AT’s Albert St preliminary design

On Friday, Auckland Transport released some new images and a jerky video of their preliminary design for Albert St after the City Rail Link is completed.

Improving Albert Street for pedestrians and public transport reliability are the top considerations in a newly-released concept plan for the busy central Auckland route.

The preliminary designs show the potential of a reinstated Albert Street, once the City Rail Link (CRL) project’s underground tunnels and stations are completed.

The tree-lined Albert Street of the future has a vastly improved pedestrian environment, with broad footpaths, improved footpath (and road) surfaces, better bus stop facilities and attractive street furniture.

The design also provides for a reliable frequent bus service along the route, with dedicated bus lanes down both sides, as part of this city busway corridor.

Sustainability measures have also been considered in the design, including the potential to add a “green” wall of vertical plantings to one Albert St building, where space constraints prevent trees being planted in the footpath. Tree pits will be used to filter and cleanse road surface run-off before it goes out to sea. Materials and detailing have also been carefully chosen to make maintenance and operations more cost-effective.

The preliminary designs sound like there’s quite a bit of effort that’s gone in however despite that, there are no actual plans or cross sections that have been released, only some images out of some 3D modelling program. The first shows many mature trees combining to form a lush, desirable street.

But those trees disappear outside the district court.

Same too in Lower Albert St which will be a key downtown bus interchange after the completion of the CRL and Commercial Bay development.

 

The images come from this video AT have also released on the design. Here are a couple of things I picked up from it:

  • The area outside of the Crowne Plaza appears much improved on what exists now. But the same can’t be said for the proposed NDG building on the currently empty site boardering Albert, Victoria St and Elliot St with its deep porte cochere and entrance to the lower level service lane (that exits by Wellersley St).
  • There’s also a noticeable amount of space taken up in the middle of the road for skylights for the Aotea Station.
  • Despite being right next to what will be one of the busiest pedestrian fountain in the city, the Victoria St entrance to the CRL, there seems to be a distinct lack of space for pedestrians on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St, especially on the eastern side.
  • Speaking of Victoria St, while I appreciate it isn’t the focus of this video, there is definitely four lanes of traffic crammed in there and no Linear Park, in direct contradiction to the City Centre Master Plan. There also doesn’t appear to be any bike lanes despite that being a requirement as part of the government’s Urban Cycleways Programme.
  • The Albert St access to Durham Lane looks a lot better without the bridges to the carparks – which are being removed as part of the CRL project. It’s also great to see what appears to be more space for pedestrians on top of the wall as well as bus lanes southbound in this section. There is a distinct lack of trees here though and I wonder if more could be done to incorporate them.
  • Perhaps it’s the video by Wyndham St looks to be a more appropriately scaled width compared to what it is now.
  • The section from Swanson to Customs St with a dense urban canopy looks a lot better – although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time for any trees planted to get that mature. They haven’t said what species are being considered.
  • While I realise they’ll still be working through the details, there seems to be a distinct lack of details and amenity around the bus stops at Lower Albert St

While what’s shown is interesting, it’s also worth noting what’s not shown. As mentioned earlier there is no linear park or bike facilities on Victoria St. There are also no bike facilities on Albert St either – AT’s intention is for cyclists to use Federal St.

One aspect that caught our attention the last time Albert St designs were discussed was the issue of indented bus bays (stops). The video doesn’t appear to show any so I asked the CRL team if they were still part of the plan. Here’s what they said.

there are indented bus bays in the design with provision for their future removal if PT reliability can be maintained without them.

I’ve looked through the video multiple times and haven’t once been able to see indented bus bays -. More importantly, AT’s stance on this issue is at odds with their own design standards and international evidence – and even ignoring all that, at the very least they have the ordering the wrong way around and they should only be added if reliability is an issue. Here’s what some of their Code of Practice says about indented bus bays.

Historically, in Auckland and many other cities around the world, bus bays were often the preferred layout for bus stops as the priority was to maintain the general flow of traffic. Consequently, there are many full or half-indented bus bays within the Auckland region.

Bus bays, however, present inherent operational problems for buses and passengers. The disadvantages of this type of layout are:

  • bus drivers often find it difficult to merge back into the mainstream of traffic causing delays of approximately 2 – 4 seconds at each stop13. This can be much longer in heavy traffic. This problem is particularly felt in Auckland as drivers are not legally required to give way to buses (as they are in many other countries) and consequently often do not. The variability of this hold up leads to unreliable and bunched services as well as general bus delay;
  • bus bays require a significant area to ensure buses are able to pull in flush with the kerb. A ‘standard’ bus requires a full bus bay area to be 46.5m long from the start of the approach taper to the end of the exit lane. The impact on the surrounding landuse means that there is less area available for wider footpaths, streetscape, berms, landscaping, or on-street parking;
  • the design of many existing bus bays is unsatisfactory, particularly where their geometry prevents buses from reaching the kerb effectively (ideal gap is generally within 50-75mm, maximum gap is 200mm), resulting in poor accessibility for passengers. Some drivers may also choose not to pull in close to the kerb to ensure that the bus is at a better angle to re-enter the mainstream of traffic;
  • bus bays are also prone to attract inconsiderate parking or unloading, especially at high activity areas e.g. town centres, shop frontages etc. This again prevents the bus from reaching the kerbside, forcing passengers to board or alight from the road, causing difficulties for some passengers;
  • bus bays widen the carriageway area creating the opposite effect of traffic calming measures, including encouraging speeding, increased difficulty for pedestrians to cross and an unattractive street environment.

Current thinking has shifted towards giving greater priority to buses as more ‘efficient people movers’, even if this is achieved at the expense of slowing down general traffic. In view of the above reasons, bus bays should only be provided where justified by compelling safety or operational reasons.

In fact, several cities (London, Portland for example) have a policy to infill or remove bus bays altogether from major arterial roads (or where the posted speed limit is 50km/hr or lower)

To highlight just how inefficient they can be, the Code of Practice example shows that 70m of kerb space is needed for just two bus stops. At that length, space would be taken from pedestrians for most of any block they were put on.

Given all of this, it’s absurd that AT are even considering putting them on Albert St. Perhaps before signing off on indented bus stops, AT could trial not having them after the tunnels are complete but before making the changes permanent as part of the end result?

Overall, I think it’s hard to judge just what’s planned given the lack of AT releasing any actual plans, cross-sections and seeming lack of disregard for not only their own standards but also council strategies too. The CRL is a massive opportunity to make Albert St and many other parts of the city centre considerably better but at this stage it appears they could do better.

Working towards a car-free city centre

An emerging trend in cities is to increasingly go car-free, primarily in city centres. This is primarily related to being able to provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and transit while also reducing emissions and improving the health of residents.

In some cases it’s limited to certain vehicle types, in others certain streets and one of the most ambitious is in Oslo where they plan to ban all cars from the city centre in 2019.

Given the trends starting to build around this, it feels only a matter of time before the question gets asked about making Auckland car-free. This isn’t to say we should be going car-free in the next few years but the desire to do so in the future is a possibility and so something we should remember when thinking about the future. If we decide we want the city centre to be increasingly or fully car-free, it will be for the same reasons that these other cities are.

While we tend to focus on the how we deal with the tens of thousands who travel to the city centre each day, and who can be relatively easily counted as they cross the motorway moat that surrounds the city, what is often overlooked is the rapidly increasing population of people living within the city itself. The city centre is the fastest growing location in Auckland, and possibly all of NZ with Statistics NZ estimating that as of mid-2016, the population had increased by over 11,000 in just two years to reach almost 47,000 people. That’s more than was expected in the Council’s City Centre Master Plan by 2032, what’s more, with all the development underway in the city right now and on the horizon, that number is only going to continue to increase.

The people living in the city have been a critical factor in helping the city to become a more vibrant and interesting location, a far cry from the 6 o’clock ghost town it once was after all the workers scurried home. More people living in and around the city centre in the future will only help to further improve the area but we need to support these residents by providing more public space and making easier for them to get around. Addressing how we use our road space will be critical for this

On top of the resident population, the city centre is the single largest and most dense cluster of employment in Auckland, home to over 111,000 jobs while the universities and other education providers are estimated to account for over 60,000 students.

I don’t know the exact most recent numbers but indications from Auckland Transport suggest that normally, over 80,000 people cross the motorway noose to enter the city centre every weekday during the AM peak (7-9am). Of this just under 40,000 do so either driving or as a passenger in a car. Interestingly this number has remained relatively static for at least the last 15 years while the total number of people arriving has increased significantly, meaning that all the growth to the city every morning has come from growth in transit and active modes. What’s more it means those non-car modes now account for over 50% of all trips to the city each morning. Of course, many more people enter the city centre at other times of the day too and it’s been estimated in that past that over 200,000 people visit the area every day.

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t suddenly expect everyone to stop driving to the city centre. For one thing, we know from the likes of March Madness that there simply isn’t the capacity yet on our transit networks to cope. The City Rail Link will undoubtedly help with this but that alone won’t be enough and so we’d also likely need other projects too, in particular the core of the proposed Rapid Transit Network including vastly improved links to the Dominion Rd/Airport, the Northwest and the North Shore. In our view, we really need to get this core network in much faster ATAP proposes.

Along with or after building out the RTN, there is always the question of how fast we might change our streets. Do we go for the ripping the plaster off quickly method like Oslo and do the entire city centre in one go or do we incrementally work towards that.

The good news is know there is plenty of opportunity and capacity to make significant changes to how we use our streets without having to wait for a lot of big projects to be completed. For example, the City Rail Link has seen significant amounts of road capacity removed from Albert St and parts of Customs St and yet Auckland Transport’s monitoring shows almost no impact to travel speeds. That raises the question of whether we actually need to return these roads back to the way they were or even to the scale proposed post-CRL and also just how many other roads could we scale back to being more people friendly.

One on that list would of course be Queen St which would be made a transit mall with the installation of Light Rail (although it could be done before that)

Another would be on Victoria St and the linear park which is vital for moving the massive numbers of people exiting the City Rail Link but which Auckland Transport wants scrapped and four traffic lanes retained.

 

While there will always be a need for some vehicles in the city, we could and should be taking steps to make it more pedestrian, bike and transit friendly at every step. Along the way, the process of doing so will increasingly make the city more car-free and make it easier in the future to go fully car free if we ever wanted to.

Research: Recommended road user rule changes

A bunch of walking and cycling research just dropped on the NZTA website. This report by MHW and ViaStrada looks at several possible road user rule changes (PDF). The first consideration is fundamental to supporting high quality cycling facilities, and the second is, well, fundamental to living in a city in 2017.

Here is the first: Giving cyclists precedence over traffic when separated cycleways cross side-roads

The first rule addresses the absence of clear guidance on separated cycleways at signalised and unsignalised intersections (see image below). While a person in a cycle lane has precedence over turning traffic, there is no consideration for the priority of a cyclist on cycle path (shared path, etc) which is a facility that doesn’t sit in the carriageway (between the kerbs). There is also lack of clarity around kerb and flexi-post separated cycle paths.

 

Dashed lines give way to solid lines

This is how the new report summarises the proposed changes:

  • People cycling on a separated cycle facility along a road corridor would have precedence over traffic entering or leaving side roads (signalised or priority-controlled)
  • Vehicles turning across cycleways from the adjacent road would have to give way to the cyclistTraffic on side roads also obliged to give way to the cyclist

And this is what the report recommends with regard to implementation:

  • Give priority for crossings at signalised intersections universally across New Zealand via a change to the Road User Rule (unless signs or signal phasing prohibit it at certain locations)
  • Priority across unsignalised intersections should be either universally across NZ or only where signs/markings allow it, possibly only in lower-speed (urban) areas.
  • A key change needs to occur around the definition of “roadway”. The roadway needs to include all cycle paths and cycle lanes, regardless of the form of separation.

For comparison in the Netherlands right-of-way is clear and unambiguous supporting the wide scale development of cyclepaths (sidepaths). They use an extended version of an almost universal rule where turning traffic gives way to through traffic. This is how the rule is defined as described by Peter Furth:

Unless signed or signalled otherwise, motor vehicles and bicycles turning off a road, whether turning right or left, must give way to cyclists and pedestrians traveling along that road in the same or opposite direction. For this purpose, cyclists and pedestrians are deemed to be traveling along a road if they are traveling on the roadway or on a path or sidewalk within 6m of the roadway edge. 

The report also discusses some interesting supporting solutions such as the flashing amber yellow arrow. I could see something like this being very useful in order to allow a longer straight through green phase for cyclists (see also, Invisible Infrastructure: Turning the Corner Campaign).

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Here is consideration of the second rule change: Giving pedestrians precedence over traffic when crossing side roads

New Zealand is a global oddball with this one (see image below). It’s pretty straightforward. Pedestrians crossing an unsignalised side road do not have precedence over turning cars. While pedestrians have priority at intersections when facing a green disc or with a green man, the report says:

No similar precedence currently exists for pedestrians facing traffic turning or crossing at unsignalised intersections.

At this point, I’m concluding that there is not an explicit requirement for pedestrians to give way to turning traffic, but rather the absence of a rule, along with an established norm where pedestrians are expected to jump out of the way of cars, or step backward after starting to cross (see also Peds Rule).

Dashed lines give way to solid lines

Interestingly, the report also mentions that pedestrians are given priority “at a ‘pedestrian crossing’ (aka ‘zebra crossing’)”. Pedestrian precedence at zebra crossings is not surprising, but in the context of a sideroad crossing the use of a pedestrian crossing is rare.  The few I can think of are located across one-way streets like here on Symonds Street and Wakefield Street.

So this is a bit of a plot twist. The discussion has grown to include traffic control devices (signs, markings) as well as road rules. More on this later.

This is how the report summarises the proposed changes:

  • Pedestrians walking alongside a road corridor who wish to cross would have precedence over traffic entering or leaving a side-road.
  • The pedestrian priority could apply only when the pedestrian crosses from one footpath (or shared path) adjacent to the main road to the continuation of that footpath on the opposite side of the side road.

And this is the recommendation for this rule:

  • Do not adopt this rule universally at this stage without the presence of suitable signs/markings
  • Implement initially at limited trial sites in New Zealand via the introduction and legislation of new signs/markings to allow this, ideally at very low-speed (30-40 km/h) areas first
  • Monitor behaviours/performance of trial sites for consideration of wider uptake

The report recommends the introduction of new signs and markings, something akin to North American parallel crosswalks or the less common ladder crossings. Here are the examples provided.

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Introducing new crosswalk line markings seems like a reasonable first step before introducing universal road user changes. Once people understand the road rules, priority can be mediated by simple stop limit line in many places, and with crosswalks where needed (near schools for example).

There is also a suggestion that existing pedestrian crossings can still be used, but suggests that the current practice requires that they are set back from the intersection. There are a few of these around Auckland. They seem really confusing compared to a stop line and a crosswalk.

For comparison, here is an intersection in Toronto.

Finch Avenue, Toronto

Overall the report is very comprehensive quoting specific road rules where available and also the Traffic Control Devices Rule and other legal precedents.  After reading this report I’m convinced that very few people in New Zealand would even know what the road rules are!

It is also very exciting to see this work progress. I think it offers the biggest opportunity for wide-scale improvement of walking and cycling conditions in New Zealand.

Invisible infrastructure – Turning the Corner Campaign

Signals and traffic control devices have a significant influence on people’s journeys. And combined with road rules, local customs, and professional practices they can shape not only travel choices but also the physical environment (see above).

The recently launched “Turning the Corner” campaign lead by Phil Jones Associates for British Cycling seeks to illustrate the unique road rules in the UK and the challenges they present to enabling improved conditions for walking and cycling.

In most other countries, including across the rest of Europe, traffic turning into a street has to yield to pedestrians who receive a green light to cross at the same time. Most crossroads junctions can then operate on two simple stages, with pedestrians being given green man invitations to cross in one of the directions at all times.

While the informational campaign highlights the unique challenges in the UK, it is also a useful reference point for New Zealand road rules and professional practices. Unlike most places in the world, the UK and (many places in New Zealand) provide separate signal phases for pedestrians and cyclists. This has the main advantage of eliminating “conflicting” vehicle turning movements from pedestrian crossing movements making it safer (at least in theory).

The road rules lead longer signal cycles and to several perverse outcomes including slip lanes and multi-staged crossings for pedestrians. For cycling infrastructure, the design response tends to favour less desirable 2-way facilities so that all the crossing movements can be ‘bundled’ together and use only one signal phase. (See: Going Bi-directional).

Many countries have unambiguous road rules (or at least driving customs) requiring all turning traffic to give way to through-moving road users (pedestrians and cyclists). This allows intersection signals to be very simple and efficient, and allows for high quality facilities. (Protection by traffic signals can still be provided to match the particular conditions).

This is the crux of the Turning the Corner information campaign.  Here is the Summary Report (PDF). Below are the key points from the campaign.

Creating a stronger legal requirement for drivers to yield on turning would make it much easier for highway authorities to introduce state of the art facilities which provide greater safety, and feelings of safety, for both pedestrians and cyclists, and would therefore be welcomed by local government. (TtC)

Creating a stronger legal requirement for drivers to yield on turning would make it much easier for highway authorities to introduce state of the art facilities which provide greater safety, and feelings of safety, for both pedestrians and cyclists

  • Changing to the give way on turning system used in most other countries could offer a number of advantages to pedestrians. Firstly, crossings could be provided at many more junctions in the UK, since the impact on traffic capacity is much less than under the present system.
  • Secondly, pedestrians would not be delayed as long as at present, since overall cycle time of the signals would be reduced, and the red man signal would show for a much shorter proportion of the time.
  • Finally, crossings would be more direct, without the need for complex staggered arrangements, since people would be able to walk in a straight line from one side of the junction to the other with consistent priority over traffic.

It is important to note that not all crossings would need to operate in this way. Fully separated crossings could still be used.

It is recognised that moving away from a fully-separated pedestrian crossing system would raise concerns amongst some groups. Extensive research would need to be carried to establish the feasibility of moving to a give-way on turning system for signalised crossings, including off-road trials. However, the considerable potential advantages to all types of user mean that, in our view, the option is worthy of further investigation to properly weigh up the potential benefits and costs.

In other European countries, the general requirement that turning traffic must give way to cyclists going ahead means that such complex designs are not necessary. In Denmark a simple ‘two stage turn’ is used at most junctions, which is consistent and understandable. The relatively short signal cycle time minimises the delay to cyclists.

Similarly, in the Netherlands (and also in Sweden) adopting a give-way on turning law means that protected cycle facilities can be incorporated into signal junctions without requiring complex layouts or staging.

We now believe that the time is right to reassess the potential advantages of moving to the give way on turning system at traffic signals, as used in most other countries.

This report raises the question about the state of our own road rules in supporting more walking and cycling. Do the New Zealand road rules provide sufficient right-of-way at intersections? Can we design protected intersections that also allow pedestrians and cyclists safe AND fast trips?

A tale of two streets

A few days ago I was walking though the city and thinking of just how different the two neighbouring streets of O’Connell and High St’s are, so I grabbed a few quick photos.

So, here’s what O’Connell St looked like.

By comparison, this is what High St looked like.

I certainly know which one I’d rather walk and shop on.

The works by the council to upgrade Freyberg Square have resulted in O’Connell St being temporarily closed to cars. The council and businesses have responded by putting out tables and chairs for some temporary activation. As this photo by Kent the other day shows, it has been popular with people.

Further, recently one of the longstanding opponents to upgrading High St has moved closed. As I said in the tweet, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the plans for High St? If we don’t, the only iconic thing that High St will be left as being known for is being stuck in the past while the rest of the city moves on

Quay St: Oh Yeah

Off-road cycle routes are great, but I love on-street ones even more, as they are real city changers.

Both of course are required and required to be interconnected, but for today, here’s a celebration of the Quay St on-street cycle lanes, an important step towards a network:

Quay Sy Cyclelanes 01

Quay St Cyclelanes 02

Quay St Cyclelanes 03

Quay St Cyclelanes 04

Looking forward to this route being connected to the Nelson St on-street cyclelanes, the SkyPath, and Tamaki Drive.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible; from the Minister with his championing of the Urban Cycleways Fund, the Auckland Transport team and executive that put it together and got through a few tricky conflicts, and Auckland Council for their share of the funding (the transport levy) and of course for the policy support.

To my mind this is Radical Incrementalism on show; a little-big change.

Auckland’s New Network — What comes next?

Right now Auckland Transport is in the process of implementing the New Network (NN). The NN is already operational in the south, and is being readied for implementation in other sub-regions as per the following timetable:

You can view the latest networks for each sub-region by clicking on the links provided at the beginning of this post. For those who don’t know, I should disclose that I was part of the consultant team who worked with AT to develop the original NN way back in 2012-2014. The original network we developed is illustrated below.

The original network shown above has subsequently evolved in response to several rounds of stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This included engagement with existing operators, consultation with local boards, and — finally — consultation with the general public. Moreover, as time has progressed, more detailed information has come to light, such as the land use outcomes associated with Unitary Plan and the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for developing highways and busways. All useful information that can inform the design of the public transport network, albeit information that has been somewhat slow to extract.

The NN has also had to dovetail with other projects AT has underway. I’m not aware of any other city in Australia or New Zealand that are attempting to change so much about their PT system in so little time. In the 15-20 year period starting with the opening of Britomart, Auckland will have developed a Rapid Transit Network connecting to every sub-region almost from scratch; redesigned the ticketing system and fare structure; implemented a new public transport contracting model; and drastically re-structured its services. Somewhat understandably, the desire to coordinate implementation of the NN with these other projects has delayed implementation beyond the initial (indicative) 2016 timeline.

So as we stand on the threshold of implementing the NN, one may wonder what comes next? The answer, in my opinion, is that the NN will be a constant, ongoing project for at least the next 5-10 years.

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that all aspects of the NN won’t work perfectly right from the beginning, and they should be changed as further information comes to light. In terms of demand, some routes will experience too much while others will see too little. That’s a reason to reallocate resources. In terms of schedules, some timetables will have too much time while others will have too little. The struggle for reliability is ever-present.

Public transport nirvana won’t happen over-night, but it will happen. If we keep working on it. Maybe. But aside from continuous refinement of the underlying network structure, what else might change? The answer to this is both nothing and almost everything. When I say nothing, I am referring to the underlying principles of frequency and connectivity on which the NN was built, and which will allow us to run a more efficient public transport network. These principles are sound and should not change as we go forward. Instead, they should be strengthened and embedded more deeply into our PT network. Every time AT increase frequency, we should be asking whether we can remove duplication.

On the other hand, much about Auckland’s public transport network will continue to change. Let’s list just a few of the major projects that Auckland Transport and others will be working to implement over the next 5-10 years:

  • AMETI
  • City Rail Link
  • Northern Busway extension, including new Rosedale station
  • Extension of electrified services to Pukekohe, and new stations
  • LRT on Dominion Road and Queen Street
  • North-western Busway

When you line up all these projects, you start to realise that there isn’t many corners of our fair city where the public transport will not change fairly dramatically in the next few years. So we will need to get used to PT network changes happening on a fairly regular basis. Of course none of them should be as large as the NN itself, but nor should we delude ourselves that it will end with the NN. The NN is arguably close to the start of Auckland’s journey to PT salvation.

Indeed, such complacency with regards to continuous improvement of Auckland’s PT network is arguably a contributing factor to the situation we are in today. As an aside, I understand the following meme is popular among some of the folk that have long-lorded over Auckland.

Aside from the persistent and ongoing issues with the allocation of resources and reliability, there is one other potential meteor that seems likely to pass fairly close in the near future, and which threatens to destroy the heart of Auckland’s PT network. That is, Auckland has very limited bus capacity in the city centre, in terms of corridors, stop, and terminal capacity. I think it’s fair to say bus capacity in Auckland’s city centre has been neglected for decades, and is now being rapidly squeezed in all directions. The risk is that the meteor of bus volumes brings about a never-ending buspocalypse that in turn suppresses patronage and exacerbates congestion.

Put simply, the volume of buses that need to be accommodated in the city centre is rather high already, and it’s growing. And it’s not just about the corridor capacity: Buses need to stop, terminate, and/or turn-around. In fact, I’d suggest that corridor capacity is almost the least of our concerns, we can always splash around a bit more green paint, e.g. on Wellesley Street. Stop and terminal capacity is more problematic, simply because there’s not much space. LRT will help, but it is something that won’t happen super-fast and nor will it be a panacea when it is up-and-running. Meanwhile construction works associated with the CRL and the Council’s (excellent) place-making initiatives look likely to exacerbate the problems caused by our historical reluctance to address bus terminal issues.

Whether we encounter bus apolocalypse depends on whether AT are successful at changing the way we currently operate buses and manage streets so as to make them more efficient. The NN as it currently stands seem likely to result in higher bus volumes downtown than originally planned. Indeed, changes made during consultation — for potentially good reasons that I explain below — have had the effect of throwing more buses into the city centre, specifically:

  • Removing through-routing — the original NN proposed through-routing bus services between Takapuna–Onehunga, Glen Innes–Mt Albert, and Glen Innes–New Lynn. I understand all three though-routes have been dropped. This both increases bus volumes in the city, and requires more passengers to transfer, which increases dwell-times.
  • Retaining duplicative routes — In some cases, services have been added or retained that duplicate other services, even if they perhaps remove the need for passengers to connect. The most notable is the Outer Link, but there are also a number of peak services that have snuck their way back into the network. In terms of capacity, the latter are particularly problematic, because they directly increase peak bus volumes (by definition).
  • Removing cross-towns — the original NN arguably contained five frequent crosstown services in the Isthmus, specifically: Mt Albert — Glen Innes, Takapuna — Onehunga, New Lynn — Glen Innes, Pt Chevalier — Ellerslie, and Mt Albert — Pakuranga. The proposed NN now contains only one, or arguably two if you include the Outer Link. Going from five to two cross-towns will increase the number of buses terminating in the city centre, and increase the need for passengers to connect between services there.

This should not be construed as criticism of the changes made by AT. Indeed, the changes arguably reflect positively on AT’s desire to respond constructively with feedback. It’s also entirely possible that the changes will increase patronage and/or efficiency in the short term, even if they exacerbate issues with city centre bus capacity in the medium to long term.

But *if* buspocalypse does arise, *then* what should we do about it?

The good news is that AT are aware of the risk of buspoalypse, and have started considering how to mitigate the chance it occurs. Some of their current thinking has been documented in the “Bus Reference Case” report that was published last year, and which was written by my colleagues at MRCagney. While somewhat technical, the report does make for interesting reading, as it provides an indication of the sorts of volumes we might expect and sketches out some possible responses. And when I say response, I am talking about one that considers not just infrastructure, but also other related aspects, such as services, vehicles, and ticketing.

The report notes, for example, that after the CRL the following actions could be taken to reduce bus volumes in the city centre:

  • Re-direct the New North Road (Route 22) service to Newmarket. This would possibly allow AT to drop the infrequent but direct rail service operating between the west and Newmarket, and increase rail services on the main Western line.
  • Eliminate expresses from the West, including Blockhouse Bay to City (Route 195), Green Bay to City (Route 209), Glen Eden Express (Route 151x), and Titirangi Expresses (Routes 171x and 172x). Instead, these routes would terminate at the Avondale, New Lynn, and Glen Eden rail stations.
  • Expand service from the Northwest, specifically Routes 110 and 125x (WEX upon completion of the North western busway); and
  • Eliminate expresses from the Southeast, including Mangere to City (Route 309x) and Papakura to City (Route 360x).

As well as changes to the network itself, the report investigates the potential demand for bus infrastructure in the city centre, especially with regards to bus termini and stop infrastructure around Wynyard, Wellesely, the Universities and Britomart. It’ll be interesting to see what the detailed designs for these areas look like, and whether they avoid off-street interchanges and termini. Naturally on-street would be more cost-efficient, but it does place increased demands placed on city centre streets. Balancing this demand with other place and movement needs will be tricky.

Either way, when we say “city centre bus infrastructure”, it’s fairly clear we are not simply talking about a lick of green paint. If we want to get buses off the streets in the city centre, while maintaining accessibility and growing patronage, then we need to think about where they go. And we may need to spend some money along the way.

In terms of the last point, it’s interesting to compare Auckland with our comrades across the ditch. Both Brisbane and Perth have some serious bus infrastructure in their central city. King George Square station, for example, opened a few years ago and is nicer than most metro stops.

Meanwhile in Perth, construction of the long-planned underground bus station (BusPort) in the city centre was completed in July 2016.

Over here in Amsterdam, they’ve been busy elevating their buses away from the street level so as to improve amenity around central station, while maintaining connections to other transport modes. Impressive stuff, and things that have long been in the works.

None of this is to say that Auckland will neessarily need bus infrastructure of the same scale as the above cities. With a more brutal network structure and more efficient operations, it’s certainly possible we could get by with less hard infrastructure than these cities have achieved. However, these cities do provide a good lesson for Auckland in terms of developing long-term plans for acommodating buses in the city centre. That is something Auckland hasn’t yet managed to achieve, even if it looks like the wheels are starting to turn.

It’s promising that Phil Goff’s election platform and subsequent noises have emphasized the important role for buses, both now and in the future. Getting Auckland’s buses working well will definitely require a level of technical and political leadership that perhaps has been lacking in the past. It may also require that we step on the toes of landowners in the city centre, who arguably have ruled Auckland’s roost for far too long.

What do you think? And if you were AT, and if there was an issue with city centre bus infrastructure capacity, then what would you do? I’d be particularly keen to hear about people’s ideas for the NN as it currently stands, and how it could be adapted so as to reduce bus volumes in the city centre. Which routes would you cut, and why?

And/or what are your ideas for how to improve bus infrastructure in the city centre? Ideas big and small are welcome. If we succeed with our plans for the city centre and public transport more generally, then it’s possible we’ll need some of these infrastructure and service initiatives sooner than we think. I think that’s a good problem to have.

P.s. Feel free to also comment on the proposal to relocate long-distance buses to Manukau and Albany. Grrr. That’s an issue I hope to cover in a future post.

Introduction to Systematic Safety, The Principles Behind Vision Zero

Here’s a great video on the principles of behind “systematic safety” by Peter Furth. It’s really interesting how the approach is so different than current practice in the States, Australia and New Zealand.

And in case you missed it, Harriet had a great post on Dutch cycleway design last week, “Great Cycling Myths & Mistakes – How Auckland can easily be a Great Cycling City“.

City Centre Streets for the 21st Century

Santiago de Chile is home to some 6m+ souls, its origins date back to the 16th Century, and it has south American largest, and still expanding, Metro system. But, like almost all cities coming out of the 20th Century, its city centre streets have been allowed to be dominated by vehicles, with all of the disbenefits this brings. Happily, this is now changing, and attracting a lot of positive attention, as this Streetfilms film describes:

This is a great model for the Auckland City Centre, where it will be even easier to achieve, and is in fact already underway, as the current trends in both declining vehicle mode-share and rising Transit and Active mode-share show. We have so far sort of bumbled into this success, with some parts of local government leading it and some resisting it. And the time is now perfect for the city to at last make this a conscious and consistently worked towards process.

In my view it is past time to implement clear policy to support the already reducing vehicle numbers using city streets, in order to allow their re-purposing to higher value and higher capacity uses; walking, cycling, and Transit. And as for place quality as well, as streets, now more than ever, offer greater value as more than just movement engines, or just as car storage facilities, but to support the all important urban services and travel economy.

This of course needs to be executed at detail and over time, by highly skilled urban designers and transportation professionals, with skill, sensitivity, and rational analysis. For as in every city all streets have competing uses, and these must be balanced and prioritised cleverly.

But the is nothing about that process that obviates the need for clear and conscious over-arching policy to guide these decisions. And that policy must be to build the successful city for this age: The more prosperous, people-focussed, greener, and more equitable 21st Century walkable transit rich city.

The height of trees and the height of buildings

Auckland is a very leafy city. The trees that our forebears planted have slowly grown to maturity, resulting in many streets and suburbs with an attractive amount of greenery.

The city’s street trees are especially valuable… where they have been allowed to survive traffic engineering standards. For instance, there’s an immense difference in the look and feel of different parts of Symonds St. Areas around the university, with abundant, mature trees, feel much better than the concrete channel near the Wakefield St intersection.

Leafiness - CBD

But will development of taller buildings in residential neighbourhoods – three-storey townhouses and midrise apartments – erode Auckland’s leafiness? Will the buildings slowly grow above the trees, resulting in a landscape of roofs rather than a landscape of trees?

Evidence from other cities suggests that the answer is no. For example, Stu Donovan tells me that in Amsterdam street trees still rise above the midrise apartment blocks, creating leafy vistas.

To understand what might happen in Auckland as the city grows up, I’ve taken a look at the height of common street trees in New Zealand cities. Unfortunately, data on street trees in Auckland wasn’t easy to come by, but a PhD thesis by Fredericke Behrens provides some data on the abundance of different types of street trees in Christchurch. (“Selecting public street and park trees for urban environments“, Lincoln University, 2011)

Here’s a list of the ten most abundant street trees in Christchurch (Table 5-2 in the thesis), along with approximate mature heights (generally sourced from Wikipedia). Eight of the ten species have mature heights in the range of 15 metres or more, while three can grow up to 25 metres.

These species will generally be of a similar height as mid-rise apartment blocks, which may be in the range of 4-7 storeys high. Silver birches or ribbonwoods on the street can be attractive complements to medium-density development.

Species name Origin Mature height Equivalent to:
Betula pendula (silver birch) Exotic 15-25m 4-7 storeys
Quercus palustris (pin oak) Exotic 18-22m around 6 storeys
Fraxinus ornus (manna ash) Exotic 15-25m 4-7 storeys
Plagianthus regius (ribbonwood) Native up to 17m around 5 storeys
Cordyline australis (cabbage tree) Native up to 20m 6 storeys
Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum) Exotic 15-21m 5-6 storeys
Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ (black cherry plum) Exotic 6-15m 2-4 storeys
Sophora tetraptera (kowhai) Native up to 15m 4 storeys
Quercus robur (English oak) Exotic 15-25m 4-7 storeys
Prunus x Kanzan (Japanese cherry) Exotic 8-12m 2-3 storeys

Furthermore, this list doesn’t include several less common species that play an important role in Auckland’s landscape, such as the London Plane tree, which usually grows to 20-30m (6-8 storeys) or even higher in exceptional circumstances:

Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig Flickr photostream

Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig

Or the city’s many Norfolk Pines, which often stand out at a distance due to their conical shape and mature height of 50-65m:

norfolk-pine-auckland

Source: Vanilla Rani

Or the spreading pohutukawa, which can grow up to 25m (7 storeys):

Behind the trees

In other words, it seems like we shouldn’t fear for Auckland’s leafiness: We can develop a lot more without eclipsing our trees. But that being said, I would argue that we need to do other things to preserve and improve our streets as we develop… such as planting more street trees.

What do you think about street trees in Auckland?