AWHC: Time to re-consider a bridge?

As regular readers will know, we’re not exactly big fans of another road-based harbour crossing being a priority. We believe that after Skypath, the next crossing should be a rapid-transit-only crossing, providing those travelling to and from the North Shore with a complete and attractive alternative to the current bridge. It could be designed to leave space so that a future road crossing could be built if still needed.

Instead, the current most likely outcome is that we’ll spend $4-6 billion on a tunnel and massive interchanges at each end. And yet, because of changes they’ll make to how the existing bridge is used, it’s likely the extra crossing won’t even provide any additional capacity to the road network. About the best we’ll get is some bus lanes – AT and the NZTA have been suggesting that light rail could possibly go over the existing bridge, but my understanding based on conversations with various staff is that this is unlikely to be a realistic option.

So if we’re going to build a road crossing that doesn’t actually do much, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a cheaper bridge option. According to the last study by NZTA in 2010, a bridge option would be around $1.4 billion cheaper. That level of saving is nothing to be sneezed at, after all the entire cost of the Waterview tunnels project is $1.4 billion!

A bridge would also be considerably cheaper to operate and maintain – about $4m per year vs $20m per year (in 2010 $). Again $16m a year, every year, is significant. That’s roughly how much public subsidy is paid each year to top up fare revenue on the North Shore bus network.

The main reason for selecting a tunnel rather than a bridge was the result of public feedback around 5 years ago on the council’s Auckland Plan, and I’d say most of that feedback took place without considering the huge cost impact of their decision. One of the main reasons for this is the view it would obviously represent a dramatic visual change, which many people would be fearful of.

But would a bridge option be all that bad? Bridges all over the world can be some of the most stunning and iconic features of cities. Designed well they are more than just function.

Below are some of the renders from the NZTA study, so take a look for yourself. We were reminded of these when leafing through some of the obscure old reports so I wonder if most people even knew this was an option?

AWHC Bridge option 3

We quite like the design, the triangular cable towers are vaguely reminiscent of volcanic cones or perhaps sails on the harbour. In any case they have a monumental look. Cable stayed bridges are quite popular these days, as they are strong, stable and self-supporting during construction, which makes them fast and cheap to build. Of course there would be other types of bridges that could work: a grand suspension bridge like the famous Golden Gate, another steel arch bridge, a very simple concrete girder or maybe something wild and unusual.

AWHC Bridge option 1

Thinking about this, we think there are some other potential benefits of a second bridge, beyond the big construction cost saving and the cheaper operations and maintenance over time.

Firstly, it would be easy to provide road and rail on the same bridge, something that is difficult and expensive to do in a tunnel. We know that Auckland Transport are currently looking at rapid transit options to the North Shore. Given they are considering light rail across the isthmus and the airport, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that they would consider it here too? And why not, light rail only takes up as much room as a traffic lane each way, and it can handle almost any grade you would want on a motorway bridge. So for the minimal cost of adding two lanes for light rail to the six lanes of motorway you could literally double the people carrying capacity of the crossing. It would also tie in nicely with the current plans for the isthmus which would see light rail along Fanshawe St to Wynyard.

There is also the possibility that you don’t need to add much at all. The NZTA designs below show a box section holding up the road deck. With a little tweaking to the design it could probably be big enough to run a rail line through each way. A rail deck inside the bridge structure is pretty common in bridges around the world, perhaps a double deck bridge is an efficient solution for Auckland?

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Secondly, a new bridge would give a nice and more direct walking and cycling link, as we can see in the picture below. While we agree the Skypath is an excellent value retrofit and should proceed asap, having separate walking and cycling links on a more direct alignment would be even better in the long term. We would obviously expect walking and cycling connections to be a little wider than shown in the image below though.

AWHC Bridge option 2

Thirdly, bridges avoid a lot of the problems that tunnels can have with things like vehicle fires, water leaks and dangerous goods spills. Melbourne has had a pair of under-river tunnels since the early 2000s and it has experienced all three kinds of incidents, with many lives lost in one bad fire down in the tunnel.

2nd Harbour Bridge top view

So, could a relatively cheap and efficient new bridge with a mix of traffic lanes, light rail, walking and cycling be the right answer for the North Shore? Such a crossing might come in under $3 billion, less than half some of the recent estimates for doing motorway and rail in tunnels. But there might be some further savings to be had too. In the renders below we can see that the bridge itself is a fairly slender and graceful structure. But the real impact, and much of the cost, of the harbour crossing plans come from the connections either side, including what amounts to a new Spaghetti Junction in St Mary’s Bay complete with three additional tunnels under Victoria Park and a similar tangle of ramps and reclamation at Northcote Point though to Akoranga.

2nd Harbour Bridge top view - VP

If the crazy plan to dump six lanes of bridge traffic onto Cook St was dropped, they could drop the duplicate Victoria Park tunnel and a mess of associated ramps and structures approaching it. The existing Victoria Park tunnel could be reconfigured into one lane each way to Cook St by adding a central fire wall, instead of building a second one next to it to get three lanes each way to the middle of town. This would improve connectivity to midtown while providing a reasonable, rather than insane, amount of vehicular capacity. Not only would this save the city from drowning in traffic that has nowhere to go from Cook St, it would also save a further half billion or so from the cost and reduce the amount of structures and reclamation on the waterfront.

A second advantage of new bridge with light rail would be the ability to drop the proposed busway additions on the old bridge. That sounds crazy coming from this blog, but you have to ask why you would need both a busway and railway next to each other when rail alone can do the job well. If you dig through the plans you can see NZTA have designed an elaborate series of busway lanes and flyovers either side of the harbour bridge, in addition to the rail designation (clearly they didn’t put much faith in rail ever actually happening). Dropping the busway links in favour of light rail only would likewise cut out a lot of concrete, and hundreds of millions of costs.

There are some further benefits of value engineering out the spurious ramps and links. With less linkages you need to reclaim less harbour and build fewer flyovers, but you’d also get to detune some of the worst bits we already have. Do the crossing right and St Marys Bay could be turned from eleven lanes of motorway into a six lane waterfront boulevard through to Fanshawe St and Cook St. It might have more in common with Tamaki Drive than Spaghetti Junction.

So what about it Auckland? Would we be happy with a new bridge if it meant traffic, rail and people could be accommodated together while saving billions of dollars and reducing the impacts on the waterfront areas? Is there a “lean and mean” road solution that could be funded and built earlier while also giving people the rapid transit crossing they want?

To finish we just have to ask, why was this option dropped so readily? Given the potential to save billions and get better outcomes shouldn’t we at least have a thorough discussion?

Waterview Shared Path begins

Auckland Transport have today kicked off another large cycling project today – the Waterview Shared Path. This is a project that came about as a result of the advocacy of locals and groups like Bike Auckland during the consenting for the Waterview Connection project and the Board of Inquiry make its construction one of the requirements of the project – although not paid for as part of the motorway project.

Waterview Shared Path - Alford Bridge surface

The Alford St Bridge – Looking East

Construction is beginning on one of Auckland‘s biggest cycling and walking project’s which will improve connections for people travelling through the Auckland suburbs of Mount Albert and Waterview.

The first sod was turned today by the Hon. Paula Bennett representing the NZ Government on the 2.5km Waterview Shared Path in the grounds of Metro Football Club in Phyllis St Reserve.

It was attended by representatives from the organisations collaborating to fund and deliver the path as well as members of the local community.

The Waterview Shared Path is part of the Waterview Connection tunnel and interchange project and will join with other shared paths that are part of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Programme.

The 3.5 metre wide shared cycling and walking path follows Te Auaunga (Oakley Creek) between the Alan Wood Reserve in Mt Albert and Great North Rd in Waterview and will be a convenient way to access local parks, sports grounds, and the Unitec campus. Walkers and cyclists of all ages and abilities will easily be able to access the shared path as it includes low hill gradients to assist prams and elderly people to use it.

The scenic route travels through an area of Mahoe forest and includes three bridges. The bridge crossing Oakley Creek, connecting Great North Road and Unitec, will be 90 metres long, a similar length to Grafton Bridge in the city centre.

The Government through the NZ Transport Agency, together with Auckland Transport (AT) and Albert Eden Local Board have contributed funding for the project which will be built by the Well Connected Alliance (WCA), which is delivering the $1.4bn Waterview Connection project.

Waterview Shared Path - Alford Bridge creek

The Alford St Bridge – Looking South

Starting from the south, the path will begin at New North Rd where it connects with the shared path being build as part of the Waterview Connection project it will cross over to Soljak Pl via a new set of traffic lights that will be installed. It will then pass over the rail line on a new bridge before travelling through Harbutt and Phyllis reserves which will be connected via a 70m long boardwalk. It passes through part of the Unitec site including right through the middle of one of the carparks before getting to the 16m high and 90m long Alford St Bridge where it will connect with the shared path on Gt North Rd.

Waterview Shared Path - Route

And here’s what the bridge over the rail line will look like, it has screens to prevent things being thrown on to the rail line and wires.

Waterview Shared Path - Rail Bridge

Protesters create Pedestrian Paradise

Unless you’ve avoided either the city or the news for the last day you’ll know that yesterday thousands of people descended on the CBD to protest the signing of the TPP. This post isn’t about the TPP – there are plenty of other places for you to discuss it – but rather about the impact the protests had on the city which I think highlighted a number of key issues we frequently advocate for. I wasn’t there so these are based on observations from others and images on social media.

Protesters walking down Queen St are nothing new but what was very interesting this time is that a number of groups went and blocked major intersections all around the city. This included blocking roads such as Albert St, Fanshawe St, Hobson St, Nelson St and Wellesley St. Given that Hobson and Nelson in particular are one way, it leaves them completely empty downstream of where they were blocked off. This had the effect in instantly turning many roads within the city over to people.

From these and many other comments I saw it made many parts of the city that are often quite hostile to those on foot actually very pleasant, pedestrian paradises if you will. There is obviously a lot going on in the city right now with the CRL getting under way and a number of large commercial building projects on the go but at the same time plans like the City Centre Master Plan call for making the city centre more people friendly – among other things. For example, it lists this as one of its outcomes and targets

OUTCOME 7

A walkable and pedestrian-friendly city centre – well connected to its urban villages.

Target 1: More kilometres of pedestrian footpaths/walkways
Target 2: More kilometres of cycleways
Target 3: Reduction in pedestrian waiting times at intersections
Target 4: Reduction in use of left-turn slip lanes
Target 5: New mid-block pedestrian crossings

Over the last few years we’ve had numerous international guest speakers visit Auckland talking about how we can do many of these things, do them quickly and do them cheaply. This includes people such as Janette Sadik-Kahn and Mike Lydon and many others.

It all begs the question of whether we’re moving fast enough to reach the city’s goals. Now obviously there’s a need for cars to be in some parts of the city but we do need to get the balance right. What the protests showed us yesterday is that almost completely shutting many roads in the city didn’t cause the sky to suddenly fall in. Perhaps the lesson we can take from it all is for the council and Auckland Transport to be bolder about making changes, throw some cones or planter boxes out on the street and block off a lane or two. It would allow quick changes to be made in response to the impacts generated and would probably end up with a faster, cheaper and superior result to the current process of modelling every change to the nth degree first.

To me the protest also helped highlight just how valuable the CRL is going to be once complete. Protests might not be that regular an event but disruption caused by traffic certainly is. Trains using the CRL are able to completely bypass any issues on the surface. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that in a protest situation that those protesting don’t try to shut the rail network too. Further, as it stands right now, for many of projects to make the CBD more people friendly the CRL happens to be a key lynch pin. For example, key parts of the proposed Victoria St Linear Park can’t happen till the CRL is built as two of the entrances sit within that future linear park.

Aotea Station Design North

 

I also thought of this in the terms of the impact to light rail should we have protests in the future. Obviously a line down Queen St would have been blocked by the protesters so in a situation like yesterday. One advantage it has is that it’s relatively easy to turn them around needing only a crossover track rather than circling a block. Designing light rail to ensure this is a possibility will be important for Auckland.

Lastly a little bouquet to Auckland Transport. Not only were the TPP protests going on but NZ Bus drivers were having a union meeting disrupting or cancelling services. Given they only had one day’s notice about the bus drivers I thought they did well to get some services on some key routes covered by buses and drivers from other bus companies. In hindsight having both the TPP and bus drivers meeting on the same day might have been a good situation as the buses would have been equally held up by the protesters. At least it meant only one day of disruption.

Draft Domain Master Plan

The council have released a draft 20-year master plan for the Auckland Domain that if enacted would see some major and positive changes to how people access and use Auckland’s oldest and one of its largest parks. The purpose of the master plan is described as:

The purpose of the Auckland Domain Masterplan is to identify all the various projects and work streams impacting on Auckland Domain, and to create a coordinating plan that consolidates its position as Auckland’s premier park. The masterplan is a twenty year aspiration for how the park can develop and help to achieve the Auckland Plan’s vision to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city.

The implementation of the Auckland Domain Masterplan will help to realise the particular Auckland Plan outcomes of:

  • A fair, safe and healthy Auckland
  • A green Auckland
  • A well connected and accessible Auckland
  • A beautiful Auckland that is loved by its people
  • A Maori identity that is Auckland’s point of difference.

There are seven key principles behind the master plan and for each the draft plan lists observations and key proposals.

  1. Enhancing the Domain for peaceful respite.
  2. Enhancing the role of the Domain as an important cultural and heritage site.
  3. Creating safe, people friendly places and routes with high amenity.
  4. Improving connectivity to the Domain and to the key features within it.
  5. Improving the Domain as a recreation and event destination.
  6. Enhancing and maintaining the amenities and facilities within the Domain.
  7. Creating an environmentally sustainable park that is an exemplar on the world stage.

Of those number 3 and 4 are ones that will have some significant implications, especially on transport. The observation for number 3 says:

Since the introduction of motor vehicles to New Zealand, Auckland Domain has catered for their use, enabling vehicle access to the doorstep of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and throughout the park. This philosophy of a carfriendly park has carried on unchallenged for almost a century and even the Auckland Domain Management Plan 1993 is permissive of continuing their dominance of the park. The car and tour bus domination of Auckland Domain detracts from the safety and amenity of pedestrian and cyclist experiences.

Further, it prevents the full potential for creating high quality pedestrian environments in key areas of the park, such as those adjacent to the Museum. Cars and buses also detract from significant and important views from within the Domain, such as those to the Museum.

As part of the plan the council are proposing to close some of the roads within the park, upgrading and turning them over to people and bikes. This includes all of the roads currently circling the museum and the surface carpark at the southern entrance. Where vehicle access is retained it’s also suggested reduce the dominance of it by narrowing roads and reducing the numbers of carparks. The image below shows where they plan to improve walking and cycling options with the lines in red roads that will be closed. As you can see there are a lot of interesting projects on the list.

Draft Domain Plan - Walk cycle improvements

The map below shows more explicitly the areas that vehicles will have access to if this plan is approved.

Draft Domain Plan - Vehicle Access

Here are a few impressions of what the changes could mean.

The surface level carpark at the Museum could become a people space – although it looks like it needs some more activation to ensure it isn’t just an expanse of unused paving.

Draft Domain Plan - Museum Carpark

The Crescent would be narrowed and a shared path added.

Draft Domain Plan - Cresent western end

The Grandstand Road would also become a shared path.

Draft Domain Plan - Grandstand Road

Through parks shared paths probably aren’t too bad but it does seem odd that they’re suggested to be so narrow at only around 3m in width and slightly less on the Grandstand Road one. Given how popular the Domain is, they would be used by a lot of people on foot and on bike. At the very least wider paths are needed.

Here is a list of some of the other amenity improvements that are included in the plan.

Draft Domain Plan - Amenity improvement

Overall there looks to be some good ideas in the draft plan that will make the park even better. Submissions are on it are open till the end of the month and there is an open day on Saturday February 13 at the cricket pavilion from 11am to 2pm.

Aging gracefully?

This month, my grandma moved into a retirement community. In some respects, it’s a significant change for her. After 95 years living in standalone houses, she will be moving into a small, sunny apartment. To do that, she’s had to downsize significantly – donating furniture, giving away belongings, and simply leaving some things behind. (The cycad that my parents gave her decades ago; the lemon tree that I’ve greedily harvested for years.)

Grandma's new neighbourhood.

Grandma’s new neighbourhood. Wish we built places like this for young people too.

But in other respects it’s not such a big step. She’s not moving far – only from Takapuna to Milford. Because there are retirement apartments sprinkled around Auckland, she is able to downsize and stay in the same community. (As John P’s excellent RCG/Transportblog development tracker highlights, there are many more such developments in the works.) That means that she can maintain all of her social ties and everyday habits – same church, same lunch groups, same healthcare facilities, and same proximity to family.

So I’m not worried about Grandma. But it’s making me wonder what’s in store for my parents, who are now in their early 60s.

They live, as they have done for most of the last two decades, on a large section on the edge of one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s many excellent regional parks. It gives them plenty of space to run a business and pursue their hobbies, like my mom’s wine-making and my dad’s shed Ponzi scheme. (He builds workshop space to house the lumber and tools that he will need to build more sheds.)

But it’s not exactly convenient if you can’t drive. (Or bicycle – they’re now spending more time on electric bikes.) Their house is at the top of a rather steep hill, the sidewalks are pretty patchy, and the nearest stores are three kilometres away. There is no bus service anywhere in the vicinity. Things are very spread out in the California suburbs.

While my parents are fit and vigorous, the fact is that at some point in the next two or three decades, they won’t be able to drive. At that point staying in place will no longer be an option. And if they don’t plan ahead, possibly by moving to a more accessible location before they absolutely need to, it could be a difficult change.

I suspect that they are not the only ones facing this dilemma. Many Baby Boomers will not be able to age in place. The post-war sprawl suburbs where they have spent their adult lives are not suitable for people who can’t drive.

There are three main problems with aging in a typical post-war suburb. Fortunately, all can be corrected or ameliorated – but doing so will require us to do some things differently.

The first is a transport problem: street networks and transport choices. As I highlighted in a post last year, designing neighbourhoods primarily for cars – with a hierarchy of cul-de-sacs, collector roads and arterials – don’t work for other transport modes. You can’t run efficient, usable bus services through these neighbourhoods, and it’s slow to walk anywhere. Furthermore, as shown the following image illustrates, changing that is hard due to the fact that you’d need to re-route street patterns:

Sprawl repair manual subdivision rebuild

A related issue is the quality of sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian infrastructure. In suburbs where most people drive, these tend to be in poor condition or simply non-existent. I have full use of my legs but still find this exasperating. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for people with limited mobility.

Poor transport choices often coincide with segregated land uses. Because older people tend to be less mobile, regardless of mode, their lives can be better when distances to retail and social destinations are short.

Unfortunately, a second issue that will face aging boomers is that post-war zoning codes have generally mandated rigid separation of residential and commercial use. Houses go in one place; shopping and work goes in another.

Here’s an illustration from Pakuranga and Howick in Auckland’s Unitary Plan. The bright pink areas are “centre” zones that allow both residential and retail. Most of the rest – the cream and orange colours – is exclusively residential. While the cream areas are undoubtedly nice beachfront property, people living in them will face constraints as they grow old.

Unitary Plan Howick

However, this isn’t the only way to build a city. When I was visiting Paris in December, I was struck by the vibrancy of retail options on just about every block in the city. Due to the fact that Paris lacks single-use zoning, it’s possible to get most of life’s daily needs – groceries and company, in particular – met without walking more than 100 metres.

Typical Paris neighbourhood shops (Source: Wikipedia)

Typical Paris neighbourhood shops (Source: Wikipedia)

That leads on to a third issue for aging boomers: a lack of housing choices for young and old people alike. Post-war planning has embraced “exclusionary” zoning policies such as large minimum lot sizes or tight controls on multi-family dwellings. Unless these policies are unwound, they will have two negative impacts for aging boomers who are seeking to age in place:

  1. A lack of neighbourhood density means that local retail and social facilities are not economically viable. Mount Eden, where I live, is a great example of how a mix of housing choices can enable vibrant local retail opportunities. The much-derided 1970s “sausage flats” mean that there is a sufficient critical mass of customers within walking distance. This creates positive spillovers for people living in the suburb’s standalone houses.
  2. A lack of options for downsizing in place will force people to leave their communities as they age. Retirement homes alone are not a solution to this problem, as some people may prefer to move into a smaller dwelling before they need of aged car. A greater mix of apartments, terraced houses, and units are important for filling this gap in the market.

Comprehensively addressing these three challenges will obviously take a long time. The built environment is persistent, and as a result many of the places we built in decades past will continue to look and feel the same for a long while.

However, I would argue that people who are middle-aged today have a strong incentive to vote for change. Retrofitting the suburbs with better transport choices, more housing choices, and more social and economic opportunities will benefit people of all ages. But it is likely to be especially beneficial – and urgent – for people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who will soon face some hard choices about where to live. It will offer them the best chance of aging gracefully, rather than facing disruption in old age.

What do you think is important for a happy retirement?

Investment in Cycling Infrastructure: What is it Good For?

While the answers to this question are largely sell-evident, it’s great that NZTA have recently released a summary of their view: Benefits of Investing in Cycling in New Zealand.

Follow the link for the full PDF, below is a summary of the seven ways NZTA have identified as beneficial. Followed up by a few images that do the same thing.

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1. Investing in cycling is giving people what they want

People want cycling infrastructure. Many people say they’d like to cycle more, especially if separated cycling infrastructure was provided.

2. Cycling makes towns and cities really liveable

Cycling improves quality of life in towns and cities. ‘Quality of life’ rankings consistently show bike-friendly cities at the top.

3. Cycling makes travelling around urban areas better for everyone

More people cycling potentially improves traffic flow so travel times are shorter, more predictable and reliable, and the transport network performs better. Bicycles are considered to impose 95 percent less impact on travel flow than an average car.

Getting just a few people onto bikes can15 make a di erence to tra c ows. On the congested 5km Petone to Ngauranga section of State Highway 2, for example, research suggests that only 10-30 vehicles out of the 250-280 vehicles occupying the space at congested times are causing the congestion.16 Evaluation of Hastings’ iWay cycling network indicates there was a 3.6 percent reduction in tra c volumes soon after it was built.17

4. Cycling is great for the local economy

Cycling saves people money to spend in their local communities. With no fuel, registration, warrant of fitness and parking costs, and much lower purchasing, maintenance and insurance costs compared to operating a car, people who cycle have more money to spend on other things.

Cycling potentially also boosts retail spend. Various studies have shown that cycling infrastructure can lead to an increase in retail sales.25 People who cycle have been found to be more likely to stop and visit shops more often, and to spend more money at those shops over time, than people who drive.26 Cycleways that run past shop doors can be a very good thing for retailers.

5. More cycling means reduced costs for the council

An increase in cycling saves councils money. This is especially clear where populations are expected to grow. In Christchurch, for example, where 50,000 additional car trips per day are predicted in the city by 2041 unless there is a mode shift to walking, cycling and public transport31, more cycling would mean reduced costs for additional road capacity, maintenance and operations.

6. Cycling is great for the environment overall

A small reduction in short vehicle trips potentially generates signi cant reduction in carbon emissions. Shifting 5 percent of car trips to bicycle could reduce emission impacts by up to 8 percent.33 Similarly, reducing trips by car can reduce the amount of other air pollutants.

7. Cycling makes people healthier and more productive

Cycling reduces the incidence of a range of serious illnesses.

In New Zealand, physical inactivity contributes to around 8 percent of all deaths37, and one in three adults and one in ve children are overweight38. The Ministry of Health reports that only 50.5 percent of New Zealand adults are regarded as sufficiently active for health benefits and physical inactivity is the second leading risk factor of disability adjusted life years.

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Bike Numbers Rise in Auckland

Auckland Transport and the NZTA are celebrating increases in number of people cycling across Auckland.

Kids using Nelson St

The number of cycle journeys through Kingsland on the Northwestern Cycleway has gone up by more than 16% in 2015 compared with 2014. This has contributed to a growth of 7.4% of cycle journeys throughout Auckland in the same period.

The number of people cycling on this route is expected to increase further with a major upgrade to be completed this year and a city centre cycle network which continues to expand.

The NZ Transport Agency is upgrading the Northwestern Cycleway from Westgate to Waterview as part of the Western Ring Route. The cycleway currently joins the Nelson Street Cycleway and the Grafton Gully Cycleway.

With the government, council and the NZTA all increasing how much they spend on cycle infrastructure there obviously needs to be some targets and monitoring to ensure that what gets built actually has an impact. As such the NZTA have set a target of a 30% increase in the number of cycling trips across New Zealand by 2019 based on 2015 levels.

To go with the increases in funding for cycle infrastructure that we’re now seeing the NZTA obviously want to ensure that it has an impact and as such they’ve set a goal for the number of cycling trips to increase by 30% increase in New Zealand by 2019.

To monitor cycling numbers, over the last five years or so Auckland Transport have installed automated cycle counters at a number of locations across the city and they’re installed in new projects too – such as the Lightpath. AT report some of this data on their website however it is only for nine of the original sites which are:

  • Upper Harbour Drive
  • Great South Road
  • Highbrook
  • Lake Road
  • North-Western cycleway – Kingsland
  • North-Western cycleway – Te Atatu
  • Orewa cycleway
  • Tamaki Drive (east bound)
  • Twin Streams path

As you’ll see below there are quite few more sites now.

Based on the results of those nine sites the charts below show the 12 month rolling total of cycle numbers for both across the total day and in the AM peak. As you can see there has been growth in cycle numbers and as the comments above note, the total is up 7.4% over the last year while the AM peak numbers are up stronger at 9.9%

Dec-15 Auckland Cycling Numbers - Total

Dec-15 Auckland Cycling Numbers - AM Peak

The biggest problem with the data is that it is limited to just nine sites and there are a lot of trips by bike that take place nowhere near any of them. Over the coming few years some of the biggest changes for cycling in Auckland will be occurring in and around the city centre as highlighted below. AT have now installed cycle counters on streets all around the city centre, creating a cordon and the numbers from that will be used to judge the effectiveness of the cycle investment occurring.

Auckland City Centre Cycle Map - Dec 15

AT kindly provided me with a list of all the cycle counters and the data from them for December. As you can see by how many NAs are in the list quite a few are only new having been installed in the last year or two. Of the ones that were around last December all but two have shown some very good growth with Grafton Gully and Beach Rd showing the strongest percentage growth. Based on the percentages the largest increase in total numbers is on Tamaki Dr with over 7,000 more trips this December than December last year (I’m sure bike rave helped with this a little bit). Tamaki Dr is also Auckland’s busiest place for bikes. The counters in bold are the nine that contribute to the charts above.

      12m rolling % change from previous year % change from same month previous year
  Dec count Dec ADT
Beach Rd 9,192 297 NA 50.6%
Canada St 1,037 33 NA NA
Carlton Gore Rd 5,074 164 NA NA
Curran St 8,504 274 NA NA
Dominion Rd DISCONTINUED DISCONTINUED NA NA
East Coast Rd 4,190 135 -2.7% 17.8%
Grafton Bridge 13,995 451 7.6% 23.5%
Grafton Gully 10,161 328 NA 59.1%
Grafton Rd 1,975 64 NA NA
Gt Sth Road 2,666 86 -4.0% -7.0%
Highbrook 1,336 43 11.1% 22.8%
Hopetoun St 3,911 126 NA NA
K Rd 14,730 475 NA 14.3%
Lagoon Dr 4,670 151 -6.9% 3.0%
Lake Road 8,796 284 -4.1% 11.6%
Mangere Bridge 13,690 442 -4.5% 12.7%
Nelson St cycleway 12,101 390 NA NA
Nelson St Lightpath 29,176 941 NA NA
NW Cycleway (Kingsland) 16,295 526 16.3% 24.0%
NW Cycleway (Te Atatu) 13,545 437 7.0% 31.5%
Orewa 10,563 341 17.2% 30.1%
Quay St 32,689 1054 NA NA
SH20 Dom Rd 3,293 106 5.3% 21.0%
Symonds St 10,110 326 NA 10.9%
Tamaki Dr 39,044 1259 7.0% 22.2%
Te Wero Bridge 23,060 744 NA NA
Twin Streams 4,109 133 -3.1% 9.5%
Upper Harbour 4,795 155 -1.8% -0.8%
Upper Queen St 4,286 138 NA NA
Victoria St West 3,519 114 NA NA

At the very least this we should see the NW cycleway as far as Lincoln Rd complete along with the rest of Nelson St and Quay St

Te Atatu Rd Underpass

The fantastic new underpass through the Te Atatu Interchange which opened in December

There are still diversions at Western Springs and Patiki Rd at the Causeway which will be in place until late February. In early February the section from McCormack Green (just west of the Te Atatu underpass) to Henderson Creek will be open with the completion of the Te Atatu Interchange Project scheduled for March and the Causeway Project scheduled for August.

The Northwestern Cycleway is one of the busiest cycle routes in Auckland says Auckland Transport’s Cycling and Walking manager Kathryn King.

“We know that these routes are popular which is why they are being improved and soon other routes will connect with them to further develop the cycle network,” she says.

“Construction will begin early this year on the Quay St Cycleway and by the middle of the year the Nelson St Cycleway will be completed all the way to Quay St. This is only the start of the three year programme of cycle improvements in the city, so to see an increase like this already is very promising.”

“By mid-2018 we will have an inner city cycle network to be proud of with great connections to the inner east and west suburbs. We are already working on plans for projects beyond 2018 which will further develop the city’s growing network of cycleways,” she adds.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Regional Director, Ernst Zöllner says the agency has a target of increasing the annual number of cycling trips across New Zealand by 10 million, or 30 per cent by 2019 compared with 2015 levels.

“We’re thrilled to see these figures showing more people are choosing to get on their bikes in Auckland. There is strong customer demand for a cycling network that provides predictable, safe journeys for people wanting to cycle to work, study and for recreation.”

In some more good news cyclists (and bus users) Auckland Transport’s traffic operations team have informed us that they’ve examined the results for the first quarter of the trial to let taxi’s use Grafton Bridge. They say the impacts have been more than minor with the main areas of concern being the failure of them to adhere to the 30km/h speed limit and the number of recorded instances of taxis overtaking cyclists on the bridge. As such a recommendation is going to AT’s Traffic Control Committee late next week to terminate the trial and return it to bus and bike only.

We were critical of the trial when it was announced assuming these exact issues would arise but in hindsight perhaps the trial was useful to prove that exactly what everyone expected would happen did happen.

2015 – A Year in Review Part 2 – Walking and Cycling

This is the second in a series of posts reviewing the year that has been. Part one reviewed public transport.

I think we can unequivocally say that 2015 was the best year ever for cycling in Auckland and NZ. Here’s why

Funding

There has been a step change in the level of funding for walking and cycling projects this year at both a local and national level.

The government came through on its election promise and started the Urban Cycleway Fund (UCF) – adding an extra $100 million to go towards cycle infrastructure over three years which is on top of what the NZTA and councils invest. Council’s and the NZTA have also increasing their funding substantially to take advantage of the government money and invest further beyond that.

In Auckland the council introduced an interim transport levy to rates substantially increasing investment in a number of areas with cycling one of the big beneficiaries. It increased council spending on cycling from $14 million to $124 million and together with the NZTA and the UCF there will be more than $200 million in investment in cycling in the region over the three years from July 2015. That is also outside money spent on cycling as part of road projects. To put things in perspective, in the 2014/15 year around $32.5 million was spent on dedicated walking and cycling projects in Auckland and prior to that the highest spent was around $17.7 million in 2009/10.

Auckland urbancycleways map 2015-18

Nelson St Cycleway

We ended the year with the opening of the fantastic Nelson St cycleway and Te Ara I Whiti – Lightpath. The cycleway down Nelson St is a welcome addition to what was previously a traffic sewer that only the bravest person on a bike would attempt but is now safe for people of all ages.

Kids using Nelson St

At the southern end the marvellous magenta surface of the old motorway off-ramp and light walls have created a statement that we’re starting to get serious about cycling and making our urban environment more fun.

LightPath - Vaughn Davis

photo by Vaughn Davis

We’re still waiting to hear from Auckland Transport on their plans for stage 2 which will extend the cycleway to Quay St. AT are re-examining their proposal to see if they can keep the cycleway on the western side of Nelson St rather than the unfriendly route they proposed.

Westhaven Promenade

It’s easy to forget that the Westhaven Promenade is less than a year old – only opening in February. It’s a fantastic facility that really enhances this area of waterfront.

Westhaven Boardwalk_02

Riding along Westhaven leads you to the foot of the harbour bridge and is just calling for a way to get over the harbour by bike, conveniently leading to ….

Skypath

Submissions on the consent for Skypath closed just after the start of the year and after hearings the independent commissioners granted resource consent for Skypath in July. The commissioners were very clear in their decision as to how positive this would be for Auckland. As expected a small number of residents in Northcote Point appealed the consent and the issue is currently before the environment court. We will get a final decision in 2016.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

Beach Rd stage 2

In September stage 2 of the Beach Rd cycleway opened, extending it from Mahuhu Cres to Britomart Pl. The extension wasn’t just a cycleway but also a big improvement for walking too with upgraded footpaths, planting and other features. Sadly the design of the cycleway hasn’t been ideal and as it looks like a footpath and as such it is often impossible to ride along without encountering people walking down it – often in groups blocking the way.

Carlton Gore Cycleway

In March, Auckland Transport confirmed they would build cycle lanes on Carlton Gore Rd – some parts of which would be protected. This was built and completed in the middle of the year. There have been a few issues with the lanes – especially from people parking over them and it will be interesting to see if this changes over the coming year.

 

Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr Cycleway

The first stage of the Eastern Path kicked off in October which will see a path built from Merton Rd to St Johns Rd. It is due to be completed late next year. Stages 2 and 3 are also due to kick off next year.

Sections of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive shared path 1

Quay St Consultation

AT launched consultation for a cycleway along Quay St from the intersection with Lower Hobson St through to Plumber St. The current shared path between Lower Hobson St and the Ferry Terminal is possibly the busiest route in Auckland for bikes right now and separating cyclists out from people strolling will be good for everyone. Unlike many other cycleways this change is a bit more temporary, possibly only in place for a decade until a full upgrade of Quay St occurs (can’t happen until the CRL is finished). Once AT confirm it in the new year it is likely to be built fairly quickly, probably completed by the middle of 2016.

Quay St Cycleway - Along Quay St

Old Mangere Bridge replacement

The NZTA have confirmed their design to replace the Old Mangere Bridge which doesn’t have much life left. They have applied for consent and we should hear more about it in 2016

New Mangere Bridge - NW

Franklin Rd

Plans for Franklin Rd have changed a lot over the year, at one point they weren’t proposing any cycle infrastructure at all. In November they came up with the latest round of ideas including one which would see Copenhagen style lanes added and protected by parking. Unfortunately earlier this month they finally confirmed they will only go for painted cycle lanes which even they admit is only use to confident cyclists.

Franklin Rd - October 2015 -revised option 1

Yellow Lined cycleways

While protected cycleways are what we should be striving for, the city already has a number of painted cycle lanes that are often abused by drivers who would park in the lanes. The problem is that many people don’t realise that parking in a cycle lane is illegal and so assume that if there are no yellow lines that they can park. This was particularly bad in places where AT had installed new cycle lanes and one such case is a road I use to get to work – Upper Harbour Dr – which had been made less safe as AT removed the existing yellow lines to put the cycleway in resulting in people parking on the road when they didn’t beforehand. AT had taken the stance that as the cycleway was marked they didn’t need broken yellow lines to say no parking. As you can see people simply ignored the cycleway markings.

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 6

My post and similar ones from our friends at Bike Auckland prompted a meeting with AT and around a month later they changed their policy and will be putting yellow lines in all painted cycleways – although it will take time. I can confirm that the Upper Harbour cycleway has had them installed and since then the issue of cars parked in the cycle lanes has disappeared.

NZTA to consent cycleways

While a fairly minor change, one likely to have quite a lot of impact going forward is the government giving the NZTA the ability to consent cycleways. Previously they were only able to if the cycleway was within a State Highway designation. They’ve already said this ability will be used for projects such as Seapath and the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr path.

Island Bay cycleway

In Wellington work has started and progressed well on the Island Bay cycleway which is seeing a parking protected cycleway added to the Parade despite huge noise and scaremongering by a small section of the community. The project will be completed in 2016 but the parts already built look great so far.

More people on bikes

AT have a number of sites that automatically count the number of people on bikes. They currently only publicly report on nine sites across Auckland as those are the ones they have the longest series of data for but they are showing some decent growth over the last few years, especially in the AM peak. One of the issues with such a limited number of sites is that increases in cycling may is quite possibly coming from areas where people aren’t being counted. All new cycleways seem to be having counters installed so hopefully in the future we’ll have a better picture of the changes that are occurring.

Nov-15 Auckland Cycling Numbers - Total

Nov-15 Auckland Cycling Numbers - AM Peak

Anything you think I’ve missed from my round up?

Wellington Update: Transdev and Diesel Buses and cycleways

They’ve been a few interesting pieces of news from Wellington over the last last week.

Transdev to run Wellington’s trains

Transdev – who run the trains in Auckland – has been picked as the preferred operator for the trains in Wellington. This is an interesting result as for one it means trains in both Auckland and Wellington will have the same operator. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will have to remain to be seen. The Dominion Post reported the company was surveying people earlier in the year asking about ideas such as quiet cars, indicators to say where seats were available and WiFi. All of which begs the question of if they’ve thought of it, why they aren’t doing it in Auckland already. Presumably their holding some improvements back while they wait for Auckland Transport to go out to tender again or restart the current tender process*.

Just whether changes will lead to growth is something we’ll follow closely. In recent year’s patronage in the capital has increased but not by much.

2015-10 - WLG - Rail Patronage

*Auckland was also running a tender for rail services with the short-list also being Transdev, Kiwirail and Serco however AT postponed it in September citing uncertainty over the outcome of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. As such they extended Transdev’s contract.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has selected Transdev Australasia in association with Hyundai Rotem as its preferred future operator for Wellington’s metro rail service.

The Regional Council will now begin negotiations with Transdev to finalise the terms of the 15 year contract. Subject to those negotiations being successful, a new contract is intended to commence on 1 July 2016.

The jobs of 400 TranzMetro staff who currently deliver Wellington’s metro rail service and maintain the new Matangi trains will be preserved. GWRC’s contract will require Transdev and Hyundai Rotem to offer employment to those staff on the same or more favourable conditions.

GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw says the selection of a preferred operator is a significant milestone towards a new era for public transport in the Wellington region. “The rail contract is the first of all new, performance-based contracts for our train, bus and harbour ferry services. The new contracts will mean better services for customers and provide strong incentives for operators to grow patronage by making public transport easier and smarter.”

Mr Laidlaw also acknowledged the very competitive tenders submitted by the two other tenderers. Those tenderers were Keolis Downer in partnership with KiwiRail, and the UK based rail operator Serco.

Transdev currently operates the Auckland passenger rail service under contract to Auckland Transport and operates rail, tram and bus services in 19 countries across 5 continents.

Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of the region’s Matangi electric train fleet.

Commenting on its selection by GWRC, Transdev Australasia’s Acting CEO, Mr Peter Lodge said “We are very excited by the news today and look forward to the next stage of the process and concluding the contract with GWRC in the New Year.”

GWRC will not be making further comment until negotiations with Transdev are completed and a decision has been made to award the contract. This is likely to occur in March 2016.

 

Diesel buses set to replace trolley buses

As part of a new bus network the regional council will phase out the use of the electric trolley buses in 2017 in favour of diesel buses that they can eventually replace with battery powered buses. It is part of their change to a new bus network but does sound like an odd way of going about things. As an example it raises the question of why not just skip straight to battery buses which as a technology are advancing quickly. It also seems a bit odd that they think they’ll get a whole heap of new diesel buses now and that bus companies will replace them again in just a few year’s time. That sounds like a recipe for bus companies charging a lot more to run services as they amortise the cost of the buses over a shorter time frame.

Wellington New Network

Wellington’s new bus network

The Wellington region now has a clear path to an all-electric bus fleet after the Regional Council made some decisions today on how best to get there.

Chris Laidlaw, Chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council, says an exciting future is in store for bus travel in the region.  “We are determined to be the first region in the country with an all-electric bus fleet when the technology is more mature and affordable.  We expect to progressively introduce electric buses to the region within the next five years, starting with an electric bus demonstration in the first half of 2016.

“In the interim, however, we need to begin upgrading the Wellington City bus fleet.  High capacity buses are a vital part of the new, simpler and more convenient network which will be rolled out in early 2018. The new network will give 75% of residents, compared to 45% at present, access within 1km to a high frequency bus route.  Services will run through the CBD instead of stopping or starting at Wellington Station or Courtenay Place as many do currently.  This, coupled with the use of high capacity buses, will speed up travel times for everyone.

“The Council has decided that an upgraded fleet should include new low emission double decker buses, ten of which will be hybrids. These will replace the older diesel buses in the fleet and the trolley buses, which are being phased out in 2017 because of their unreliability, the high cost of upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure and incompatibility with the new routes. The upgrade will mean that by 2018 the average age of the fleet will be five years compared to 13 at present and overall tailpipe emissions levels of the fleet will be about 33% lower than they are now.

“The biggest gain we can make in contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, and this is why the bus fleet strategy that we’ve endorsed this week is so important. By removing the trolley buses and the old diesels we can deliver services that are fast, reliable, comfortable, easy to use and that go where people want to go. And the only way to achieve these big changes by 2018 is by replacing those vehicles with the best technology available, which is a mix of hybrid buses and new low emission diesels.”

Mr Laidlaw says the Regional Council will be going to tender around April next year for new bus service contracts and will be working with operators to bring their ideas and innovations on how to provide a low emission bus fleet for the region.

“We also plan to hold a symposium around the middle of next year on electric vehicles, bringing everyone together to ensure we make the most of the exciting opportunities on the horizon.  Electric vehicles are coming and the challenge is to prepare the way for these by agreeing on the infrastructural needs. Wellington region is poised to lead the country to a cleaner, smarter transport future and we’re determined to make this happen.”

Island Bay Cycleway

While the work to build the Island Bay parking protected cycleway continues, some parts are already open and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, the people who have long opposed any change to the street – claiming that the road was already safe (because only the hardy used it) and that people would be doored by passengers on the left have continued to fight the project.

A new cycleway through the heart of Wellington’s southern suburbs is threatening to tear the community apart, as thousands vent their anger at its “confusing” design.

Critics of the Island Bay cycleway have labelled it “a death trap” and say it has made one of the city’s main arterial roads too narrow for buses, reduced visibility for motorists on adjoining streets, and even made it “impossible” for some residents to pull out of their driveways.

But many also say the cycleway looks fantastic and will make life easier and safer for people on bikes.

There is a very good post on the project responding to many of the claims from supporters of the project and where the image below is from showing there is plenty of space for doors to open and not hit people on bikes.

Another claim levelled at the project is that the road isn’t wide enough for a protected cycleway. This image from Stuff highlights the width well. You can see the cycleway on each side (with some cars parked in it), the parking and the road lanes. It looks like plenty of space to me.

Papakura Covered Walkway

Auckland Transport announced yesterday that they along with the Papakura Local Board will build a 250m covered walkway from the Papakura train station that will also double as shelter for the bus stops.

Papakura walkway

A modern and covered 250-metre walkway will link Papakura Train Station to the town centre.

The Papakura Local Board and Auckland Transport are working together to provide the walkway along Railway Street West and Averill Street (to the mid-block pedestrian crossing).

It is designed to provide residents and commuters with more shelter and improved access between the Papakura Library and Museum, the Papakura Art Gallery, the train station and businesses in the town centre.

The new public transport network for south Auckland will provide more connections between buses and trains in Papakura when introduced by the end of 2016.

Papakura Local Board Chair Bill McEntee says community feedback shows a need for a safer and more accessible connection from the train station to the town centre.

“Engaging with the local community has been an important part of developing Papakura as a metropolitan centre and making it easier and more comfortable for people to who use the train station to get to the town centre”.

Papakura Station is one of Auckland’s busiest stations, used by more than 1700 people every day. “With future growth and development in the Papakura area, it is important that we improve local access to the train station from the town centre,” says Mr McEntee.

Auckland Transport’s Delivery Manager South East, Clement Reeve says the project will see a new, taller and wider timber or glass finished covered walkway which will incorporate existing bus stops/shelters to create a softer and more welcoming enclosure.

“The design will allow for future custom build panels into the walkway structure that could include images, electronic displays and carved artwork.”

Construction of the walkway is expected to start in the first half of 2016 and will take about five months to complete.

The map below shows where the walkway will cover

Papakura walkway map

I’m not familiar with the area so feel free to correct me but it seems like the section on the western side of Railway St and on Averill St is trying to compensate for the wasteland of parking created by the Countdown carpark.