Can new roads pay for themselves?

It’s common to hear people say that because roads are paid for by their users (fn 1), we should build more roads. After all, the new roads will fund themselves!

At first glance, this seems convincing. But a closer look reveals that the “new roads pay for themselves” argument is based on a logical fallacy. Basically, the fact that the average road pays for itself does not mean that the next road will also pay for itself. In fact, there’s a large amount of recent evidence from the transport market that the next, or “marginal”, road will cost taxpayers more than it brings in revenue.

Economists understand the importance of marginal analysis when making decisions about what to build and how to charge for it. Businesses typically make pricing and production decisions “on the margin”. In other words, they look around for the next potential customer and ask: “Can I produce one additional unit and sell it to that person for a profit?” If the answer is yes, they produce it; if it’s no, they don’t as it would reduce their overall profits.

So what is the market telling us about demand for new roads? As always, it’s best to go and look at the empirical evidence. Over the last decade or two, there have been a number of efforts to get users to pay for new roads. Australia, the US, New Zealand, and a variety of other places have built toll roads – sometimes privately financed, sometimes publicly financed. In most cases, revenues from users were expected to pay the cost of the roads.

These costly investments have almost all failed. Toll roads have suffered from low traffic and low toll revenue. They have often required expensive taxpayer-funded bailouts. It looks as though people are not willing to pay for the marginal road.

In Australia none of the toll roads built after 2000 have been profitable:

Australia has some of the finest highway tunnels in the world, but for the private investors who trusted traffic usage projections from leading and respected consultancy firms the story has been a tale of insolvency and disappointment. Most of the privately owned toll highway projects constructed in the last 15 years in Australia have fallen into receivership or administration within a short time of opening to traffic when it became clear that toll revenue from actual traffic usage would be well short of covering its contribution to the construction costs.

The failures include the A$1bn Sydney Cross City Tunnel, which has seen traffic volumes less than half of forecasts, and the Brisbane Clem 7 and Airport Link tunnels, where traffic volumes have fallen short of forecasts by over 75%.

traffic avoids clem 7 tunnel

People would prefer to queue in traffic than pay the Clem 7 toll

In the US, an academic paper reviewing toll roads financed by Australia’s Macquarie Bank found that:

The record for these projects is abysmal.

Two of the projects declared bankruptcy. The assets of one, Pocahontas, were written down to zero by its new owner, and two were bought by the government jurisdictions where they were located. Another is in negotiations to be bought by the state of Virginia. None of these projects fulfilled their initial plans to operate successfully as profitable, private companies. Macquarie’s most substantial U.S. project, the Indiana Toll Road project, is near insolvency and attempting to restructure its loans.

In New Zealand, private finance has been slower off the mark, but there have been a couple of experiments with toll roads. In Tauranga, the Route K toll-road has been a financial millstone for the council since its opening in 2003. This year, NZTA agreed to pay off its remaining debt at public expense:

The New Zealand Transport Agency will take $62.5m of the remaining Route K debt from Tauranga City Council, it has today announced.

The council signed off the agreement with NZTA over the ownership of the debt on Route K in a meeting today.

The agency had already agreed to take ownership of the road from July 2015, but at a council meeting this afternoon, councillors discussed the agency also taking on the debt, less $1 million which the council would still owe.

The removal of the debt would see the council’s credit rating upgraded from A+ to AA-.

This is a clear market signal about the financial viability of new roads. It should not be surprising. After a half-century of road-building, Australia, the US, and New Zealand have extensive and mature road networks. There are seldom opportunities to dramatically improve the network by building another road. (Which is not to say that there are no opportunities to do so – it’s just that they’re bloody hard to find!)

In this context, it makes more sense to invest the marginal transport dollar in providing better transport choices. After half a century of underinvestment in public transport and walking and cycling facilities, there’s a lot of latent demand. As a result, every time Auckland has built a new piece of public transport infrastructure this century, demand has outstripped projections. Here, for example, is a graph from a few years ago that shows that Britomart met its 2021 patronage targets more than a decade early.

In other words, people aren’t willing to pay for new roads, but they are queuing up to get on the bus or train. Transport policy should recognise these market signals and invest in choice.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

The market has spoken. It wants some more trains.

Footnote 1: This is factually incorrect. Since 2004, the National Land Transport Fund, which consists of fuel taxes, road user charges, and vehicle license fees, has paid 100% of the cost state highways. However, it only pays 50% of the cost of local roads, which account for the majority of vehicle kilometres travelled. The remaining 50% are paid for by local council rates.

Stuart’s 100 #46 On the Way or Already There?

46: On the Way or Already There?

Day_46

What if we dropped the pseudo-word “roading” from Auckland’s vernacular?

Roads are on the way somewhere; streets are already somewhere.

This simple difference in understanding and perspective between movement and place often results in very different outcomes when it comes to transportation, public realm and place-making.

In Auckland we have done a lot of the former. In fact the (non)term “roading” seems to be a bit of an NZ-special; it isn’t really a word and isn’t used as such in other countries. Which says a lot. Wouldn’t it be good if we could recognise the value of place more, and thereby have a more sophisticated conversation about the need to balance movement with place?

Stadium Strategy un-strategic on transport

There’s been quite a bit of news in the last week or so about council CCO, Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) and their stadium strategy. RFA is the body who manage most of Auckland’s stadiums and other facilities such as the Art Gallery, the Zoo and MOTAT.

The strategy is trying to address the fact that Auckland has three major stadiums – Eden Park, Mt Smart and North Harbour (QBE Stadium) – all of which are underutilised and face financial pressures as a result. Mt Smart and QBE Stadium are also owned by the council meaning any shortfalls as a result of those financial pressures directly affect ratepayers. In summary the strategy is

  • The Warriors would have to move from Mt Smart to QBE stadium which would basically become the default venue of most small to medium sized games for the rectangle field codes
  • Move Cricket from Eden Park to Western Springs
  • Speedway would move from Western Springs to Mt Smart
  • Eden Park would basically only be be used for large sporting events such as rugby tests or shorter format cricket international tests. Technically Eden Park won’t come under the Stadium Strategy due to the ownership situation

Most of the noise about the strategy of late has revolved around the Warriors being forced out of Mt Smart when their current contract expires in 2018. I personally think that moving the Warriors to QBE stadium is a bad decision and if the information from the club about the process is true, it paints RFA’s approach in very bad light.

But what I want to talk about is a part of the discussion that hasn’t really been discussed, how the strategy affects transport.

Firstly QBE stadium. Put simply, it’s a real pain to get to, as being right on the northern edge of the urban area it means almost everyone converges on it from the south in one of two directions, Albany Highway or SH1 (via Albany Expressway or Oteha Valley Rd). To make matters worse all approach roads converge on and are affected by a single intersection. At times of events, especially large ones, this generally means traffic chaos which is further multiplied by people searching for parking. This is something I experienced first hand during the Rugby World Cup where I remember it took what felt like close to an hour either side of the game to move a few km’s. Let’s not forget that in the case of the Warriors, many fans come from well south of the harbour and as such a move to Albany would see them having to travel much further to attend games.

Unfortunately PT options aren’t any better. The Albany Busway station is over 1km away through a currently barren landscape and even during the RWC when PT use was heavily encouraged and a lot of special services put on, only around 30% of people used it. As a comparison for large events at Eden Park sometimes over 50% will arrive using PT (although much less for some games). All of this is important as the council have set a target of doubling the number of PT trips from 70 million to 140 million by 2022 and special events have potentially a large role in helping to achieve that.

North Harbour Stadium

Overall it seems like moving all smaller games to QBE is likely to mean very little opportunities for any real change in travel habits. This is a shame as it seems that events provide one of the better opportunities to get people who don’t normally use PT to try it.

Before we start getting comments about the Waterfront Stadium the former government suggested for the RWC, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it too would likely have suffered from some of the issue of being too big for most games. Also sorting out the issues surrounding too many stadiums is one of the reasons why RFA exists in the first place.

Franklin Rd Upgrade options

One of Auckland Transport’s current projects – as highlighted in the August board report – is a rehabilitation of the iconic Franklin Rd

Photo is copyright to oh.yes.melbourne.

 

 

AT have now released more details about the project. Here’s why they say the project is needed.

Franklin Road is an iconic Auckland street with significant heritage value. It is lined by mature, hundred year old London Plane trees that form a canopy over the road during summer months. During the Christmas festival period residents of Franklin Road host a Christmas lights event which attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Franklin Road is also an important connection between Ponsonby and the Central Business District with over 14,000 vehicle trips per day, including buses and over-dimension vehicles. While predominantly residential in nature, there are some small businesses along the road operating from previous homes and larger commercial/retail activities at either end.

Franklin Road is in poor condition creating safety hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Over time tree roots have damaged footpaths, drainage infrastructure and road pavement. A high demand for parking and a lack of well-defined parking spaces often sees drivers parking too close to trees and driving over exposed roots which can damage the trees.

A number of utility providers are also concerned about the condition of their infrastructure in Franklin Road and are planning service renewals and upgrades in the near future.

As part of the improvements AT have come up with two options, both of which include.

  • Moving the kerbline to the other side of the trees and narrowing the roadway enabling the trees to be located within the berm.
  • Parallel parking on both sides of the road in front of the trees.
  • Upgrading the drainage system.
  • Building the new road pavement on top of the existing pavement to reduce the impact on tree roots.
  • Sewer separation and water main replacement by Watercare Services Limited.
  • Improvements to street lighting subject to power undergrounding works by Vector Limited.

The biggest change is that the kerb is being extended to the outside of the trees in a bid to protect their roots. As the space between the trees is currently used for parking that is being pushed out into the carriageway. I think there definitely needs to be some level of on street parking seeing as many houses don’t have off street parking (although some do) but by pushing the parking out into the carriageway it actually creates more parking spaces. As explained soon I wonder if that’s the best use of the space.

Here are the trees on Franklin Rd likely not long after they were planted circa 1880

Franklin Road, Ponsonby, Auckland. Creator of Collection Unknown : Photographs of Auckland and Lyttelton. Ref: 1/2-004185-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22791340

In addition to the features mentioned above there are two separate options on what to do with the remaining carriageway which is 12.3m in width.

Option 1

Key features of this option are:

  • A shared use footpath cycleway on the uphill side of Franklin Road.
  • A marked on-road cycle lane on the downhill side.
  • The removal of the painted median.

Advantages

  • Retains parking on both sides of the road.
  • Provides an off-road cycling facility in the uphill direction when cyclists are slower and a dedicated on-road downhill cycle lane to separate quicker cyclists from pedestrians.
  • Maximises the traffic calming effect as vehicle speeds reduce with narrower traffic lanes and being closer to parked vehicles.
  • Provides a narrower road width for pedestrians to cross.

Disadvantages

  • Traffic delays caused by right turning vehicles sitting in the traffic lane waiting to turn.
  • No central refuge area for pedestrians crossing the road.
  • The downhill cycleway is less than the desirable width.

Franklin Road Option 1

The first thing I thought when looking at this was “where’s the uphill cycle lane”, that was until I realised that uphill cyclists were meant to share the footpath with pedestrians. To me that’s a bad outcome as even uphill many cyclists are likely to be much faster than walkers, especially as electric bikes become increasingly common. After that I also wondered why AT are still proposing to use squishy car protectors on the downhill side. Surely the cycle lane should be swapped with the parking lane.

I hoped the design would get better with option 2, sadly I was mistaken.

Option 2

Key features of this option are:

  • A shared use footpath cycleway on the uphill side of Franklin Road.
  • A wider downhill lane that safely caters for both cyclists and vehicles.
  • A 1 metre wide painted median (narrower than existing).

Advantages

  • Retains parking on both sides of the road.
  • Provides an off-road cycling facility in the uphill direction when cyclists are slower and a wide shared downhill traffic lane separating faster cyclists from pedestrians.
  • Provides a narrow painted median which should allow most drivers waiting to turn right to sit clear of the through traffic.
  • Provides a narrower road width for pedestrians to cross.

Disadvantages

  • No dedicated on-road cycling facilities (shared downhill lane only).

Franklin Road Option 2

So for this option we get less cycling infrastructure in return for a median strip so that cars don’t have to slow down as much if someone occasionally turns right.

I’m not sure why we keep coming up with seemingly crap designs for projects like this. To me both options seem like they are compromised by the desire to have as much parking as possible and to use both sides of the road. Instead I think AT need to look at having parking space on just one side of the street which should then allow for two (protected) cycle lanes, something like below.

Franklin Road separate option 1

 

Why it’s not possible to build our way out of congestion

Wired magazine recently published a good, succinct explanation of induced traffic. It’s worth reading in full as it hits upon an incredibly important, often overlooked fact: it’s not possible to eliminate congestion by building more roads. Here are a few of the more interesting excerpts:

The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. Though some traffic engineers made note of this phenomenon at least as early as the 1960s, it is only in recent years that social scientists have collected enough data to show how this happens pretty much every time we build new roads. These findings imply that the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless, and that we’d all be spending a lot less time in traffic if we could just be a little more rational.

But before we get to the solutions, we have to take a closer look at the problem. In 2009, two economists—Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania—decided to compare the amount of new roads and highways built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period.

“We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” said Turner.

If a city had increased its road capacity by 10 percent between 1980 and 1990, then the amount of driving in that city went up by 10 percent. If the amount of roads in the same city then went up by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, the total number of miles driven also went up by 11 percent. It’s like the two figures were moving in perfect lockstep, changing at the same exact rate.

Los Angeles: Sitting in traffic after ignoring supply and demand for over 50 years.

In their excellent paper on the topic, Duranton and Turner describe this as “the fundamental law of road congestion: New roads will create new drivers, resulting in the intensity of traffic staying the same.” Their research also digs into a couple of other related and equally interesting phenomena:

  • Better public transport provision doesn’t actually reduce road congestion – but it does enable more people to move without being affected by congestion
  • Reducing road capacity has no measurable impact on congestion – if less road space is available, people take public transport or active modes instead, or avoid making low-value trips.

Urbanist.co also has some further discussion of Duranton and Turner’s work. The economists go on to suggest economists’ favourite answer to congestion: road pricing. (If you’re interested in reading more about that topic, Stu Donovan and I have written several posts about the economics of road pricing.)

So what can be done about all this? How could we actually reduce traffic congestion? Turner explained that the way we use roads right now is a bit like the Soviet Union’s method of distributing bread. Under the communist government, goods were given equally to all, with a central authority setting the price for each commodity. Because that price was often far less than what people were willing to pay for that good, comrades would rush to purchase it, forming lines around the block.

The U.S. government is also in the business of providing people with a good they really want: roads. And just like the old Soviets, Uncle Sam is giving this commodity away for next to nothing. Is the solution then to privatize all roads? Not unless you’re living in some libertarian fantasyland. What Turner and Duranton (and many others who’d like to see more rational transportation policy) actually advocate is known as congestion pricing.

Incidentally, I like Turner’s “Soviet Union” metaphor a lot – I’ve said on occasion that we’re running our transport system like a Polish shipyard.

Lastly, it’s incredibly important to consider induced traffic when making policy recommendations. As I wrote in my review of Alain Bertaud’s talks in Auckland, keeping commute times down is an important part of maintaining an efficient urban labour market. Some people seem to have taken Bertaud’s recommendation that policymakers focus on keeping average car commutes under 30 minutes (and PT commutes under 45 minutes) as a call for more roads. This is a superficially appealing but deeply wrongheaded idea.

Induced traffic means that building roads to keep commute times down will not work. And it will be expensive. While there is often a good case for specific road improvements to remove key bottlenecks or improve safety – the Victoria Park Tunnel comes to mind – Duranton and Turner’s work shows that a strategy of building lots of roads will not succeed in minimising commute times. An alternative approach is needed.

Steps to a more Walkable city

We’ve spent almost 60 years designing our cities and streets based on one overriding principle, the movement of as many vehicles as possible. This is seen not just on our roads but also in how we develop town centres and even our suburbs. It has become so extreme that in many cases it is virtually impossible to get around a place in anything but a car. Of course this isn’t unique to New Zealand with similar situations arising in many countries, but particularly the English speaking new world ones such as Australia, Canada and of course the US.

We have lots of examples of this in Auckland that have come to symbolise this car centric planning and some classic ones are Albany (left) and Botany (right) although there are many other places equally bad on smaller scales. They share a number of similar characteristics such as a huge volume of parking, buildings set back from the street and all surrounded by large roads that are difficult to get across. It’s not uncommon in places like these to people drive 150m to change carpark rather than walk between stores.

Albany-Botany aerial

Yet both of these two places are listed in the Auckland Plan as being Metropolitan centres which means they are meant to (or eventually meant to) accommodate a large proportion of the city’s future residential, retail and employment growth and be linked to the region through efficient transport networks. To achieve this we will effectively need to retrofit them to become much more dense and walkable urban environments focused on people rather than the movement of cars.

This isn’t going to be an easy task but thankfully it’s a challenge now being tackled in many cities around the world that we can learn from. Below are a handful of underlying principles distill down the key elements that make for successful and walkable urban areas courtesy of Design for Walkability which is from SPUR, a research and advocacy group out of the San Francisco Bay area. They are all points that we’ve covered off before but it’s useful in repeating them and of course they are not just useful for the likes of Albany or Botany but should be applied to any urban areas.

1. Create fine-grained pedestrian circulation

Frequent and densely interconnected pedestrian routes are fundamental to walkability, shortening both actual and perceived distances. This can be accomplished by making city blocks smaller or by providing access through blocks via publicly accessible alleys, pathways or paseos (pedestrian boulevards) coupled with frequent crosswalks. A good rule of thumb is that a comfortable walking environment offers a choice of route about once per minute, which is every 60 to 90 metres at a moderate walking pace — typical of a traditional, pre-war city block. This not only allows pedestrians efficient access but also provides visual interest and a sense of progress as new structures and intersections come into view with reasonable frequency.

This kind of “permeability” sometimes meets with resistance from developers and property owners, who may cite security, property rights or site-planning concerns. But street networks are fundamental to walking. Walking five 60 metre blocks through Portland, Oregon, is easy and comfortable. Walking the same 300 metres on a suburban commercial street, past a single distant building and no intersections, is very uncomfortable.

A major statistical analysis found that intersection density and street connectivity are more strongly correlated with walking than even density and mixed land uses. Only proximity to the city centre has a stronger effect.

 2. Orient buildings to street and open spaces

In walkable urban environments, buildings are placed right at the edges of streets and public spaces, rather than being set back behind parking lots or expanses of landscaping. These built edges provide a sense of definition to streets and other spaces, which helps makes the environment more legible and coherent. At all scales, from big-city downtowns to small neighborhood centers, edges help reinforce circulation routes while allowing easy pedestrian access to buildings. Building entrances are on or next to sidewalks. Setbacks from the street are short and exist only to provide public space or a transition from public to private life.

Where buildings are set back behind parking lots or landscaping, pedestrians are isolated from uses and activities, exposed to traffic and forced to walk greater distances. Even if a walking path or sidewalk is provided, pedestrians and transit users receive the message that they are of secondary importance. Loading docks, service entrances, blank walls and driveways should be limited in size and located where they minimize disruption of pedestrian access.

3. Organize uses to support public activity

The way uses are arranged on a site has a major impact on the activity, vitality, security and identity of surrounding streets and spaces.

Active uses (such as retail, lobbies and event spaces) should be placed strategically along pedestrian routes to engage the public and should be designed for transparency and interest.

Secure, private spaces should be placed at site interiors, away from public streets.

Residential entrances should be designed to provide a graceful transition from public to private. Stoops, front porches, balconies and lobbies can all provide privacy while supporting sociability and greater security by increasing the number of “eyes on the street.”

Certain uses, such as garages and cinemas, should be tucked deeply away, but their points of access can be major nodes of activity.

Loading and utility spaces should be hidden from pedestrian frontages.

4.  Place parking behind or below buildings

In newer development, good places for people depend heavily on the artful accommodation of cars. Parking is an expensive, space-hungry and unattractive use — and it’s a key driver of site planning and project finances. It should be provided in multilevel structures where possible and placed where it will not disrupt pedestrian spaces. Well-designed garages can serve multiple buildings, draw people onto streets and allow parking to be managed efficiently. Once they have parked, every driver becomes a pedestrian, so pedestrian garage exits should be located to support and enliven public spaces.

5. Address the human scale with building and landscape details

People experience the built environment at the scale of their own bodies in space. Buildings should meet and engage people at that scale, with awnings, façade elements, lighting, signage and other features along sidewalks. Building forms can be broken down or subdivided visually to lighten the sense of mass. Even very large buildings can meet the human scale in a gracious and accommodating manner.

6. Provide clear, continuous pedestrian access

Wide sidewalks that include elements like trees, lighting, street furniture and public art are the city’s connective tissue. In great walking cities like Barcelona and New York, sidewalks 12 metres wide are not uncommon, but a well-designed 3 metre sidewalk can be adequate in some contexts. Sidewalks should form a continuous network connected by frequent, safe street crossings.

Sidewalks, while fundamental, are only one part of the broader public realm. They should be seamlessly integrated with walkways, paseos, building entrances, transit facilities, plazas and parks. In order for people to feel comfortable walking, the continuity of pedestrian access among major uses and amenities, including transit facilities, is essential.

 

7. Build complete streets

 Streets can accommodate a variety of travel modes while also serving as public amenities, sites of commerce and green spaces. Vehicular roadways should be no bigger than necessary for their function, and they should apportion space safely among private vehicles, transit, bicycles and parking. If they are well designed, streets can move significant volumes of auto traffic and still support other activities. Small streets are equally important and can limit vehicular speeds and capacity in the service of other functions, from deliveries to social activity.

From The City of San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan:

“A complete street provides safe, comfortable, attractive and convenient access and travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit users of all ages, abilities and preferences. The design of a complete street considers both the public right-of-way and the land uses and design of adjoining properties, including appropriate building heights and the planning of adjoining land uses that actively engage the public street realm.”

Obviously implementing all these recommendations straight away is a bit tricky but they are definitely something we should be working on too across the region.

h/t Wired

Orakei Bay Village – To P&R or not to P&R?

Some of you who have been living in Auckland over the last decade might recall the long-running saga that is the Orakei Bay Village.

When the project was first mooted around a decade ago, it was met with furious local opposition. Thankfully the proposal has now progressed to a “point” where new houses may actually be delivered. Stage 1 is illustrated below (sourced from here); as you can see it’s a reasonably pleasant spot to develop some houses, shops, and some new recreational facilities.

Orakei_Hero_with_no_labels

Not only is the development situated on the edge of Hobson Bay, it is also accessible to Orakei Station in the Eastern Line, which is barely 8 minutes by train to Britomart, something the developers are keen to point out. The merits of the development itself, however, are not the topic of this post.

Instead, in this post I want to explore the merits of providing park and ride at Orakei Station. Some of you may also know that Orakei Station currently provides about 178 park and ride spaces. In the above photo you can see the park and ride spaces shown in the bottom right hand corner. Their presence in close proximity to medium to high density housing looked to me to be somewhat anomalous.

In this previous post I explored some of the merits of P&R and discussed the conditions where P&R might work well. Since that post was written AT has released a draft parking discussion document, which provides more specific criteria to guide future investment in park and ride. The key section is illustrated below (p. 44).

Capture

Below I’ve undertaken a brief evaluation of Orakei Point’s suitability for park and ride compared to the most pertinent policy points outlined in AT’s parking discussion document:

  • Wider PT accessibility. This location will be well-served by all-day bus connections. The all-day network released with AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan shows how both Orakei and the adjacent Meadowbank station will be accessible from local bus services. Indeed, to access Orakei you have to drive past these bus stops. For this reason, providing park and ride at Orakei is likely to undermine local bus services.
  • Local congestion around the station. Traffic congestion was frequently put forward by local residents as a reason to decline the proposed plan change for Orakei Point. Their opposition suggests the local area does experience traffic congestion, which is of course likely to be exacerbated by the provision of park and ride.
  • Congestion upstream of the station. While there is congestion upstream of the station, the city centre is so close that the resulting congestion relief provided by a park and ride at Orakei would appear to be fairly small, at least compared to other potential park and ride locations located further away from the city centre (where land is also cheaper).
  • Land use controls of the area surrounding the station. The recent plan change means that this location is now suitable for high-density development, as evident from the above image. This suggests that park and ride might not be the highest and best use of this land.
  • Public transport fare zones. Orakei is only one stage to Britomart. This in turn means that providing park and ride in this location may encourage people drive to the train at Orakei as a way of avoiding paying a higher fare for travelling from further out. In this way, park and ride at Orakei might undermine revenue (although of course the zone structure may change in the future).

When evaluated against AT’s five main park and ride investment criteria, Orakei Point does not appear to be a suitable location for park and ride. Perhaps the only criteria where there is doubt relates to the potential congestion relief benefits of the P&R. We can, however, do some quick calculations to quantify whether this argument has any merit.

Auckland Council’s GIS viewer suggests land at Orakei Point is valued at approximately $900 per sqm. If we use this land value and assume 30 sqm per car-park, then we get $25,000 per car-park. Let’s round that up to $30k per car-park to allow for some capital depreciation/operating costs. Using this figure within a standard discounted cash-flow model (i.e. 8% discount rate; 30 year lifetime) then we can calculate that a benefit stream of approximately $2,500 per car-park p.a. is required to yield a benefit cost ratio of 1, i.e. to reach economic break-even point.

Now we need to asses the congestion reduction that might follow from providing park and ride in this location.

If we assume vehicles using the Orakei park and ride would otherwise travel to the city centre (i.e. somewhere in the vicinity of Britomart) via Kepa Road and Orakei Drive, then each avoided vehicle trip will save about 5km of driving, or 10km per return trip. If we then annualise this distance by assuming 220 days p.a., then we find that each vehicle diverted to using the park and ride as opposed to driving to the city centre would save about 2,200 vehicle km p.a.

This previous post, however, presented evidence on some of the diversion effects of park and ride. Research in the Netherlands found that only 25% of park and ride users would otherwise drive for their entire journey in the in the absence of park and ride. Instead, many park and ride users were “diverted” from alternative options, such that park and rides caused a net increase in driving in many locations. Post-opening surveys of the Northern Express also found large diversion rates, with only 50% of park and ride users responding that they previously drove to the city centre.

This diversion effect can be incorporated into our calculations by factoring down the vehicle kilometre savings down, by say 50%. This suggests that 1,100 vehicle kilometres p.a. are removed from the road network for every park and ride space provided. If we divide the annual cost ($2,500) by the annual benefit (1,100km), then we find that the cost of removing this travel from the road network is $2.26 per vehicle kilometre. This means that each kilometre removed from the road network by providing park and ride at Orakei has to generate $2.26 in congestion reduction benefits to make the investment worthwhile.

Personally, this seems like an implausibly high congestion reduction benefit to attribute to removing vehicle travel from the road network.

To put it in context, the average journey to work trip by car in Auckland is approximately 10km. Using this per kilometre rate, removing the average journey to work trip by car would generate approximately $23 in congestion savings. And even this relatively high congestion reduction benefit would result in a benefit-cost ratio of only 1.0, i.e. an extremely marginal investment from NZTA’s perspective.

Of course, there may be other benefits from providing park and ride. However, there’s also additional costs.

Remember that some of the people diverted to using the P&R would have otherwise used park and ride elsewhere and/or used a connecting bus. Providing park and ride at Orakei therefore might be expected to increase the congestion generated by these journeys compared to an alternative scenario in which park and ride was not provided at Orakei Point.

Finally, there’s also the longer term land use displacement effect. This reflects how choosing to provide park and ride in this location would tend to reduce the intensity of residential development that could be accommodated at the site. Some of the residents displaced by providing park and ride will likely choose to live further out from the city, in locations where they are even more likely to drive.

In conclusion, based on this back of the envelope assessment Orakei Point does not seem to be a suitable location for park and ride.

That’s not to say, however, that park and ride in other locations might not be worthwhile. Indeed, if we consider our simple benefit-cost analysis then investment in park and ride would seem to make the most sense where: 1) land values are low; 2) vehicle trip distances and long; and 3) it does not compete with non-car access modes.

How congested is Auckland, really?

A lot of people think that Auckland’s got bad traffic congestion. The annual TomTom Traffic Index reinforces this perception – it regularly describes Auckland as one of the most congested cities in the region. (We’ve previously highlighted the methodological flaws with TomTom’s numbers – don’t take them at face value!)

However, I don’t think this perception matches up with reality. My experience is that Auckland has much better congestion than cities overseas. It’s incredibly easy to drive in Auckland. I’ve noticed that:

  • Although speeds on motorways and arterial roads drop during rush hour, traffic keeps flowing at a relatively constant rate. It seems uncommon to get totally deadlocked traffic in Auckland – unlike in California, where it’s common to see speeds of under 20km/hr on freeways.
  • The rush hour is incredibly short in Auckland – when I have to drive up to the North Shore after work to visit family, I find that traffic’s basically free-flowing after around 6:30. In other cities serious congestion starts much earlier and ends much later.
  • Counter-peak traffic is shockingly low – on the occasions when I have to drive to Takapuna in the morning, I’ve found that I encounter few queues and no congestion on Pitt St, Victoria Park Tunnel, and the bridge.

Of course, Auckland is more congested than small New Zealand cities with one-tenth its population. That’s only to be expected. But is Auckland really more congested than other large cities overseas?

Jarrett Walker points us toward some new data that can help shed some light on this issue. A recent study (pdf) of commute times in Brazilian cities provides comparative estimates of average commute travel times for thirty large cities all around the world. I used data from New Zealand’s Household Travel Survey to add Auckland to the list. Here are the results:

Avg commute times in large cities

As you can see, Aucklanders enjoy some of the fastest commutes of any city on the list. We travel faster than people in London, Stockholm, Sydney, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. Only Barcelona, a compact city with a densely-developed subway system, offers faster trips to work. (However, it would be good to see a few more Australian cities, like Perth and Brisbane, on the list for comparison.)

While population growth will put some pressure on Auckland’s transport infrastructure, this data suggests that our congestion problems are not severe at all. We look pretty good on Alain Bertaud’s preferred measure of transport accessibility! It seems like the impending completion of Auckland’s motorway network and the significant fall in vehicle kilometres travelled per capita over the last decade has given us a lot of breathing room on congestion.

Rather than trying to solve problems that can’t be observed in the data, we should use this breathing room to invest in real transport choices for Aucklanders. That means getting ambitious about building Auckland’s “missing modes”:

  • A rapid transit network that reaches all parts of the city – starting with the City Rail Link and continuing with something like the Congestion Free Network
  • A frequent bus network that is useful for more Aucklanders, more often – which Auckland Transport is currently doing
  • Safe cycle infrastructure throughout the city – while Auckland Transport and NZTA are starting to deliver great projects like the Grafton Gully and Beach Road cycleways, there are still many holes in the network
  • Good pedestrian-oriented streets – Auckland Council’s shared spaces in the city centre are fantastic but change hasn’t been as rapid in other parts of the city.

What’s your perception of Auckland’s transport problems?

The Next Decade

Yesterday I had a look some of the changes Auckland has seen over the last decade and as mentioned, here are some predictions for the next decade. To start off I’m going to address the projections made in the Herald by Victoria University Associate Professor Ian Yeoman.

We might not be flying around on jetpacks but we will definitely be using driverless cars, Yeoman says. “By 2024, we won’t need a test because all the cars will be self-drive.”

That will benefit those new to the country and the ageing, more frail population, he says. “Driverless cars will become more important and more mainsteam.”

He expects the electronic car will be more common than the combustion engine. “Electric cars and battery technology have come so far – electric cars are even sexy now… Porsche is doing an electric vehicle.”

Yeoman says the country’s cycleways will be populated by people on electric bikes rather than operating under pedal power. And although jetpacks will probably still be just a fun innovation and not something you’d consider relying on for your daily commute, Yeoman sees potential in the Terraflugia, a car that is licensed for road and flight.

Yeoman tells people: “Everything you saw on Star Trek has come true, except for teletransportation.”

Many many companies are now putting a lot of work into driverless cars yet they still appear to be years away from the market and even if they were available within 5 years, it’s unlikely they will be available or affordable for the mainstream market for considerably longer. What’s more even if they are available within a decade New Zealanders are keeping their cars for longer with the average age of vehicles increasing to 13.5 years old last year. In Auckland the average age is slightly less but also showing the same upward trend. It’s also for this reason that electric cars are likely to remain only a small proportion of the fleet in a decade

Average Vehicle Age

If driverless cars do start to be seen the first and probably biggest impact they will have will be on the taxi industry. Public Transport is the other area that could really benefit from driverless technology, it’s obviously used on some rail networks already although we probably need a more secure network before it’s possible here. Like taxi’s buses represent a huge opportunity as the labour costs are a huge portion of the operational costs.

Johnny Cab Total Recall

Johnny Cab from Total Recall

As for the Terraflugia, that’s still really pie in the sky territory.

Cycling

The one area I do agree with Yeoman on electric bikes which offer the potential to effectively flatten out Auckland’s hills and see a lot more people out on bikes – that is if Auckland Transport pick up their game and build a lot more cycling infrastructure. Getting additional funding for more cycling infrastructure is something I think we will see happening, particularly towards the end of the decade as the number of people on bikes and public and political support for more cycling infrastructure continues to increase.

After being dragged through the environment court Skypath will be built and will be incredibly popular not just for commuters but for tourists too. By the end of the decade most people will be wondering why it wasn’t built sooner and why it wasn’t funded by the government.

Skypath

Public Transport

Public transport is where I think we’ll see the biggest change over the next decade. As mentioned we’re already seeing PT usage increasing faster than Auckland’s population is increasing thanks to the investment that’s already been made however it’s not till the next few years we’ll really see the fruition of many years work become a reality. By 2017 we will have electric trains rolled out across the network and running at good all day frequencies. On top of that will be the dramatically better new bus network along with additional bus priority further improving choice and mobility for many people. Add in ferries and linking everything up with be integrated fares allowing people with HOP substantially easier (and possibly cheaper) trips around the region.

These improvements are of course not new with many cities having made them before however not many would have done them all at the same time. The effects of each project will combine to revolutionise PT in Auckland and I think will see patronage soar ahead of predictions and by 2024 be sitting somewhere between 120 and 140 million trips. On a per capita basis that would likely put Auckland at a similar level that Wellington is at now but which is still below many peer cities.

2024 Future patronage

During the next decade I do think the CRL will be built and completed. The section from Britomart to Wyndham St will start sometime next year as part of the Downtown Shopping Centre redevelopment. My guess is the government will give the green light for funding the rest of the project in 2016 and actual construction will start in 2017 finishing around 2021/22.

As with cycling, I think the growing usage of PT along with the ever increasing public and political appetite for more PT infrastructure will see other major projects be substantially advanced. This includes

  • The Northwest Busway
  • The AMETI Busway
  • Electrification to Pukekohe
  • Designation and perhaps even an extension of the Onehunga line to Mangere as part of a longer term goal of getting the line to the airport.

In short I think the next decade is going to be a fantastic one for public transport.

Roads

There’s a huge amount of construction activity going on at the moment or is just about to start as part of the governments roading binge. All things going to plan in 2017 the Waterview Connection will be completed as well as the widening of SH16 and associated interchange upgrades. Associated with this is the governments $800 million for widening and upgrading other motorways around Auckland. This is likely to have the effect of sucking many more trips on to the motorway, some from alternative routes and some from induced demand. While it will see more people being able to drive around Auckland I suspect the queues on the roads will be just the same as they are now.

I suspect a big challenge for Simon Bridges over the next 3-4 years will be thinking through what the government will do next with transport in Auckland. The reality is almost all state highway projects in Auckland will have been done or nearing completion within half a decade. Further as these projects are completed it is likely to free up substantial sums of money (some of which will likely be used by the NZTA in other parts of the country. I do think we’ll see another couple of major motorway projects in Auckland in the form of widening SH16 between Lincoln Rd and Westgate (something that seems to have dropped off the radar) and from extending the SH16 motorway to Kumeu (the section from Brigham Creek Rd to Kumeu is one of the busier single lane roads in the region with well over 20,000 vehicles per day.

On the metrics I think we’ll continue to see per capita vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) remain flat although the total number of km travelled will increase slightly.

Governance and Funding

I’m not going to make any predictions about what will happen with governance but I do suspect Len Brown will stand again in 2016. Once again transport is likely to be the hot topic issue. I don’t think we’ll see any mayoral candidates oppose the CRL although some candidates for councillor will do. What happens further out than that is way too hard to predict.

Over the next half decade or so the issues around transport funding are likely to become more obvious and while they have been reluctant too so far, I think the government will start looking at how they can raise additional money to pay for transport projects and supplement fuel taxes which won’t be growing as people continue shifting to more fuel efficient vehicles and people don’t drive as much as predicted.

Urban Spaces and development

Auckland has seen some impressive change over the last few years and I expect that will continue in the coming decade. We’ll see huge changes in the CBD in particular as projects included in the Downtown Framework (and the other frameworks start to be delivered. These projects will continue to transform Auckland into a more people friendly place and I suspect it will have an effect not just on the liveability of the city but in attracting visitors to check out Auckland.

I think we’ll also see some of the strongest opposition to intensification and change reduce as people start to see better and better examples of good design. This isn’t to say there’ll be no opposition to development but just not quite the level of fear that currently exists.

Overall I think Auckland in 10 years time is going to be a very interesting place, one that has started to make huge inroads to fixing its scars from the second half of the 20th century. There’s a lot to be positive about.

More motorways and blaming cyclists, transport BAU

Responses from two of the country’s biggest transport lobby groups yesterday highlight what could probably be described as the business as usual approach to transport in NZ.

First we have the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, the lobby group for those that build and finance infrastructure and who have never seen a project they didn’t like or one they didn’t think should be bigger and more expensive. Not content with having managed to get the East-West link moved to near the top of the queue are already calling for a second East-West link in the form of the destructive motorway from the Airport to East Tamaki.

“Transport agency proposals to address East-West traffic flows released for public consultation yesterday will help address urgent freight needs in the Penrose-Onehunga area in Auckland. But the long term solution must be one which connects Auckland’s commercial and industrial heartland in Penrose, Mt Wellington and East Tamaki and also caters for planned residential intensification and growth from the eastern suburbs to the airport,” says Stephen Selwood CEO of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
“In order for Aucklanders to provide worthwhile feedback on the proposals it is essential that they understand the full benefits and costs of each option and the long term strategic implications.

“The options proposed are concentrated on the Onehunga-Penrose catchment zone which, while still the largest in terms of employment, represents just one fifth of the $11 billion per annum generated across the industrial zones bordering the Manukau Harbour and Tamaki Estuary. Little information has been provided, to date, on the benefits, costs and strategic implications of the alternatives proposed.

“Connectivity to East Tamaki as well as further south to Mangere and on to the airport is not planned for improvement in these proposals, except through improved bus movement.

“How these areas will be connected into the future has great bearing on what the appropriate solution is for this first phase of investment.

“One option considered in earlier analysis included a motorway south of the Manukau Harbour. It provided long term connectivity not only between the industrial areas, but for all communities in the east of Auckland accessing employment and the airport.

“It was almost immediately terminated following public reaction, leaving a northern Manukau Harbour solution as the most politically acceptable. However, given that the proposals released yesterday provide no new east west connectivity for Glen Innes, Panmure, Howick, Pakuranga, Botany and the industrial areas of East Tamaki and Mt Wellington it is not clear how existing and projected growth demand in these areas will be addressed.

“Too often major projects in New Zealand are developed in a piecemeal fashion and modified and reduced to satisfy environmental and local interests without adequate consideration of strategic implications or the relative cost of lost accessibility and reduced economic efficiency.

“The East-West connection is a critical corridor linking not just the two busiest stretches of motorway in the country and three of the largest employment zones, it is a strategic link on the national highway network providing long term resilience and capacity for all road users crossing the city from east to west.

“It is critical that this project is seen as a strategic east west link for Auckland. That means providing adequate capacity to and through Auckland’s industrial heartland and supporting network connectivity region-wide,” Selwood says.

There are some really pull your hair out type comments in this statement.

Firstly it’s clear the NZCID are now trying to paint the East-West link as some kind of temporary fix up despite some of the options (like Option E) basically amounting a $1 billion+ motorway along the foreshore of the Mangere Inlet. There’s nothing temporary or short term about it.

EW Option - Option E

It also ignores that the East-West Link has long been seen about improving access on the northern side of the harbour because as the NZCID point out, that’s where the largest portion of businesses and therefore freight movements are. Also let’s not forget the project has long been sold as being needed to improve freight movements.

Perhaps because the current proposals better deal with freight movements they are also trying to shift the argument back to having the motorway option by talking about the residents of the eastern suburbs. In doing so they basically suggest that the ability of Eastern suburbs residents to drive to the airport should come ahead of the liveability and communities of residents who live in Mangere.

East-West Option 4

The horrific Option 4 the NZCID want back on the options table

If they were really concerned about how Eastern suburbs residents and about providing them better connectivity then a quicker, cheaper an much less destructive option would be something like we’ve outlined in the Congestion Free Network. Two busways running at high all day frequencies connecting East Auckland with the rest of the region enhances connectivity not just for trips to the airport but for a wide range of other activities too. Some may say that Eastern suburbs residents won’t catch a bus but it’s worth remembering that people have said the same thing about North Shore residents yet the busway has been spectacularly successful.

CFN East

Of course the NZCID won’t like the idea because it only costs a fraction of what a motorway does.

The other lobby group making news is the Road Transport Forum (RTF) in response to the suggestions from the NZTA’s Cycling Safety Panel that it be mandated for vehicles to give cyclists at least 1.5m of space when passing. Ken Shirley the CEO of the RTF has been rubbishing the suggestion and in doing so said:

There’s a dual responsibility, the cyclist also has to be more aware of the impact of the impact they might have on vehicles, whether it’s a car or a truck because that can be very severe”

Yep because cyclists can really do some damage to a 40 tonne truck or having to slow down for 10 seconds is just such a horrific concept.

“One of the problems is blind spots on trucks and cyclists unaware of those blind spots and there’s a lot of technology that’s new to the market with infra-red and radar up the side of the truck giving an audio and visual warning to the the driver that in fact there might be a cyclist sitting in the blind spot”

Of course as soon as anyone suggests making technology like this a requirement Shirley is the first to jump up and down complaining about it.

Too many cyclists don’t appreciate how vulnerable they really are,”

Cyclists are vulnerable primarily because of how other road users act and even the most safety conscious cyclist has sometimes been involved in tragic crashes.

I think they’re a bit light on actual cycle education – we see some outrageous behaviour from cyclists – and a lack of appreciation of the blind spot, particularly with heavy vehicles.”

Nothing like the good old tar all people on bikes with the same brush.