Trams – well modern light rail – could be making a comeback to Auckland after an absence of 60 years if Auckland Transport get their way. That’s the major surprise hidden in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan that has been released today. The RLTP is the document that outlines at a high level the what AT and other transport agencies such as the NZTA and Kiwirail plan to do over the next decade and with specific detail about the next three years.
Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne
Immediately there are a number of important questions many will be asking such as why Light Rail, why now and what about the City Rail Link. AT say everything stems back to the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The CCFAS was a response to the government questioning whether the CRL was the best way of solving access problems to the city centre. It found that the CRL plus a combination of street improvements to cope with buses would be needed.
In the outer parts of the region buses will feed into one of the planned Rapid Transit lines (Rail or busways) – and the CRL was key to making the RTN work – however crucially there is what AT call a large void in the central isthmus not covered by the RTN network. In that void are some of the busiest and most heavily used bus routes in the city – which is unsurprising as the suburbs were initially designed and built to support PT.
The central isthmus void in the RTN
It turns out that even with the CRL the sheer number of buses that will need to come from this area will overwhelm city streets. The image below from the last Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing study shows projected bus volumes in 2041 even with the CRL.
And this is the outcome of too many buses on city streets, a veritable solid wall dividing the street.
So far from being in competition with the CRL AT are looking at light rail to complement it as a way of addressing bus congestion from areas the CRL can’t touch. It also allows AT to put a higher quality service to areas the rail network is close to but doesn’t pass through such as the Universities and Wynyard Quarter.
The future solution must provide additional capacity, without degrading the quality of the City centre or surrounding neighbourhoods. AT is evaluating a number of options to address this including double-deckers, bus lane expansion and bus interchanges. While many of these bus improvements still need to happen, they will not provide sufficient capacity to move the increase in Aucklanders wishing to travel into the city centre.
Following assessment of options, a light rail network serving the central isthmus has been identified, as the best option to overcome these issues. Similar issues and constraints in successful cities such as Sydney, Canberra and the Gold Coast have reached the same conclusion; that light rail has the ability to provide the necessary public transport capacity and support the city’s intended development. Recent projects in Australasia mean significant recent experience can be drawn on for analysis.
Modern light rail solutions avoid the visual pollution of overhead lines and generate significantly less carbon emissions than the equivalent movement of passengers by bus. Figure 19 below illustrates how different modes have different capacities and travel speeds.
The bus numbers are a bit lower than I suspected however this might be due to AT comparing bus priority on the isthmus streets they’re talking about. In effect one modern Light Rail vehicle every 1-2 minutes will hold more people than a double decker bus every 30 seconds.
So which streets are they considering installing light rail, they say that after investigation the most appropriate are
- Queen Street
- Symonds Street
- Dominion Road
- Sandringham Road
- Manukau Road
- Mount Eden Road
There is no maps to show just what routes they would take so I’ve taken a guess based on the streets and key locations near them (hence the extension of Sandringham Rd Along Stoddard Rd).
AT say the development of such a network would also open up the opportunity for light rail to the airport, on the North Shore or to other locations which I suspect could mean to the North West or out East.
Of course the biggest question of all is the cost which AT haven’t given any details on but say is potentially significant. They say they are currently evaluating funding options including looking at private sector investment i.e. PPPs. They also note that while the capital cost is high that the operational costs are lower than the equivalent bus fleet and the benefits of the initial investment extend over generations.
Completely coincidentally I wrote a post just a few days ago looking at what it might cost to restore the old tram network. This obviously isn’t the entire old tram network but at ~29km it is a decent chunk of it. There seems to be a wide range in costs from around $6 million per km of single track in Wynyard Quarter up to over $100 million per km (double track) in some Australian cities and averaging around $30 million per km in US cities. As we would be putting any light down existing roads that used to have trams I would expect costs to on the lower end of the scale so including vehicles to run on it we may be talking around $1 billion. That’s a hell of a lot of money that could be spent on a lot of transport projects however the benefits to the city centre, the central isthmus and the city as a whole are also likely to be significant making it an exciting prospect.
We’ve only seen some basic details and much much more information is needed but until then I’m cautiously supportive.
Could this be gliding down Dominion Rd in the near future? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne
In Peter’s weekly wrap up post on Sunday he included a piece from Alan Davies who looked at what it would take financially to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s.
The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.
If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).
Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.
Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.
That got me thinking about how much it might cost if we ever decided to completely rebuild Auckland’s old tram network. The old network is shown below which was built primarily in the first few decades of the 20th century – horse drawn trams existed before that – and ripped out in the 1950’s.
In total the old network is about 70km in length so quite a bit shorter than Melbourne’s network. Even today the bus routes that largely replicate the tram network are some of the busiest in the city, in large part because the suburbs built on the back of the trams were designed to make it fairly easy to use them.
So what would it cost. The only local example we have of laying tram tracks is in Wynyard Quarter where the
horizontal Ferris Wheel Auckland Dockline Tram exists. It consists of 1.3km of single track and cost about $8 million which included a special noise and vibration dampening section along Jellicoe St. By figures seen overseas this price seems remarkably cheap and if we could built out an entire network at that figure it would cost around $900 million although that doesn’t include the cost of trams or places to store and maintain them. I would be incredibly surprised if we could do it for that cheap.
Looking over at North America it seems that costs are generally around US$35 million per mile (NZ$28m per km) and at that rate it would cost $4 billion to build out the old network.
Finally using the Australian figures from the start of the post and converted to NZ dollars we get a cost of over $9 billion based on the Gold Coast example or around $13.5 billion based on the Sydney example.
That’s quite a bit of variety in prices although of course as Davies he mentions in his post the cost is driven in large part by how much segregation the modes have. Further he points out that any large scale roll out would likely have some cost efficiencies which would bring the sums down a bit.
If we ever decided to properly reintroduce trams or light rail back to Auckland it’s not likely the entire old network would be rebuilt as it was however it’s certain that heavily used routes like Dominion Rd would still be prime candidates. The real question is if an increase in patronage, savings in operational costs (due to fewer drivers, cheaper fuel etc.), reduced emissions and reduced bus congestion in the city centre make such an idea viable?
Today the Auckland Transport board are meeting, I’ve already covered the board report and in this post I’ll look at the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). As a brief description the RLTP
- Sets out the strategic direction for transport in Auckland including how AT proposes to give effect to the transport components of the Auckland Plan and AT’s strategic themes within the fiscal constraints of the funding provided in the LTP.
- Is consistent with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
- Brings together objectives, policies and performance measures for each mode of transport.
- Sets out a programme of activities to contribute to this strategic direction. It outlines both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Transport Network.
- Includes transport activities to be delivered by NZTA, KiwiRail, the NZ Police, AC and AT.
The draft RLTP will be open for public submission from 23 January – 16 March 2015 which is the same time as the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). We already know much of the detail about what the RLTP holds as it has come out as part the discussion of the LTP over the last few weeks. In particular that there are two transport networks proposed, what’s known as the Basic Transport Programme – a severely constrained network that will see many critical projects such as new transport interchanges put on hold – or what’s known as the Auckland Plan Transport Programme which is the everything including the kitchen sink approach. We’ve discussed the plans before including the sticky mess the basic plan produces.
What’s interesting about the draft RTLP is some of the language used and even more so some of the suggestions for Auckland’s future and it’s some of these aspects I’ll cover in this post. Perhaps most importantly is the document suggests that Auckland Transport are starting to realise that yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems and AT’s Chairman Lester Levy’s says exactly that in his introduction. He also makes a few other bold statements including that Aucklanders deserve better than choosing between poor transport outcomes or paying an extra $300 million a year.
That language carries on through the document and some parts feel like they could have been written by us. While I’m quite cognisant of the fact that these words need to be backed up by actions, the change in the discussion isn’t an isolated case as we’ve started to see similar comments from other agencies such as the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA. That gives me hope that in coming years we’ll see some real improvements in transport planning in Auckland and across the country.
Some of this comes through particularly strongly in the problem definition section of the document – page 30 in the PDF – which lists the four key problems that need to be addressed. The first one identifies that limited transport options are having a negative impact.
1. Limited quality transport options and network inefficiencies undermine resilience, liveability and economic prosperity
Underdeveloped public transport, walking and cycling networks mean that Auckland continues to have high reliance on private vehicle travel and low levels of public transport use, walking and cycling. Private vehicles account for 78% of trips in urban Auckland.
This high dependency on private vehicles means not only that there are long traffic delays but that many people have no choice other than to travel by car. Cars take up space that could otherwise be used to address Auckland’s housing shortage, improve environmental outcomes, improve economic performance, reduce social inequalities, improve health and safety and improve transport affordability. It also increases the risk to the economy from future oil price shocks.
Investments in the rail network and the Northern Busway are already making a difference, and Aucklanders have been taking up these new choices in numbers that exceed all forecasts. Annual surveys of travel to Auckland’s city centre confirm that the growth in public transport travel is already making more capacity available on key links for freight and business trips.
While the fourth problem recognises that we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network. It also notes that expectations of congestion free driving should be a thing of the past
4. Meeting all transport expectations is increasingly unaffordable and will deliver poor value for money
Providing new or expanded transport infrastructure to respond to growth is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient. Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used, and constructing transport infrastructure on land already used for housing or as open space is expensive and unpopular. The Victoria Park Tunnel and the Waterview Tunnel are two examples of roading projects that have been constructed as tunnels to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts, at significant additional cost.
It is clear that expecting a high level of performance from the transport network for all modes in all locations at all times and for all types of trips is increasingly unaffordable and will not provide value for money. The level of performance can appropriately be expected to vary according to location, time of day, type of trip and mode of travel.
And it is carried on into the sections about specific modes/projects. Section 6 (page 41) is all about public transport
Everyone benefits from good public transport, including road freight businesses and car drivers. As more roads are built, more people choose to travel by car and soon traffic congestion is at the same level as before the new road was built. However it is possible to build our way out of traffic congestion by building a public transport system that is good enough to attract people out of cars (16).
Not everyone who uses public transport has a choice. For people who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, public transport opens up opportunities for education, work and a social life. A public transport system that works well for the young, the old and the mobility impaired, and serves the whole community including low income neighbourhoods, builds a stronger, more inclusive society.
And on the City Rail Link they say:
As more and more people want to live in Auckland, more efficient transport is needed. Cars simply take up too much space, and successful cities around the world have each had to solve the problem of how to get ever more people into and around the city as land and space become more valuable.
More people catching the train and bus to and through the city centre will free up parking and traffic space which can be reallocated to make room for the growing numbers of pedestrians. Projects like the Victoria St Linear Park will replace sterile tarmac with spaces which encourage people to linger and enjoy being in the centre of a world class city. The successful transformations of the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter and Britomart are a model for how vibrant and lively the heart of our city can become.
Can you imagine the Auckland Transport of a few years ago describing a road as sterile tarmac?
There are numerous other statements that surprised me in my skim though but perhaps the most significant was this about the future of access to the city centre
While the CCFAS was designed to address regional needs it also highlighted residual city centre access issues, particularly from the central and southern isthmus not served by the rail network including:
- Key arterials with major bus routes are already near capacity will be significantly over capacity in the future even with the CRL and surface bus improvements
- If not addressed now, there will be area-specific problems, including the impact of a high number of buses on urban amenity, in the medium term and acute issues on key corridors in the longer term
To address these issues, work is currently underway to provide an effective public transport solution for those parts of inner Auckland and the City Centre that cannot be served by the heavy rail network, with CRL; that supports growth requirements in a way that maintains or enhances the quality and capacity of the City Centre streets. A range of options are being explored including light rail.
Re-implementing light rail in Auckland would surely be a mammoth task but there could certainly be some benefits to such an idea. This is especially true on some of the central isthmus routes which already have high frequencies, high patronage and a local road network which supports a good walk up catchment. Of course Auckland Transport would need to show just how they could pay for such a thing when funding is so constrained but if it possible it would certainly be one way for them to highlight that they have been thinking differently about transport than they have in the past. Could this be what the secretive CCFAS2 has been about?
The old Tram Network
And let’s not forget we’ve suggested a Dominion Rd tram as part of our Congestion Free Network.
As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.
Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.
This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.
Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”
However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:
There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.
Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.
The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.
Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:
- How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
- How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
- How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?
So many questions. So few answers.
15: Understanding the City Link Bus as a Tram on Rubber Wheels
What if the red city link bus was more like a tram on rubber wheels?
Ok, so trams do have wheels, steel ones on rails. But bear with me, they also tend to be used for short intra-city trips like the City Link Bus route, and therefore have different seating layouts compared to longer haul trains and buses. Anyone who regularly rides the City Link Bus must have noticed how busy it is, often with very little standing room.
Wouldn’t it be great if this bus was designed more like a tram, with inwards-facing (longitudinal) seats creating much more standing room and supporting the hop on, hop off nature of short trips?
(Image Credit: Craig https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd)
This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson
Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg
What do these three cities have in common?
- In my view a real “sense of place”.
- Very efficient public transport systems
- They all had my wife and me as visitors in the month of July. We spent roughly a week reacquainting ourselves with each of these cities during our recent journey to the Baltic countries and northern Germany. For the record, not once in the six weeks we were away and touching eight northern European countries, did we travel in a private motor car. This was independent travel and our modes were bus, train, boat, river ferry boat, light rail, taxi (twice) and lots of walking.
Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.
This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.
One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.
Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.
Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.
I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.
Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.
Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.
Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.
It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.
Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.
As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.
They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.
If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!
I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.
I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.
Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.
What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:
‘GREEN, INCLUSIVE, GROWING CITY BY THE WATER – PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN HAMBURG’.
It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development. This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.
What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;
- More City in the City
- Internal Development Before Expansion
- Good Quality Open Space Even As The City Becomes More Compact
- People Are Already Increasing Their Use Of Street Space And Public Squares
- Hamburg Will Not Become A City Of High Rises – The Ideal Height For Urban Density Is Six To Seven Floors
- When The Port Operations Were Moved To Their New Location Hamburg Is Accepting The Challenge To Create New Residential Areas, Work Places And Attractive Places
- Improving Urban Quality Including – Constructing a new S4 Train Line to the East of Hamburg.
- Roofing Over A7 Motorway Cuttings to Reconnect Severed Parts of the City in the West.
Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:
- The car is losing its importance as a status symbol
- Various modes of transport are to converge and link up at mobility service points in order to make private travel superfluous
- Hamburg must not be allowed to lag behind comparable big cities which are considerably expending their Metro systems
And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –
“ The core conflict in the town planning debate of the last century – the battle between car friendliness and urban life in the city – is now drawing to a close. The city of the future will be liveable and allow mobility also.”
This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.
Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.
The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.
For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.
A stunning little time lapse video of some of the public transport offerings in Vienna, Austria:
Best watched at a reasonably high definition.
If New Zealand hadn’t ripped up its tram tracks in the 1950s, I’m almost certain that some risk-taking Kiwi would have invented this first:
Czech artist Tomáš Moravec… cut down the dimensions of a standard, European wood pallet, or “Eur Pallet,” and fastened what appear to be small cart wheels to the bottom, creating a giant—and specialized—skateboard. The Pallet Skate fits snugly into the tram tracks running through Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and with a few pushes, Moravec glides smoothly around the city.
Moravec’s invention is unconventional, extremely risky, able to be cobbled together in the average garage workshop, and almost certainly illegal. In other words, it’d probably go over well in NZ, the country that came up with bungee jumping, longboarding on motorways, and drift trikes.
San Francisco is a city that is hard on the knees. It’s hilly, really really hilly. The streets are laid out in a classic grid form with criminal disregard to the natural topography. Particularly downtown there are many roads that literally go straight up a small mountain. In some cases, such as the world famous Lombard St, the road cuts a tight series of switchbacks to overcome the grade, however in most they don’t. Stairs instead of footpaths are not unusual.
This inescapable steepness has lead to two key transit outcomes. The first of these are the historic cable cars, formerly right across the city these survive on three routes primarily for tourists. While they look superficially like any historic tram or streetcar they function quite differently. The vehicles themselves are motor less and steering less, the motive power comes from a fixed powerhouse that constantly pulls a steel cable buried in a conduit in the street, between the running rails which take care of the steering. The cable car driver (known as a ‘Gripman’) basically works a giant pair of pliers that grabs the moving cable to pull the carriage along. Think a sort of upside down ski lift. So what are the advantages of this? Well unlike buses and trams there are no motors to rev, no drive wheels to slip. The cable literally hauls the vehicle up the steep inclines like a winch. However with that benefit comes several downsides, they are hard to launch smoothly, they can get stuck on the cable, and most of all the routes have to be arranged as a series of straight cable runs while any curves have to be coasted through. Stuff up the shift from one cable to the next and you gotta get out and push. In most cities advances in electric streetcar technology super ceded the cable car.
The more modern response to San Francisco’s steepness is their trolley buses. These are electric buses running under overhead power by way of a pair of trolley poles. The rubber tyres provide heaps of grip on the steep streets, while the torque-y electric motors and limitless electricity supply provide the oomph to power up them. Seriously, these buses are heroic with what they do every day on the San Fran frequent network grid. They have automated announcements warning you to hold on for particularly steep hills, and is don’t just mean if you happen t be standing up!
The buses are the workhorse of the ‘Muni’ system which also has lines of just about everything under the sun. In addition to electric and diesel hybrid buses, there are several lines of historic streetcar that also provide regular street level transit. Then there are the modern light rail lines which run on street corridors and their own tracks in the outer suburbs, but then run into metro tunnels in the city centre. Directly below the metro tunnel is the BART tunnel, which shares most of the same stations with a second pair of lower platforms. The BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, is a true rapid transit heavy rail metro system that has several lines on both sides of the bay and links to satellite centers and the airport. That system runs monster capacity trains ten or twelve cars in length, every few minutes at peak times. In addition to all this you have Caltrain commuter rail from satellite cities and the nearby parts of California, plus Amtrak long distance trains direct to places as far away as Vancouver, Chicago and New Orleans.
Most of this runs along Market St, the main route into town on the pacific side. Two levels down there are the two BART heavy subway tracks (carrying four frequent lines), one level down there are the light rail Muni metro tracks (carrying six frequent lines), and at street level the are the F line street car tracks in the centre, with separate bus lanes for a dozen trolley and diesel bus routes either side. Here is a question for readers, is this the most transit intensive corridor in the world? Please feel free to post your nominations.
So enough frothing at the mouth over transit. I think it is very important to note that San Francisco is, despite the hills, a good walking city with high cycling rates. So again, if anyone tries to tell you Auckland is too steep for walking or cycling, point them in direction of San Francisco.
Here is a picture of the Castro district which is currently being reconstructed. They have taken out parking and traffic, leaving just two lanes for the trolley buses and service access. They are widening the footpaths greatly to provide space for trees, street furniture and outdoor dining. The old kerb line is where the chain link fence is. I’ll be keeping an eye on how this turns out, it represents a good possibility for Queen St.
One last photo of some housing. I resisted the temptation to dwell on the Painted Ladies or any of the other beautiful historic houses of the Noe Valley or mission district. These are some more modern town houses, probably 70s vintage by the look of them. In my opinion these represent a good way to build the missing middle density of Auckland’s housing stock. They are all simple timber framed weatherboard construction, they are mostly low rise single houses or duplexes on separate sections, they all have one garage each… but no huge setbacks or wasteful side yards and efficient, affordable utilization of desirable land.
All up San Francisco is a wonderland for transport and planning enthusiasts, and provides some good examples for Auckland to take a cue from.
Portland has something of a reputation as an urbanists poster child and my first impression is that it is indeed doing things right. Portland’s renaissance stems back ultimately to a local government amalgamation in the early 90s that led to a compact city master plan for the region that could actually be put into place (well the bits within Oregon state at least). This lead to a big focus on transit, walking and cycling and intensifying in the city. Some big parallels with the Auckland situation there, hopefully Portland represents what Auckland will achieve.
A few observations are immediate. They have short blocks, with lots of cross roads. That means lots of street frontage and lots of corners. Not much in the way of lanes or arcades, probably because they don’t need them. Most intersections are either four way stops with pedestrian priority, or signalised. I noticed that the ped signals appear to be synchronised on some of the main streets, I walked about eight blocks without breaking my stride!
There are a lot of street trees. Lots. They provide shade from the sun and make thing just that much more pleasant. I’m no arborist but those trees look young, perhaps only ten or fifteen years old. I get the feeling they were recently added in a citywide programme to tree every street in the city. Auckland should do the same. Also something that is not immediately obvious is they have very little fast food chains downtown… but they do have a permanent hawker/food truck market covering two city blocks!
Unlike Vancouver or Seattle the streets in Portland have a narrow cross section, probably 20m from building to building. That’s the same as Auckland. In a way it makes the streets more homely and intimate, especially as they aren’t choked with traffic. Broad footpaths, cycle lanes, tram tracks, trees, just not parking and dozens of traffic lanes. Again they intersections don’t splay out for extra lanes or turn pockets. If anyone tells you Auckland streets are too narrow for this or that, point to Portland.
Street parking is uncommon and I can’t recall many parking buildings, bar one particularly huge monster downtown. I wonder if that one building does most of the parking for the whole city?
Portland has both streetcar trams and proper light rail. There is a distinction here. The streetcars are conventional, relatively small 20m trams that run entirely on street. They are effectively flash buses with nice stops, and are great to ride, however they do run in mixed traffic. Downtown they run kerbside, with only one track per street. Opposing directions run on different streets one block apart which can be confusing at first. Frequencies are quite good at ten to fifteen minute head ways most of the day.
The light rail is a different beast. The vehicles are longer, taller and wider, and seem to run exclusively coupled into pairs. A pair like that is about the same size as a single EMU in Auckland, so it’s by no means small. While they do run on street downtown like the streetcars they use different streets and tracks and have a nominally traffic free lane. The killer app here however is that once outside the downtown grid the light rail runs on its own dedicated railway lines, generally located alongside freeways. So they have excellent, if a little slow, penetration into the dense city core, and fast long reach in the suburbs. I caught this out to the airport and it was faster and more convenient than many other airport rail links. There are four lines each running at ten minute headways, but in the centre they pair up on two corridors given very frequent service all day. A great system, and again it could be a very effective option for new corridors in Auckland.
I don’t have a picture of it, but there is one odd street with three lanes: streetcar to one side, light rail to the other, plus a bus lane in the middle!
A picture here of the Portland gondola, which they curiously call a tramway. Gondolas seem to be flavor of the month in transport terms, often they are an answer searching for a question with little regard given to their real life strengths and weaknesses. This application however does seem to be the right choice of technology. It serves a medical precinct and university built at the top of a very large, very steep hill, in an otherwise flat city. One of the streetcars terminates at the bottom station and there is a large paid bike parking lot, both of which give good access to the gondola.
Speaking of cycling, there is plenty of it but a conspicuous lack of segregated cycle lanes and cycle ways. Many city streets have painted-line-and-stencil bike lanes, and little else. Perhaps this is actually the holy grail for cycling: a city where cycling is such a normal, standard aspect of using the road, and where traffic is so light and civilized, that special cycling infrastructure just isn’t needed.
A quick picture of their new waterfront development precinct. Human scaled buildings, street trees, cycle lanes, public transport, mixed use, some parking, short blocks and small intersections. Wynyard take note, this is how you do it right.
Overall Portland is a great city that clearly enjoys the fruits of its labours over the previous two decades. Auckland has a lot to learn from this city which rightly deserves it’s reputation as a golden child of reurbanisation.