Driverless Light Rail

Many people comment to me how driverless technology will make transit obsolete, but I disagree, many of the advantages driverless cars have will apply to driverless transit too. Of course, we already have cities already have driverless transit by way of their metros and further, I’d argue that driverless technology will provide greater advantages to transit. This is due to the fact driver constitutes a large portion of the operational costs of running services so driverless technology will allow more frequent and therefore more useful services without increasing costs.

I also hear a lot about driverless buses, but not about driverless light rail. Having a quick google it turns out that people are in fact working on it and I found a great article & video about the technology Boshce is delivering in Frankfurt that they argue is just one step towards driverless Light Rail.

“The driver assistance systems being developed now, Bosch says, are the first step towards automated light rail. The systems are being engineered to work in all terrain, weather, and congestion scenarios.”

So when someone says driverless cars, say driverless vehicles, because transit will be able to take advantage of that technology as well to deliver cheaper, more frequent and more useful services.

Could the government fund light rail

Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.

Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail

The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.

The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.

The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.

The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.

The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.

There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):

Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:

a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded

By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.

Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.

Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.

One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.

But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.

Light Rail Dominion Road – Land Use Low Hanging Fruit

Light rail on Dominion Rd is one of the big projects being discussed right now and is being actively investigated.

light-rail-on-dominion-rd-illustration

An impression of what Light Rail on Dominion Rd would look like

During the Unitary Plan debate I saw many people raise concerns that Dominion Road does not have the zoning to support Light Rail. While the zoning was been increased following the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) Recommendations which the council ultimately agreed with (subject to appeal), I believe there is still some low hanging fruit to increase zoning without affecting the Heritage Areas zoned Single House Zone (SHZ) in the Final Plan. Here’s a comparison of the two versions, the operative plan having a bit more:

  • Terraced House and Apartment Buildings (THAB) – orange – up to four storey apartments
  • Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) – peach – up to 3 storey terraces
  • Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) – yellow – up to 2 storey terrace

dominion-rd-up-differences

 

I have come up with 4 low hanging fruit suggestions, with 1 potential opportunity for Land Use for Dominion Road Light Rail, there is also a map with the options areas highlighted below.

  1. The MHU around Mt Roskill close to Dominion Road could be rezoned THAB
  2. Some of the MHS could be be rezoned MHU
  3. The MHS could be rezoned to MHU & some of the MHU be rezoned as THAB.
  4. For the Mixed Use Zone & Town Centre Zoned Areas along Dominion Road, remove Height Variation Controls that reduce the standard height limits, and consider implementing height variation controls that increase the height limit slightly. This would allow store frontage to be redeveloped/renovated keeping the Character of  Heritage Shops while allowing Apartments to be built on top.
  5. The last potential opportunity is areas close by Dominion Road who would prefer to catch the Light Rail & with good cycle links, or using Crosstown services would do so. This is due to potential time savings due to the priority the Light Rail has, as well as access to both Downtown/Uptown/Midtown, current Bus Routes do not give the same access to all three. As we’ve already seen in Auckland, many will often prefer to travel further for a service they perceive is of higher quality. One example of this could be seen during the roll out of electric trains where some people changed when they travelled so they caught an electric service rather than a diesel one. The two areas in question are Stoddard 5A on Map & Royal Oak 5B. These areas are already highly zoned, however Stoddard would likely not have Light Rail until after Dominion Road while the modelling in the Central Access Plan now says light rail on Mt Eden Rd is not needed until post 2040. By providing access to the Light Rail through good reliable Crosstown Buses (For Royal Oak this is Crosstown 7 & for Stoddard Crosstown 8) as well as cycling links these areas could have greater access to the Light Rail Network, while taking pressure of Sandringham Road, and Mt Eden Road bus services, admittedly due to the distance this may not be successful but is still possible.

dominion-rd-lrt-upzoning-options

Overall these options would allow the Heritage Areas to stay untouched, but would Upzone other areas close to the Light Rail route, this would align Land Use better with any potential Light Rail for Dominion Road. Of course any changes would have to go through at current the standard Resource Management Act process, and some of the Upzoning is potentially limited due to Heritage Protections of some of the Shops, as well a Viewshaft Overlay Controls which restrict height.

So what do you think, great, not bold enough, or the Decisions version will be fine?

Light Rail by-election stoush

On the weekend, the Labour Party, as part of the Mt Roskill by-election campaign, announced their intention to fund 50% of the cost of the proposed light rail line from Wynyard to Mt Roskill via Dominion Rd, one of the routes Auckland Transport first suggested in January last year.

The government have responded with both barrels, accusing Labour of pork-barrel politics but also quite worryingly, reverting to with many of the same arguments and contempt they showed for the City Rail Link – and we know how that worked out.

The Spinoff were clearly thinking of many of the same things I was on the issue yesterday but here are a few others in no particular order.

Government already agreed improvements were needed

One of the oddest aspects of this whole debate is that the government, through the recent Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), have already agreed an upgrade of the road is needed. The main report says this about central access:

Access to this area is physically constrained, and there is competition for limited street-space between vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and public amenity. This means it is imperative over time to move more people in fewer vehicles. This requires a continued modal shift towards public transport, walking and cycling.

Although bus efficiency improvements can help cope with increased demand in the short term, there are limits to the extent to which such improvements can continue to provide sufficient capacity. A mass transit solution will be required in the medium term. Key criteria for determining the best long-term solution should be the ability to meet projected demand in a way that integrates with the broader strategic network, provides for and stimulates ongoing growth along these corridors and in the city centre, and delivers value for money.

In the supporting information they also say:

Based on current forecasts, we concluded that the constraints in central Auckland can be managed through bus efficiency improvements for the next 10 years. Efficiency improvements over the next decade include continuing the roll out of double decker buses, changes to bus stops, and improving the routes taken into the central city.

On that basis, we concluded that a higher capacity mode, possibly light rail, is likely to be required on the central isthmus in the medium-term (2028-2038), and subsequently extended to Auckland Airport.

So the report talks about the need to move more people to catching PT and that more buses are only short term solutions.

Perhaps the biggest problem with ATAP, and what is reflected highly in this situation is the timing. As we’ve discussed before, ATAP relies heavily on old school transport modelling, the same stuff that has regularly over estimated driving demand and well underestimated the growth in PT use. That means many of the PT projects are likely to be needed sooner than ATAP suggests and light rail down Dominion Rd is probably the most likely of the proposals to be pulled forward. This is also partially confirmed by the table below showing the two main packages assessed as part of ATAP. Light Rail is teetering between decade 1 and 2 depending on the package suggesting at the very least it will need to be near the start of decade two.

atap-major-package-differences

Rapid Buses

In his interview with Radio New Zealand yesterday morning Prime Minister John Key was trying to pour as much cold water on the project as possible. He did highlight that Mass Transit was listed in ATAP as a second decade project that could mean light rail but that the Transport Agency are also looking at bus options. The term Mass Transit as used in ATAP is deliberately ambiguous as the reality is, some members of the government and their various agencies have an almost allergic reaction to the term rail. Some believe that whatever a train can do, a bus can do too, and do it cheaper.

The reality as it’s always been. is that we’ll need a mix of modes and it depends a lot on the route. In some. cases heavy rail is needed, in others light rail will be fine but in most cases buses will do the job well.

Dominion Rd is already the busiest bus corridor outside of the Northern Busway. The issue is that just chucking more and bigger buses on Dominion Rd – and other roads on the isthmus – isn’t a long term strategy for the simple fact is that there’s only a limited capacity on city streets to be able to handle those buses plus all the rest from other parts of Auckland. According to the Central Access Plan, the business case for Light Rail, Symonds St is already over capacity and that only gets worse as more buses and demand get added over time.

Symonds St Bus Numbers

Symonds St Bus Numbers

Unless the government and their agencies address how putting more buses on an already over capacity routes, they’re just wasting everyone’s time.

“Buses use roads”

John Key also reverted to this old chestnut during his talk on Radio NZ to defend his government’s investment in so many roads. It’s a line they’ve used many times before but as with previous times it is fundamentally flawed. The issue is that buses need to be able to pick up and drop off passengers and that happens on local roads, not motorways like the government have focused on. As such you’re not going to see any AT services running through the Waterview tunnels, or on any of the widened motorways. The big exception to this is along State Highway 16 west of Pt Chev however there, the government and their agencies refused to build a busway to enable buses to work properly. The upgrades aren’t even finished and not building the busway at the same time is already looking to be a massive and costly blunder.

The real reason for the government opposition?

I’ve long wondered if the real reason the government have often been so reluctant to support rail projects is they know they’ll actually be too popular and everywhere will want one. This is a point Stephen Joyce himself raised in his opposition to the plan – which has also served to see it discussed much more than it probably would have otherwise.

To say nothing of every other electorate in Auckland looking for multi-billions in new railway lines.

It’s not just Auckland that will want them either, I can imagine Wellington, Christchurch and maybe a few other cities wanting rail investment.

Why only half Labour?

A key part of Labours policy of supporting Light Rail is that they’ll pay for half of the costs with Auckland paying the rest. This is the same as what’s now happening with the City Rail Link. Yesterday Mayor Phil Goff raises a point I’ve been meaning to write about since ATAP, why should Auckland pay half. I’ll discuss this issue in greater detail in a separate post but there are a couple of key issues I have.

First, the government’s contribution would come from either general taxes or from a reformed National Land Transport Fund. Even based on that 50:50 arrangement Auckland actually contributes about 68% of the costs because an approximately 36% of the governments contribution would also come from Auckland, as that is Auckland’s proportion of the national economy  economy. So while paying for 68% of these urban Transit project Auckland will still be contributing 36% of the cost of every State Highway everywhere else in the nation. In effect this is using transport capex funding as a kind of city penalty; a way of redistributing from Auckland rate payers to the rest of the nation.

Second and a point also raised by Phil Goff yesterday, why should Aucklanders be stumping up 50% for a national scale project. Auckland’s Strategic Road network (the motorways) are all paid for, 100% by the government. ATAP also agreed on a Strategic PT network as shown below with the Dominion Rd route clearly visible. I’d argue that the strategic PT network should for the most part be funded the same way as the strategic road network.

atap-future-strategic-pt-network

 

The project is a PPP

One aspect missing from the current conversation is that the project isn’t expected to be funded like most transport projects. It has been previously discussed that this would be built and operated as a PPP, something the government have said they want more of. While in most cases PPPs are just another name for debt, with transit systems and the right incentives it might help encourage the private operator to also boost development along the route to make the project even more successful.

Some certainty is needed

Upgrading Dominion Rd has been an on again, off again discussion for the last 20 years and upgrading it is way overdue. As the local business association pointed out yesterday, they need some certainty as to what’s happening

The Dominion Rd Business Association has today called on both the National and Labour parties to stop playing politics over the future form of mass transit along Dominion Rd, saying that businesses along the 7km iconic strip want certainty over what transport will look like over the coming years, not political posturing.

….

Mr Holmes says the uncertain future for Dominion Rd has been a constant source of worry and confusion for businesses and landlords alike, holding back any significant investment in the area.

It’s time that Mayor-elect Phil Goff, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport work constructively with political parties across the political divide to come up with a definitive answer for mass transit in Auckland.

Given the history I don’t think that’s too much to ask

 

 

Regardless of whether light rail or some other form of better buses happen on Dominion Rd in the future, as ATAP points out, some improvements are needed to happen now. The bus lanes have too many gaps, especially through the town centres, they don’t run for long enough each day and double deckers are needed.

Rethinking Airport Rail

At the Auckland Transport Board meeting earlier this week, I did a presentation on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport on airport rail, making the following points in a “one-pager” to the Board.

1.    In our view the Jacobs “SMART Indicative Business Case | PDF” report underestimates the potential catchment of heavy rail, we assume because of the arbitrary requirement for a single seat journey to the airport.

On this point, the following from p.83 of the report shows the catchment for the heavy rail option.  It clearly does miss out stations on the Western line, as well as the yet-to-be-built K Rd and Parnell stations.

rail-catchment

2.    We consider that some of the costs of heavy rail attributed to the airport heavy rail option will most likely be incurred anyway – in particular work required around level crossings.

3.    We consider there is a high risk that the predicted Dominion Road journey times for light rail are overly optimistic, depending on the degree of separation from general traffic.

4.    Implementation of either heavy rail or light rail from the north of the Airport is likely to be decades away and very costly.

5.    Putting aside the report’s assessment of heavy rail vs light rail, we note that the three key problems identified in the Jacobs report do not have to be addressed by a single solution:

a) Constrained access to the Auckland Airport will limit economic growth and productivity;

b) Limited transport choice undermines liveability and economic prosperity for the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu area; and

c) Unaffordable and inflexible planned transport investment constrains access to the Auckland Airport and surrounding business districts and Māngere-Ōtāhuhu area

As is so often the case with any project, defining the problems you are trying to solve is paramount.  The SMART study has some useful points, but it is flawed as it is implicit that a single solution must meet all three problems.  By redefining the problem, the Puhinui solution emerges as an option to be considered.

6.    We ask the Board to take the same approach as ATAP in measuring transport effectiveness.  In the context of Auckland Airport, the measure would be the potential catchment of public transport users within a 45 minute radius of the Airport.  This should not preclude transfers between modes to meet this target and should therefore necessarily examine the option of a transfer at Papatoetoe or Puhinui.

7.    We note that the Jacobs report identified that 7,350 daily commuters originate from Manukau and the east, twice as many than that originating from the north and central Auckland.

This was the point that Patrick raised in this post back in August.  The Jacobs report helpfully included this map on p. 36.

AIRPORT Commuter movements

8.    The current Airport 380 bus service connecting at Papatoetoe to rail services yields a fastest possible PT journey time of about 49 minutes from Auckland Airport to Britomart.  However, there are a number of issues associated with transferring at Papatoetoe: frequency of service; ease and legibility of transfers, and the lack of a RTN quality right-of-way.

49 minutes is my own personal best for a trip from Auckland Airport to the CBD.  It was a bit of a fluke as the 380 arrived at Papatoetoe about 1 minute before the train arrived.  “Legibility of transfers” is a reference to the same bus stop being used for both Manukau-bound and Airport-bound directions of the same service.  Moving the transfer point to Puhinui would have a positive impact on reducing the CBD – Auckland Airport journey time, but it will be absolutely critical for any new service to be much more frequent than the current half hourly service and it would have to be in its own right-of-way to avoid the ever increasing congestion along 20B.

380bus

9.    It is timely to bring to the attention of the Board that NZTA is currently planning a widening of 20B along the Puhinui Rd alignment for general traffic.

In actual fact Auckland Transport officials were already aware of this, but in the past Auckland Transport have had to play catch-up with New Zealand Transport Agency.  Hopefully there will come a day where Auckland Transport advance public transport projects ahead of the NZTA’s road building exploits. AT have even gone as far as looking at catchments and alignments of what could be the Botany Line, which are shown in these two illustrations that were supplied to us.

botany-line-catchment2

atoptions

Desired outcomes:

1.    As a matter of urgency, AT should work with the NZTA to designate a rail corridor east of Auckland Airport on the 20B alignment with a connection to the main trunk line.  This designation work should also consider extending further east to include Botany.

2.    Immediately establish a bus shuttle service between Puhinui Station and Auckland Airport, preferably with bus priority measures.

3.    Auckland Transport should continue with designating a rail corridor between Onehunga and Auckland Airport.

That final point is important.  The residents of Mangere and surrounding areas deserve decent rapid transit as much as anywhere else in Auckland, and they really have been short-changed by successive organisations failing to plan a rapid transit corridor.  Perhaps if the main CBD – Airport connection is decided to be via Puhinui, then alternative alignments could be looked at between Onehunga and Mangere that have greater catchments and, potentially, could be a bit cheaper and quicker to implement too.

The presentation was received by the AT Board without much in the way of comment.   It will be very interesting to see how AT evaluate and prioritise a Botany – Puhinui – Airport Line against all the other transport projects going on, including Dominion Rd LRT.   When you look at the potential catchment of the Botany Line and consider that it will probably be cheaper to build, it wouldn’t surprise me if it ranked higher than Onehunga to Auckland Airport rail.  The simple service pattern that would also result from a transfer at Puhinui is also extremely compelling – every Southern or Eastern line train connects to Auckland Airport, both from the north and from the south. We will have to wait and see where this heads now.

Does CRL “complete” Auckland’s heavy rail network?

The ATAP final report includes a 30 year vision for Auckland’s strategic public transport network. It is a substantial expansion of what we have today and quite closely resembles our “Congestion Free Network” developed in 2013:

atap-future-strategic-pt-network

ATAP generally goes out of its way to avoid making a call on the specific mode of new strategic public transport projects, instead using the phrase “mass transit”. However, it does show CRL as the only expansion of the heavy rail network (in red) with all other new strategic PT routes presumably being something other than heavy rail. Elsewhere, ATAP notes the need for ongoing investment in upgrading the existing heavy rail network over time to provide for growth in passenger and freight services – but not an “expansion” of that network.

This is quite a change from the 2012 Auckland Plan, which envisaged heavy rail to the Airport, the Avondale-Southdown Line and, in the longer term, rail to the North Shore. At times we have also seen the Mt Roskill rail spur being considered as another useful (if relatively small) expansion of the heavy rail network.

This change appears to have occurred on a relatively ad hoc project by project basis, rather than as part of an overall strategic plan, which I think sits behind much of the discomfort that people have felt about Auckland Transport decision to progress light-rail, rather than heavy rail, as their preferred strategic public transport mode to the Airport. It is worth thinking about this shift at a network level, in particular at the question of whether further expansion of the heavy rail network is likely. If not, it seems that CRL may actually be the end of the heavy rail network – rather than a key catalyst for its expansion.

Compared to other PT modes, heavy rail has some advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages:

  • Very high capacity
  • High speed
  • Can leverage off existing network

Disadvantages:

  • Very demanding geometry leading to high construction costs
  • Creates severance when at surface level

For Airport rail, the capacity requirement of heavy rail wasn’t really a factor, due to relatively low projected passenger volumes – around 2,000 southbound trips in the morning peak in 2046 (compared to around 10,000 peak trips coming over the Harbour Bridge today in the morning peak):

modelled-demand

While I think actual use will be much higher than this (models tend to substantially under-estimate future public transport use) it will still be well within the capacity capabilities of other modes like light rail. Therefore, the comparison really came down to a speed vs cost trade-off, with the high cost of serving heavy rail’s much more demanding geometry making this trade-off clearly fall in favour of light-rail.

option-bcrs

The high costs of serving heavy rail’s demanding geometry means that heavy rail is most likely to “stack up” as the best option when we’re looking at a corridor with extremely high demand (i.e. beyond what might be able to be catered for through other modes) or where we can utilise the existing network.

North Shore rapid transit is potentially an example of a corridor which is likely to have very high demand in the future – because it is the only connection between a very large part of Auckland to the north, and the rest of the region. Early work a few years back suggested heavy rail as the preferred option, but more recently this appears to have shifted – illustrated by ATAP’s strategic PT network map linking North Shore rapid transit into the proposed Dominion Road LRT line. I know Auckland Transport are currently looking at different rapid transit options to serve the North Shore once the Northern Busway hits its capacity limits. I suspect the main question will be the trade-off between the extra capacity you get from heavy rail against the much higher costs of having to regrade the busway, along with the challenge of how it would link into the rest of the public transport system.

Importantly, even if the CRL does “complete” the heavy rail network and we don’t see major new lines in the future, there’s major upgrade of the network we have that will be required over time. Most obviously this is to separate passenger and freight services, but over time I see the need to separate local and express passenger trains – especially as the southern greenfield area grows. Therefore, ATAP’s $3 billion 30 year rail programme is almost certainly on the light-side of likely future investment in the heavy rail network in Auckland.

Central Access Plan – Mass Transit for the Isthmus

In July Auckland Transport stealthily uploaded a 97 page Programme Business Case on the Light Rail page of the AT website. Due to ATAP (Auckland Transport Alignment Project), the Unitary Plan and City Rail Link (CRL) has gone a little bit under the radar.

So what is it? Technically while Light Rail is one part of the business case, the document is called the Central Access Plan (CAP) & deals issues identified in City Centre Future Access Study, which was even with the CRL CBD bus corridors would reach breaking point due to bus congestion/numbers on Wellesley & Symonds Streets.

2041-buses-withcbdrl

Bus Numbers with CRL 2041

It looks to be part of a wider scope of studies/works about providing transport access to Central Auckland, they being the CRL which provides good access for the West/South/Inner East, the North Shore Rapid Transit study, which I assume is looking at a need for future rapid transit options either standalone or as part of AWHC project in the foreseeable future, and the Northwest Rapid Transit Project which one would assume is the Northwest Busway report due April 2017 prepared by Aurecon. 

Access to Central Auckland

Access to Central Auckland

The area the Central Access Plan looks as if it trying to address is Void, which has been mentioned on this blog before, the isthmus area between the Western & Southern lines. This area consists of some of Auckland’s major arterials & bus routes – Mt Eden Road, Sandringham Road, Manukau Road and Dominion Road.  

The Void

The Void

 

The study identified 3 major problems

  • The inability to meet current and projected transport demand on key corridors will sustain unreliable travel and poor access to productive central city jobs
  • Blockages and delays in central bus services worsen travel times and customer experience for those using public transport
  • High and increasing traffic volumes on residential and inner city streets create adverse urban amenity and environmental effects.

The study also notes that “There is already a substantial problem now with buses frequently late and full, resulting in passengers being left behind. Projects and initiatives such as the City Rail Link (CRL) and the New Network, largely with double-decker buses, will provide substantial additional capacity, but the underlying growth in projected demand is so great that most bus routes and the associated terminals and bus stops will have reached capacity by the early 2020s. The stress on the system at that time will be such that only the introduction of a mode that can move more people in fewer vehicles and that can use the sole under-used City Centre corridor – Queen Street – will provide more than very marginal relief. While measures to optimise the use of the bus services and reduce demand through promoting active travel are integral components of the proposed programme, they only ‘buy time’ before the extra corridor must be brought into use with a higher capacity mode. They will help to make conditions more tolerable as demand continues to grow and before a step-change can be introduced.”

CBD Street Capacity

CBD Street Capacity

The below graphs show the buses per hour needed on each street, the Orange shows unmet demand due to over the realistic capacity of buses on the corridor.

Wellesley St Bus Numbers

Wellesley St Bus Numbers

Symonds St Bus Numbers

Symonds St Bus Numbers

The below map shows the Business as Usual scenario, with the red areas no longer within the 45min PT Commute of the City if speeds decrease by 31% (This was a KPI in ATAP)

Areas within 45 CBD PT Commute

Areas within 45 CBD PT Commute

To try & mitigate the 3 problems above they first tested 6 options against the Do Minimum Network (The Do Minimum Network included CRL/AMETI/Busway to Albany, Puhoi-Walkworth, as well as Southern/Northern Corridor Improvements.), the options were (Please note these are the Plan’s Pros/Cons, I don’t necessary agree with all)

Option 1 – Do Regardless which includes: Auckland Cycle Network – $200m, More Double Deckers – $80m, City Centre Street Improvements – $30m, Footpath improvements – $15m, Bringing forward Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd stations – $10m, Implementing off board collections, traffic signal changes, more cycle parking and bus shelter improvements – $2m

Pro: Buys Time & minor increase of capacity.

Cost: $340m

Option 1 - Do Regardless

Option 1 – Do Regardless

Option 2 – Non-Financial Demand Management which included reducing parking supply in CBD, all lanes on Symonds (Past K’ Road) & Wellesley during peak would be bus lanes, more aggressive cycle/walking upgrades due to removal of parking.

Pros: Improves Bus Efficiency, more space for Active Modes, does not preclude further options & reduction in pollution.

Cons: Effectiveness Short Lived

Cost: $540M (Not sure if Do Regardless Cost is Part of each Options Cost or Not)

Option 2 - Demand Management

Option 2 – Demand Management

Option 3 – Extended Bus Network which turns Queen Street into a surface busway for Dominion & Sandringham Road bus services as well as changes to other routes.

Pros: Increase of Capacity & Bus Efficiency, Removal of General Traffic from Queen, Buys a number of years before further intervention.

Cons: Lots of Buses on Queen Street, effective short lived without bus terminal capacity, restricts future interventions, high cost.

Cost: $920M

Option 3 - Extended Bus Network

Option 3 – Extended Bus Network

Option 4 – A Mt Roskill Spur using the Avondale Southdown Corridor with two stations at Owairaka & Mt Roskill.

Pros: Low Impact due to using rail designation, provides extra capacity on inner west stations, buys time before further intervention, some reduction in buses, does not affect further intervention.

Cons: Short lived, low train frequencies adds to travel times, longer distance for Dominion Road.

Cost: $540M

Option 4 - Mt Roskill Spur

Option 4 – Mt Roskill Spur

Option 5 – An LRT Network which consists of 5 stages. Stage 1: Mt Roskill via Queen Street & Dominion Road, Stage 2: An extension to Wynyard Quarter, Stage 3: A Sandringham Road LRT Line via Queen Street, Stage 4 & 5: Three Kings via Symonds & Mt Eden Road LRT, Onehunga via Symonds & Manukau Road LRT.

Pros: Provides necessary capacity, travel time improvements, removes high level of buses from CBD, removes traffic from Queen Street, increase of public space.

Cons: Cost & potential impact on general traffic in isthmus.

Cost: 3,740M  

Option 5 - LRT

Option 5 – LRT

Option 6 – The introduction of a Bus Rapid Transit System with a CBD Bus Tunnel.

Pros: Provides necessary capacity, travel time improvements, removes buses from CBD surface, increase of public space, North Shore services can use tunnel.

Cons: Extremely high cost, large tunnel portals & potential impact on general traffic in isthmus.

Cost: $9,540M

Option 6 - BRT Tunnel

Option 6 – BRT Tunnel

AT then put each option against criteria with a ranking of 1-5 for each, the total was the average score with LRT coming on top as best option with a average of 4.4/5 compared to the next highest option the BRT tunnel at 3.7/5.

Cap Option Evaluation

Cap Option Evaluation

After concluding that LRT was possibly the best way forward, they looked deeper into the option, the first observation they made from the models was that “a second light rail service pattern using Symonds Street, Manukau Road and Mt Eden Road may be required towards the very end of the 30 year period. Allowance has not been made for this service pattern in the IP owing to the level of uncertainty in forecasting so far out as noted in ATAP.” So in the time frame they would only be looking at Cost/Benefits of two of the LRT Lines, Dominion Rd & Sandringham Road

Dominion Rd LRT had a Cost Benefit Ratio (CBR) of 0.7 – 1.9 if land value uplift was included, this allowed the potential of a Mt Roskill Spur to be potentially added to the package. The Cost of Dominion Rd LRT including Wynyard Quarter was $1,367m.

Dominion Rd & Sandringham Rd LRT had a CBR of 0.5 – 1.1. However they say this should improve due to it being able to be staged. The cost of Sandringham LRT they have estimated at $500m.

AT says there is issues with the modelling however for the following reasons which do not allow a proper case to be made

  • The constraint of requiring a fixed land use for the evaluation is a flawed assumption, as without additional capacity for travel to the City Centre, the ability to deliver the land use is compromised.
  • Similarly, for the people that are ‘crowded off’ the public transport services, there is likely to be a second order effect on general traffic as some of them would be forced back to car travel, making it even less efficient in the process. The performance of the road network would also be expected to degrade over time so potential benefits further in the future are likely to be under represented.
  • Large public transport projects where a step change is being made represent a significant investment up front, but offer comparatively modest benefits in the early years. However, for a number of reasons there is a need to make that investment at that point in as there are no feasible options to allow continued functionality without the investment.
  • The reliability improvements that come with almost completely segregated travel need to be explored further, particularly as the EEM currently caps them at the same value as the travel time savings.
  • The non-transport benefits, such as increased tourism activity in the City Centre would further contribute to the overall economic benefit of the IP.
  • Land use value uplift has not been estimated in detail but based on overseas examples is potentially large. Further assessment will confirm the magnitude of these benefits.

These are now the same graphs as before but with the Programme Interventions

Wellesley St Bus Numbers with Intervention

Wellesley St Bus Numbers with Intervention

cap-symonds-st-bus-numbers-with-intervention

Symonds St Bus Numbers with Intervention

With ATAP released the other day, it should be noted they in the Indicative Projects List have said that Bus Improvements may be able to last until the 2nd Decade 2028-38 period before a Mass Transit system may need to be introduced, I am not sure ATAP & CAP are on the same page regarding this, and this issue may potentially need more investigation.

So what do you think?

A Visit to Portland

This is a guest post by our most august regular reader Warren Sanderson.

Over many years I have developed a dislike for what the concentration of motorway/roading only expenditure is doing to our cities and particularly Auckland. This heavy concentration on roading expenditure with ever widening multi-lane roads is promoting unsustainable car dominance and frequent severance of neighbourhoods from parts previously closely aligned. In other words, it is not doing much for “quality of place”.

I have been reading Transport Blog regularly for some years now because of my interest in architecture and city design and why some cities have so much more appeal as places to visit and live in than other cities.

And over the years Portland is frequently mentioned and photographed in Transport Blog as one of those desirable urban places for living.

So seeing that Portland was the only North American west coast city of any significance that I hadn’t visited, it was time for my wife and me to go.

But first I have to confess to recently attaining 80 years of age. I didn’t aspire to reach this age – it just crept up on me. And going forward there can’t be many advantages in reaching 80 but the reason I mention it is twofold:

When entering the U.S. this time they did not want to fingerprint me or make me take off my belt and shoes when going through security. The terrorist potential of 80 plus’ers must be considered low. My ‘young’ wife however, who in any event would cause far less trouble than me, got the full treatment.

The second advantage, although one only needed to be 65 for this, was one of nomenclature. We were not merely ‘pensioners’, not even ‘senior citizens’ but were ‘Honoured Citizens’ (Generation Zero take note!) and as such were entitled to half cost of the already modest cost of public transit on the TRI-MET System.

Upon arrival the volunteer information staff at Portland Airport quickly provided us with a ‘Journey Plan’ to the Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland. Other volunteer staff watched over our ticket machine purchase and another directed us to a substitute bus – all so friendly.   Because the light rail line was undergoing maintenance a free shuttle bus took us to Kenton N Denver where we transferred  to light rail for the remainder of the journey.

And wow!  The cost for each of us was $ US 1.25.  Unhonoured citizens pay double. If you choose to go by taxi I am told the cost is $ US 39 – 40.

On this basis, Auckland Airport, New Zealand Government policy, NZTA and AT together, have enormous scope/margin for improvement and it is fair to say that the travelling consumer with the lack of alternatives in Auckland, is being totally ripped–off, both financially and by insipid policy.

benson-hotel-portland

Our hotel was the Benson Hotel.  It was well located on the corner of SW Oak and Broadway. I am not sure when it was built but it is impressively Edwardian in character and especially in the lobby area.

From the picture you can see that a considerable portion of the façade is red brick and visually set on a solid base. It was designed to impress which is nothing less than you would expect from Simon Benson, the original owner.

The Benson name crops up frequently in Portland. Benson made a fortune in the timber trade and then moved on to other ventures, activities and also to philanthropy.  He gifted land including impressive waterfalls for state parks along the Colombia River Gorge. In Portland itself, he donated the ‘Benson Bubblers’ (a complete water system) that you can see on so many street corners. See picture below –

benson-bubbler-portland

Portland’s street pattern is mainly organised on a grid system. Because each block is of fairly small dimension the city is reasonably pedestrian friendly. Most crossings do not have a beg button but don’t let your attention stray as there is no pedestrian buzzer. As a pedestrian you need to keep watch or you will miss your turn.

With some notable exceptions the buildings are not usually more than 5 or 6 storeys in height. Many are pared back Louis Sullivan Chicago Style which I find aesthetically pleasing – c.f. our General Building on the corner of Shortland and O’Connell Streets.

And yes, in Portland there are many buildings both older and more recent that are faced in brick. Portland has a high winter rainfall just like Auckland and brick certainly evokes the feeling of shelter and warmth far better than ever grey concrete can do.  See pictures below –

On my return to Auckland I am pleased to note that Ockham’s new Bernoulli Gardens apartment development at Hobsonville Point will offer a European brick façade with some white relief and contemporary detailing. I hope this is a trend and that architects and builders stop trying to con us all, that we are part of the Mediterranean.

Let us return to the reason for visiting Portland – that is to use and explore their light train transit system.

Well wow!  It is so easy to use – even for strangers. We walked three short blocks up to Pioneer Courthouse Square and purchased a number of HR (remember Honoured Citizen) Day Pass tickets at $ US 2.50 each. They need to be validated before use, at the little machine at the train stop. In the centre of Portland itself the trains run each way a street apart but with the aid of the TRI-MET System Map you soon get used to it.

For our first trip we took the Beaverton train westwards which soon enters a long rail only tunnel under the Washington Park hills before arriving at the Beaverton Transit Centre. We then took the Hillsboro train which comes on the same route but continues much further out to Hillsboro where Saturday Market was in full swing.

The light rail train goes fairly slowly on its tram style rails in the city but goes much faster on its railway style rails once it is on its own dedicated way a little further out.

On another occasion we went south crossing over the Willamette River on the much noted Tilikum Pedestrian and Rail only Bridge to Milwaukie.

On our final day we returned to the airport, initially part way by bus because of the maintenance and the rest of the way by light train from the Gateway Transit Centre – again the cost was $ US 1.25 each.

TRI-MET advertise that 45% of commuters and 45% of students use Transit every day and I understand that in Portland 6% of commuters bike to work each day compared with  .5% of commuters in the U.S. nationally.

Not everything in Portland is perfect however.  On the eastern side of the Willamette River there is a plethora of freeways flanking the river. You only have to go to the 30th floor of the U.S. Bankcorp Building to obtain a great view of the city and of these motorways including entries and exits snaking and weaving on the far river bank. Many are elevated like our motorways in the sky at Auckland’s Waterview and frankly all are rather ugly.

porttand-freeways

And then there is the question of stigma – the belief among some that only lower status people use transit.  For example, when checking in for our departure at the airport, I commented that we had used Portland’s excellent public transit system to reach the airport and the attractive airline girl replied “Yes, it is very cheap but you get some funny fellow travellers”.

I thought about this comment afterwards and to a very limited extent had to agree with it on that particular route. In the other direction to Beaverton and Hillsboro all passengers had seemed ‘very normal’ so I guess in large measure, passengers are reflective of areas transit serves. Furthermore the latter route goes through a long tunnel because of the natural barrier of the Washington Park hills which may make driving at peak over more winding roads a less attractive alternative, thereby upping the patronage.

Maybe too, the overcoming of the significant natural barrier of the Washington Park hills, would in turn, appear to be an indicator of success for light rail from the new Aotea Station under Auckland Harbour to the populous North Shore.

So bring it on.

I can’t wait !!

Five Years

Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.

But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.

Why Are There Cars on Queen St?

This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine

Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.

People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.

No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.

It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.

And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.

If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.

Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.

END

And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.

Queen St volumes - Total

Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.

Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:

  1. Pedestrians in all directions
  2. Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
  3. Deliveries
  4. General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs

And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.

So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.

Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.

Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…

In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.

Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?

‘…Five Years, what a surprise’

Airport RTN: a quick first step

AT have now put the SMART study documents on their site, here. There’s a lot to review there and this post is not a look at the whole report and its conclusions, but rather is a response to the problem of the length of time this project is likely to take whatever mode is selected.

All of the proposals in the report are capital intensive, without any currently identified funding source, and the timing of the RT route looks likely to be complicated by the Airport’s development plans, particularly those for the second runway, so there is a good case for looking at interim improvements for Airport/RTN interconnection while these bigger decisions are being resolved. I am focussing on the airport because of its fast growth is clearly a major generator of increased traffic congestion for the whole Mangere area.

First some background from the report. Just setting aside travellers for a moment, what about the workforce at and around the Airport, what are their current patterns?:

AIRPORT Commuter movements

So we can see in the above data from the 2013 census that the key connection for workers is east to Manukau area, followed by that to the centre. Furthermore that employee movement is still quite peaky, despite the airport itself obviously being a 24 hour operation:

Airport worker arrivals

 

So what opportunities are there for a quick and relatively low cost connection between the Airport and the current RTN, particularly with the above information in mind, that could be built while the full Mangere/Airport RT route is being developed, whatever the mode? RTN 2016 AirportThe first and obvious point is that there is already, right now, great service on the spine of the Southern Line relatively close to the Airport, particularly to the City Centre, but also south and across to Manukau City. Where the red and blue lines overlap there are services every five minutes at peak. So there seems to be a clear opportunity to improve connection east from the Airport for its own catchment while that also will connect, via the rail system, the City Centre and anyone who can access a train station.

Currently the connection between rail system and the Airport is very poor, as anyone -like me- who has used it will tell you.

New Network South

The 380 via Papatoetoe station is not a viable option because of three problems [the longer and slower route to Onehunga is even worse, as well leading to an equally low frequency train]:

  • Low frequency: 1/2 hourly service
  • Slow route; the 380 has no priority on its route so therefore is subject to both delay and unreliability caused by other traffic [I have been on this bus stuck in traffic for tens of minutes]
  • The Station/Bus physical connection at Papatoetoe does little to encourage the transfer.

So why not investigate a dedicated shuttle between the even closer Puhinui Station and the Airport on a minimum 10 minute frequency with dedicated lanes on Puhinui Rd and improved passenger interchange at the station, complete with lifts for people with luggage, and all weather cover? Puhinui is currently timetabled at 33-35 minutes from Britomart [this should improve with current work] with a train leaving every 5 mins at the peaks, exactly when traffic congestion is at is most disruptive. With bus lanes on Puhinui Rd the journey to the terminals would be a reliable 10 mins. Including an average wait time of 5 mins that’s a perfectly satisfactory 50 minute journey from Britomart to the Airport. Because this journey time is reliable and not subject to congestion and avoids the time and cost of parking at the Airport it should be competitive enough for a good proportion of travellers and workers. As shown below, there is space to build an interchange and turning space to the west [Airport] side of the station, this would need to be of interchange standard.

PUHINUI

The Puhinui Rd/20B road and bridge are due to be upgraded or duplicated soon in the on-going work to increase general traffic access to the Airport [what you feed grows] surely it would be wise to actually include dedicated transit lanes on a bridge in Auckland for once? This is a future RTN route, the route is flat and unconstrained by buildings; these are good practical and cost arguments for bringing this section forward. Shoulder lanes, or better, a dedicated busway and bridge, LRT ready, would be real ‘future-proofing’ [a phrase it is hard not to be cynical about in Auckland as it generally means doing less than nothing in practice].

With this service then it would be viable and essential to brand both the shuttle bus service at the terminals and the Southern and Eastern line services, both of which, with no changes to how they currently run, then become true Airport services.

Of course the transfer is less ideal than a system that takes you on one seat right into the Terminal either as a flyer or an employee there, however we know many travellers currently transfer from their cars to various bus shuttles in order to get cheaper parking, and surely many workers would be happy to not to have to battle increasing congestion with a reliable and cost effective alternative. In other words by optimising the bus connection we will further unlock the value of investments recently made in the rail system. It probably makes sense on those grounds alone.AIRPORT -Puninui

This should not be seen as instead of a north/south pan Mangere RTN, but it would surely make a good start, especially as this is the route for the future Botany-Manukau City-Airport RTN. So it would be even better if it continued to the new interchange at Manukau City, and then on to Botany and AMETI. And ensuring all hard infrastructure is built to be efficiently upgradeable to Light Rail in the longer term. Improving eastern connectivity is completely compatible with the northern Mangere routes discussed in the study, and indeed the current Airbus service, so arguably is an even more urgent direction to improve. There is no duplication in sorting this connection out first.

Botany Line

Incidentally this map clearly shows the other areas lacking RTN coverage: the Northwest and Upper Harbour, and the Isthmus and Mangere….

Which is exactly what AT have on their future RTN maps, but far too far into the future in my view. This is still based on last century’s thinking where every road is widened first, leading to the inevitable dysfunction and only then do we try to relieve this adding quality RT alternatives.

To summarise: we already have a high quality Rapid Transit service almost all the way to the airport, it seems to me that the addition of a high quality connection between these points would be a very useful first move in improving connectivity in this important area, especially if taken at least to Manukau City too, and as soon as possible.