Sunday reading 14 August 2016

Hi, and welcome back to Sunday Reading.

The 25th of July marked the 100th anniversary of zoning. Increasingly zoning is being attributed to a growing number of city ills including low productivity, segregation, and reducing economic mobility. Just as conventional traffic engineering (eg. the requirement for parking minimums) is being reformed, I think that the practice of zoning is long overdue for an overhaul. A few people agree.

Justin Fox, “Zoning Has Had a Good 100 Years. Enough Already“, Bloomberg.

After about 1970, though, zoning’s negative economic effects began to grow. Before then, housing prices were more or less the same across the country. Since then, prices in the metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast have risen much faster than in most of the rest of the nation — in the process increasing inequality, thwarting residential mobility and slowing economic growth. Ever-tougher zoning rules and restrictions on growth appear to be a major cause. Fischel has a long list of explanations for this intensification of zoning that I won’t go into here, other than to mention the one that drives me the craziest — the dressing-up of self-interested economic arguments in the language of environmentalism and morality.

Mark Vallianatos and Mott Smith,”Our zoning codes are a relic of a suburban age. There’s a better way to plan“, LA Times.

What both sides miss is that zoning — the focus of planning for the last 100 years — is an inadequate tool for shaping the future of an evolving city. Zoning is a 20th century relic designed to “protect” existing residents from the encroachment of people and buildings they see as “undesirable.” Reformers should focus instead on tangible improvements in the public realm.

Joe Linton, “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Zoning and the World Is Getting Worse“, Streetsblog LA.

So much of zoning and planning are about making things convenient for driving, as opposed to making great places. Two of my biggest pet peeves are parking minimums and street widening, but there are all sorts of car-centric assumptions embedded in the urban forms in zoning and planning. There are further car-centric assumptions embedded other neutral-sounding governmental transportation planning processes. Don’t get me started on traffic engineering.

When I am at my crankiest, I think that we would be better off without any zoning or planning. But in my quieter moments, I can acknowledge that there is a baby somewhere in all that bathwater.

I look around Los Angeles. I can’t think of any great places here that were built after zoning emerged. I live in Koreatown which is among L.A. County’s densest neighborhoods with about 67 people per acre. Buildings on my street were built about a hundred years ago, adjacent to a streetcar line. Next door, there is a 40-unit apartment building with no parking. My building has eight units and five parking spaces. None of this would be allowed under current city plans.

Julie Anne Genter (@julieAnneGenter)  posted some great tweets during the Unitary Plan hearing on the absurdity of the zoning debate in Auckland.

It’s good to look to the other cities to see how bad housing affordability can get. As far as I can tell the Bay Area of California is the worst. In San Francisco ‘progressives’ are stifling housing growth and trying to kick industry out to slow job growth. Of course there is limit to how high housing costs can get before people start to look for better options. This article – Techies Can’t Afford San Francisco Anymore suggests that a quarter of ‘techies’ in the San Francisco are looking for jobs in other cities.

Here is the resignation letter of a young planning commissioner in Palo Alto who has given up advocating for more housing and has instead opted to leave the city. Kate Vershov Downing, “Letter of Resignation from the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission“, NewCo Shift,

Over the last 5 years I’ve seen dozens of my friends leave Palo Alto and often leave the Bay Area entirely. I’ve seen friends from other states get job offers here and then turn them down when they started to look at the price of housing. I struggle to think what Palo Alto will become and what it will represent when young families have no hope of ever putting down roots here, and meanwhile the community is engulfed with middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighborhood block parties, earthquake preparedness responsibilities, or neighborhood watch. If things keep going as they are, yes, Palo Alto’s streets will look just as they did decades ago, but its inhabitants, spirit, and sense of community will be unrecognizable. A once thriving city will turn into a hollowed out museum. We should take care to remember that Palo Alto is famous the world over for its residents’ accomplishments, but none of those people would be able to live in Palo Alto were they starting out today.

Further commentary on this:

Sam Levin, “Housing official in Silicon Valley resigns because she can’t afford to live there“, The Guardian.

Analysts are now predicting that the housing crisis is going to have a serious impact on higher paid tech workers, potentially encouraging a sizable exodus.

While many housing advocates have pressured tech firms to contribute significant funds to help mitigate the crisis, others have argued that the blame lies with cities that promote a “not-in-my-back-yard” mentality and have blocked the rapid housing development that the region now needs.

“I have repeatedly made recommendations to the council to expand the housing supply in Palo Alto so that together with our neighboring cities who are already adding housing, we can start to make a dent in the jobs-housing imbalance that causes housing prices throughout the Bay Area to spiral out of control,” Kate wrote in her resignation letter.

The Downings and other tech workers who have recently left Palo Alto said the only homes they could afford would require them to live in areas far from their offices, forcing them to embark on hellish commutes.

Here’s a new game “Brand New Subway“. It  lets you modify versions of the New York Subway system or create a new one from scratch. The challenge of the game is to maximise ridership while minimising costs. Hmmm, where I have heard that before?

Driverless cars will be here soon. A colleague recently visited the Bay Area and said they were “all over the valley” and that “people hate them because they follow the speed limit”.  Here’s Robin Chase the co-founder of ZipCar highlighting the urgency (and opportunity) of planning for self driving cars: “Self driving cars will improve our cities if they don’t ruin them“, BackChannel.

Right now, we’re not even alert to how crucial the choices are. In fact, we’re falling asleep at the wheel. Most people in charge of shaping cities — mayors, transportation planners, developers, and lawmakers — haven’t realized what is about to hit them and the speed at which it is coming. They continue to build as if the future is like the present.

Instead, cities and countries must actively shape the introduction of AVs. We are getting access to this technical marvel at the precise moment when cities are full and bursting from the urbanizing of our planet, when we absolutely need to transition rapidly from fossil fuels, and when it is imperative to improve people’s access to opportunity: jobs, education, health services. We have the ability to eliminate congestion, transform the livability of cities, make it possible to travel quickly and safely from A to B for the price of a bus ticket, improve the quality of our air, and make a significant dent in reducing CO2 emissions.

The very landscape of our cities will change. On-street and almost all off-street parking, including parking garages, will be unnecessary and we’ll get rid of them. Communities and local governments can come up with criteria and priorities for how to repurpose that newly available public space: wider sidewalks, more street trees and plantings, bike lanes, street furniture. Progressive cities will make use of old parking lots, garages, and gas stations to fix what was lacking: affordable housing, green space, grocery stores, schools. Proactive cities will know their priorities neighborhood by neighborhood, as well as their criteria for action, before the transition begins.

Kats Dekker, “Let’s design for women too – beyond the commute“, Spatial Fairness.

Disregarding over 80% of all trips does not seem a sensible way forward. Yet, the transport systems and practices, still, are obsessed with the commute, even after various pushes for change have been made by the research community over many years.

Just looking at commuting data misses to consider a large number of trips, especially those made by women. Women, as is clear, are not a minority group. Yet women and their needs, even as a major group in society (women make more trips than men), are often disregarded. Looking at the commuting data alone discriminates against women in general, women’s activities and discounts women’s place in society.

We historically have looked at the commute for its coincidence with the rush hour, to deal with peak travel demand. In the UK at least, a real and honest look at space as a limited precious resource (and how to carve it up fairly and effectively) has not taken place. The commute focus has not brought about a better transport system with alternatives to the private car largely still excluded. I suggest that taking the commute approach brings the problem that over 80% of all trips have been neglected in transport assessments. These trips require attention for other reasons than the peak demand. Reasons are for example safety needs when travelling with kids and transporting shopping. In cycle cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam these trips are still carried out by women, by they are cycled. Removing those trips from the transport agenda marginalises the importance of women’s everyday activities and careful and sensible provision for these activities.

As most of you know, the PT in Auckland is pretty good in most places. This is a lovely piece by Greg Bruce where he shares how the train fit into his life.  “Who says public transportation sucks? In praise of the train“, The New Zealand Herald.

From the time I get on board, I know the train will get me to Britomart 41 minutes later, no matter how clogged the Northwestern Motorway and assorted arterial routes, no matter how many passengers are on board, no matter how heavy the rain.

The train’s sense of certainty and predictability suits my temperament, which tends to the anxious, and I arrive, relaxed and happy at my office at the same time every morning. Over the following hour, I watch and listen while my colleagues straggle in complaining about the traffic, the absence of carparks, the unpleasantness of the bus. I sometimes offer them a smile of the utmost smugness. More often, I ignore them.

How Auckland used to roll:

Please add your links in the comment section.

Unitary Plan debate live updates – end of Day 1

The Auckland Council starts debating the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel on the Notified Unitary Plan this morning. This will be a standing blog post that collates the latest updates on the process. As this stage the debate is set down for 3 days, and the Auckland Council has a statutory deadline of the end of next week to notify their recommendations. However this deadline can be extended for 20 working days if requested by the Minister of the Environment.

Thursday’s agenda:

A number of key debates should come up on Thursday. This includes:

  • Design Assessments
  • Shifting the Rural-Urban boundary from the Regional Plan to District Plan (allows private companies to apply to make changes)
  • City Centre rules (including the port)
  • Residential Zone rules (including minimum dwelling size)


Wednesday in brief:

The first order of business was to shift consideration of the details of the Unitary Plan from the Auckland Development Committee to the Governing Body. This was after Independent Maori Statutory Board members agreed that this was the best way forward.

The Governing Body meeting started on an interesting note with Dick Quax suggesting the council adopt the whole of the IHP’s recommendations without debate. However councilors like Penny Hulse & Chris Darby noted their were some technical mistakes that needed to be fixed, and also a need to have debate in the open. The Quax motion lost 13 to 7.

The first set of recommendations to accept all areas of the plan where the officers had noted there were no major shifts from the council’s position passed without any trouble. The council moved onto recommendations where the panel proposed some changes. Their were some small debates early in the afternoon, notably the fate of Civic Administration building (confirmed as Category A). Later in the afternoon several key debates came up. The first was the IHP’s proposed rejection of places of significance to Mana Whenua. The IHP recommendations were confirmed 12 to 6. The last major debate of the day was over the proposed removal of the 1944 heritage overlay that required consent for the removal of any building built before 1944. After a bit of back and forth this also passed 15 to 5.

For an alternative (and much more interesting take) have a look at this Spinoff article that sums up the day, and a most unlikely champion for the Unitary Plan

What the hell just happened at the Unitary Plan hearings?


More details of Wednesdays’s proceedings:

Continue reading Unitary Plan debate live updates – end of Day 1

Unitary Plan mythbusting

Since the release of the Independent Hearing Panel’s recommendations on the Unitary Plan there has been a huge amount of information circulating about what the changes are. Some of this is understandable given the complexity of the process and the legalistic nature of planning, while some of this seems to be deliberate misinformation spread by those with an agenda to push.

Therefore, I thought it is useful to dive into the process and rules of the Unitary Plan and clarify a few issues that keep coming up.

Myth 1: The Unitary Plan process is undemocratic!

Fact: The Unitary Plan has undergone an extremely intensive public process, with many opportunities for public input in submissions. Firstly of course the Unitary Plan follows the lead of the Auckland Plan which was consulted upon heavily 4 to 5 years ago.

Since then we have had:

  • Public consultation on the Draft Unitary Plan in from March to May 2013
  • Submissions on the Notified Unitary Plan from September 2013
  • Further submissions in mid 2014, allowing people to respond to any other parties submissions
  • Independent Hearings Panel hearings from September 2014 to May 2016. This included pre-hearings meetings, expert conferencing, submission of evidence, responses to others evidence as well as presentations to the panel.

This public process resulted in:

  • 249 public meetings in making the draft unitary plan
  • 21,210 pieces of written feedback on the draft plan
  • 9443 public submissions and 3951 further submissions on the Proposed Unitary Plan
  • 249 days of hearings in front of the Independent Hearings Panel
  • 10,500 pieces of evidence received by the Independent Hearings Panel.

Myth 2: All heritage and character rules are gone. Our treasured suburbs and centres will soon be destroyed!

Fact: The Recommended Unitary Plan retains all the current heritage and character protection. For example the old Residential 1 & 2 areas (in places like Ponsonby, Mt Eden & Eposom) are now Single House zone with Special Character overlays. Character town centres have character rules like under the current plans, and this is the same with historic buildings. Some historic buildings have been added to the schedule, such as the old Farmers building as Category B, and the Civic Administration building as Category A.

Man concerned about Unitary Plan stands in front of villa protected by Unitary Plan

Man concerned about Unitary Plan stands in front of villa protected by Unitary Plan


Myth 3: The Unitary Plan removes all rules from residential developments and lets developers do what they want.

Fact. The Unitary Plan retains many of the core rules from our current residential zones. These are the rules from the Mixed Housing suburban zones with very similar rules in the Mixed Housing Urban and Terrace Housing and Apartments zones.

  • Height in relation to boundary (buildings within a 2.5m height plus 45 degree envelope)
  • 3 metre front yard & 1 metre side yards (10m by streams & by the coast)
  • Impervious area a maximum of 60%
  • Landscaped area of 40%
  • Outlooks space of 6 metres from habitable rooms
  • A complex set of rules ensuring daylight access to rooms by controlling the height of the building opposite given a certain depth from the window
  • Outdoor living space of 20m2 for ground floor units, and 5m2 (one bedroom) or 8m2  (2 or more bedrooms) for dwellings on the first floor or above.

Developments of 5 or more dwellings require a resource consent under the Land Use rules. However developments under 5 dwellings will still require a subdivision consent (whether this is traditional freehold subdivision, unit title or cross-lease). So unless a new development is being built on existing lots, they will require a resource consent.

Of course this also relates to the myth the Unitary Plan will allow “unlimited density”. Of course the rules above will control the density to a significant impact, as will the economics of land development.

Myth 4: The Unitary Plan will allow high rises to sprout all over Auckland. We will soon look like an Asian megacity!!!

(yes a few commentators have actually made this outrageous comparison)!!

Fact: A building height of 2 storeys will still predominate across Auckland. Only the Terrace Housing & Apartment Zone allows more that 3 stories, and this is mostly a 4-5 storey zone, with a few exceptions near Metropolitan Centres.

Will Taylor has done some great data visualisation using the zone data that helps highlight this.

Residential Development up to 2 storeys:

Will Taylor up to 3

Residential Development greater that 3 storeys:


Similarly Aaron Schiff has put a series of maps together showing all of the overlays and zones that create restrictions on building. Some prevent development all together, others just restrict what that development can be. All restrictions combined are shown in the map below while he breaks them down in individually on his blog too.

Aaron Schiff - restrictions map


Myth 5: Auckland Council will not have any control over the design of developments.

The key change made in regards to Urban Design was the removal of the specific need for design statements for developments of 5 or more dwellings. This was part of a broader change that removed references to all specific assessments, as the IHP said these could be requested as part of the standard Assessment of Environmental Effects. However the council will still be able influence control of the design of development where 5 or more dwellings are proposed. For example the assessment criteria for both the Mixed Housing Suburban & Urban Zone says the council should assess developments of more than 4 dwellings on the following matters :

(a) the effects on the neighbourhood character, residential amenity and the surrounding residential area from all of the following:

(i) building intensity, scale, location, form and appearance;

(ii) traffic; and

(iii) design of parking and access.

This suggests that while urban design assessments are not mandatory, the council will still be able to assess the urban design impacts of proposals of developments with 5 or more dwellings.

Sunday reading 7 August 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week’s edition is a bit short, but it’s looking at a few important issues.

First, Tokyo. It’s surprisingly affordable – in spite of being a large city with not a lot of undeveloped land. The reason? They let people build up to their hearts’ content. Robin Harding reports in the Financial Times:

It was the rapidity of what happened to the house next door that took us by surprise. We knew it was empty. Grass was steadily taking over its mossy Japanese garden; the upstairs curtains never moved. But one day a notice went up, a hydraulic excavator tore the house down, and by the end of next year it will be a block of 16 apartments instead.

Abruptly, we are living next door to a Tokyo building site. It is not fun. They work six days a week. Were this London, Paris or San Francisco, there would be howls of resident rage — petitions, dire warnings about loss of neighbourhood character, and possibly a lawsuit or two. Local elections have been lost for less.

Yet in our neighbourhood, there was not a murmur, and a conversation with Takahiko Noguchi, head of the planning section in Minato ward, explains why. “There is no legal restraint on demolishing a building,” he says. “People have the right to use their land so basically neighbouring people have no right to stop development.”

A street in Shinjuku, Tokyo © Jérémie Souteyrat

Here is a startling fact: in 2014 there were 142,417 housing starts in the city of Tokyo (population 13.3m, no empty land), more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).

Tokyo’s steady construction is linked to a still more startling fact. In contrast to the enormous house price booms that have distorted western cities — setting young against old, redistributing wealth to the already wealthy, and denying others the chance to move to where the good jobs are — the cost of property in Japan’s capital has hardly budged.

This is not the result of a falling population. Japan has experienced the same “return to the city” wave as other nations. In Minato ward — a desirable 20 sq km slice of central Tokyo — the population is up 66 per cent over the past 20 years, from 145,000 to 241,000, an increase of about 100,000 residents.

In the 121 sq km of San Francisco, the population grew by about the same number over 20 years, from 746,000 to 865,000 — a rise of 16 per cent. Yet whereas the price of a home in San Francisco and London has increased 231 per cent and 441 per cent respectively, Minato ward has absorbed its population boom with price rises of just 45 per cent, much of which came after the Bank of Japan launched its big monetary stimulus in 2013.

As Harding goes on to explain, the foundations of Japan’s housing affordability were set down relatively recently – in the aftermath of the country’s 1980s property bubble:

“During the 1980s Japan had a spectacular speculative house price bubble that was even worse than in London and New York during the same period, and various Japanese economists were decrying the planning and zoning systems as having been a major contributor by reducing supply,” says André Sorensen, a geography professor at the University of Toronto, who has written extensively on planning in Japan.

But, indirectly, it was the bubble that laid foundations for future housing across the centre of Tokyo, says Hiro Ichikawa, who advises developer Mori Building. When it burst, developers were left with expensively assembled office sites for which there was no longer any demand.

As bad loans to developers brought Japan’s financial system to the brink of collapse in the 1990s, the government relaxed development rules, culminating in the Urban Renaissance Law of 2002, which made it easier to rezone land. Office sites were repurposed for new housing. “To help the economy recover from the bubble, the country eased regulation on urban development,” says Ichikawa. “If it hadn’t been for the bubble, Tokyo would be in the same situation as London or San Francisco.”

Seems like an interesting model.

Locally, one of the big non-urban new items is the government’s announcement of a plan to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050. While there are reasons to be sceptical – it’s a big task to wipe out rats, weasels, and possums from an area the size of NZ – it’s the right direction to be taking. The Economist reports:

Eradicating introduced predators is not too hard on small islands, especially those uninhabited by people who might worry about the poison bait often used in the process. New Zealand itself has done so on more than 100 occasions—and the size of the islands involved has increased by a factor of ten during every decade since the 1960s. The country’s North and South Islands are, respectively, the 14th- and 12th-largest in the world, so the new project is certainly a bigger one than these previous eradications. But the North Island is 1,000 times the size of Campbell Island, the largest of New Zealand’s islands cleared so far, and the South Island is about 1,300 bigger. This means that if the tenfold-per-decade improvement continues, the target of 2050 looks within reach.

The plan is to proceed in stages. Between now and 2020 there will be a modest increase in the amount of land (currently 7,000 hectares) involved in existing predator-control schemes, a few new projects and a bringing together of various groups now ploughing separate anti-predator furrows. After that, things get more ambitious. By 2025 a further 20,000 hectares must, for the project to continue, be on the way to being predator-free. Crucially, this must be achieved without the use of fences, which are costly and sometimes impractical to build and maintain. On top of that, the plan envisages that there will, by 2025, be “a scientific breakthrough capable of removing at least one small mammalian predator from New Zealand entirely”. This done, it becomes a question of rolling out the lessons learned—first, in more isolated areas, and eventually everywhere.

It would be great to see this in my lifetime – I hope it works out.

Speaking of ambitious changes, here’s one from the east side of the Pacific. In the Guardian, Gideon Long reports on the cycling renaissance in Santiago, Chile: “‘Get yourself a bike, perico!’: how cycling is challenging Santiago’s social barriers“:

Traditionally the city has been notoriously segregated along class lines – a legacy in part of the Pinochet dictatorship. The rich live in the plush eastern neighbourhoods, in the shadow of the Andes, while the poor inhabit the lower suburbs to the south and west, where the smog is thicker and life is harder. Social mobility is low, and people from these two worlds seldom come into meaningful contact. But, anecdotally at least, there is some evidence that this is changing and that cycling, in its own small way, is playing a part. People are pedalling from one neighbourhood to another like never before. They are exploring previously unknown worlds. The city’s formidable social barriers are slowly being dismantled.

Let’s be clear from the outset: this is not Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Cycle lanes are the exception, not the norm. Motorists still view cyclists with suspicion. Saddle up and pedal into Santiago’s rush hour traffic and you’re taking your life into your hands.

But given what it was like a decade ago, when I first arrived in this city, Santiago has made progress. The number of cyclists on major routes has risen by 15-25% a year, says Lake Sagaris, a professor of transport engineering at the city’s Catholic University. In 2006, cycling accounted for 3% of journeys. These days it’s around 6% – higher than in London or Dublin. “A doubling of modal share in a decade!” Sagaris says. “Very few places in the world can match that.”

Interestingly, the trend towards more cycling opportunities began with a rethink of the city’s public transport network, which was matched with an effort to get “bottom-up” views on problems in need of fixing in the transport system:

Then came 2007, a breakthrough year. In February, the government launched Transantiago, a complete overhaul of the public transport system. Initially chaotic, it eventually brought order to the city’s bus routes, making roads safer for cyclists.

In the same year, the Dutch came to town. Interface for Cycling Expertise (I-CE), a Dutch-based NGO, arrived in Santiago to advise the regional government on how to promote intelligent urban cycling. They taught the Chileans how to design top-notch cycle paths and bike racks, and how to install parking facilities for bikes at metro stations.

Crucially, I-CE worked in partnership with Living City (Ciudad Viva), a Chilean NGO. That ensured that Santiaguinos had a proper say in the urban planning process. Living City staged neighbourhood workshops, gleaning knowledge from cyclists about local danger spots on roads and at junctions. They fed this information into the Department of Transport’s plans for the city.

Representation is essential for good outcomes. Just as you can’t maximise the things you don’t measure, you can’t fulfil the desires of the people you don’t hear from. In CityMetric, Caroline Criado-Perez explains “why cities need to start planning with women in mind“:

And not all people are men. Some of them (quite a lot actually) are women. Some of them are also girls – and boys. Sometimes people are men, but they aren’t the white, middle-aged, able-bodied men that are imagined when city halls are drawing up plans to treat people equally.

What all this means is that what works for men, as imagined by city hall, doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else. By treating us in a way that suits this male ideal, the rest of us are disadvantaged – often in surprising ways.

For example, I bet you’ve never thought about snow clearing as a gendered issue. Neither had city officials in Karlskoga, in Sweden. “The community development staff made jokes about how at least snow is something the gender people won’t get involved in,” explained Bruno Rudström, one of the city’s gender equality strategists.

But on reflection, they realised that even something as seemingly neutral as snow-clearing, actually could have a markedly different impact on men and women, due to the gender split in travel style. Women are more likely than men to walk, bike, and use public transport, whereas men are more likely to drive. By prioritising clearing the roads, the city was prioritising the way men choose to travel, despite the fact that walking or pushing a stroller though 10cm of snow is much harder than driving a car through it.

So the city changed the order of snow-clearing to focus on the pavements and cycle paths first, particularly around schools. As an unexpected by-product, it found a marked decrease in injuries: pedestrians are three times as likely as motorists to be injured in accidents due to slippery conditions.

As this example demonstrates, it’s easy to get things almost right, but trip up at the last hurdle. Small tweaks to designs can have big impacts on the accessibility and desirability of urban places for all people. Some other examples:

Inevitably, it is Sweden that is leading the way in tackling these issues. After research finding that women were reluctant to use municipal car parks – due to traditionally poor lighting, windowless concrete walls, and lifts and stairwells tucked out of sight with few people around and no easy means of escape – officials in Gothenburg decided to do something about it.

Concrete was substituted for glass, and better lighting was installed, as well as an increased security presence. “A car-park company cannot solve the underlying problem, which is men’s violence against women,” said Jonas Nilsson, the company’s head of car park security, “but we can take many measures to reduce people’s insecurity.” And making cities more woman-friendly doesn’t have to be a purely selfless act: since the changes, more women have started using the car-park, and so the company made more money. Everyone wins.

To the east of the country, in the city of Kalmar, research found that women were avoiding taking the bus at night because of safety concerns. So, in order to achieve the city’s goal of increasing public transport use, officials introduced “night stops”. Passengers travelling alone could ask the bus driver to stop between two regular bus stops — somewhere closer to home, or somewhere that simply felt safer. The bus driver would open only the front doors, and only allow the single passenger out, reducing concerns of being followed. The number of people using the night bus increased significantly following the introduction of these measures.

Lastly, here’s an interesting photo-essay on surface parking from downtown Denver:

Land Devoted Solely to Off Street Parking In Downtown Denver


Coalition Launch: “Their uniting aim? More houses. Now.”


Yesterday Patrick hosted the media launch for the Coalition for More Homes. He was joined by a “diverse” group including Peter Jeffrey of CORT, classy economist Shamubeel Equab, Mark Todd of Ockham Residential, and Leroy Beckett and Sophie Hudson of Generation Zero.

Here is some of the coverage.

Radio New Zealand, Coalition Formed to Push Unitary Plan, Todd Niall.

Mark Todd, whose firm Ockham builds mostly three level higher-quality apartments, said the higher density rules were working, as they have already been applied to Special Housing Areas, under the government’s Housing Accord in Auckland.

“We’ve currently got two large scale projects consented as Special Housing Areas under the new rules and there’s 200 units with an average price of $630,000,” he said.

“At present the new homes being built in Auckland are raising the median house price, but under the new rules a lot can be delivered under the current median house price, lowering the median across the city,” said Mr Todd.

The Spinoff, Coalition building: a broad church gathers to back a huge boost in Auckland housing, Tim Murphy.

The Coalition for More Homes is, on the face of it, a collection of unlikely bedfellows: the Salvation Army and Monte Cecilia Housing Trust coupling up with multi-level apartment developer Ockham Residential; Jasmax Architects and the Property Council sharing with Habitat for Humanity and Generation Zero. Heaven knows when they’ll all be on the same side of an ideological divide again.

Their uniting aim? More houses. Now.

The campaign’s launch of a letter calling for the Auckland Council to pass the Unitary Plan with immediate effect came with a strong implication of it being Received Wisdom to back the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel.

Please take a minute to add your name to the Coalition. Currently there are 633 people signed up. We’re planning on having an open party for everyone interested in about a week.

Congestion in large Australasian cities

Is Auckland abnormally congested?

I occasionally hear people bemoaning that Auckland is one of the most congested cities in the world, or at least one of the most congested cities for its size.

I’ve previously taken a look at this from a few angles – looking at trends in traffic delay in Auckland and average commuting time in large cities around the world. Auckland looks pretty good on the latter measure, which kind of belies the “most congested city” rhetoric:

Avg commute times in large cities

For another look at the same issue, we can take a look at data on traffic delay in cities across New Zealand and Australia.

Helpfully, the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) publishes data on the cost of congestion in large Australian cities. They measure congestion as the amount of traffic delay that could feasibly be avoided without reducing the overall value that people get out of travelling.

Unfortunately, comparable figures aren’t available for New Zealand cities. The Ministry of Transport tracks delays in traffic, but doesn’t make monetised estimates of avoidable congestion costs. However, it isn’t that hard to make a reasonable estimate, if you combine MoT’s traffic delay statistics (average delay of 0.52 minutes per kilometre in March 2014, but less in the November survey) with their data on the total amount of vehicle travel in Auckland (12.7 billion vehicle-kilometres driven in 2014).

Following BITRE’s approach, I’ve assumed that avoidable congestion is about 55% of total delay – reflecting the fact that many people prefer to travel even on congested roads. I then monetised the total delay-hours using NZTA’s standard figures for the value of travel time (around $23.40 in 2015 dollars) and converted between Australian and New Zealand money. After mixing in some data on city population in Australia and New Zealand, I got the following chart:

Aus NZ city population congestion costs chart

Each individual point is an observation from a single city in a single year – so it’s possible to see how congestion has evolved over time in each city. We can immediately see three important things from this chart.

The first is that Auckland is right on the trend-line. We have the congestion levels that you’d expect to see in an Australasian city with 1.5 million residents – right between Adelaide and Perth. So once again, there are no signs that Auckland is particularly exceptional in the traffic congestion area.

The second is that congestion is a nonlinear phenomenon – it increases faster than city size. You can see that in the upward-sloping trendline fitted through the points on the graph. On average, in this sample of cities, a 10% increase in population is associated with around a 13% increase in congestion levels.

What that means is that new residents entering the city experience the average congestion levels in the city – 10% of that 13% increase – and also have a (relatively small) negative impact on congestion for existing residents – the remaining 3% increase.

The third is that, setting aside the average relationships across all of the cities, individual cities appear to follow slightly different trends. For instance, while Perth and Melbourne have followed the trend-line pretty closely, there seems to be a steeper relationship between congestion and population size in Adelaide and Brisbane.

That suggests that urban policies – land use, transport investments, etc – can enable some cities to grow in more or less efficient ways. Which specific urban policies are better or worse is a bit of a vexing question – but there does appear to be something there.

What do you make of the data on congestion costs in Australasian cities?

The Coalition for More Homes

logo-coalition-for-more-homes-FINAL-updated (1)It’s been a year since we launched Greater Auckland. We created Greater Auckland as a structure to provide wider influence for the Blog and to clarify our difference from traditional media. Over the last year, we have been successful in broadening our scope to include participation in some government initiatives and events. Admittedly, the role of Greater Auckland has remained a ‘work in progress’ besides supporting the work of the Blog and its focus on transport and urban issues. That is until now.

Over the next several weeks we will be joining forces with Generation Zero and a range of other organisations, and putting our name to a campaign to support the passing of the Unitary Plan, called The Coalition for More Homes.

We believe that enabling more housing across the city, in particular close to transit corridors and central locations, is critical to the future of Auckland. We imagine and advocate for an Auckland that has a range of housing types and tenures that support a diverse and growing population.

The Coalition for More Homes is a broad coalition including social housing providers, design and development companies, health and welfare organisations, and prominent individuals. Over the next several weeks we will be helping to grow this coalition and publicise the wide ranging support for the passing of the Unitary Plan.

Below is the open letter for the Coalition. If you would like more information or would like to add your name or your organisation’s name to the Coalition please visit the Coalition for More Homes website. 


Guest post: When Nimbyism rules angels become homeless

This is a cross-post of an article written by Transportblog reader and passionate Cantabrian Brendon Harre. Brendon takes a look at New Zealand’s attitudes around housing development:

Robert Borson sculpture -titled “Homeless Angel”

Robert Borson sculpture -titled “Homeless Angel”

The inspiration for the title of this paper comes from an economist –Eric Crampton writing about Auckland’s housing crisis. Towards the end of his serious paper on the economics of how to fix Auckland’s housing woes, he wrote this;

Every time a NIMBY cries, an angel has to sleep in a car, or in a garage.

Eric obviously was reflecting the public’s concern about the rise of homelessness in Auckland. But he also alludes to another important issue. The losers of Nimby policies are invisible -like angels we cannot see their physical form. It is impossible to identify specific people who will be economically excluded from adequate shelter by Nimby policy. The specific Nimby rules or plans preventing suburbs becoming denser or new suburbs coming into existence cannot be directed attributed as the causative factor for an individual’s lack of adequate shelter. At the individual level there will always be a range of factors explaining homelessness or inadequate housing.

So it is difficult to put a face on those who will be disenfranchised. Such as, the essential worker excluded from a city due to the price of housing, a business man or woman who went elsewhere because housing was too great a cost for them or their potential employees, the community volunteer who ran out of time due to an over stretched work/life balance related to housing costs…… Because attributing an individual’s particular housing state to the specifics of housing supply is difficult, even though the evidence for groups is clear.

In local political processes in New Zealand, both formal, such as local government submission processes for planning hearings or informal -media discussions of different housing supply options, those who make social cost complaints are readily identifiable and heard, while those who would benefit are frequently unidentified and very rarely heard.

This can be seen recently in Christchurch, where a very modest up-zoning proposal was discussed in The Press, in an article titled Residents reject housing intensification plans in Christchurch. Three residents of the proposed up-zoned neighbourhoods were photographed and interviewed to discuss their objections to the up-zoning proposals. There were no counterbalancing arguments or photos showing the benefits to future residents if up-zoning is allowed.

harre medium density areas chch

Perhaps Christchurch and New Zealand should look overseas for a different perspective? For instance, recently pro-development groups and community organisations met in Boulder, Colorado to discuss a Yimby narrative. Urbanists such as Sara Maxana @Yimbymom from Seattle made the case for abundant housing and sustainable infilling. She presents the progressive left argument for Yimbyism (Yes in my backyard), being pro development activism to counter the anti-development concept of Nimbyism. Sara states a simple truth -that when housing choice is limited, the wealthy always win. Sara places the Yimby housing supply argument in a humanism framework.

Seattle is a city with rising house prices and rents, more people arriving than leaving and an under supply of housing construction. The city in response to its housing crisis has created the Housing Affordability and Liveability Agenda, HALA for short, a policy making package Sara actively campaigned for, along with other Seattle Yimby activists. In recent elections Yimby candidates bested the Nimbys to take governance control over the city.

In my previous article –What does Nimbyism say about Cantabrians I discussed how Nimbyism in the CBD is setting a bad precedent for Christchurch. That Nimbyism is inherently selfish and that Canterbury should return to more constructive and ‘can do’ attitudes.

A recent article in the New York Times titled –How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality -discusses the social and economic costs of Nimbyism (H/T Kent Lundberg at Transportblog).

…. when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like “maintaining neighbourhood character” or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.

The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti.

Canterbury’s housing crisis has abated somewhat since the earthquakes. Only a few years ago in Christchurch many people struggled to find good housing -even now some people are poorly housed due to unresolved insurance claims. Eventually, though in Canterbury housing supply did ramp up, in particular in the satellite towns of Waimakariri and Selwyn Councils. Nationally though the housing crisis is worsening and it would be wrong for Christchurch to be complacent about its housing supply policies.

In my opinion for Canterbury and New Zealand to build strong, healthy communities they should learn lessons from Yimbys not Nimbys.

If any readers have an opinion, experience or expertise on homelessness there is a Cross-Party Homelessness Inquiry where you can make verbal or written submission. Submissions close 12th August 2016.

July AT Board Meeting

Auckland Transport’s latest board meeting is board meeting is on as this post is published and here are the things I found interesting.

Closed Session

The closed session normally contains what appears to be the most interesting items at the meeting. My comments about the items in italics

Items for Approval/Decision

  • CPO/Britomart Group Agreement – I wonder if that relates to the suggestion to eventually build a permanent building behind the CPO.Cooper & Co Britomart Western Site visual 1
  • CRL Procurement update
  • Park and Ride – I’m not sure what this entails, new Park and Rides, changing how they’re managed?
  • Rail Procurement – I assume this relates to the procurement of services, if you recall they stopped the tender process last year.
  • AT Technology Strategy
  • Road Stoppings & Real Estate Inventory Optimisation
  • Newmarket Level Crossing – Confirmation of NoR
  • AMETI – Stage 2A Acquisition of land

Items for Noting

  • EMU Project update
  • Parking Future Platform update – I’m guessing this relates to the parking app we saw in the parking strategy video a few months back.
  • Insurance update
  • Unitary Plan verbal update – I’m not sure if any of the AT staff have been involved in the closed group reviewing the UP recommendations and if they were if they would be talking about this or just the UP process in general. 


Business Report

Moving on to the main Business Report and as usual I’ll just work through the report in the order highlighting the bits I find interesting.

RLTP Variation – AT have made a variation to the three-year Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP) to include the Matakana Link Rd which suggests they’re planning on it being worked on within the next few years.

Strategic Initiatives

  • Work on the indicative business case for the NW Busway is expected to start in August.
  • AT say they’re working with the NZTA on integrating rapid transit options for the North Shore with the Additional Waitemata Harbour crossing route protection.
  • A preferred network for the greenfield growth areas has been decided and will now be presented to the council. I assume they’ll be fairly similar to the draft networks that were proposed. They’ll now have Indicative business cases created.

Lincoln Rd – AT have lodged a resource consent application for the large widening of Lincoln Rd. They expect it to be open for submissions in August.

Lincoln Rd Feb Design - Universal

Parnell Station – Kiwirail plan to move the old Newmarket station to the site in November and it will then undergo an external refurbishment till April 2017. AT will also be doing work at the station including adding footpath connections and ticket gates. It hadn’t been clear before that they would be gating the station but it makes sense that they should be doing. They haven’t said yet when services will start stopping there

Parnell pic June15

Otahuhu Bus/Train Interchange – AT say passengers will start using the new concourse from early October but the station will offically open on 29 October. They will also now be building a third platform, which is required for the CRL so means it can be done preventing disruption again in a few a year’s time.

New Network – AT are currently evaluating tenders for the West Auckland routes and will soon be launching tenders for Central, East and North Auckland which once awarded should allow the majority of the city’s new bus network to be implemented by the end of next year.

Bus performance and capacity – AT’s figures show bus reliability and punctuality are down on the same time last year and that a “A consolidated 12-month plan has been developed to address this and to manage capacity increases.” It’s interesting to see that Skybus which is a commercial service and outside of AT’s control performs considerably poorer than the other bus services. Conversely the Northern Express which has been gross contracted is the best performer, although the much better infrastructure helps here too (note: other services are generally net cost contracts until PTOM comes in)

2016-06 - Bus Performance

Fare evasion and Security – AT say “Strategy discussions are progressing with Police around an enhanced joint approach to Metro security and fare enforcement.


A few other things that I noticed that caught my attention.

Parking – the monthly indicators show parking occupancy in the city centre remains high both on and off street. On street parking prices in the city will be going up soon.

2016-06 - Parking Occupancy

Forward Programme – This gives an indication as to what is being discussed in future board committee meetings and at the next meeting. One interesting item to the next Customer Focus Committee is that AT are looking to change the T&Cs of AT HOP top-ups.


Is there anything else you’ve seen in the reports you’ve found interesting?

Additional Harbour Crossing – Is NZTA Following The Law?

ATAP - Interim Report - AWHC

Back in May in this post, Matt highlighted the NZTA’s strategy of designating only for road tunnels across the Waitemata Harbour, leaving any rail designation up to Auckland Transport.  The NZTA have a total budget of $27m for the designation work, $14m million of which is an additional appropriation, approved under the delegated authority of the Chief Executive, to cover enlarged works at Esmonde Road and Victoria Park.   The work is proceeding even though the comparative Preliminary Business Case for a road only crossing calculated a BCR of 0.4.  The Western Ring route, which is designed to reduce pressure on the existing Harbour Bridge, is yet to open.

On the back of this I wrote to NZTA CEO Fergus Gammie pointing out that the NZTA’s governing legislation, the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA),  was not being complied with and therefore the route protection work currently underway should be placed on hold until a number of issues had been resolved.

NZTA have responded to the letter but, before we look at that, let’s take a quick look at the LTMA.

The LTMA was introduced by the Labour / Green government in 2003, and a ministerial press release at the time promised that it would “broaden the focus of the land transport system beyond just roads and represent a true multi-modal, integrated, approach to land transport.”

Since then the LTMA has been amended, but it still defines the objective of the NZTA to “undertake its functions in a way that contributes to an effective, efficient, and safe land transport system in the public interest.”

Key functions are:

  • to manage the State highway system, including planning, funding, design, supervision, construction, and maintenance and operations
  • determine whether particular activities should be included in a national land transport programme
  • approve activities or combinations of activities

The operating principles the NZTA must abide by include:

  • exhibiting a sense of social and environmental responsibility
  • using its revenue in a manner that seeks value for money
  • ensuring that it gives, when making decisions in respect of land transport planning and funding , the same level of scrutiny to its own proposed activities and combinations of activities as it would give to those proposed by approved organisations

When approving a proposed activity or combination of activities for funding, the NZTA must be satisfied that:

  • The activity is consistent with the GPS on land transport; and
  • is efficient and effective; and
  • contributes to the Agency’s objective; and
  • has been assessed against other land transport options and alternatives
  • relevant consultation requirements have been complied with

The NZTA must also take into account any national energy efficiency and conservation strategies, and act in accordance with its operating principles.

It should be clear from any reasonable interpretation of the law that any work on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing does not qualify for payments from the National Land Transport Fund as most, if not all, of the above criteria have not been met. But let’s return to the NZTA’s response and see what they have to say.

Under the Land Transport Management Act heading, the NZTA claim:


The NZTA claim that other land transport options (which aren’t limited to roads by the LTMA) have been assessed.  But what the NZTA neglect to say is that the 2008 Summary Report found that for passenger transport alone, passenger transport in a new tunnel or on a new bridge between Esmonde and Britomart was the best option. No comparative cost benefit analysis was done for a rail only vs a road crossing – it was just assumed by the report that a road crossing was also needed.

The NZTA claim that the additional crossing was consulted on as part of the Regional Land Transport Plan (PDF 5 Mb).  The RLTP contains a single line item for the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, for which no discussion on the shape or form of the route protection was consulted on:


The NZTA suggest “as the proposal is only to seek route protection at present, there is no need to include (or consult on) the construction of the crossing in the Regional Land Transport Plan”. I disagree.  Route protection defines the envelope of the project, and necessarily needs to cater for a chosen mode.  Right now on-going route protection work affects Victoria Park, Esmonde Rd and sensitive ecological areas. Exhaust stacks at Wynyard and Northcote or Esmonde Rd are included in the designation work because the chosen solution is a pair of three lane road tunnels, yet there has been no public consultation to date.  It is socially irresponsible and in bad faith for NZTA to leave consultation to the Board of Inquiry process.  The NZTA need to be getting feedback from the public and businesses now on the desired mode and how much road users would be willing to pay in tolls for the new crossing and also potentially the existing Harbour Bridge.

The NZTA don’t address the issue of efficiency or effectiveness in their response. Instead they rely on the fact that there will be a business case completed after the $27m budget for a road crossing designation has been spent. That business case will not examine whether a road crossing is required at all, because the decision has already been made.  The NZTA is clearly not using it’s revenue in a way that seeks value for money, nor has it adequately considered alternatives.


Even the Government Policy Statement appears to be disregarded by the NZTA in its pursuit of a road only crossing.   The GPS has the objective of mitigating the effects of land transport on the environment. The focus for Auckland is investment to maximise throughput of people and freight as Auckland grows, something the AWHC project which is dedicated to the movement of single occupant cars cannot achieve.

So what do you think? Is the NZTA following the law?