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Sunday Reading 4 December 2016

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Marti Friedlander (1928-2016) Kids Playing in the Street, Ponsonby. (Te Ara)

Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here is a collection of stories I found interesting over the past couple of weeks. Add your links in the comments section.

There has been interesting housing news coming from the Australian big cities. In addition to a massive wave of apartment supply coming on-line, there is a growing issue about “settlement” and the ability to secure loans from places outside Australia, namely China. Michael Heath and Enda Curran, “Getting Chinese to Buy Your House Isn’t Easy Anymore. Just Ask Cate Blanchett“, Bloomberg.

As Chinese citizens embark on an unprecedented buying spree of foreign property, the Blanchett case illustrates how such money flows have created an economic and political backlash, both in China and abroad. Nowhere is this clearer than in Australia, the developed nation most exposed to China.

Chinese authorities are stepping up capital curbs just as myriad restrictions in Australia have made mortgages tough to get for foreigners, putting buyers from China in a sandwich squeeze that could dent the property market down under. While that’s not unwelcome for Australia’s central bank, which is keen to take some steam out of rising prices, it shines a light on the struggle to digest China’s cash exodus as it flows further afield into locations from Malaysia to Florida.

Many European cities are moving rapidly to de-car their central city streets. Here’s Berlin where they are removing cars on their famous street in conjunction with the introduction of new mass transit systems. Hmmm. Feargus O’Sullivan, “Berlin’s Most Famous Street Will Go Car-Free“, City Lab.

It’s hard to overstate the symbolic significance of the move. Unter den Linden is the most famous street in Germany, a kind of Teutonic Champs Elysées that contains museums, libraries, monuments, a university, and two opera houses. The East Berlin avenue, whose name means “under/among the linden trees”, used to function as an east-west highway through the city’s heart and was the focus for military parades from the era of Napoleon to that of Gorbachev. Banishing cars from such a central space won’t just remove private motorists from the city’s tourist heart, it suggests a change of heart that could steadily see such traffic increasingly sidelined.

The city is currently expanding the U55 subway line, which is bringing back trains from the 1950s, so that it joins up with an existing line that currently begins at Alexanderplatz. This line will run underneath Unter den Linden, and current construction work on the project has forced partial lane closures up and down the avenue. The disruption has already seen car traffic on the avenue drop significantly. Before construction began, 30,000 cars traveled the avenue each day. Now, that number is just 8,000. That decrease is an important precursor to the ban, showing motorists that they don’t need to keep Unter den Linden for themselves.

Disappearing traffic is a thing. Coming to a city near you soon. Charlie Sorrel, “When Paris Closed A Major Road To Cars, Half Its Traffic Just Disappeared”, FastCoExist.

If we look at the numbers another way, you’ll see that overall traffic has actually been reduced. Before the closure (measured in September 2015), 2,600 vehicles per hour passed on the low road. But after the closure, only 1,301 extra cars are being seen on the Boulevard Saint Germain and the high river road combined. That is, half of the cars that used to use the now-closed road have disappeared.

Some of these cars will have found alternate routes on other roads, but many of those passengers and drivers will now be using alternative forms of transport to get to and from work.

Stephen Joseph, “1986 was the year of car dependence. Thirty years on, have politicians learned nothing?“CityMetric.

The M25 became an illustration of a truth, increasingly accepted during the 1990s and 2000: that it’s not possible to build your way out of congestion, because road building simply generates traffic. When the Labour Government came to power in 1997, it scaled back the road programme and commissioned a series of “multi-modal studies”, including one for the M25. The main consultant on that study described widening the M25 as being like “digging a ditch in a bog”, and recommended forms of road charging or traffic restraint instead.

All of these lessons appear to have been forgotten. We are back to an era of road building, with a widespread belief that it’s possible to meet demand for road use by building and widening roads. The “predict and provide” forecasts and models that justify road building, based on extrapolating past trends, are still in place, despite noises about moving to a range of scenarios instead. There is serious talk of double-decking the M25 to cope with future traffic growth, especially around Heathrow with its proposed third runway. Issues of air quality and climate change are ignored, because of a belief – one not founded in any serious research – that by 2040 all cars will be electric, and possibly driverless too.

One of the key factors in Vancouver’s success story was the decision not to build an inter-city motorway network. Here’s an inspiring story about how Vancouver provides lifestyle options through rapid transit, buses, high density housing and increasingly cycling.

Vancouver’s Multi-Modal Success Story from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Protected bike lanes attract a wide range of users since they remove the key barrier to cycling – traffic stress. Not surprisingly, they are also safer. Separation by design follows the principles of Sustainable Safety and forms the basis for European cycleway design. Because of the legacy of vehicular cycling advocates in English-speaking countries, separated cycle facilities are rare. There is now a growing evidence base about the safety of separated facilities. It’s only taken us 40 years to figure this out.

Dudley, “Why Protected Bike Lanes Save Lives“, CityLab.

The transformative virtues of protected bike lanes have been the focus of much research lately. A 2014 study from Portland State University determined that segregated bike paths are not only demonstrably safer for riders, they have the power to lure lapsed riders back aboard their bikes. And in a new paper in the American Journal of Public Health, “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure,” the authors John Pucher and Ralph Buehler demonstrate that those cities that have invested heavily in fully protected bike paths over the last decade or so have reaped the biggest safety improvements and ridership boosts. “It is not simply a matter of expanding bicycle infrastructure,” the authors write. “The specific type of bicycle infrastructure matters. Several studies show the crucial importance of physical separation of cycling facilities from motor vehicle traffic on heavily traveled roads.”

For bicyclists, the swift erosion of America’s driving abilities is yet another reason to admit that the cause of “vehicular cycling”—the safe-biking philosophy that says bikes should ride assertively rather than cower at the side of the road—is increasingly compromised by reality, and thus the intra-cyclist civil war that’s raged for decades over the issue should be put to rest. “Vehicular cycling doesn’t work: Where there aren’t bike facilities, there are more accidents and more injuries,” says Pucher. “There’s all sorts of weird cultural factors behind the defense of vehicular cycling, but all the evidence shows that separate facilities are much safer. In particular, you’re much less likely to get killed, because most crashes don’t involve motor vehicles. And when you look at what planners are actually doing, there’s a very clear preference for separate facilities.”

 

 

Electric cars, autonomous cars, ride sharing on-demand transport , etc have captivated people’s imagination on how they will change city life. Something overlooked in the hype, is how they have already changed city life. For example, along popular late night destinations (K Road, Ponsonby Rd) there are a swarm of taxis and Ubers. Meanwhile. the kerbside is still relegated to free, long term and overnight parking making pick-up and drop-off difficult if not dangerous.  The rise of the ubiquitous small parcel delivery vehicle  seems also to have gone unnoticed while thought leaders navel gaze about the future at conferences.

Benjamin Reider “Our Amazon addiction is clogging up our cities—and bikes might be the best solution” QZ.com

This causes a different kind of traffic problem than in the past. Just a few years ago, delivery in urban centers was about dropping off large volumes of goods at shops. Today, it’s about delivering small numbers of parcels to different addresses, often directly to consumers. City centers today are congested partly because delivery trucks are blocking traffic while trying to deliver boxes.

An additional part of that problem is that the consumer often isn’t at home at the time of delivery. The number of failed deliveries to consumers makes grown people in e-commerce weep: Estimates for failed first deliveries range somewhere between 10 and 30%. This means that a van has to make not one but two trips (or more) to deliver those sneakers to you.
And if you decide you don’t like those sneakers? You can send them back. Three trips.

Alex Steffen, “Tesla’s City Problem“, Medium.

I am well aware that Tesla wants to brand itself as desirable, first, and then sustainable and smart. The idea, though, that “desirable” means “suburban” is way out date with current cultural reality, and completely out of touch with the demands of the future.

Here’s what I’d love to see Tesla show instead: urban life made hipper and more awesome through the adoption of its cars, batteries and solar technologies. There’s plenty of scope for imagination here.

A suburban Tesla is an improved means to an unimproved (and unsustainble) end.

AA’s ATAP Funding Survey

The AA have released the results of a survey of their members about how to pay Auckland’s future transport needs, and we agree with their position.

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) looked at Auckland’s future transport needs and found that for the first decade alone, around $23.7 billion is needed but that based on current trends and assumptions, only $19.8 billion would be spent. That’s a shortfall of about $400 million per year. Even more would need to be spent in each of the following two decades the project assessed.

In the long term, road pricing will likely be a useful tool to both manage demand and to raise revenue to help pay for transport but it is expected that could take a decade or more to develop. As such we’ll need to do something in the interim. The ATAP report suggests that additional funding could be provided either by increasing the amount available from current sources, such as the government investing more, or from new funding tools. The report also has this recommendation on funding.

We recommend the Government and Auckland Council work together to consider options and agree on an approach to address the funding gap by mid-2017, to inform statutory funding documents.

But in all the discussions about funding, there’s been a small bit of fine print that is often missed, it has been assumed the current Interim Transport Levy would stop like intended in mid-2018.

That brings us back to the AA and their survey which has looked at their members thoughts on the outcome of ATAP and on funding options. They sent the survey to 20,000 Auckland members and had 1091 responses, the demographic breakdown of which is below. As you can see responses mainly came from older members but this may reflect the AA’s membership being older. Also, it doesn’t appear that the age breakdowns add up to 100%.

aa-atap-funding-survey-demographics

When asked how they feel about Auckland’s current transport system in its ability to meet Auckland’s needs, 61% said it was terrible (20%) or poor (41%). Just 7% said it was good or fantastic. That result isn’t all too surprising though as most people tend to think things could always be better.

They then asked for respondents thoughts based on this map. What’s notable about it is that it only shows the first decade projects, which is fair enough as the full map is quite confusing but also because many of the big road projects in ATAP are front loaded into the first decade while many of the key PT projects are in the second and third decade. See if you can spot the error with the map.

aa-atap-funding-survey-project-map-2

Asked for their thoughts on this plan and 37% said it looked good or fantastic while 42% said it looked ok. That’s a lot better but not great and it would be interesting to see how people would react and what they would want prioritised if they saw proposed strategic PT network.

The survey then asked about how to close the funding gap with the following options

  1. Delay or cancel some of the projects
  2. ‘Find’ the money by reprioritising expenditure
  3. Raise more money from Aucklanders/all New Zealanders

A slight majority (53%) thought Option 1 should be, or would be open to it being part of the overall solution.

Those two measures soared to 69% when asked about option 2. The AA say they asked respondents what portion of funding should Auckland get from the Government with the median response being 40%. This was also after explaining the size of Auckland’s population, GDP, vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) and the expected size of the coming population growth

aa-atap-funding-survey-funding-options

The third option of just raising more money was also positively supported with 58% saying yes or maybe to it. But the AA drilled deeper on this question, asking for options on another three options:

  1. Auckland property rates increase (if you rent, assume an equivalent increase in your rent)
  2. a regional fuel tax
  3. a motorway user toll

For option 1, 69% said they were opposed and of those that were prepared to pay more via rates, the median amount they’d be willing to contribute was $100.

Option 2 was better supported with 51% saying yes or maybe to the idea of a fuel tax with just 5c per litre being the amount respondents were prepared to look at paying.

The trend continued with Option 3 and 61% said yes or maybe to the idea of motorway tolling. This is interesting as ATAP talks about road pricing across the entire road network, not just a motorway toll. Even so, AA say the median amount people were prepared was $2 per trip. That motorway tolling came out on top suggests attitudes towards the idea are rapidly changing over this issue rapidly, all the more reason to get on with it.

Next the AA asked for thoughts on the Council’s Interim Transport Levy which was brought in as a way to bolster transport funding. As mentioned, the levy was only ever meant to be a temporary 3-year fund but as I suggested the other day, it seems a bit silly to replace it given we still need to find an extra $400 million a year and the levy would help in making a nice dent in that figure. It seems the survey members mostly agree and 67% said they’d be comfortable without grudgingly accept keeping it.

Lastly, they asked about selling assets and as you can see below, this was much more of a mixed bag.

aa-atap-funding-survey-assett-sales

All up some fairly interesting and useful results, particularly as it feels like the support for road pricing has been increasing over the last few years.

The AA, like us feel that the interim transport levy should be retained. It’s in place now and has a comparatively high level of support compared to some of the other options.

Mr Irvine says the beauty of continuing the transport levy is that, without changing anything, we would generate about $175 million of investment each year.

“That’s a big chunk of Auckland’s share of the funding gap, and we want Council to have a good look at what other options exist to make up the rest.”

What do you think of the AA’s survey and the results from it?

Small Steps – Better Bus Lanes

We often talk about the big projects, networks, as well as game changing best practice regulations. For a while I have wanted to create a small campaign about the small things, low hanging fruit where for cheaply i.e. not for hundreds of millions of dollars, we can achieve with a “Small Step” a “Great Leap” for the people the project and area it effects. This post is about Bus Lanes.

Bus Lane

Bus Lane

Mention bus lanes and you may get different reactions from different people, some might say leave muh parking alone, others might say they’re always full of empty buses, open up the lanes to cars, others say they are great. The truth is Bus Lanes are great, they help move a higher amount of people using the same space, they make PT services faster & thus encourage more people to use the Bus, but alas are we at Best Practice when it comes to our Bus Lanes

The main critique of bus lanes from PT users is always the hours they operate, and to be fair to them they are usually right. This is especially the case at Mt Eden where between Batger and Oaklands where in the evening peak, the bus lanes last for just 1 hour. Elsewhere, most bus lanes tend to be around 7-9am & 4-6pm and only in the peak direction. The question is, are these hours enough?

In my view, the mornings could do with being a bit longer, but the afternoons definitely should be, they need to be at least 3-7pm. Why is this? Because people finish at vastly different times compared to when they start in the mornings, school kids for example share the morning peak services with work commuters, however they mostly don’t share the evening services as they finish around 3pm. Work commuters tend to head home at vastly different times for a variety of reasons, especially the workaholics but those who head out after work for dinner/drinks or just hitting the gym. This means buses after 6pm are still normally quite busy moving a lot of people and could do with longer bus lane hours to move those people efficiently.

In my humble opinion Peak Direction Bus Lanes should be at least 7 – 9.30 & 3 – 7.

Bus/Transit Lane Times Sign

Bus/Transit Times Sign

The other issue with times is Bus Lanes tends to fall into two categories 24/7, or peak direction only. While that covers a lot of routes, some are not that simple, for example take Great South Road where there is lots of counter peak movement, people who work/study south but live elsewhere, they need to get back to Newmarket/CBD to transfer onto the next service that will take them home. Some routes don’t fall into the simple peak category & investigations should happen into what those routes are, and having the Bus Lanes running both ways in the peaks.

The other major complaint is they are not continuous, that there are gaps in the Bus Lanes that cause issues, not having gaps is important, could you imagine having gaps in the Footpaths, it is important to the extent possible we eliminate all gaps that are feasible.

The last complaint is the major gap in priority for our crosstown network, as you can see from the New Network Bus Lanes Existing/Proposed/Under Investigation there is really zero crosstown bus lanes, crosstown frequencies are to increase & AT wants us to use these services, so lets back them up with the Bus Lanes to make them competitive with driving.

Central New Network Bus Lanes

Central New Network Bus Lanes

At the end of the day, what is holding up extending bus lane time extensions, as it often is it’s parking, often for a very few people, in my opinion AT shouldn’t be providing free parking at the expense of others, if you own a car store it on your residence, I don’t store my cupboard on the road, in fact it’s considered illegal dumping if I do, for areas by shops, we know study after study shows Shop Owners massively overestimate customers who come by car, and that better transit/cycling actually increases the amount of customers so let’s get on with it, let’s make our Bus Lanes better.

It’s Cycleway Consultation Season

It seems it’s consultation season for bike related projects with not one, not two but three currently now underway by Auckland Transport and all could do with submissions to improve them.

Herne Bay cycling and walking improvements – Closes 18 December

This project came out of AT’s recent consultation on improving cycling options in the inner west of the city. AT say the original plan was for cycling connections via Clifton Road, Argyle Street and Sarsfield Street however they’ve now opted for area wide traffic calming measures using speed tables. All up 22 speed tables are proposed at intersections and mid-block, as shown below.

••••••Hernebay-A4

Here are some examples what is proposed. More can be seen on the AT website.

herne-bay-treatment-1

herne-bay-treatment-3

In a location such as this, an area wide traffic calming effort, if done properly, should deliver a good outcome and across a much wider area than a single cycleway as planned before. It will also have benefits not just for cycling but for pedestrians and a wider range of residents too.

But of course there are things that could be better with  the first thing that springs to mind being that there are no ways for bikes to bypass the speed tables, like Auckland Transport proposed recently for Northcote Point, one example of which is below.

northcote-point-speed-cushion

Further, while the traffic calming will likely help in reducing speeds, it surely wouldn’t hurt to back that up with an area wide change to speed limits.

Our friends at Bike Auckland have a few other ideas too.

There are two open days planned for the consultation, the first being today, details below.

  • Thursday, 1 December, 11am to 2pm at The Governor, 228 Jervois Road, Herne Bay.
  • Saturday, 10 December, 11am to 2pm at the Leys Institute (Ponsonby Library), 20 St Marys Road, Ponsonby.

Consultation closes December 18.

Westhaven to City cycle route – Closes 18 December

Many of the cyclists using the Herne Bay roads above, along with those from the future Skypath as well as other locations, will be heading to the city. Currently, upon passing the motorway noose the options are usually to take the scenic route via North Wharf and Te Wero Bridge, wind around Gaunt St and Viaduct Harbour Dr or to brave Fanshawe St. While only anecdotal, I notice a lot picking the later as it’s the most direct route.

AT are now proposing to upgrade Viaduct Harbour Dr to make it more bike friendly and they’re currently consulting on the section as far as Market Pl.

westhaven-to-the-city-route-map

Unfortunately, what AT are suggesting is a complete turd of a solution for a route that will likely have high numbers using it. The plan, like above is to just calm traffic using speed tables as well as some paint while making no changes to the road. That might be appropriate in an area like Herne Bay but in my view, is completely inappropriate in this location which is likely to have higher volumes using it including children. Based on what’s proposed, they’ll stick to using the footpath – a view some have already expressed on social media.

Below is an overview of the plans but more detailed versions can be found here.

westhaven-to-the-city-route-plan

One example of why this is such a rubbish idea can be seen in this more detailed view of the plan on the part of Customs St West north of Pakenham St East. As you can see people on bikes are meant to cycle on the road behind angle parked cars who could start reversing out without being able to see if any cyclists are coming. Would the people who proposed this be prepared to let their 8-year old child ride on the road here, I certainly wouldn’t (if I had one).

westhaven-to-the-city-route-plan-1

AT have already ruled out using Fanshawe St for a direct connection but I think they need to go back to the drawing board and look at as an option again. The road must be one of the widest in Auckland with the corridor in places over 38m wide. For the section east of Halsey St this width includes a massive 4.5m wide flush median. If ever there was a road that could do with some boulevard treatment, it would be Fanshawe St. That boulevard would include improved footpaths, cycleways, a separated urban busway and then the general traffic lanes

And Fanshawe needs some love too, while it is designed and treated like a giant motorway on/off ramp, it also had surprisingly high volumes of pedestrians who would also benefit from making the area more people friendly and less sterile. What’s more, given the width I think that could likely be accommodated without having to compromise on the number of traffic lanes

fanshawe-st-now

This idea is something we might flesh out in a later post but let’s get this option back on the table because what’s proposed won’t get anyone new cycling on Viaduct Harbour Ave and there is already the scenic route available via the waterfront for those that want that.

Like above, the consultation closes on December 18

Parnell cycleway and residential parking zone – Closes 23 December

The government’s Urban Cycleway Programme identified a route from Tamaki Dr up to Newmarket. To facilitate that, AT are looking at putting protected cycleways along St Stephens Ave and Gladstone Rd.

parnell-cycle-path-map

We along with others like Bike Auckland and Generation Zero met with AT over this project some months ago when at the time they were planning to just install painted lanes. We told there was no point in having a fight over removing the parking they would need to if they were just going to put a bit of paint on the road. Thankfully they’ve taken that feedback on board and the proposed solution includes physically separated bike lanes. In some locations these cycleways will have parking outside them while in other locations there will be no parking. AT say that all up just 95 carparks are affected.

parnell-cycleway-artists-impression

This isn’t to say the proposal is perfect, for example at bus stops the cycleway just stops and cyclists would have to wait for it to depart again.

parnell-cycleway-plan

In this situation, a solution like floating bus stops, where the stop is pushed into the general traffic lane and the bus stop and bike lane become a shared area might be more appropriate, but that would mean AT getting over their fears about buses stopping in general traffic.

To go with the cycleway, AT is proposing a residential parking scheme for the area. They say that just 10% of cars parked on the street are from locals with most assumed to be commuters. They also think the scheme will help locals deal with the loss of the parking on Gladstone Rd.

parnell-residential-parking-zone

If you want to talk to AT about the plans, they’ll be at La Cigale French Market (69 St Georges Bay Road, Parnell) on Saturday 3 December from 8am to 1pm.

Consultation closes 23 December.

 

What do you think of what AT has proposed?

Tweet of the Day: 21st Century City

21st Century City

Not sufficient, but essential: The provision of a high quality spatially efficient Rapid Transit Network in a city may not guarantee city quality and a flourishing urban economy, but neither are likely without one. In this century.

Transport Spending in NZ in 2016

More was spent on transport in Auckland during the last financial year (to end of June 2016) than any time in the past, at least in nominal values. Based on the NZTA’s funding data, $1.435 billion was spent in the region in the year to June-2016, up slightly from $1.414 billion spent in the 2015 financial year. Although it’s quite likely that these figures only include spending associated with the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and not council direct spending, such as has been happening with the City Rail link where the council funded 100% of the early works (which the government will share the costs of in the future).

The graph below shows how much the council and the NZTA say they spent and it’s risen substantially from a comparatively paltry $400 million in 2002. Also on the graph you can see Auckland’s share compared to the entire country which has been hovering around the 35% mark. This is slightly more than Auckland’s share of the national population (over 34%) but below Auckland’s share of GDP (36.6%). Of the over $1.4 billion spent, 51% of it went on various state highway projects and maintenance.

transport-spending-akl-2016

Below is the same data but at a national level, although I only have it back to 2005. It shows that at $3.94 billion, we spent slightly less than the previous year. At a national level, an even greater share went on state highways with 55% of all spending going on them.

transport-spending-nz-2016

So how did other regions fare? Here’s how the 2016 figures broke down by region.

transport-spending-regions-2016

Because regions vary so much, I’ve also broken this down per capita to get a better picture of where the spending occurred. Like last year, the West Coast seems to dominate but this will be mainly due to the maintenance needed on a large road network covering a very low population base. Also like last year, the Waikato comes in second on the per capita stakes but this is more due to the large amount of construction going on with projects like the Waikato Expressway.

transport-spending-regions-per-capita-2016

I’ve also looked at the results based on spending per vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), as a proxy for spend per travel. This method is probably a little unfair primarily to Auckland and Wellington which have larger uses of public transport than other parts of NZ.

transport-spending-regions-per-vkt-2016

Next, I’ve taken a look at what the money is being spent on however I’ve excluded the small ones such as transport planning as it’s difficult to see them on the same scale as road spending. You can see that spending on new and improved roads increased in the last year while the opposite was true for road maintenance. Combined both road spending was slightly less than last year which is in line with the overall results above. But PT spending was also down too and down substantially. I’m not sure of their reason for this but as you’ll see shortly, it wasn’t the result of changes in Auckland. You can also see spending on walking and cycling becoming more visible.

transport-spending-nz-by-activity-2016

Here is just the cycling info showing how dramatic a change it has seen in the last few years.

transport-spending-nz-on-cycling-2016

Finally, here is the same break-down by activity for Auckland. The thing you notice compared to the whole of NZ one is the difference in the levels of new road spending vs maintenance. Of course, public transport is also more of a factor in Auckland, as you would expect.

transport-spending-akl-by-activity-2016

 

Overall some interesting data on what we spend our transport money on.

Phil Goff’s first rates proposal

Yesterday Mayor Phil Goff released his proposal for rates in Auckland for the 2017/18 financial year, which starts on 1 July 2017. The proposal includes several things related to some of the issues we talk about that I thought I’d cover off. Firstly, though the high-level stuff.

The Mayor is proposing a 2.5% general rates increase to honour his campaign promise on rates. But given how much investment Auckland needs, especially in infrastructure that is simply not enough and so he’s also proposing a couple of new ways to raise revenue, this includes:

  • Raising up to $30 million from a new visitor levy to replace ratepayer funding currently spent on attracting visitors and supporting major events.
  • Introducing a targeted rate for new large-scale developments to pay for major new infrastructure, increase Auckland’s housing supply and discourage land-banking
  • Government support to implement a regional fuel tax to help close the $400m gap in transport infrastructure funding identified by central government and Auckland Council under the Auckland Transport Alignment Project
  • Bidding for a significant share of the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund

The infrastructure fund mentioned at the end is the $1 billion contestable fund that can only be used to build infrastructure for greenfield developments and is only open to applications from Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Queenstown and, Tauranga. It was already assumed that Auckland would get the vast bulk of that $1 billion available. While it’s only for greenfield infrastructure, I guess it means it could just free up other council resources that can be used for non-greenfield infrastructure.

The proposed visitor levy is unsurprisingly already being opposed by the tourism industry. The paper says the council can’t levy a specific bed tax but can do something to the same effect by charging a targeted levy on accommodation providers and say indicative analysis suggests it would add $6-10 to the cost of a nights stay in a 4-5 star hotel.

While mentioned above, the discussion of fuel taxes, as an eventual replacement for the Interim Transport Levy, is only that the mayor wants to have the discussion so definitely nothing will be changing on this in the next year or two, especially given the government has been hostile to the idea. It seems a bit silly to me to then go and replace the Interim Transport Levy. While it was only ever meant to be temporary it feels like it has been effective and was also a good way for the council to ensure the funding went to areas they really wanted focused on, like public transport and cycling infrastructure. Does this also suggest that Goff won’t push for actual road pricing and stick with an easier and likely less effective fuel tax option?

The one area I did find particularly relevant to some of the discussions we’ve had is around the targeted rate for large-scale developments. Essentially for the same reason the government’s infrastructure fund exists, Auckland is expected to add about 110,000 homes to its urban edges in the coming decades and it’s going to cost a huge amount to pay for the council’s share, potentially up to $10 billion just for transport. And all of this while a lot of new or upgraded infrastructure is needed in the existing urban area too. The infrastructure needed has been the subject of the Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG) work. For example, here is the preferred transport network for the South showing just the major infrastructure planned.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

 

The proposal would see a targeted rate applied to an area that is expected to developed that would help fund the infrastructure needed to service that area. The council say this has a number of advantages, including:

  • increasing land holding costs, thereby weakening the incentives for landbanking
  • reducing the reliance on existing ratepayers across Auckland to subsidise new housing developments
  • creating a closer link between the rates paid by landowners in a specific area and the uplift in the value of their land as a result of it being available for development
  • establishing a more predictable and secure revenue stream for council

It seems like a fairly elegant part of the solution to the issue of how fund that expensive and large scale greenfield infrastructure but does so by effectively increasing the price of housing in these areas which is bound to be opposed by land owners and developers. It could however also be argued that it particularly benefits those who have pushed to restrict housing development options closer to the city as their actions have helped in pushing more development to the edges and now they might not have to share many of the costs.

In addition to the proposals for what will be charged, there was one other issue of relevance to the blog in the paper under the title of other budget changes. These are potential changes that the council say don’t meet the significant and materiality thresholds but are likely to have high public interest. The item is titled Mass Transit Network.

An expanded and well-connected mass transit network is at the heart of Auckland Transport’s plans for supporting growth in existing urban and future urban areas. Auckland Transport has indicated the intention to accelerate planning and design works on routes and the most optimal mode, whether it be bus or light rail. It has also indicated the opportunity for early acquisition of strategically important properties. The debt impact is projected to be approximately $40 million in 2017/18.

Speeding up the process for these big PT projects would certainly be welcome.

What do you think of the Mayors proposals?

Australian city centres: a good-news story

Last week I was in Brisbane for work. There seem to be quite a few cranes around the city, including midrise apartment developments creeping along the riverfront to the west of the city centre. The Brisbane CBD proper is still quite sterile at night after all the office workers have left – it’s an absolute pain in the neck to try and find dinner. But it seems to be developing little live-work satellites along the side of the river.

Transportblog kept an occasional eye on development trends over in Australian cities as a sign of what could happen in Auckland. (If urban planning rules and the development sector were geared up for it.)

attached-proportions-Oz-NZ-2015

New data suggests that Australia’s apartment boom is paying off: Prices are levelling off and potentially even falling, and city centres are becoming increasingly vibrant around the clock due to an upsurge in residential population.

However, the odd thing is that this success story is being reported as a bad thing by Australian journalists.

First, Jonathan Pearlman (The Straits Times) warns that an “apartment glut looms in major Aussie cities“:

In the two largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, high prices and strong demand for properties in the inner city or near railway stations have led to a dramatic shift away from houses to apartments.

The central bank and analysts have warned of a looming “apartment glut” which could deflate the nation’s soaring property market.

Economist Shane Oliver from AMP Capital told The Straits Times that apartment prices in parts of Sydney and Melbourne are likely to fall by about 15 to 20 per cent over the next two years.

The falls could cause a broader decline across the market, even though some areas, especially in Sydney, still have an undersupply of housing.

“We have a huge spike in supply of apartments over the next couple of years, often in fairly concentrated areas,” he said. “It will cause an indigestion problem.”

This seems like an excessively negative spin. Personally, I would describe this as “improving housing affordability” rather than an “indigestion problem”. But regardless of how you describe it, it does seem clear that building lots of apartments can improve affordability. (As it seems to have done in the Auckland city centre.)

Second, Michael Bleby and Nick Lenaghan (AFR) say that “things not so great when you go downtown” in Sydney and Melbourne. Again, this seems like a good-news story being spun as bad news:

Neither Sydney nor Melbourne is the old-fashioned post-5pm ghost town it once was – when Australia’s army of office workers deserted its day time environment en masse for homes in the suburbs.

The country’s two largest CBDs are now thriving residential centres. People walk their dogs, buy their groceries and exercise on streets that just decades ago were limited to suit-wearing, white collar employees.

“You couldn’t have envisaged this, given our suburban history and the fact that the city just died at night,” says Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. “Australia’s grown up in the last couple of decades.”

That change in Sydney and also further south, in the Victorian capital, marks a huge turnaround. The problem is, it’s too successful. A city can’t thrive on residents alone. It needs workers – preferably highly paid ones – in industries that make the city a place people want to go to.

We’ve also seen this in Auckland. Unprecedented and unexpected growth in the city centre population has led to a downtown revival: More people, more restaurants, more street life. This is a basically good thing, as it means a city where people can get more of the things that they want.

city-centre-population-1996-2016

However, perhaps it’s possible that things can get out of whack – that development can tilt too far in one direction for a while, and “crowd out” other uses. The problem is that the “solutions” proposed in Melbourne and Sydney are likely to make the problem worse. Take this for instance:

In Melbourne, the state government has introduced plot ratios to rein in the extent of development on each site. In a bid to swing the balance back toward commercial space, developers can win additional height if they provide a “public benefit” which, oddly enough, these days includes office space.

[…] The sort of tenants that global cities are seeking to attract – the offices of global corporations that in part sell themselves to their own customers based on their prime global footprint – won’t just swap the CBD for somewhere nearby, Rawnsley says.

“If they can’t find a home in the Sydney CBD or the Melbourne CBD, they’re not going to go Box Hill or Parramatta, they’re going to Singapore or Shanghai or Tokyo or Seattle,” he says.

If a lack of office space in the city centre is driving economic growth and productive firms to locate in other cities instead of Melbourne, restricting the size of buildings in the Melbourne city centre will almost worsen the problem, not improve it.

What do you think of the news from Australian cities?

Why we do this

Here is a great 15 minute look back at the work of Streetsblog and Streetsfilms from New York, that articulates the motivation behind what we do here at Transportblog. However modestly compared to their output. This is a worldwide movement; the profound improvement of lives, one street at a time. It is also, I believe, unstoppable, simply because it is so effective, so overdue, and therefore so powerful.

And it is, ultimately, about ending the dominance of our streets by traffic, about returning balance to this easily overlooked but vital slice of public space. Everything is interconnected in this increasingly urban age, and the street is really were it all comes together in the city. Get the streets right and so much else will follow; from human wellbeing to wealth creation and equity, from public health to personal freedom and opportunity, from environmental sustainability to social resilience and security.

A great thing in the film is also something we are seeing here; the mainstreaming of these ideas into our institutions. This does sometimes lead to confusion for some people, as when the Council, Auckland Transport, or NZTA do something we agree with we do of course praise them, yet some people think we should only ever be critical and never supportive. This is naive and would be counter-productive. Rather we would love to be made unnecessary; we believe our views are rational and supported by evidence and deserve to be the official ones. Here’s to the next decade and more of constant improvement and reasoned and evidenced activism. And thanks for reading.

ATAP ASAPs – Third Main

In September the final report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released, many of you may have read about it, or most likely have heard about it. The Indicative Package was the below projects + 3 separate tranches of 21 Trains which were separated into three decades. First Decade – 2018-2028, Second Decade 2028-2038, & Third Decade 2038-2048. Please note that the package is indicative & some projects will likely move around subject to funding, changes in circumstances & individual business cases.

atap-major-transport-projects-by-decade-map

While we’ve talked about ATAP a lot in recent months, this series is concentrated on what I like to call the ATAP ASAP’s, decade 1 projects which really need funding As Soon As Possible. The first ATAP ASAP I am going to write about is the third main between Westfield & Wiri.

Third Main

Third Main

What is the third main

The third main is a proposed & semi built third track south of Otahuhu. Initially this would be to the Wiri Junction (where the branch line to Manukau starts) but eventually to Papakura & potentially onto Pukekohe. ATAP suggests a fourth main will eventually be needed too. The need for a third main is due to this area being of prime importance to both freight & passenger rail and is one of the busiest sections of rail in the country. The third main would give extra capacity by allowing freight trains to run separately of the passenger network allowing both freight & high passenger train frequencies to run.

 

So why is the third main between Westfield & Wiri an ATAP ASAP

It is because at this point freight and passenger services on the Eastern & Southern Lines share the current two tracks. In the past this hasn’t been as much of an issue as frequencies of both freight and passenger services were lower but both have increased in recent years and will continue to do so in the future. For example as part of the New Network, Auckland Transport need to run trains on the three main lines at a minimum of every 15 minutes Monday to Sunday 7am-7pm – but more so during the week – as shown in their Regional Public Transport Plan.

rptp-rail-services

This is needed, the New Network focuses running bus services more frequently by using transfers to expand coverage. Many public transport trips may now require a transfer to a train so only having a train only every 20 or even 30 minutes would be frustrating to the people who need to transfer.

For most of the network sharing tracks is fine, either freight does not use the tracks heavily during the day or space still exists to fit in freight services however this is not the case south of Otahuhu. If properly implemented, the new network would see 12 passenger trains per hour running in each direction on weekdays, one every five minutes. Even on weekends there would be at least 8 services in each direction per hour. The question is, how feasible it is for KiwiRail to fit increasing freight services on the existing tracks. If they can, great, though given how the project has been described in the past, I am not optimistic they can. So a choice needs to be made:

  1. Is a freight curfew put into place effecting KiwiRail’s business & competitiveness?
  2. Are New Network Train Frequencies able to be put into place, or will they have to be reduced at certain times?

If the latter, I hope AT still increase the frequency of the Western Line trains, there is no reason they can’t be increased & just because we cannot increase in some areas doesn’t mean which shouldn’t increase the frequency in any area. Also frequencies wherever possible on the Southern & Eastern should be implemented wherever conflict would not seriously arise such as on the weekends.

So what would it take to complete the Third Main

Not much as I wrote before, it is already semi built from Otahuhu to Middlemore and from Puhinui to Wiri. KiwiRail in a presentation in 2015 said it would cost $50m to complete, with an additional $3m required to add traction (electrification so electric trains could use it too). I imagine a big chunk of the $50 million would be the upgrading of Middlemore Station realigning the platforms to accommodate the third main. The cost was revised to $55-$65 million recently, as mentioned in this article. It would also allow KiwiRail to not just continue services but to add another 6 peak freight services.

Third Main Slide

Third Main KiwiRail

Spending $55-65 million to dramatically increase the capacity and resilience of one of the most strategic transport corridors in the country is an outrageously cheap sum. We need to get on with the project ASAP.