

Mill Rd - Viaduct

I’ll try to have a look into the NoR documents in the next few days but so far this project is expensive and seems to repeat many of the mistakes of the past. Come on AT, you can do better and if you wouldn’t let your kids ride on it alone then you’re not doing your job properly

Oi!

Auckland Transport have launched their newest safety video and it’s aimed at the stupidly high number of people that still use a phone when driving – something you notice even more when walking or on a bike. The ad has fairly typical ending for a road safety video but what stands out to me in this video is the reaction of the people using the phones when strangers call them out. How realistic is it that after yelling Oi that the person will be all cheerful and just put their phone down. Seems far more likely that you’ll get back at the least a hand gesture and possibly some verbal abuse.

Here’s the press release

The friendly message is “Oi! Mind on the road, not the phone” – the reason drivers on phones cause accidents.

Auckland Transport has launched a new campaign highlighting the high numbers driving while using their phones. In Auckland between 2009 and 2013, there were 5 fatalities as a result of drivers being distracted.

Karen Hay, Manager Community and Road Safety says, “The numbers are probably under-reported, this could be a much bigger problem.”

She says 60% of the crashes are rear-end collisions, “This is obviously drivers taking their eyes off the road.”

The “Oi! Mind on the road, not the phone” campaign targets 16 to 39 year olds and includes a cinema ad plus radio and digital advertising.

Rob Pitney, Auckland Transport’s Manager Campaigns and Customer Insights, says people of all ages are using their phones behind the wheel and a third of all distraction-related crashes involve drivers in their twenties.

“We’ve discovered two-thirds of people in this group are texting, using apps and social media, doing emails and making calls while driving. They’re the target of the ‘Oi!’ campaign; we want to raise awareness of the very real dangers of using mobile phones while driving and to introduce a gentle ‘nudge’ that will enable passengers to encourage drivers to leave their phone alone.”

Research by Auckland Transport shows 30% of those who make calls have their phone up to their ear and 70% of those who make calls do it when the car is actually moving. It was also found that 70% use apps for travel information while driving.

Mr Pitney says, “Our focus is on driving smartly, sensibly – focussing on the driving and not the smart phone.”

Senior Sergeant Mark Chivers of Counties Manukau Road Policing Unit says it’s an offence to use a mobile phone while driving. The penalty is $80 and 20 demerit points.

“Driver distractions come under high risk driving in our “Fatal Five” – the five things that contribute to crashes and trauma on our roads. We have a continued focus on these things in our on-going effort to reduce road trauma.”

He says the campaign with Auckland Transport is an opportunity for Police to demonstrate that any dangerous activity on our roads will not be tolerated.

What’s happening to Takapu Valley?

As Peter found when covering the Ministry of Transport’s review of capital spending on roads (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) our multibillion dollar national transport budget is being spent in some bizarre ways. Money’s being allocated to major roading projects that don’t offer many economic benefits in return.

MoT state highway BCRs 2005-2012

While the high-level picture is clear, it’s not always obvious what’s going on in project selection. Why does the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) choose one project over another? What are their processes for assessing “strategic fit” and other considerations?

Some smart people have been taking a critical look at a major Wellington road project that’s been flying under the radar: the Petone-to-Grenada motorway. Like the Transmission Gully motorway, it’s being touted less for its benefit-cost ratio than for its impacts on the “resilience” of the Wellington region.

Tamara Duran, who writes on the Takapu Valley website, provides a useful summary of the project… and the issues with the project. In addition to her extensive analysis of the the impacts of the project on resilience (parts 1, 2, and 3), she’s put together a primer on the project, complete with maps for the out-of-towners:

Since the Christchurch and Tōhoku earthquakes, “resilience” has been the mantra of… pretty much anyone building anything, be it a building, a corporate structure, or a communications network. We all want to be resilient, to survive whatever has just happened and get back up and about our normal business as quickly as possible.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has picked up on how keen everyone is on resilience, and so is now including it in all of their sales material. Perhaps unsurprisingly, NZTA has defined “resilience” from a transport perspective as “more roads”. Not “more transport options”, and not even really “better roads”, just more. Got congestion problems? Build another road to get around it. Got a road falling apart? Build another road to take traffic off it.

Case in point: The Petone to Grenada link road, in Wellington. This road has been in the investigation and planning stages for a good 20 years now, the reason being Wellington’s notoriously challenging geography. To get from the CBD to the rest of the Region (and ultimately the rest of the North Island), there are essentially two routes out – SH1 up Ngauranga Gorge, and SH2 along the harbour.   Both of those are through narrow corridors with few or no alternatives.

P2G map 1

Source: Google Maps

The logical thing to do, then, as proposed in various studies since about 1991, is something like this:

P2G map 2

Source: Google Maps

Traffic wanting to get between the SH1 corridor in the west and the SH2 corridor in the east can “cut the corner” of Ngauranga, taking pressure off those two chokepoints.

If there’s a truck flipped in Ngauranga Gorge, traffic can go up SH2 and across P2G. Likewise if there’s a crash along SH2 traffic can go up SH1 and across P2G back to Petone. All good, and everyone’s back about their business with minimal fuss.

But 7km of road is Not Enough Road. More Road = More Resilient, remember. So what NZTA is proposing is this:

P2G map 3

Source: NZTA Presentation to Chief Executives Group, November 2014, released under OIA

We’ll turn the whole thing north-south (because clearly a north-south road is how you solve an east-west problem); then we have room to double the length. Here are some other “resilient” features:

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges through chains of roundabouts!
Source: NZTA/Opus

Source: NZTA/Opus

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges via two-lane local streets! (and roundabouts!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • “Bypasses” with one-way ramps that force you 12km out of your way!
P2G map 6

Source: Petone to Grenada Scoping Report, February 2014

  • Motorways next to other motorways! (More Roads = More Resilient!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • Roads on unstudied active fault lines!
Source: GNS Active Faults database

Source: GNS Active Faults database

  • 80 meter deep canyons through the Wellington Fault Scarp!
Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

  • In Petone!
Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

NZTA has taken a reasonable solution to Wellington network resilience woes and “made it better”, in the process negating the very function the road was originally supposed to serve. In the meantime, genuine improvements to the earthquake and natural hazard resilience of the roading network are left to languish.

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

I’d really recommend reading her entire series on the motorway. It seems like NZTA is pursuing a more expensive option that delivers much worse outcomes. In particular, Tamara argues that better results could be achieved through upgrades to a few problematic bits of the existing State Highway 58.

Meanwhile, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley (who writes the excellent StatsChat blog) has been digging into NZTA’s options assessments on the project. He’s found that the agency has made some basic statistical errors in its weighting of evaluation criteria. The effect seems to have been that NZTA’s chosen the wrong project, for the wrong reasons:

If you have to make a decision with several options, each with different types of positive and negative effects, it’s going to be hard. Techniques for breaking down complex decisions into sets of simpler questions are very valuable, but it’s important that the way you break down the problem and recombine the answers fits with how you answer the simpler questions.

I’ve been pointed to what looks like an unfortunate example from the NZTA, in assessing options for the Petone–Grenada link road to be constructed near Wellington. The road comes in two sections: from Petone to the eastern section of Lincolnshire Farm, and from there to Grenada. According to the scoping report (PDF), these can be decided independently of each other, so there’s an ideal opportunity to simplify the decision making.  NZTA describes four options P1 to P4 for the first section, and four options A to D for the second section.

I would have expected them to just make independent recommendations for the two sections, but what they actually did was more complicated. First, they looked at the P options and decided based on four criteria that P4 was best.  They then looked at A+P4, B+P4, C+P4, and D+P4 for the same four criteria, and said in a footnote (p172) “Upon combining one of Option P1, P2, P3 or P4 with one Option A, B, C or D the effect more towards the negative takes precedence.

This can only make sense if the harms or benefits weren’t independent.  Sometimes that’s possible. In particular, one of the criteria was “resilience”, and you might argue that it doesn’t matter how robust the second part of the road is when the first part is under several meters of rock and mud, or filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. It could make sense to take the worst value of the two sections when assessing resilience: but people who know more about Wellington-area transport than I do still seem dubious.

The same argument certainly doesn’t apply for the other criteria: archaeological,  ecological,  landscape/visual impact, and transport benefit/cost. If one section of the road is an environmental nightmare, that doesn’t make the environmental impact of the other section unimportant. If one section of the road is unavoidably ugly, that doesn’t excuse making the other section ugly. If one section destroys an important heritage site, it doesn’t mean the other section doesn’t have to care about preservation of the past. If one section is ridiculously expensive it doesn’t mean the costs are unimportant for the other section.

The impact of decomposing and recombining the evaluation as they did, is that any criterion where P4 was bad becomes much less important in choosing among options A to D. P4 was very bad on the landscape/visual criterion, and moderately bad on ecology.

By now you should be expecting the punch line: evaluated independently, options A and B look good because they score well on ecology and landscape/visual criteria. Evaluated in combination with P4, they look terrible, because the ecology and landscape benefits are masked by the “more negative” combining rule. That’s a problem with the combining rule, not with the road. Here’s a colour-coded version of the information in Table 23-19, p182 (from T. Duran)

P2G separate and combined option assessment

Not only is the combining rule obviously missing some information, it’s not even internally consistent. If the evaluation had been done in the opposite order they might well have chosen A first, and then looked at A+P1 to A+P4. Even D was what they’d chosen first, P3+D would then look slightly better than P4+D.

It’s very tempting to look for ways of combining preferences that don’t rely on numbers, just on orderings, but in most cases they aren’t available, and attempts to do it leave you worse off than before.

This evaluation wasn’t set up to focus only on resilience — even assuming that the resilience assessment is valid, which I hear is also being questioned — it was set up to value the four criteria equally. It really looks as though a minor detail of the approach to simplifying the evaluation has had a large, accidental effect on the result.

Thomas’s words are gentle but suggest serious methodological errors in NZTA’s project selection. Taken together with Tamara’s critique of the agency’s evaluation of the resilience impacts of the Petone-to-Grenada road, it really makes you wonder what’s wrong with NZTA’s decision-making.