36: On the Beat
What if we had more cops on the beat?
Isn’t it time the New Zealand Police started to recognise the changes happening in urban New Zealand? In our central cities and busiest town centres and main streets in particular, wouldn’t it be good to see less racing sirens and more friendly-faced officers on the street, on foot and two wheels?
This aspect of New Zealand life is a noticeable contrast with policing in cities elsewhere in the world. In central Auckland and Wellington in particular, there are now such high numbers of people out and about on foot every day and every evening right through the week that having a friendly police presence on the pavement wouldn’t go amiss, particularly at night.
The positive difference was noticeable during the Rugby World Cup where the police by and large had a very positive presence in the city. Ok, so that was a special one-off event with particular policing needs, but it did signal how too often we see officers out of their cars and on the pavement. As New Zealanders increasingly work out ways of to our urban city and town centres it might be time the police consider doing the same.
Stuart Houghton 2014
The Auckland Transport board meeting is on Thursday and below are sections from the various reports that caught my attention.
The first thing I noticed was the huge number of items on the closed agenda with 18 specific items for decision/approval or for noting. The topics include a number of items that I imagine a lot of people would be interested in these include (but are not limited to).
- Papakura Pukekohe Electrification
- Auckland Rail Development Implementation Pathway
- Rail Procurement Strategy – Presumably around the re-contracting of rail services
- PT Network Name & Bus Livery – there is some more on this later in this post
- Wayfinding – there is some more on this later in this post
- CRL Update
- Mill Road
- Rail Fleet Disposal Update – What’s going to happen to our old diesel trains post electrification
- EMU Implementation/Timetable update – there is some more on this later in this post.
- Bus Development Initiative
- EW Connections – The infamous East West Link
- CCFAS2 – This is the first I’ve heard of a second City Centre Future Access Study. Hopefully his is just fixing up the modelling issues in the first version.
- Newmarket Crossing – The grade separation of the Sarawia St level crossing. AT’s plan was to build a bridge to Cowie St but residents there are challenging the decision in the environment court.
The trend of lots of closed session items continues for the months ahead too according to this document
|End of October
||Ferry Services Strategy
||HOP Extension and Loyalty Programme
|Integrated Fares Business Case
||Digital and Social Media Strategy
|PT Security & Fare Evasion
||Transport Funding Agreement
|Bus Service Commercial & Sth Auck Tender
||Customer First Strategy
On to the information that is available and from the business report we have
On specific projects:
- AT are only just now getting around to talking with locals affected by the alternative cycle route being built as part of the Tiverton/Wolverton upgrade. From memory the alternative cycling route was originally meant to have been completed as one of the first stages of the project but we now have the road finished but the cycling portion yet to start.
- The new AMETI Link Rd – which has been named Te Horeta Road is almost complete and will open on 1 November. This is the road I highlighted the other day for its unprotected cycleways on what is almost a motorway.
Te Horeta Rd looking South – Looks like there’s already a car in the cycle lane ;-)
- For the East West
Link Connections, AT say an indicative business case has now been completed. In addition to the plans for the Onehunga-Penrose area they say they have also identified some improvements needed to planned bus route between Mangere, Otahuhu and Sylvia Park. Presumably that will mean more bus lanes/priority being added.
- A separate paper says AT will replace 40,000 of Auckland’s 108,000 street lights with LEDs and a management system for them which allows control over each individual light. It will take place over a 5 year period for a cost of $22 million and over the next 20 years is expected to bring savings of at least $36 million.
Historically AT have travel planning for schools (Travelwise) and for some businesses but never really focused on individuals.
The Birkenhead Personalised Journey Plan ran from April to August 2014. The project recruited 438 commuter car drivers and provided advice on alternative travel options – public transport, carpooling and active modes (including to public transport). Although 76% were aware of the AT HOP card around 30% of recruits had never used public transport for commuting. There were strong perceptions that public transport offered a lesser quality of service and experience than their private car.
The programme was effective in getting participants to try an alternative to driving for their commute, with 61% trying an alternative during the trial period. This was particularly focused for the city bound trips with 86% of completing participants (111 completed full evaluation) trying another travel choice.
The project achieved a 49% reduction in morning peak single occupant trips and 42% reduction in vehicle kilometres in the morning peak. This included an extra 282kms of walking, to destinations or public transport, equating to 5km every week on average per participant and an extra 17,640 public transport trips annually.
The programme achieved a high level of satisfaction with 85% stating they were satisfied or very satisfied with the customer service they received and 60% agreed that the programme had helped them think about their travel options.
A Personalised Journey Planning project is now in development for Titirangi and Green Bay to support the new bus network implementation (which sees higher frequencies and more direct routes).
Getting people to try other ways of getting around is the hardest part so I hope this is something that can eventually be rolled out to a much larger audience.
Not really related to transport other than the impact on the road corridor but about the rollout of Ultra-Fast Broadband AT say
In an effort to reduce the costs of deployment, Chorus are now trialing a new build approach of single sided core network deployment with road crossings being installed to every second house boundary. While this approach is not favored it does provide an upside to AT through less customer and asset disruption. If these road crossings cannot be installed with trenchless technology then deployment is required on both sides of the road.
HOP usage increased to 71% of all trips in August, up from 67% in July. I suspect a large part of this was the fare changes in early July which for buses and trains increased cash fares but reduced HOP fares by increasing the HOP discount. They say over 38,000 cards have been sold over the last 90 days. As noted earlier a paper to the board at the next meeting will about the installation of additional gates across the rail system (including potentially security gates). That is the same meeting another report will go to the board with the business case for Integrated Fares.
They say “concept development for 1/3/7 day and customized HOP cards for visitor / tourist PT and tourist attraction discounted access is nearing completion“. I hope this development includes multi day pass options for regular users too. In addition they have come up with “a NRL Nines AT HOP card with discounted tourist attraction passes is targeted for January 2015. This is a collaboration exercise with ATEED and pivots off Auckland visitor research.”
A new rail timetable has been approved by all parties which will be implemented in early December and see some substantial changes for the Southern Lines.
The new timetable will provide for full 7-day EMU Manukau via Eastern Line services with increased frequency to 6 trains per hour peak, and 3 trains per hour in the interpeak and off-peak, with weekends at 2 trains per hour. Diesel shuttle services will run an hourly service between Pukekohe and Papakura on Saturdays and Sundays and connect with arriving/departing EMUs at Papakura. Papakura / Pukekohe diesel services will all operate via the Southern Line (via Newmarket) rather than operating an alternating via Southern Line and via Eastern Line. This will improve the customer legibility of the Eastern Line (Manukau) and Southern Line (Papakura / Pukekohe) service patterns and improve resilience and robustness of the timetable.
So effectively will see this service pattern implemented although the off peak/weekend services will need to be increased at or before the new network is launched next year. Disappointingly there is no mention of any service improvements for the Western Line which has seen basically no change for a number of years now.
On the new network, AT say they received over 900 feedback forms for the Hibiscus Coast consultation and nearly 400 on Warkworth. This is in addition to over 1200 people spoken to at consultation events. AT are now working through these. They also say the consultation for all of West Auckland is due to launch on 21 October and is something I’ll be keep a very close eye on seeing as I live in the west.
AT say work is continuing on a series of bus priority measures, which involve both quick wins as well as longer term programmes. There are 16 quick wins and 10 corridors for investigation. Hopefully this means lots more bus lanes around the region soon helping to make buses more efficient, reliable and therefore attractive to the public.
AT are currently testing displaying comparative bus travel times for the Northern Busway and motorway on the motorway signs. This sounds like a fantastic idea and another way to encourage people to give PT a go. The only problem I foresee is that it will lead to even more calls for big and really expensive park n ride facilities.
Also on the real-time front AT will be displaying real-time train departures on ANZ Bank digital displays in both the Customs/Queen and Victoria/Queen branches from early next month. This idea is one that will hopefully be increasingly rolled out to locations near the rail network.
Details about closures to the rail network over Christmas are included in the report. They mention the works needed to build the new Otahuhu Interchange but there’s no mention of why the Western Line will be shut for 2.5 weeks. The network will be shut for the following times
- Sunday 23 November: diesel trains required to operate on the Manukau via Eastern Line all day replacing EMUs.
- Saturday 29 November: diesel trains required to operate on the Manukau via Eastern Line all day replacing EMUs.
- Saturday 6 December: bus replacements south of Penrose and Sylvia Park replacing trains.
- Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 December: bus replacements south of Penrose and Sylvia Park replacing trains.
- Thursday 25 December to Sunday 4 January: full network shutdown with bus replacements on all lines.
- Monday 5 to Sunday 11 January: Western Line only closed between Waitakere and Newmarket with bus replacements. All other lines open.
And saving perhaps the most interesting part till last. AT say they have completed a redesign of bus livery that will be rolled out as part of new contracts with operators. They say they’ve used the EMU livery as the starting point for their designs and the intention is to deliver a consistent look across the modes. This is something we’ve needed for a long time so it’s great that it will be finally happening and will really help in highlighting that we have single integrated PT system rather than the multi coloured mess we have now. On the designs themselves they do feel like evolutions of what we have now on some services which is probably a good thing. I like that they’ve cut back from the massive AT sign that currently exists on the NEX to one that doesn’t obscure the view out the rear windows. It also appears they are planning some large wayfinding signs on the side of the buses which should hopefully help customers.
It is also the first time I’ve heard about NEX2 and all I can assume is it’s another service pattern on the Busway. Also with AT going for a multi-modal look I wonder if they’ll do anything about the look of the ferries.
Lastly linked to the bus livery AT is looking at improving wayfinding signs. Below is an example of what this
They say improving wayfinding is an AT led all of council project which presumably means the same types of design will also pop up in other places such as parks.
John Key by Platon
On the Monday night after his impressive victory in the election the Prime Minister presented a very statesman like and inclusive tone in an interview on Campbell Live:
“I will lead a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders” was a quote from Mr Key’s acceptance speech that stood out for many, writes Campbell.
Throughout the interview he gives a strong impression that he has no intention of standing still in the glow of this endorsement, he clearly has ambitions to cement his appeal across as a broad spectrum of the public as possible. If he is to achieve this then it will likely involve reaching across traditional divides in policy to bring even more people into his camp. Of course he will also want to carry his base with him if he is to initiate anything new, so it will need to be acceptable to general market-led philosophy even if novel for National otherwise.
The other increasingly important issue to him now will be thoughts of legacy, of history’s judgement. I see an appetite for more than ‘steady as she goes’ for this term, both in terms of building for another or if it were to be his swansong. I believe we can expect a more creative and dynamic John Key, looking to make a make a mark beyond being a good manager and a great salesman:
Robert Muldoon’s ambition, “to leave the country in no worse shape than I found it”, Mr Key describes as having an incredibly low ambition.
“I want to leave the country in better shape than I found it,” he says. [ibid]
It is certainly the case that Key has a unique opportunity to be bold, especially within his own party, as no Prime Minister in recent memory has such a strong position to carry even the most sceptical and conservative caucus or cabinet into unfamiliar waters. But where are the opportunities for change?
I will argue here that there is one area that he can certainly do this, that is consistent with modern market-led conservatism [if less so with our own rather parochial traditions], that it is consistent with his type of leadership, and importantly, is already working for those he admires overseas. Furthermore he has already shown some movement in this direction. This opportunity is for him to position his government as the driver of the economic transformation already underway in our cities, and in particular in our one city of scale: Auckland [but not exclusively].
This is to place Key in the similar mould as the UK’s David Cameron [who he expressly admires] and other right of centre leaders such as London Mayor Boris Johnson and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. These are three modern conservative leaders who have built their reputations in large part by championing the power of cities for economic, environmental, and social transformation.
John Key could go down in history as the man who added a new layer to New Zealand’s economy and identity: the man who added another support to our currently somewhat unstable economic structure, and added another, urban, thread to our social fabric, and who began the turnaround in our environmental performance. And it all starts in our cities.
This does not involve abandoning nor neglecting the countryside, that is already getting huge attention from this government which should continue. But that this is an additional opportunity to add to that work which would remain at the core of his government’s activity.
And conditions are perfect. This is the moment to seize. This is the direction being taken by governments and cities everywhere in the developed world, while perhaps radical here, it is rapidly becoming orthodox and necessary policy to invest in changing urban form to compete for talent and new business. It can be argued that this government has been lucky with the soft commodities boom but that now that is clearly on the wane, but we have already seen that the services sector is already there to at least soften that blow:
Gross Domestic Product rose by 0.7% in the June quarter, according to Statistics NZ, driven by strong growth in the services sector.
The main driver was a 4.2% increase in business services activity, which was partially offset by a 2.8% decline in agriculture, forestry and fishing.
There is economic growth to foster in town and it has different needs to the traditional industries based in the countryside. And we need as a country to diversify our economic base. Urban areas and Auckland in particular are growing in population, activity, and infrastructure requirement and offer just such an opportunity:
Data source: http://www.motu.org.nz/publications/detail/a_new_zealand_urban_population_database
A leader who rejects the mistaken idea that urban growth must somehow be restricted for the rest of the nation to prosper will be the one that can ride this economic force for the good of the whole country. And again Auckland in particular seems right now to be at the sweet spot in terms of scale, density, and growth for this boon. Furthermore his government has already set the foundation for a new urban policy with two earlier decisions that are now bearing fruit: the Super City amalgamation and the electrification of the rail network.
Also because of both the existing conditions in our cities and in the stated preference of their citizens there is actually much less risk to such a pro-urban policy change than it may seem to anyone familiar with the usual cliches of New Zealand Party politics. While it would be a bold move for a leader of the ‘country Party’ that is actually the genius in the idea. It seems clear to me that the notion that National must force the same policies on the cities as fit their core constituents in the provinces is as flawed as the corollary that other parties must try to force urban conditions onto rural communities. This is a lazy idea can can be easily blown open by confident leadership. Different horses for these two courses is clearly what is required for the good of all.
At the core of the policy difference required between urban and country areas is in the type of transport infrastructure investments that have the most effective outcomes. Roads, Ports, Rail for freight, are needed in the countryside. Cities need these too, but they also need the spatial efficiency of quality passenger transport systems. And nowhere is this more true than in Auckland right now.
Let’s consider the evidence: Stated preference, revealed preference, and overseas examples.
1. Stated Preference:
Such an astute student of public opinion polls and changes in sentiment will not miss the profound changes happening in cities all across the world and clearly in evidence in Auckland? Here is what Aucklanders say their city needs:
Ok well this is all very good, but are they voting with their feet, are they using the public transport there already is? Well yes:
2. Revealed Preference:
This century has shown a very strong growth in uptake of our often substandard-but-improving Public Transport systems. Here is a recent example, the latest figures for the rail network:
And if we look at the figures in detail one very very clear theme stands out loud and clear: The services that approach Rapid Transit standards, ie are on their own right of way, have a high frequency, and offer better quality service are the ones that are growing way above all else. In Auckland that means the improving rail network and the buses using the Northern Busway, each of which attracted around 18% more users this August than last.
And in particular all of the growth in numbers accessing the vital economic heart that is the City Centre has been met by our Transit Systems. Especially Rail and the NEX, but also walking, cycling, and ferry use. So much so that the economic value of the City Centre can only grow through these modes, space for private vehicle access is finite and to try to expand it can only come at considerable cost to the economic performance and appeal of the area.
3. Overseas Example:
Mr Cameron said: “Big infrastructure projects like Crossrail are vital for the economy of London and the rest of Britain. They are the foundation-stone on which business can grow, compete and support jobs
From coverage of a visit by David Cameron and Boris Johnson to the tunnels of the Crossrail project in the Telegraph.
Cameron and Johnson in Crossrail
Crossrail, while in fact the third layer of underground rail for London, is, on a scaled basis, very similar to Auckland’s City Rail Link project. While it is much bigger and much more expensive it does exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. It comprises of a core section underground through the Centre of the City that connects to existing rail lines that reach out into the edges of the city. So while the new work is under the centre the reach and value of the project is spread right to the peripheries. It brings a new capacity to a growing Centre that is extremely spatially efficient: it delivers the economic power of concentrations of people without occupying land and buildings or clogging streets with vehicles.
But the key point here is in the UK, as in the US, understanding of the economic value of urban passenger transport systems is not captured by one side of the political divide. In fact the most dynamic conservative leaders, like Cameron, Johnson, and Bloomberg are leading the charge on these projects. Because they make the most economic sense in cities.
CROSSRAIL BUSINESS CASE SUMMARY REPORT
The Crossrail Business Case Summary Report published in July 2010 presents the latest update of the business case for Crossrail, a new world-class and affordable railway across London.
The report confirms the project is supported by the Coalition Government and forms a key part of theMayor’s Transport Strategy, published by the Mayor of London in May 2010.
And for Cameron as for other modern right of centre leaders it isn’t just about the biggest cities. Speaking at the launch of a programme for investment in Rail for Glasgow, Cameron said:
And for too long governments in London and Edinburgh have acted as though taking powers away from Britain’s great cities is the best way to create growth, rather than trusting the people living there to find their own specific solutions to meet their own unique needs.
Before the election our Prime Minister made a first move towards supporting the changing shape of cities by announcing a new policy to fund urban cycleways
nationally. This surely is just the start.
So, in summary, I am proposing that were John Key looking for something fresh, something that will deliver results, something that could define at least this term of his leadership if not something that could lift him up to the ranks of our greatest Prime Ministers, like King Dick Seddon, then adding Minister for Auckland, or perhaps even Minister for Urban Growth, or Minister for Cities, to his roles could be the stroke of genius he is looking for. Perhaps with Nikki Kaye as associate.
In practice this would then mean:
- Government working much more constructively with the Auckland Council and abandoning any petty obstruction that some less mature players on the right have towards it because of their dislike of Len Brown. Key is surely well above that.
- Championing the economic potential of our cities for the whole country. Showing that this does not come at the expense of the rest of the country and the primary sector in particular.
- Advancing the CRL expeditiously. After all; is there a better reading of those letters than: Centre Right Legacy?
- Recognising that the idea that efficient urban passenger transport is somehow left-wing is a curious and outdated local relic.
- Accepting the clear evidence that the top priority for the city in terms of transport infrastructure need is a full Rapid Transit System of a mixture of modes, like our CFN.
- Listening to all the evidence on urban form and housing affordability, and not just the lobbying of vested interests and the Demographia lobby who monotonically urge more sprawl, as there is so much evidence in favour of the economic efficiency of a more compact urban form leading to more international competitive cities.
- Taking seriously the opportunities that cities offer for improving our energy efficiency and environmental performance nationally.
This government has officially had a policy of being a ‘fast follower’ on climate change. In practice it has done little, fast or otherwise, and always claimed that the reason for this is that it won’t do anything to add cost to the primary produce sector. Well that doesn’t explain its failure to act in the urban areas, where transport, and especially personal transport, is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions. There is a great deal of opportunity to take on all fronts by listening to the desires of city people in the transport and housing sectors and one day some leader is going to take that opportunity. Could it be now? And could that be John Key?
On Friday evening the new O’Connell St shared space was officially opened. The street is by far the best shared space created in Auckland to date, thanks in large part to the historic buildings in the area which feel like they’ve been brought to life after peeling back the layers of vehicle dominated neglect. This has also been helped by the council having included lighting of the buildings as part of the project – a first for our shared space projects.
The street was closed to vehicles for the opening but what was particularly fantastic was seeing so many people out and enjoying the food and drink being put on by the local businesses. The people (along with the light cubes and band) took the space to another level that also sucked in passers-by eager to join in and enjoy the space, even if they were just making their way home. It did make me wonder if this is the most people the street has had in it – at least in the last 50-60 years.
And here are the light cubes which provided colour and placemaking. Later in the evening, after many of the people attending the opening had left, people out in the city also made use of them.
It really feels like an intimate people space and it’s one I think we’ll see evolve over the coming years, as I’m predicting a lot more restaurants and bars will open out to the street. While I realise the street has only just opened up again, what the experience from the opening really highlighted to me was the need for us to close the street down to traffic often (arguably it shouldn’t have reopened at all but that’s a discussion for another day). Perhaps the council/AT could start by closing it from around 11am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays which allows time for deliveries in the mornings but then hands the street over to people and the retailers.
One of the fantastic things about O’Connell St, compared to many others, is how easy it would be to shut it down for vehicles. There is only one entrance to the street and even for this event just a single “road closed” sign and a few road cones was all that was needed. On top of that there’s not a single vehicle entrance for the entire length of the street – a rarity in Auckland – which means that other that other than deliveries there’s not a single need for any vehicles to even be in the street.
While on the subject of O’Connell St there are a few other things that spring to mind.
- It really highlights how much High St is dominated by cars. It makes me wonder if the majority of retailers and building owners who gave in to the cadre of parking obsessed neighbours are ruing the decision.
- One of the great things about O’Connell St is the view down the street to Commerce St and the harbour. It highlights how important it is that when the old Auckland Star site is eventually developed – hopefully not as just a carpark – that it retains some elements of this.
- We need to remember that we almost got this street very very wrong. The original plan was to retain a kerb defined carriageway and a handful of the parking spots with just slightly wider and nicer paving. Without many parked cars it would have been a racetrack and the upgrade a disaster. We were amongst many who pushed back on this and urged the council to reconsider. It’s also worth noting that the council originally said the street was too narrow to develop a shared space. With the outcome that’s been achieved I don’t think anyone would say the original plan was the right one.
- In my opinion the Nikaus in Queen St are often dwarfed by the size of the road, however in O’Connell St I think they work fantastically and add beautifully to the buildings.
In other news it appears the issues of lots of cars continuing to park in the street could be over:
All up despite being one of the oldest streets in Auckland, O’Connell St feels like a new fantastic addition to the city which perhaps highlights just how sad and forgotten it had become. Well done to all involved in the upgrade and thanks to the retailers who put up with the disruption while construction occurred.
We often hear that New Zealanders have a love affair with their cars. Some people argue that driving is an essential element of our national psyche: even if we succeeded in providing good walking, cycling, and public transport options, Kiwis would doggedly insist upon taking their cars. Even if it didn’t make any sense to do so.
There is some basis for this idea. We do, after all, have an unusually high rate of vehicle ownership. We’re the eighth-most vehicle-owning nation in the world, with 712 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2010. If you take out the anomalously wealthy micro-states – San Marino, Monaco, etc – we’ve got the fourth-highest rate of vehicle ownership, behind the US, Iceland, and Australia.
Let’s set aside the question of whether Kiwis are freely choosing to own loads of cars, or whether car ownership is required by our poor public transport system, and take a look at the cultural aspects of car ownership.
As it turns out, if we take a historical perspective, New Zealanders do have a real preference for personal mobility. But that hasn’t always meant owning cars – the preferred means of getting around have changed as technology and society changed. We expect this process of change to continue – New Zealanders will get rid of their cars as better options become available. (In fact, they already are.)
So let’s take a look at the history of personal mobility in post-European settlement New Zealand.
People also had some pretty awesome means of getting around before the Europeans arrived (Source)
In his brilliant history of the New Zealanders, Making Peoples, James Belich comments that the relatively sparse population density of early European settlements was associated with a surprisingly low rate of social isolation. This was because pakeha New Zealanders tended to travel faster than their forebears in Britain, as a result of extremely high levels of horse ownership:
Horses were expensive in the early 1850s; bullocks were cheaper and preferable on poor roads. There were 115 horses per thousand Europeans in 1851, and some of those were actually owned by Maori. But by 1858, there were 254 per thousand, much of the breed stock having been imported from Tasmania. By 1867, despite the large inflow of people, there were 302 horses per thousand, and 333 by 1878. The equine ratio peaked at 400 per thousand in 1911, and declined slowly thereafter with the development of the petrol engine.
One horse for every three people was a vastly higher ratio than in Britain, and, from the 1860s, New Zealand horses were cheaper to buy. Mild winter and more easily available grazing meant they had always been cheaper to keep. Easier access to horse ownership, like house ownership, had interesting social implications… [p 354]
I note briefly here that it wasn’t the petrol engine that did in horse transit in the early 20th century. It was actually a combination of the urbanisation of the NZ population, which meant that it was increasingly hard to clear away manure piling up in cities, and the invention of the humble bicycle, which was cheaper to own and run while enabling similar levels of mobility.
Back to Belich – he argues that horse ownership enabled relatively high levels of social interaction even in seemingly isolated rural areas:
Further out of town, high access to horses must have increased the power to associate. In 1881, New Zealand had about six times more horses per thousand people than Britain. Roads were often very bad, but roads and tracks impassable to wheeled traffic were sometimes still traversable by riders. Poor roads were more of an obstacle to economic transport than to social transport. ‘The attitude to travel and distance of the rider or [coach, trap or buggy] driver was totally different to that of the pedestrian or dray driver.’ Riding was several times faster than walking over substantial distances. Even if allowance is made for bad roads, widespread horse ownership must have significantly reduced the social effects of geographical isolation. [p 419-420]
A few decades later, the technology had changed but the social dynamics of transport remained the same. After bicycles were invented and commercialised in the 1860s, they swiftly spread across New Zealand. A few technological innovations later – chain-driven safety bicycles, brakes, etc – the price of bikes was coming down and ridership was on the way up. Personal mobility was still king – but two wheels were now preferred over four hooves.
The book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand, written by the Kennett brothers, provides an interesting window into New Zealand’s “golden age” of mass cycling in the first half of the 20th century:
Between 1900 and 1950, New Zealand imported nearly 800,000 bicycles and manufactured thousands more. By the late 1930s, an estimated 250,000 bicycles were being ridden in New Zealand – one for every six people. [p 21]
Cycling, unlike horse ownership, was most heavily concentrated in urban centres, where it was taken up in massive numbers:
Christchurch, nicknamed ‘Cyclopolis’, was the centre of New Zealand’s cycling boom. In 1924, the Christchurch City Motor Inspector estimated that there were 40,000 cyclists in the city – almost half the population. There were 56 cycle dealers and no fewer than 33 cycle clubs. On 4 March 1936, a Christchurch traffic census recorded that 11,335 cyclists had passed the BNZ corner of Cathedral Square between 8 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. – a rate of 19 per minute…
Despite the huge popularity of cycling in Christchurch, a cycle workers’ representative claimed in 1938 that many more bicycles were being imported into northern cities and that “twice as many are absorbed by the North Island as in the South in proportion to the distribution of population”. This suggests that while most people already had bikes in Christchurch, many North Islanders were still taking up cycling in the late 1930s. [p 32-33]
The bicycle’s egalitarian nature was a good fit with New Zealand society – bikes transported the young and old, men and women, and people of all social classes. The book provides all sorts of interestingly suggestive examples – Palmerston North’s cycling fire brigade, Christchurch’s wheeled female nursing corps, bushmen and deer-cullers outfitted with bicycles to make it in to town, etc.
The Atalanta Ladies’ Cycling Club in Christchurch combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women’s lib (Source)
As we know, bicycles didn’t remain the mode of choice. After World War II, rural New Zealanders replaced their horses with cars and urban New Zealanders replaced their bikes with cars. We now define personal mobility as the possession of four wheels and a ton of metal and plastic. But it’s important to realise that car ownership itself is not necessarily the be-all and end-all here. It’s just a means of getting around.
History teaches us that New Zealanders will eagerly embrace new and better transport options. We’re less attached to individual technologies, including the car, than we are to mobility. Why would we insist upon travelling in a certain way, regardless of how costly and inconvenient it becomes?
At this point New Zealand is an urban nation, and urban transport solutions are different. Urban transport systems based solely around the car suffer from congestion and the need to spend increasing amounts of money on roads in a Sisyphus-like effort to reduce it. Fortunately, public transport networks can be excellent at offering personal mobility if they are designed well. Transport consultant Jarrett Walker, who helped design Auckland’s New Network, is a big proponent of this idea. His slogan is “frequency is freedom” – meaning, essentially, that buses or trains that turn up every few minutes and connect to other frequent services allow people to get to wherever they’re going, whenever they want.
Frequency is freedom!
Finally, as someone who bikes to work, I can vouch for the speed and ease of urban cycling. When I bike down Symonds St in the morning, I am usually the fastest-moving thing on the road. I often beat the cars back up the hill at the end of the day, too. So I’ll give the last word to the Kennett brothers, who recall an idea that we should perhaps get started again:
Publicised races to work, from the suburbs to the centre of NZ cities, were common around 1980,”with bicycles usually winning hands down. [p 51]
Greetings from Barcelona, where I’m currently winding up a 3 week European holiday that has also taken me to Amsterdam, Paris, and Porto. But my thoughts on those cities will have to wait for another day, because right now I want to engage in some bloated, tapas-filled celebration of a more local achievement.
That’s right – our wee TransportBlog community can notch up another sweet (albeit small) civic success on our train belts (NB: Some of our earlier successes are documented here and here).
First some background. Some of our longer time readers may remember this post from approximately 18 months ago, in which I ranted and rallied against a metal post that had been rather brutally plonked smack in the middle of a narrow footpath, as illustrated below. I live and work in the area and this metal post was, frankly, a small but constant pain in the
ass head whenever I stumbled home blind drunk from many and varied soirees.
And just take a look at it now (NB: Photo taken by Kent Lundberg – urbanist extraordinaire and fellow MRCagney worker bee). Note this photo has been taken looking south, i.e. opposite direction from the previous photo.
Boo yah – begone ye post! And look at all those happy pedestrians; no longer do they have to swerve around the plywood box inconveniently placed in their way. Instead they can move freely, and glower at oncoming pedestrians without obstruction.
More seriously though: This is just one more small example of the sorts of positive transport outcomes that can be driven by an educated, informed, and pro-active community – such as that which TransportBlog has – over a number of years – sought to cultivate.
Of course credit needs to go to Auckland Council and/Auckland Transport for taking this issue up with the Pullman. I believe, from my not-so-secret contacts with democratically elected representatives, that Christopher Dempsey of the Waitemata Local Board also deserves mention for pursuing the issue.
In terms of the Pullman Hotel, I think it’s a crying shame you took so long to come to the civic party and acknowledge that you, or the Hotel’s previous owners, had clearly erred in placing this metal post in the footpath. Personally, I believe that “law” is a minimum morality and that their references to having consent for the aforementioned pole were a dereliction of duty to the community in which their Hotel operates.
But now that it’s been put right, I hereby declare that my Company’s embargo on your services has been lifted. Not that I’ll be using it anytime soon, preferring instead the wonderful travel opportunities opened up by the likes of AirBnb (NB: I hope to cover how this so-called “sharing economy” website is revolutionising how we travel and in turn how we utilise our housing stock in a subsequent post).
In spite of this sweet success, there is one obvious outstanding question: What’s the next priority for Auckland’s long-suffering pedestrians? Speak now; the AT/AC God’s may just be listening.
We often deride traffic engineers for the road dominant nature of Auckland. Sometimes this can be a bit unfair as we know not all engineers are bad and the term is often be a bit of a catch all phrase for those involved in the road design process. So when I refer to traffic engineers I’m referring perhaps more to the people and processes that sees the focus on movement and storage of vehicles over a public realm that focuses on people, the type that an urban planner might try to deliver. This post from Greater Greater Washington highlights these opposing ideas perfectly. A freeway was closed along a section of the Anacostia River in Washington DC after a new and updated freeway bridge was built over the river and the old freeway bridge turned into a local road.
DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.
DDOT’s options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.
So basically a road and a few cycle lanes surrounded by likely a lot of not very useful green space (the option above even included underground parking under the road for almost the entire length). The other options were all variations of the same theme and this is exactly the same type of thing we would see here in Auckland – and are seeing with proposals to upgrade local roads e.g. Lincoln Rd.
Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT’s analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells’ urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.
OP’s options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:
These are just some of the options they came up with and include various versions of parks, and development options.
What’s worth noting is that the planners options contained just as many traffic lanes as the traffic engineers options did due to the transport engineers making it a requirement. The post questions the need for it to be four lanes but what is clear is that there are some quite different thinking going on between those just responsible for the movement of vehicles and those who also consider people and the city as a whole.
In Auckland if we could get more of the latter and less of the former then we could end up with a fantastic city that still allows for a wide range of movement even for those that want to drive.
Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.
Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew
Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there. No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.
Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canal, is still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.
Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908
The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.
These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.
And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.
The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.
Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963
QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:
Then just general traffic:
CPO Lower Queen
Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:
The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.
Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.
Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.
It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.
This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.
So the plan is a good one:
1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances
2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]
3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square
4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces
All at the cost of the current QEII Square.
However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.
Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.
This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.
Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:
Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre
Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France
This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.
Land is a scarce and expensive resource in Auckland, as the city’s strong economy and natural amenities (sunlight! beaches! bush!) mean that a lot of people want to live in a relatively small area. But we often insist upon acting like urban space is worth nothing – why else would we have so many underutilised parking lots around the place?
To an economist, this is perplexing. Econ 101 predicts that when one factor of production becomes expensive, firms and households will respond by substituting other inputs instead. This is easy and intuitive to grasp in practice. For example:
- If your local fish and chip shop puts up the price of snapper fillets, some people will choose to buy terakihi instead.
- If wages for checkout operators increase, supermarkets will consider installing self-checkout counters to save on staff costs.
We should expect the exact same thing to happen in the housing market. Broadly speaking, developers produce housing (H) using a mix of land (L) and capital (K), which we can loosely think of as the size of the building constructed on a site. So, for example, a ten-story apartment building will tend to have a quite high K/L ratio, while a detached house constructed on a large lot will have a low K/L ratio.
Gradient of low to high K/L ratios (Source: Retrofitting Suburbia)
Warning: Arithmetic ahead. Come back after three paragraphs if you don’t like that sort of thing.
If we assume (as economists so often do) that housing production follows a standard Cobb-Douglas production function, then total dwelling supply can be modelled as a function of land and capital inputs, where a is the input share of land:
We can use this equation (plus a little bit of simple calculus) to estimate the marginal rate of substitution between L and K. Or, in other words, the degree to which rising land prices will encourage us to build up to save on land. If we assume that PL is the price of land and PK is the price of capital, then the ratio of K to L is given by the following equation:
We can immediately observe a couple of crucial relationships from this equation. First, if the price of land increases (and the cost to build up doesn’t), we’d expect the K/L ratio to rise – in other words, we expect people to build taller buildings on more expensive land. Second, if the cost to build up decreases – for example, through a technological innovation such as steel-framed buildings or elevators – the K/L ratio should also rise. This explains the emergence of high-rise Manhattan in the early 20th century. Third, the relationship between changes to prices and changes in the K/L ratio will hold true in both low-density and high-density areas, although changes will occur at different rates.
Armed with this economic framework, we can start to make sense of the way that various cities look.
Here’s New York. It doesn’t look like this because it’s full of people who, unlike Aucklanders or Texans, have a mysterious preference for tall buildings. It looks like this because land is expensive and people have responded in a rational way.
Here’s an aerial photograph of a suburb in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the world’s true hellholes. Once again, it doesn’t look like this because Georgians have some oddly-shaped utility function. It looks this way because land is cheap in Atlanta (and motorways are large).
And here’s a picture of a typical Paris boulevard that somebody has photoshopped an enormous woman into for unknown reasons. While I’m sure many Parisians would claim that they have a unique cultural preference for seven-story apartment blocks with cafes underneath, Paris actually looks this way because land is expensive and developers have responded accordingly.
With that in mind, how does Auckland stack up in terms of efficiently using its expensive land? Well, as it turns out we’re doing some smart things and some blitheringly idiotic things. Here’s a brief tour.
The Northern Busway: Really smart. Adding two lanes for buses has enabled the capacity-constrained Auckland Harbour Bridge to carry many more commuters than it otherwise would have been able to do. Today, 40-45% of the people crossing the bridge during rush hour are on buses. It’s the most revolutionary transport investment to hit the Shore since the Harbour Bridge’s completion.
Manukau Centre’s sea of carparks: Mind-bogglingly irrational. As the map shows, Manukau actually devotes more land to parking lots than to commercial uses. Whoever laid it out obviously hadn’t paid any attention to Auckland’s real estate prices.
City centre shared spaces: Bloody clever idea. Turning service lanes and carparks into spaces for businesses to expand and people to enjoy allows us to make much better use of space in the city.
Spaghetti Junction: A tortured trade-off. Demolishing a tenth of the city’s housing stock and abandoning much of the city centre to urban blight was undoubtedly an audacious gamble. The motorways move a lot of people, but we’re never going to reclaim the valuable, centrally located land that they occupy.
Vancouver’s Skytrain – a future option for Auckland? Now this is about as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. Vancouver built a space-efficient (and cost-effective) transport system that created an incentive to build more densely. A perfect example of the virtuous cycle in which better transport options encourage more efficient use of land.
Vancouver’s Skytrain also provides an impressive contrast to the effects of Spaghetti Junction on Auckland’s city centre, which raises the question – are we smart enough to start building like that, or are we going to carry on with the pretense that urban space is free?
Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”
We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.
Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.
Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.
But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.
Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.
If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.
In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.
The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.
If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.
This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.
In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.
If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.
We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this
The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.
One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.
Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.
Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.
Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.
That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.
I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.
So yes let’s start focusing on people.