On the weekend Phil Goff announced his bid for the Auckland mayoralty. Several interesting articles on Goff’s bid have been published, for example ones by the Herald and Radio NZ here and here respectively. A more recent article by the Herald is available here, which suggests Goff may be the favourite and exhorts him to “exert control”.
In this post I’ll discuss and interpret some of Phil Goff’s comments on local government in Auckland. The post is split into three juicy topics: 1) Rates; 2) Asset sales; and 3) Intensification. I should note that it’s relatively early on in the campaign, so in some ways this post raises more questions than answers. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
So what is Goff’s position on rates? Well, for starters at least Goff has his figures right: He notes that rates for the average household increased 3.5%, while also observing that some households experienced increases of up to 10%. Basic data analysis is something that seems to escape some journalists.
Now don’t get me wrong: 10% increase in one year is a big jump.
However, one of the things that got lost in the recent clamour is that some of the increase in household rates was associated with adopting single rating system for all of Auckland. This required harmonizing quite disparate rates across Auckland. Naturally, some people found their rates went up, while others found their rates went down.
The good news for Goff, and any other mayoral candidate, is that the difficult process of harmonizing rates is now largely complete. Len Brown has borne the brunt of that central government hospital pass. As such, the incoming mayor – whoever they are – will benefit from this issue dropping off the radar. So how will Goff seek to keep rates under control in the future?
Well, in his interview on Radio NZ Goff talked “prioritizing” projects, i.e. less important things give way to more important things. This really was the thrust of this recent post which I wrote on the effectiveness and efficiency of local government in Auckland.
Unfortunately we don’t know yet what Goff’s priorities are, so it’s hard to assess the size of the potential savings. There are however a number of poorly-performing transport projects which could be ditched, such as PenLink and Mill Rd. Right there Goff could save the mighty taxpayers of Auckland several hundreds of millions of $$$.
One issue Goff didn’t discuss is Auckland Council’s desire to shift the burden of rates away from businesses and onto residents.
This shift, as I understand it, is designed to reduce the costs faced by businesses, so as to 1) reduce prices for goods/services and 2) increase employment, both of which ultimately benefit residents. While this is a policy direction that I happen to support, it has also contributed to some of the recent increase in residential rates. We don’t yet know where Goff stands on this issue, but it’d be interesting to find out because it is one factor that will cause residential rates to rise faster than inflation.
2. Asset sales
Now we start to get into the nitty gritty about how to keep rates under control. One of the more controversial ideas that has been in the media lot lately is the subject of asset sales. It’ll be interesting to see where the mayoral candidates fall on this issue, because it really is the primary opportunity to find more money to invest in things that will make the city better.
In his interview on Radio NZ Goff distinguishes between what he calls “strategic” and “non-strategic” assets. He says no to the latter, especially in the context of Watercare. Auckland Council’s shares in Ports of Auckland and Auckland Airport, for example, also appear to be in the “not for sale” basket.
Now I can appreciate the need to distinguish between strategic and non-strategic assets, where the former are deemed to provide efficient support to Council’s strategic direction and the latter do not. However, I think there’s a need for Goff to outline not only which assets he considers to be strategic, but *why*. This would help shed light on his underlying values, and mitigate against the “slippery slope” arguments that are advanced by some people in discussions of asset sales.
On the other hand, it should be noted that from the interview it seems that Goff’s views on golf courses are relatively well-aligned with our own views here at TransportBlog. I’ve paraphrased the most relevant parts of the Q&A as follows:
- Interviewer: What about flicking some of the golf courses?
- Goff: Remuera golf course is worth $560 million and the subsidy for every golfer is $11,500 per year.
- Interviewer: So we could expect some golf courses to be sold for housing?
- Goff: I’m going to look at the facts before I make a commitment on that. But I don’t think it’s fair for Aucklanders to be subsidising those people who are lucky enough to be members of a golf course …
FYI here’s what a subsidy of $11,500 per golfer per year buys them.
Or here’s another fact just to ram it home: The annual subsidy for golf courses in Auckland is approximately equivalent in value to the annual cost of operating Auckland’s rail network. So when someone tries to tell you that asset sales will not have a meaningful impact on Council’s ability to deliver other goods and services, you should tell them they’re dreaming.
Personally, Goff’s views on rates and asset sales seemed fairly reasonable to me, even if more details are needed (NB: The same goes for all the mayoral candidates of course).
Now let me present one psuedo-question in the Radio NZ interview and the subsequent response from Goff:
- Interviewer: There’s more talk today about intensification in some of those inner-city suburbs, such as Mt Eden.
- Goff: I don’t see us putting up tower blocks in some of those really nice areas. What I see us doing is working down the main arterial transport routes, looking at places like New Lynn and Panmure. Those are the ideal places where you might want to put 3-4 storey intensive housing, plenty of public open space and making sure it’s good urban design. I don’t think that you start to encroach on the most beautiful parts of the city, before you, say, let’s follow the transport routes so that people can be close to where they are moving to.
There’s some good stuff in what Goff says, e.g. on concentrating development in areas where transport infrastructure exists and the need to focus on urban design, both of which have been somewhat lacking in earlier iterations of Auckland’s development.
There are also, however, some very unfortunate words and attitudes underlying Goff’s comment. Here’s the part I was most concerned by: “I don’t see us putting tower blocks in some of those really nice areas“.At this point my little red alert warning signals started to go whoop whoop. More specifically, in this comment Goff strays into very dangerous territory my friends.
Let me explain why.
First let’s consider what Goff is trying to say. From where I’m sitting, it seems that Goff is saying let’s not intensify in areas that are “nice”. Why? Well, the obvious implication is that intensive development is not nice?!? Goff meet Ockham. More specifically, if Auckland is to progressively change the discourse around housing, and thereby lance the housing boil that threatens our entire economy, then we need large numbers of apartments and town houses to be built. And we need them to be built all across Auckland’s central suburbs, where people want to live, not just in a few places like Panmure and New Lynn.
Second, in this sentence Goff implies that he will seek to undermine normal market forces. More specifically, if an area is “nice” then people are going to want to live there right? Goff seems to be saying that as soon as an area becomes “nice” then Council is not going to allow development there. By extension, Council will presumably only allow intensive development in location that are not nice? Where there is no demand to live? Great, Council can zone away its heart’s content, but it won’t ultimately change anything, all we’ll get is higher property prices in areas that are unable to be developed further.
Which brings me to the third issue with Goff’s seemingly innocuous statement: Goff’s use of the word “nice”. What does this imply for the areas of Auckland that are not like Mt Eden? Goff seems to think Council can identify a couple of not nice places and direct all the “poor” people (who can’t afford to buy a nice big ol’ villa on a large section in Mt Eden) to live there. Think again. Question: What if people all over Auckland come forward and argue their neighbourhood is nice just the way it is?
Answer: Goff either has to 1) tell them that they’re wrong or 2) roll back the intensification planned for those areas. That’s right: In arguing that we shouldn’t intensify certain areas because they’re “nice”, Goff has unwittingly created a rod that any NIMBY anywhere can use to beat back proposed intensificatio – on the grounds that their area is already “nice”. End result? Whole-sale down-zoning in response to self-interested parochial interests.
Now, in Goff’s defence, he is not alone in slipping down this slippery slope.
In fact, the interaction between planning regulations and political economy has been studied elsewhere. This interesting article from Los Angeles, for example, discusses how their planning regulations prevented intensive developments from occurring in areas where there was demand. Sound familiar?!? These regulations were found to have a massive negative impact on development capacity in Los Angeles, as illustrated in the figure below.
For this reason it is not surprising that Los Angeles has had the “fastest increase in home values since 2000” and “has become the least affordable major city in the country“.
In a nutshell: The more Goff is inclined to pick “winners” and “losers” when it comes to what types of housing can be developed in which areas of Auckland, then the more expensive and segregated Auckland is likely to become. Personally, I struggle when residents and politicians effectively say “we want the kinds of people who live in apartments to live over there, because this area is too nice for them“. That’s the definition of snobbery.
The discourse surrounding this issue is even more farcical when you realise that many of Auckland’s older suburbs are already peppered with 3-7 storey apartment buildings. Like my apartment building, which is over 100 years old. Like many apartment buildings in Auckland that were built before regulations and locals made it too difficult.
And let’s be honest: The debate we’re having is not about “tower blocks”: It’s about whether you should be able to build a 3-7 level building in Auckland’s extremely valuable and desirable central suburbs. You know, like the kinds of development that one finds Sydney and Melbourne. To which I say abso-bloody-lutely.
End result? I think Goff needs to think more subtly about intensification.
Overall score for Goff’s initial foray into local government issues? Well, I’d give him a 2/3. When it comes to rates and asset sales, Goff stated some reasonably coherent positions, while also appearing open to debate and discussion. Which is good, because after all he’s only one vote on Council so at the end of the day we shouldn’t overstate his importance.
While Goff is shaping up to be a good centrist mayoral candidate, it looks like housing and intensification may be areas for improvement.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that Goff naturally wants to win, and winning involves appealing to people from across the political spectrum – many of whom like Auckland the way it is and don’t want it to change. But allowing more housing, and more intensification in particular, is the single most important issue facing Auckland right now (yes bigger than transport).
For this reason, Auckland’s next mayor needs to champion Auckland as an integrated city, not a collection of self-interested suburbs.The reason we should sell Remuera golf course is the same reason we should allow for more development in Mt Eden: Because it’s in the best interests of Auckland as a whole. Both now and into the future.
I would like to elect a mayor who doesn’t apologise for the need for intensive development in central areas. A mayor who engages with the concerns of existing residents, but doesn’t compromise on the underlying reality facing Auckland and the city’s growth. Development is not a disease that needs to be quarantined in not so “nice” places. Multi-storey buildings already exist in Auckland’s inner-city suburbs, like they do in Melbourne and Sydney and almost any city of similar size.
Indeed, I’d personally argue that Auckland’s lack of density, and the consequences for civic life, is a primary reason why Auckland struggles to retain its young people. The life of cities like Melbourne, Sydney, London, and Amsterdam is what attracts young peolpe like me. I think our approahc to housing needs to be framed in that context: If you want your grandchildren to live in this hemisphere, then you’ve got to allow for more intensive development in Auckland.
Goodbye, goodluck, and godspeed to you my fellow Auckwooders. May Goff be with you.
The debate about intensification has come roaring back to life in the last day or so following a beat up by Bernard Orsman in the Herald about the unitary plan process.
Tens of thousands of homes in Auckland’s leafy residential suburbs are being rezoned for multiple townhouses and apartments and Auckland Council says homeowners will not be notified about the changes.
The central isthmus suburbs of Pt Chevalier, Epsom, Mt Eden, Mt Albert, Glendowie and St Heliers; the North Shore suburbs of Birkenhead, Glenfield and Takapuna; Whangaparaoa Peninsula, rural towns such as Kumeu and the southern suburbs of Howick and Mangere Bridge are among areas affected by the changes taking place behind closed doors.
Tomorrow, the Unitary Plan committee will meet behind closed doors to approve changes to the single house zone in north, south and east Auckland.
This follows a decision by the 11-member committee on November 10 to approve changes to the zone on the Auckland central isthmus and West Auckland.
The council has rewritten the rules for the “single-house zone” where one- and two-storey houses are typically set amongst trees and gardens. New rules mean tens of thousands of houses no longer qualify and will be rezoned to a “mixed-house” zone to allow for townhouses, studios and apartments of up to three storeys.
Are we really down to the stage of scaremongering about three storey townhouses, a housing typology found frequently overseas and even in many parts of Auckland already? In fact for a city like Auckland three storey townhouses are perhaps the ideal missing middle of the housing. On top of being fairly spatially efficient they can be built in existing suburbs and not look out of place as they’re often no higher than a two storey house with a pitched roof. They’re also generally cheaper and easier to build than apartments as they don’t require expensive features like lifts or complex sprinkler systems.
Three storey terraced housing alongside some single storey houses in Epsom
So what’s really happening? The answer is much less secretive and much less alarmist than the herald like to make out.
The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) was notified by the council in 2014 and since then an independent government appointed panel (IHP) has been going through the almost 10,000 submissions and supporting pieces of evidence submitted by the public and the council. The IHP will eventually issue a recommendation back to the council on the PAUP based on the submissions and evidence and that is almost certainly going to be different from what the council originally started with.
Along the way the IHP have been challenging the council on various topics and also issuing interim guidance on issues such as around the levels of heritage protection and viewshafts. As part of the process the council have been required to consider rezoning changes which is exactly what they are doing based on what’s happened so far it’s what’s likely to happen based on the interim guidance issued so far.
The council are looking at changing some of the lighter coloured areas to allow for more development
I know I’ve skipped a lot out but kind of brings us roughly to where we are today with the council are looking at better defining where development can occur. From what I’ve read it seems they are looking at expanding the mixed housing suburban and mixed housing urban boundaries.
It seems to me that a lot of the angst in the article probably originated with the 2040 group who have long opposed much of the intensification planned. As a result of this the interim guidance my guess is they’ve been seeing the writing on the wall that more intensification would be allowed so they’ve complained to the Herald.
Following the article a number of politicians have heaped on the idea of intensification. One of those is David Seymour who based on his party’s politics you’d think would support removing restrictions to property rights claims it will have enormous implications for congestion, character and school zones. He is also quoted as saying
“It’s also a betrayal of young people in its assumption that they can never own a house and must live in apartments
The real betrayal of young people is by those who have opposed any change to the city, especially in the area of housing where prices have been pushed up or some people have been pushed out half way to Hamilton.
The ‘Six Sisters’, John Street, Ponsonby – three storeys is hardly highrise
Of course many young people would live in an apartment or terraced house if more were able to be built to bring prices down in the areas they want to live. Part of the reason for this is often they are quite different from their parents in that they don’t aspire to a house in the suburbs where driving is the only option and they have to frequently do things like mow lawns and manage gardens. As for driving, well Auckland Transport have already said they’re looking at building a light rail network across the central isthmus which will help in moving lots of people without suffering from congestion.
Disappointingly it also appears that new mayoral candidate Phil Goff is starting to go down the line of backing off intensification in some areas. Stu has more on this in a post later today.
It will be interesting to see what the council come up with in terms of rezoning. Ideally the ishmus would look much more like West Auckland in the map above with a lot more mixed housing urban allowed (3 storeys).
One of the items on the agenda for a decision at tomorrow’s Auckland Transport board meeting is about the intersection of Tamaki Dr and Ngapipi Rd. This intersection has been discussed for quite some time as is quite dangerous with it considered by the NZTA the 10th highest risk intersection in NZ. AT say 31 crashes have been recorded at the intersection over the past five years (possibly more now as there was another one recently) with 25 of them resulting in injury.
To improve the intersection AT want to up-scale the intersection and signalise it which they say will provide the best outcomes in terms of improving safety and improving traffic flow. As part of the up-scaling it will see the sea wall pushed out quite a bit to create more space. AT’s preferred option is shown below
However as I understand it the Orakei Local Board have continued to push for an alternative roundabout option. I’m not entirely sure of their reasoning for this although I wonder if it isn’t about some kind of animosity towards stopping at lights. This option is shown below.
For me one of the big issues with the roundabout option is how it works for pedestrians and those on bikes. For example if you were coming from Ngapipi and wanted to walk anywhere on the northern side of the road you will need to
- be capable of dashing across two lanes of traffic approaching the roundabout to the traffic island
- cross a lane of traffic exiting from the roundabout including or turning left around a blind corner
- cross Tamaki Dr east of the intersection
At least with the signalised option this is controlled and you can cross in any direction with a wait for lights. This isn’t to say I think the signalised option is ideal. For example why go to the cost of extending out the seawall and not at least provide a protected cycle option that isn’t a shared path.
Other than safety there’s another area where AT say the signalised option works better, traffic flow. They have put online the results of their modelling in the AM and PM peak showing how long they think the traffic queues will be with either option vs the current layout. As you can see in the AM peak AT think the traffic queues will be almost non-existent with the signalised option – which seems almost too good to be true. The roundabout option is suggested to have traffic queued up way back down Kepa Rd.
In the PM peak the roundabout performs a little better for those heading away from the city but not but too much.
Based on this information it seems the signalised option is a far preferable solution. I’ll be watching with interest to see the outcome of the board meeting.
Tomorrow the Auckland Transport Board meet and as usual I’ve picked through the main reports looking for any bits of information that I find interesting. First up the items in the closed session
Items for Approval/Decision
- Tamaki Ngapipi – AT say this will be publicly released soon and my guess is it will be a decision as to whether to proceed with a signalised intersection like AT staff want or a roundabout like the local board want.
The signalised intersection AT want to build Tamaki Dr & Ngapipi Rd
- Real Estate Inventory Optimisation
- Assignment of Lease to Ferry Building Limited
Items for Noting
- Deep Dive – EMU post implementation review – Hopefully this is something that will soon be made public but it almost seems a bit soon to be doing a post implementation review giving they’ve only just rolled out and AT are still meant to be fixing issues like dwell times.
- AT Metro subsidy – this could be another fascinating paper, especially in light of the fact farebox recovery has been improving rapidly of late thanks to the roll out of the EMUs and surging patronage.
- CRL update
On to the main business report – comments are based on the order the items they refer to appear in the report
AT have been saying for a few months that some of the options for renewing their rolling stock insurance. They’ve now done that and the saving ended up at $130,000 which is more than they had been saying. The news on the sale of the old trains seems to be about the same as it was last month.
AT signed off their Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP) in July however occasionally things come up that require them to add a variation. They say they can add minor changes themselves but major ones need to be consulted on and as such they’ve added two projects to the current RLTP. One is the Auckland Transport Alignment Project which meant to be about coming up with a transport programme that can be agreed on by both the council and the government. The other one they’ve added is from the NZTA and is SH20B to the Airport for which the NZTA say they need to undertake an overarching strategy for the corridor. Perhaps they’re lining this up as a project to fill the void when the current tranche of projects finish.
The upgrade of the northern part of Albany Highway is on track for completion late next year which AT say is well ahead of schedule. They say significant sections of off road cycle and footpaths are now open for people to use with more to come before Christmas.
Consultation on stages 2 and 3 of the shared path between Glen Innes and Tamaki Dr will happen in early 2016. That will see the path extend as far as the Orakei Train station
Early 2016 will also see the consultation of quite a few walking/cycling projects including
- Stages 2 and 3 of the shared path between Glen Innes and Tamaki Dr will happen in early 2016. These are the stages that will see the path extend as far as the Orakei Train station
- Waitemata Safe Routes which will involve three separate routes, one from Westmere Shops to Grey Lynn, one from Coxs Bay Reserve to the NW Cycleway and one on Richmond Rd to link the two together.
- New Lynn to Waterview Shared Path which will take place in late January.
All Electric trains have been provisionally accepted into the fleet and had software updates over Labour Weekend to address a number of performance issues with the traction control and passenger information systems.
A council decision on the Newmarket crossing project (closing Sarawia St) is likely to happen in May 4 months earlier than expected. AT say that at the time of writing the report only two submissions had been received on it, one in support and one neutral. Submissions would still have been open at the time of writing that though.
At Parnell AT say the platforms should be complete by the end of November but won’t recommence on the station till next year once Kiwirail do their part of the work on the station (they need consent to bring in the old Newmarket Station building and refurbish it). AT are seeing whether they can get some funding to build a link from the station to the developments in Carlaw Park – something that should have been core part of the project. They also say the new owner of the old Mainline Depot site (Summerset, who will build a retirement village) have made requests to amend the station access which AT is reviewing. All of the station works aren’t due to be completed till June next year.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the traffic lights in New Lynn in the local papers. AT say that after a review and incorporating feedback they’re going to make some changes to them to “improve flow of traffic through the town centre” which will apparently enhance “public transport reliability and pedestrian accessibility”. I find it odd how much the report talks about it all being about pedestrians when the real reason is about driving – pedestrian washing if you will. They will
- Removal of signals to the access way at McCrae Way and Great North Road
- Trial camera detection on a pedestrian crossing at Memorial Dr to “optimise the use of the intersection for pedestrian movement and traffic flow” in other words to stop people crossing the road from holding up cars.
- Trial removing signals at one of the intersections of Ward St (not sure which one).
AT are now using Bluetooth to monitor travel time data in real time across six city centre routes. The NZTA also use this technology to monitor travel times on the route to the airport and explain it a bit in this press release.
One interesting bit of information that normally stays behind the scenes appears in this board report. It is an explanation about ATs traffic counting programme. They say it costs them $678k annually to count traffic and have 1882 programmed for this financial year with 643 completed by the end of September.
Integrated Fares are now not due till July 2016.
AT are still evaluating the tenders for the new bus network in South Auckland
AT say they’re consulting with schools who have school bus routes that duplicate existing rail or bus routes. The intention is to remove the school bus routes with children obviously catching a normal bus or train instead.
The Puhinui station upgrade is due to be completed by the end of the month.
The Park Rd bus lane between the Hospital and Carlton Gore Rd is due to be completed in December – I hope they have some enforcement lined up so that people will stop parking in it
Apparently there is new journey planner software being implemented today that will finally allow for multi-modal and multi trip journey planning.
Something I haven’t really covered in the board paper posts before is the boards forward programme. This highlights the subject of papers going to the upcoming board committees and next full board meeting. Like the closed session there are some very interesting topics. For example
CFC on 3 December – Customer Focus Committee
- ATAP update
- Car Sharing Policy Framework*
- Draft Statement of Intent
- Berm Planting Policy Update
- Station Gating*
- Security & Fare Enforcement*
- Annual Fare Price Review*
CRC on 3 December – Not sure what this stands for
- Potential Purewa Station
- Joint review of AMETI Delivery Strategy – update and key next steps
- East West*
- Penlink – Confirmation of Notice of Requirement*
- LRT Strategic Case*
- CRL – Albert Street ramps
The items with a * are also due to appear in the next closed session of full board meeting. That also includes a few other papers too such as
- Northern Busway Station Preferred Option – although it appears this may be moved to next year.
- PwC – Value for Money Report – As I understand it, this is looking at AT is delivering value for money in how it operates so could be very interesting.
- NZTTL Briefing Paper – NZTTL is the NZTA organisation which owns and controls the back end systems that HOP uses.
Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week, we’re starting with an article for the bird-lovers. The NZ Herald’s science reporter Jamie Morton reports that city tuis are changing their song:
Tui are renowned for their wide repertoire of songs – it’s been estimated at more than 300 – yet we’re only just beginning to find out how urban environments are influencing their singing behaviour.
As with all songbirds, the melodies of tui are used to select a mate and an impressive song can make a male more attractive to a female during breeding season.
Suspecting that tui tailor their singing patterns to fit with the constant racket of city life, Massey University researcher Dr Weihong Ji and colleagues set out to investigate song differences between tui at spots around Auckland…
They found that tui songs at locations closer to the motorway were less complex than those of the other two groups.
“Basically, the noisier the area, the more simple the song became,” said Dr Ji, who will outline her findings at the New Zealand Ecological Society’s conference in Christchurch today.
The songs typically had fewer syllables and trill components, but a higher proportion of harsher elements which enabled their calls to cut through the noise.
One more reminder that life in cities is rife with unintended consequences and unplanned outcomes. On that note, Alex Cummings (Tropics of Meta) reports on some interesting-sounding new research on “The Politics (and Non-Politics) of the Unplanned City in the US, UK, and Germany”:
As the GDR commenced a flurry of construction of new housing estates, often on the fringe of traditional urban centers, older neighborhoods were often left abandoned. Meanwhile, by the late 1970s, similar policies in capitalist West Berlin left many empty buildings and people with low incomes, especially students, started a squatter movement. Illegal or semi-legal occupation flourished on both sides of “the wall,” but as Pugh points out, there were key differences: groups of squatters often took whole buildings and announced that they were doing so in West Berlin, creating a visual culture of defiance that politicized housing actions and became a big part of their appeal. In the East, “black dwelling” was covert: squatters took pains to be discreet, and “To take over a whole building was unthinkable.” East Germans looked for buildings with no curtains to occupy and put up their own to make the dwelling seem normal; they even paid rent to the authorities, unlike many squatters in West Berlin. They just wanted housing, Pugh argues; they wanted “a rich and fulfilling private life” and to become independent, difficult tasks in the bureaucratic and personally invasive society of the GDR. “West Berliners sought to collective private space,” she argued, “while East Berliners sought to privatize collective space.”
Cities are in many respects intrinsically unplanned spaces. If they work, they work due to the fact that they contain multitudes of people, each doing their own thing, in their own particular way. Sort of like this animated gif of rush hour in Copenhagen:
View post on imgur.com
Cities work best when urban transport makes efficient use of space and other scarce resources – again, as shown in the gif of Copenhagen. Which leads onto this interesting bit of fact-checking from Politifact’s Ian Kullgren: “Portland mayor Sam Adams says Portland spent on its bike infrastructure what it would normally spend on a single mile of highway”. Summary: the mayor’s basically right:
Portland’s biking infrastructure is the stuff of legends. For the people who support it, we’re Biketown U.S.A. — the city that boasts (at least among medium and large cities) the highest bike commuter rate. For those who are less into that title, our investments in cycling paths and signs are monetary drains on the city budget.
You’d think, then, given the strong feelings, that Portland has made significant investments to get a significant infrastructure.
But something Mayor Sam Adams said recently caught our attention. In a video on Streetfilms.org, Adams touts our biking culture while adding that we built our bike network for about the same amount of cash that a mile of highway would set us back.
“You know in 1993 we weren’t the bicycling capital of America,” he says. “Seventeen years later, for the equivalent cost of a single mile of freeway, we have a bike infrastructure.”
Further to the north, Calgary has been racing ahead with its own cycle network. Chris and Melissa Bruntlett look at the pace of change in the Canadian city. As in Auckland, change has come through a fortuitous combination of independent activists and a city government that’s picked up the vision:
Led by visionary Mayors, predictable players like New York, Chicago and Vancouver – alongside less likely ones such as Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Memphis – have assembled ‘minimum grids’ of protected bike lanes – piece by piece – over the past 10 years.
These networks had another thing in common: they were completed one street at a time, pulling off the proverbial Band Aid slowly (and rather painfully). But on the morning of June 17, 2015, Calgary announced its own arrival on the international scene, cutting the ribbon on an entire network of downtown cycle tracks – the first of its kind in North America.
Unlike their counterparts, Calgary’s network wasn’t the product of a ‘top down’ approach from a single political entity. Rather, they were the result of a non-partisan, grassroots campaign (paired with a strategic measure of brokering and championing by Mayor Nenshi) that captured an entire city’s imagination, and demonstrated the undeniable demand for safer cycling facilities.
Cycling infrastructure can be cheap and fast to roll out. But, as Alex Zimmerman at Atlas Obscura discusses, infrastucture in general has gotten harder to build, at least in the US:
The image of a single engineer wielding a piece of technology no more sophisticated than a hammer isn’t what most people have in mind when they think of modern infrastructure projects. But it may be the fastest technology available to New Yorkers, even now—especially now, as the Second Avenue subway, a project that began planning in the 1910s, has been under construction since 2007, is not yet open. By contrast, workers laid over 9 miles of track across Manhattan in only four years after initial groundbreaking. “The fact that we still don’t have a subway under Second Avenue is kind of amazing,” says Polly Desjarlais, a senior educator at the New York Transit Museum.
So if we could build a new subway line in four years back in the early 1900s, why is the Second Avenue line taking so long? Why are we still using so much infrastructure that’s more than 100 years old? What has changed in the last hundred or so years for the subway?
On a different note, migration has been in the news here and abroad, due to the hundreds of New Zealanders locked up in Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre and the Syrian refugee crisis. So it is probably worth a reminder that migration is a very good thing in general. In the New Yorker, John Cassidy writes about “the economics of Syrian refugees”:
Since 2012 the European Union has received about 1.9 million requests for asylum, and even that number is dwarfed by the number of people who have sought refuge in countries adjacent to Syria. According to the United Nations, Turkey has taken in an estimated 2.2 million, Lebanon 1.1 million, and Jordan six hundred and thirty thousand.
Based purely upon these figures, you might think that the economies of these countries would be sagging under the burden, but they aren’t. According to a new report from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the Turkish economy will expand by three per cent this year and by four per cent next year. Lebanon’s economy is also growing, at a rate of about two per cent this year, which will expand to more than three per cent next year, the World Bank reckons. Despite an influx of refugees that now amounts to more than ten per cent of its population, Jordan, too, is bearing up. Its gross domestic product will rise by about three per cent this year, the International Monetary Fund says.
These figures make the point that, even in countries facing huge influxes of refugees, the impact on the economy as a whole is usually not very large. The biggest challenges in accommodating refugees are social and political, rather than economic. To be sure, there is a cost to screening, housing, and feeding the entrants, but even in Turkey, which has received more Syrian refugees than any other country, this cost has proved manageable. In a blog post in September, Massimiliano Calì and Samia Sekkarie, two economists at the World Bank, noted, “The Turkish government has spent nearly 5.37 billion euros since the refugees first began arriving, entirely funded through its own fiscal resources. While this is undoubtedly a lot of money, there is no indication that this spending has jeopardized the country’s fiscal sustainability.” If you think about it, that’s not surprising. Turkey’s annual G.D.P. is about eight hundred billion dollars. At about one and a half billion dollars a year, the cost of resettling the Syrian refugees has been less than 0.2 per cent of the G.D.P.
In Lebanon, which is much smaller than Turkey, the cost of dealing with the refugee crisis has been greater relative to the G.D.P., but much of it has been met using money provided by international donors. Indeed, a recent study carried out under the auspices of the U.N. concluded that the refugee-aid packages actually boosted Lebanon’s G.D.P. by more than one per cent. (At the same time, though, the spillover from the carnage in Syria has hit tourism, one of Lebanon’s biggest industries, hard. Overall, the U.N. study estimated, the crisis in Syria has lowered Lebanon’s G.D.P. by about 0.3 per cent.)
Another concern that has been voiced frequently about refugees, especially in Europe over the past few months, in response to the influx of refugees there, has been that refugees take jobs from native workers and reduce wages. The evidence from the Syrian experience suggests that this can happen, but that the effects aren’t very large. In many cases, refugees take jobs that natives don’t want. They also set up businesses of their own and provide more customers for domestic enterprises.
So migration, even in very adverse circumstances, can be a positive-sum game rather than a negative-sum game. Migrants can enrich the countries they migrate to, especially if those countries are willing to welcome them. And as Chris Dillow observes, drawing upon new research from University of Waikato researchers, migration tends to be good for migrants, even if they’re not fleeing a civil war:
Immigration is a great way of reducing poverty. A new paper (pdf) by John Gibson at the University of Waikato and colleagues has established this in a neat way.
Each year, Tongans wanting to migrate to New Zealand are randomly given permits to do so. Comparing permit-winners who migrated to those who didn’t win the ballot allows us to see the impact upon incomes of migration: because the ballot-winners, being drawn at random, are otherwise similar to the losers we get a relatively clean measure of the effect of migration.
Gibson and colleagues estimate that a ballot winner who migrates earns an average of NZ$340 per week, compared to NZ$126 for losers who stay in Tonga. That’s almost a tripling of income. It amounts to a lifetime gain of well over £100,000. Controlling for the difference in cost of living between Tonga and New Zealand doesn’t much affect the results.
Accommodating growth has its challenges and downsides, although these are far better than the challenges of urban decline. Rising house prices are one. The Economist reports that even efficient Scandinavian countries are not immune to this phenomenon:
Swedish house prices have doubled in the past decade, their rapid ascent only briefly interrupted by the financial crisis (see chart). So far this year they have risen by about 14%. Apartment prices have been even giddier, rising by more than 150% in ten years.
In part, this is a simple function of supply and demand. Stockholm is among Europe’s fastest-growing cities, with the recent influx of Middle Eastern refugees only adding to the demand for housing. Last month the country’s migration agency said it expected as many as 190,000 new arrivals by the end of the year, double its previous estimate. Sluggish and restrictive planning procedures limit supply: the current shortage of around 150,000 homes is expected to triple by 2025. A counterproductive rent-control regime has crimped the supply of flats in particular, and led to long waiting lists. Earlier this year an apartment in central Stockholm went to someone who had been in the queue since 1989.
What could be done about house prices? A pair of University of Auckland lecturers suggests, in The Conversation, that a land tax could do the trick:
Over a century ago, American economist Henry George suggested instead of taxing workers and entrepreneurs, governments should raise their revenue from land via a land value tax (LVT).
Indeed, both Australia (land taxes at the state level) and New Zealand (property rates at the council level) already have some taxation of land in place. But over the last century these taxes have become significantly debased due to the influence of various interest groups that secured exemptions or low rates. It is time to reconsider shifting the fiscal balance back onto land.
Unlike the land taxes already in place or the often suggested capital gains tax, LVT does not punish anyone for constructing houses or factories in the way that our current taxes do. As the supply of land is fixed, LVT becomes a cost of owning it. Consequently, it can bring in a decrease in prices as the owners of inefficiently used sites might feel compelled to sell or lease them to those willing to use them productively. Increasing the cost of owning land would drastically reduce the incentives for speculation.
Imagine central Auckland or Melbourne without vacant sites or dilapidated buildings. What is more, encouraging more efficient use of land is not only beneficial to economic growth and housing affordability, but also has a potential to substantially lower the costs of public infrastructure and encourage more efficient use of space and natural resources.
Meanwhile, others argue that there’s gold in them thar golf courses. Bob Dey reports on two new studies that Auckland Council commissioned on alternative funding sources other than rates. Both reports shone the spotlight on the city’s publicly owned golf courses.
That’s all for the week. See you next time!
The NZTA yesterday announced they’ve awarded a $1 billion contract to build another bypass of Hamilton and comes after they spent $200 million on the existing bypass at Te Rapa which opened three years ago. Construction won’t begin till next spring as the contract includes the detailed design work which will take place first.
A consortium of contractors and designers has been awarded a contract to build the biggest roading project to be undertaken in the Waikato, the NZ Transport Agency says.
The 21 kilometre long Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway will be constructed by a group made up of Fletcher, Beca, Higgins and Coffey (FBHC), in an alliance with the Transport Agency.
The proposed design for the section includes five interchanges, 17 bridges and new connecting roads at Ruakura Road and Resolution Drive.
As usual with these things there seems to be a fair amount of artistic licence that goes into the press releases. For example
The project is one of seven sections of the Waikato Expressway, a Road of National Significance (RoNS)identified by the Government as key to unlocking New Zealand’s potential for economic growth.
Once all seven sections are complete, the expressway is expected to cut travel times between Auckland and Tirau by up to 35 minutes and significantly improving safety.
So how much of that claimed 35 minute savings comes from this project and how much from the other sections that have already been completed or are under way? Including the time savings of other projects was one of the key criticisms of the NZTA by the board of inquiry that rejected the Basin Reserve Flyover in Wellington.
“The expressway connects inter-regional traffic with local destinations which is vital for the economy and for our vibrant communities. We have to get these things right and we can only do that if we partner up,” she says.
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker says the project is important to growth and development in Hamilton and the wider Waikato region.
“We have been waiting in anticipation for completion of the Hamilton section of the expressway and it’s great to have this work now locked in,” she says.
“It is a fantastic project that will deliver considerable value to Hamilton’s economy and lifestyle.”
I’m not quite sure how a rural motorway out past the edge of town is going to do anything to make communities in Hamilton more vibrant and isn’t the point to allow traffic to bypass the city and get to or from Auckland faster. The project also isn’t likely to do much to the economy either. Even by 2041 some sections are still expected to have fewer than 10,000 vehicles per day using them – and that’s likely using the NZTAs often over-optimistic assumptions. Another way of putting that is it’s on par with what the old Kopu bridge carried back when it was a single lane bridge.
I suspect that if this section was assessed on it’s own it might be lucky to scrape above a BCR of 0.2
I wonder how liveable and vibrant Hamilton would be if $1 billion was spent on projects that more directly benefited locals?
Rail patronage continues to soar to new heights and yesterday passed 15 million trips within a year for the first time. That marks also the third million trip milestone we’ve seen this year after passing 13 million trips in March and 14 million trips in July. This is a fantastic result and continues to show that when given a decent option that Aucklanders will use it.
General Manager AT Metro, Mark Lambert says rail patronage in Auckland has grown by 22% over the past year. “Just four months ago we marked 14 million passenger trips. And if we go back 10 years we had just 4 million trips a year.”
Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy says when he became AT chairman in November 2012 rail patronage was just 10 million. “What Aucklanders have wanted for decades is reliable, frequent and safe public transport options and we have a very clear focus on delivering to those wants and needs.”
Mayor Len Brown says this is another outstanding achievement for public transport in Auckland. “At this rate we will pass the next big milestone – 20 million – at the start of 2017. Aucklanders love their trains and compared to this time last year, they’re taking around 10,000 extra trips every day across the suburban network.”
Since the rail network went all-electric in July, from Papakura to Swanson, there has been a marked improvement in reliability and on-time performance. In October 93% of services arrived at their destination within five minutes of their scheduled time and the previous month 94.9% of services arrived on time, a new record for Auckland trains.
Mr Lambert says “Our customers are liking the improved level of service and the comfort and convenience of the new trains. We’re also working on a timetable improvement which will see services on the Western Line go to six trains an hour at peak like the Southern and Eastern Lines.”
Overall public transport patronage in Auckland across rail, bus and ferries now exceeds 80 million passenger trips a year.
The result also marks us being halfway to the government’s patronage target for the CRL of 20 million trips by 2020 just over two years after it was set.
If current trends continue we will hit 20 million trips in mid 2017 however the Ministry of Transport have continued to claim that patronage growth will taper off. There’s no sign of that happening yet and in fact patronage has continued to grow at increasing rates with it currently increasing by over 22%. There are also a lot of improvements still to come. As AT say in the press release above they are working on increasing frequency of trains on the western line which last I heard was expected to occur around April. That will both help address capacity constraints and make the service much more useful at the same time. In the middle of next year we will also get integrated fares which will make most journeys cheaper and in the South the new bus network will be rolled out which should see more people transferring to trains. The changes to will happen after that. All of this means that patronage is likely to continue to grow strongly for some time yet.
One aspect I will be watching is to see how it takes us to reach the next million milestone. We’ve seen the last two taking just four months. There’s been a distinct downward trend although I’d be surprised if it went lower. One aspect likely to help keep the current trend up is that this year will see the shortest rail closure over Christmas so we should see some decent increases in patronage in the December and January months.
The patronage results for October have also been released ahead of the AT board meeting next week. Other than rail which reached 14.8m to the end of October both bus and ferries also saw patronage increase despite there being one less business day this October compared to the last one. Buses were up 0.5% for the month while ferries have continued strong growth over the last six months or so up 8.2% for the month.
Auckland Transport are really picking up the pace on their cycleway projects – which they have to do if they want to have any chance of making the most of the governments Urban Cycleway Fund – and are today starting consultation a cycleway on Quay St. The stretch from Queen St to Lower Hobson St is possibly the busiest place in all of Auckland for bikes a dedicated cycleway will make things much better for both those on bikes and those on foot.
The project will see a 3m protected two way cycleway built along most of the northern side of Quay St from the Lower Hobson St intersection through to Plumber St – I’ll talk about the exception to this in more detail later in the post. This cycleway is actually an interim solution for around a decade until a more permanent solution is created when Quay St is made more people friendly (after the CRL is finished). As such it will be a bit of a mix with the cycleway separated by a rubber kerbs, some sections where the path is raised to the same height as footpath and one section of shared path. Due to how busy the area is with bikes and how key it is for many bike movements it was felt the project couldn’t afford wait till the larger Quay St project to happen hence why they’re pushing it now.
AT say the reason for the cycleway being on the Northern side is:
We have chosen the northern side of Quay Street as this keeps the cycleway clear of cars turning into side streets and means less of a stop-start journey for What are the proposed changes? At the intersection with Lower Hobson Street, the cycleway sits flush with the footpath people on bikes. We can also keep traffic light phasing on Quay Street similar to the current phasing.
To make space for the cycleway AT will be removing the planted median islands to the west of Queen St and combining some of the dedicated right turn lanes with the lanes going straight.
The benefits AT list are:
- Connects with the ferry terminal and with cycle routes along Nelson Street, Beach Road and Auckland’s waterfront.
- Designed for people of all ages and abilities. • An interim step towards the long-term transformation of Quay Street and the water’s edge.
- Makes Quay Street a more pleasant walking experience, by shifting bikes onto the cycleway.
- Helps create a city centre in which people feel safer and more confident walking and cycling.
- Along with improvements to bus and train services, provides more travel options into the city, particularly during construction of CityRail Link.
- Helps achieve our target of a 30% increase in cycle journeys within Auckland by 2019.
- Supports the different ways in which Quay Street is accessed and used.
- Improves travel options around the city for local residents, now one of the most densely populated parts of the country.
- Supports the social benefits of cycling – improvements to health, a reduction in household costs and a cleaner environment.
Below are the diagrams of what is proposed (click to enlarge)
Section 1 starts off from the Lower Hobson St intersection. As the Nelson St Stage 2 section is still under review I guess it’s possible that the crossings could change. The cycleway is raised to be level with the footpath however hopefully with it being on the south of the trees it will mean that pedestrians stay out of it.
Section 2 shifts to a cycleway at road level but protected by kerbs.. You can also see the accessway with a blue line where low level mountable kerbs – like was used on the first stage of Beach Rd.
Section 3 is where things get odd. It appears that the cycleway narrows outside the ferry building before eventually moving back to a shared path in front of Queens Wharf. This is for a number of reasons which I’ll explain later.
Section 4 continues on as a shared path before returning to a cycleway on the road with protection, this carries through section 5 too.
Section 6 will see the removal of some oddly placed carparks and again it looks like the cycleway narrows just before the end.
Section 7 has the cycleway moves to being alongside the footpath and like section just to the east of the lower Hobson St intersection. It’s unclear what AT will do to prevent or restrict people from walking in the cycle lane.
Overall I think this cycleway will be very popular and it’s good that AT are progressing it however I have a serious concern for the section around Queens Wharf where it goes back to a shared path. This probably wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it was in some of the eastern sections but it is here as that’s where a lot of people are. AT have said there are four reasons for doing this.
This change has been necessary due to the following constraints that leave no space for an on-road cycleway:
- The requirement for a dedicated right turn traffic lane into Commerce Street to provide for Skybus movements
- The requirement for a dedicated right turn traffic lane into Queens Wharf to provide for Skybus and tour coach movements
- Retaining the existing Explorer Bus stop on the northern side of Quay Street
- Retaining the existing bus parking and Pay & Display parking on the southern side of Quay St
These have to be some of the four weakest excuses I’ve heard for not doing something properly (even though it’s only an interim solution. Lets step through them.
- So because of the CRL works are closing lower Queen St and instead of just shifting the Skybus stop from outside the ferry terminal someone at AT has decided we need to keep it where it is thereby requiring extra road space and preventing a dedicated cycleway. Absurd doesn’t begin to describe it. Note: I understand from conversations in the past they have some long term deal to be outside the Ferry Terminal but surely that can be changed.
- The same goes for the Explorer Bus which may be even worse. The bus only runs once every 30 minutes in summer and doesn’t even start till after 9am and finishes at 5pm. By in large it only runs off peak so why does it need an offline stop. Perhaps instead AT should just merge the bus stop within one of the general traffic lanes and just have a bit of a wider island for passengers to use (i.e. send bikes behind the bus stop.
- As for the last comment, since when is bus lay over parking and pay and display the highest priority on our waterfront. It’s insane that those few places are being retained ahead of a cycleway and really makes you wonder who in AT is putting their retention as a requirement.
Sometimes it really feels like we are constantly taking two steps forward and one step back with some of this stuff.
Consultation is open till 11 December at www.AT.govt.nz/haveyoursay
There will also be an information day on Thursday 26 November from 6pm to 8pm in the Cloud.
Precinct Properties released their annual report yesterday, and it included the first glimpse of what they are planning to replace the existing Downtown Shopping Centre. As also reported yesterday, the development appears to be on track to start next year and the construction will also include building the CRL tunnels in the basement.
It looks like they’re setting quite a high standard, which is great, and it will look even better when Quay St is eventually made more people-friendly. The cars in the shot are probably just a bit of artistic license, as this part of Albert St will be used to replace the current bus stops around Britomart, which have to go as part of the CRL works and turning lower Queen St into a ‘people’ space.
In addition to the image, we know there’s a lane planned between the HSBC building and this new development, which you can kind of see along with another lane going East-West roughly halfway along the block between Quay and Custom St. I also wish they’d get rid of that pedestrian overbridge.
Here’s what it looks like now.
Also as a reminder, this is the tower they’re building. If you look closely you can actually see the development above shown on it but it’s something I never picked up on before.
We’ve written before about the construction disruption coming to central Auckland next year. In particular there are two big half billion dollar full block rebuilds in the Convention Centre and the Downtown development and associated tower, plus the City Rail Link early works, then there are numerous other office and residential towers due to start. Only projects very close to the CRL route are shown below, there’s a lot more to the west both at Wynyard and around Sale St and elsewhere:
AT have some details on their CRL page about the details of their work, including a video of the Albert St process, no doubt they will communicate more closer to the time. Work on the pipe-jacking access shafts start early next month on Albert St. But as there is so much other construction starting next year I wonder if AT wouldn’t be wiser to really take an bold line on this as it all winds up? For the people who are used to driving through the city it’s more than likely these habits will be impacted. I feel the best way for AT to manage this frustration is to front-foot it, to ‘own’ this disruption, explain that people should not expect to get by without making changes. Say this is going to be big and difficult, but worth it in the long run. Just hoping to minimise disruption and try not to draw attention to it and that it’s all going to be ok seems to me to invite more of a backlash. In particular to invite accusations of carelessness and incompetence.
I think AT should consider a little Catastrophising; should call down a full ‘CARMAGEDDON’ for the central city next year. This has four potential benefits:
1. They can’t then be accused of downplaying or not taking the disruption to peoples’ commutes and daily business seriously.
2. It is likely to get a number of people to change their plans especially it may get more people to trying other methods for getting into the city, thereby actually helping to reduce the impacts of all this construction activity.
3. For these and other reasons it is likely that it won’t actually be as bad as they paint it, so people will feel more relief than anger.
4. It is a good way to get communication into the media, and with it the opportunity to discuss the value of the projects too.
Here’s an example of what I mean. The I-405 in LA:
A section of I-405 was closed over the weekend of Friday, July 15, 2011 as part of the Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project. Before the closing, local radio DJs and television newscasts referred to it as “Carmageddon” and “Carpocalypse”, parodying the notion of Armageddon and the Apocalypse, since it was anticipated that the closure would severely impact traffic.
In reality, traffic was lighter than normal across a wide area. California Department of Transportation reported that fewer vehicles used the roads than usual, and those who did travel by road arrived more quickly than on a normal weekend. The Metrolink commuter train system recorded its highest-ever weekend ridership since it began operating in 1991. Ridership was 50% higher than the same weekend in 2010, and 10% higher than the previous weekend ridership record, which occurred during the U2 360° Tour in June 2011. In response to jetBlue Airlines‘ offer of special flights between Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and Long Beach Airport, a distance of only 29 mi (47 km), for $4, a group of cyclists did the same journey in one and a half hours, compared to two and a half hours by plane (including a drive to the airport from West Hollywood 90 minutes in advance of the flight and travel time to the end destination). There was also some debate about whether the Los Angeles area could benefit from car-free weekends on a regular basis.
Granted this was only for one weekend, but still the principle is the same; own the cause of the likely negativity boldly.
What do you think is the best way for Auckland deal with these growing pains?