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Comparing Auckland and Wellington rail patronage

With patronage on the rise and the first electric trains starting to carry fare paying passengers in just 18 days it once again starts to raise the question of when annual rail patronage in Auckland will pass that in Wellington. It’s a question we’ve asked before after we got very close to doing so a few years ago but after the RWC hangover wore off, patronage fell away again.

The graph below shows the history of patronage on the Auckland and Wellington rail networks since 2002.

14 - Feb Auckland vs Wellington Patronage

To me there are a couple of key things that stand out from the graph.

  • Wellington patronage peaked just shy of 12 million trips in the middle of 2009 (although I understand it reached about 16 million in the 1980′s). After that patronage declined to about 11 million about 18 months later. Now that the fleet of Matangi electric trains have been fully rolled out and with reliability improving as a result, patronage is slowly growing again and is sitting at 11.47 million as of February.
  • With the exception of the time during the RWC and over Christmas, since 2011 monthly patronage in Auckland has been very similar to that of Wellington, normally just a few thousand trips per month behind.
  • There have only been a handful of times when patronage in Auckland has exceeded that in Wellington however those times can usually be explained by an event of some sort e.g. the storm damage last year or the NRL nines/Eminem concert this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Auckland can repeat it in March however it is something that will happen more frequently in coming months.
  • The most noticeable difference between the two is the patronage over the Christmas/New Year period. In Auckland the lengthy shut downs for upgrades have clearly had major impacts on patronage. They’ve been a necessary evil while we get the network upgraded and hopefully with Electrification due to be completed this year, they’ll be a thing of the past (at least until the CRL really starts). If the shut downs stop then it suggests that alone may deliver about 300,000 more trips a year. Another good reason why the council shouldn’t let AT get away with lowering their SOI targets.

Before anyone raises it, yes on a per capita basis Auckland will be behind Wellington for some time yet.

Based on just how busy the trains feel this at the moment, my guess is we could pass Wellington by June this year but that do you think? Vote in our poll when you think Auckland patronage will pass Wellington’s

When will Auckland rail patronage pass Wellington

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Getting on with the CRL

There seems to have been a bit of a “passive aggressive ding dong” going on between Mayor Len Brown and Prime Minister John Key over the City Rail Link in recent months. Back in February, Mayor Brown proposed to “kick start” the CRL by building the first section under the downtown shopping mall and some way up Albert Street. Then shortly after the Elliott Street tower was announced, bringing further pressure on starting the project sooner rather than later.

Yet so far it seems the government hasn’t taken the bait, although critically in the PM’s official response to an earlier start he noted the following:

Your letter also outlined some projects, many being undertaken by the private sector that could be affected by the City Rail Link and raised the question of whether an opportunity existed to reduce disruption to the CBD and some of these projects.

I indicated in the meeting with you that I would be getting some advice on the issues you raise. I am in the process of receiving advice including on the possible impact on some of the projects you cite.

That seems like a fairly deliberate effort on behalf of the PM to leave the door slightly ajar for a change of heart. So let’s look at the major issue, which is the relationship between the timing of any redevelopment of the current Downtown Shopping Mall and the CRL project. Originally Auckland Transport was to buy this site, because construction of the CRL requires the demolition of the entire shopping mall as it passes through the area as a “cut and cover” tunnel. However, a deal was done between Auckland Transport and the site owners – Precinct Properties – so that the site wouldn’t need to be acquired, there’d just be some good co-ordination so that the tunnels could be built and Precinct’s redevelopment could occur.

The map below shows how the CRL tunnels pass directly underneath Precinct’s site, with the area shaded red indicating where a consented high-rise tower is proposed:

downtown-mall-siteIt doesn’t take a genius to work out that the tunnels need to be built before any development can take place. It seems simply impossible to build the tunnels without completely destroying everything on the site above – which means that essentially any redevelopment is delayed until the tunnels are completed. Let’s just say if I were Precinct Properties I’d be pretty pissed off with the government’s attitude at the moment.

So what’s a way to work around this issue? As proposed by the Mayor in February, it seemed like the Council’s plan was to fully fund the initial section of the project (potentially including going under Customs Street perhaps?) at a cost of around $250 million. Given the Council plans to spend close to $200m on CRL in the 2014/15 year it appear like such an outlay is fairly affordable. The government doesn’t want to spend money on CRL until 2020, but it’s not like they’re being asked to in this plan so I struggle to see the problem.

Perhaps the Mayor is concerned that government’s rough promise of a “50/50 split” in the cost of the project only applies to any money spent after 2020 – as that’s when they think the project is required. The risk of building the first section without government support seems to be a worry that they don’t front up with their $125 million come 2020, which is an understandable concern. But surely a bit of clever negotiation could resolve this and both parties can come away happy – Len Brown because he’s finally put a spade in the ground and started his flagship project, and the government because they don’t hold up a major redevelopment, don’t have to spend any money yet and bask in a bit of election year good press over not standing in the way of a very popular project.

Everyone wins. Let’s just get on with it.

Photo of the Day: Red

A Small House Fits a Hundred People You Love by Anthony Sumich on the Sturges Rd Railway overbridge. Commissioned by Auckland Council:

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Cars have their artistic uses too. Happily this being West Auckland not every car was black or grey.

Photograph by Patrick Reynolds.

ACT Party spokespeople tragically born missing sense of irony

There are many great contradictions in politics, and there’s never enough time to explain them all. Certainly one of the greatest contradictions, though, has to be what some people associated with the ACT party have to say about intensification. The supposed ‘free market party’ seems quite scared of landowners’ rights to develop their land in the way they see fit – something you’d think would be more likely from the Conservative party.

Quoting a recent speech by David Seymour, the new ACT candidate for Epsom:

The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams and a city closing in on them under Len Brown’s intensification plan.The funny thing about Epsom is that it was built well before modern urban planning.  Nobody planned the organic mix of streets between Mt Eden and Dominion roads.  The character villas were not part of a grand plan.  Ditto the crescents backing onto Cornwall Park, the historic Parnell Village, or roads that wind over the slopes of Remuera.

Len Brown and the central planners can’t stand the thought of a spontaneous urban form.  They must make their mark with apartment towers all over the electorate.

If irony were made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now (thanks, South Park). One of the major barriers to intensification is the zoning restrictions in inner-city suburbs, and yet David is appealing to his audience’s fear of an “organic mix” or “spontaneous urban form” arising in Epsom. Perish the thought.

Dick Quax, former ACT parliamentarian turned councillor, is also a chap who spends quite a bit of time raising concerns about intensification.

Don Brash, former ACT Party leader, has also gotten a lot of mileage arguing that we should remove urban limits, and conspicuously ignoring the restrictions which exist inside those limits. When pushed, he points out that he doesn’t have a problem with intensification… but that’s certainly not the message he’s chosen to focus on publicly.

As some of the other bloggers have pointed out before, the usual left-wing/ right-wing divisions that occur at central government level seem to break down, or behave in unexpected ways, when you get to the local government level. And I’d call this is one of the unexpected ways.

People at the supposed ‘right wing’ end of the spectrum often go on about the need to remove planning restrictions at the city’s edge, and how that will help housing affordability. They sing a different tune when confronted about restrictions inside the city boundaries. This ranges from the kind of rhetoric used by David Seymour above, to the more nuanced views held by Don Brash (but which he certainly isn’t at pains to publicise).

And yet, when urban economist Edward Glaeser was asked which the bigger problem for Auckland housing affordability was – urban limits or zoning restrictions in existing areas – he pointed the finger at zoning restrictions. Hmmm.

On the other hand, Penny Webster, another Auckland Councillor and former MP for ACT, has tended to vote with Len Brown on most issues, so it’s dangerous to generalise between different people. The general impression that we get from people most closely (and most currently) associated with the ACT party itself, though, is that intensification is a bogeyman to be feared, and – from David Seymour above – that it occurs because of council planning, not in spite of it. I leave it to you to consider whether, if we removed all planning restrictions  in both the inner suburbs and at the city fringes, Epsom and Remuera would stay the same with no intensification occurring.

Improving K’Rd

Below is a plan developed by the Waitemata Local Board working closely with the Karangahape Rd Business Association to improve the area:

K'Rd improvements

This is their accompanying text:

Over the next few decades the Karangahape Road area will experience a dramatic increase in growth, especially in the wake of the completion of the Central Rail Link. This will encourage many more people to frequent the area for shopping and entertainment – the creation of an entrance to the Underground rail Station in Mercury Lane would for example enable people from Avondale, New Lynn, and Henderson to easily travel into K Rd at night to attend theatrical performances at the Mercury Theatre . More people will live in the area as well.

In years to come the area surrounding Karangahape road will be inevitably rebuilt with higher residential units. A higher residential population is to be welcomed from every point of view – it will benefit the area economically and socially as well as improving the general environment ecologically by reducing commuting times and pollution. The increase in the number of residents in the area will probably bring a greater mix of people; at the moment there are few elderly folk or children for example but that may change swiftly after the completion of the CRL and more residential units.

The perceived and real safety and visual attractiveness of the streetscapes will be a crucial part of any development for the K Road area. In particular the volume and speed of traffic will need to be addressed. Karangahape Road is an important traffic route and the Business Association would not like bus routes (for example) to be rerouted away from the area, but certain things should be examined. Some roads in the area are prone to high traffic speeds as they have become to be virtually treated as part of the On‐Ramps for the Motorway System. These areas are very pedestrian unfriendly and it is vital that traffic calming solutions be implemented sooner than later.

This is an good summary of the challenges for the urban form of the area and the ideas on the map above are really good.

K'Rd

 

As the local board are calling for ideas for both K’Rd and Newton it would be good to get readers’ feedback on the suggestions so I’ll start the ball rolling with a couple of thoughts:

~The main entrance to the K’Rd station is planned for the top of upper Beresford St, this will involve the permanent closure of this road to through traffic [already restricted to one way onto Pitt St] and the creation of a public square around the station building which will be great, so the lower part of Beresford St will provide the road access to the buildings of Beresford and Day Sts. I find it strange the Business Association seems to be ignoring this. Only mentioning a Mercury Lane entrance.

~The connection of the abandoned motorway lane to Day St behind the old Rising Sun pub as well as to the new Grafton Gully cycleway and cyclelanes on Nelson St is a great plan. Also I think that the connection of Day St to K’Rd for traffic should be removed and this lane two-wayed back to Beresford. This should also link west across to Howe St under the existing bridge for a more direct and alternative route for pedestrians and cyclists.

~The narrowing of the top of Howe St would only be possible if the 020 bus is no longer fighting its way up that street.

~I don’t shared the Association’s enthusiasm for removing footpaths for on-street parking.

~Always yes to more street trees. But please not only palms, although I think the Nikau already on K’Rd are great.

~This area will see a rise in both residents and retail activity and the streetscape needs to improve with these changes. The CRL station will completely change the area; this will be Ponsonby’s station too [and especially Auckland Girls Grammar's], so the pedestrian amenity over the motorway should be better than just the narrow paths on the Hopetoun viaduct and the quality and liveliness of the Ponsonby/K’rd block will become more important. There is already a new major apartment building under construction in upper Howe St with surely more to come so perhaps something can be done to the terrible design failure of the block between Howe and Hereford Sts.

~Keeping the Link and other buses moving through here needs to kept in mind too. People from Ponsonby and other inner western areas will use these to connect with the much more useful and import rail system at K’Rd post CRL as well as to head into the City and Grafton and Newmarket as they do now.

~More and better pedestrian crossings are required. The really big elephant in the room with regards to traffic volumes, hinted at in the copy, is the motorway onramp at the  K’Rd and Symonds St intersection. Without this ‘attractor’ traffic volume would surely be much more manageable through these city streets. I’m sure highway purists at NZTA would be happy to close this as the city onramps all affect the effectiveness of the system and its all important flow. These are signs of the strange hybrid network that is our urban motorway. Weirdly I guess the best chance for this being closed would be if the disaster of additional lanes across the harbour were built then pressures further into the system like this onramp would probably have to be cut simply to keep the CMJ from total infarction. What a horrible price that would be to pay however.

~ I like the ambition of caping the CMJ at the two high and narrow points, however I suspect the cost and difficulty of constructing the necessary serious engineering while keeping the m’way system below functioning makes these plans unlikely to be fulfilled. I do think however that cantilevering lightweight structures from the existing structures of the Upper Queen St, Symonds St, and K’Rd bridges on either side would almost certainly be both structurally and financially viable as well as architecturally exciting and offer interesting and useful commercial space; shops, cafes, and bars etc [great views- especially form the K'Rd bridge]. Like a 21st century version of the shops on Ponte Vechio in Florence or the old London Bridge! Or more prosaically like 21stC versions of the clip-ons on the Harbour Bridge. These would provide both weather and noise protection as well as interest for pedestrians and therefore go a long way to helping to repair the severance caused by the huge place-destruction of the motorway system.

~Great ideas on new parklets and re-forged pedestrian connections are to found on the map above too; these are necessary and affordable improvements that should be explored and made quickly.

~And AT really needs to come to the cycling party by giving over the outermost lane of the over-wide and over-fast Ian McKinnon Drive to connect Upper Queen St to the northern end of the new Grafton Gully route under Newton Rd. Here. Planters, maybe some barriers, a bit of paint, and a chat with their colleagues at NZTA to form the short connection under the Newton rd bridge with a two lane: Proper joined up off road network all the way from the sea to the heart of the west!

Let us know what you think.

Quick progress on Fanshawe Street bus lane proposal

In early February the blog set out to once again highlight Auckland Transport’s lack of progress on implementing any bus lanes, and highest priority we thought was fixing the Fanshawe Street westbound, which consisted of a few isolated and dysfunctional sections, but mostly had nothing at all. We proposed a quick, easy fix solution, just consisting of reallocating some general traffic lanes, so the 70% of people in buses would get a faster road home.

This post gained the attraction of several councillors, and was followed up by the Campaign for Better Transport. This resulted in the proposal gaining the attention of  Auckland Transport Board chair Lester Levy, who asked for further investigation, which found the idea was feasible. This was announced in early March, and then they said the timing would be about three months.

However this afternoon Auckland Transport have sent out a new press release, showing that detailed design has been completed, and the design sounds very similar to what we proposed.

Bus commuters heading home along Fanshawe Street are to get a new predominantly kerbside bus lane.

The shore bound bus lane will start from Albert St and connect to the existing bus lane beside Victoria Park to keep buses moving to the northern motorway through this key traffic corridor.

Auckland Transport public transport group manager Mark Lambert says Auckland Transport has weighed up options for implementing a bus lane and believes that a kerbside lane after Hobson Street is the optimal solution. Between Albert and Hobson Streets the bus lane will be in the second lane from the kerb to allow for the heavy volume of traffic that turns left to access the southern and western motorway entrances.

“Further along the route, there is a significant traffic movement left into Halsey St which requires additional queuing space to operate effectively,” says Mr Lambert.

Seventy per cent of the people who travel on Fanshawe St at peak are in a bus and there’s a bus about every 40 seconds.

Mr Lambert says Auckland Transport has given priority to installing a new interim bus lane for shore bound commuters while longer term plans continue to extend the Northern Busway to and from the city centre.

 

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Multiple buses stuck behind a few cars will soon be a thing of the past here

What is really exciting is that a follow up email to their communications people revealed that the bus lane would be implemented between Easter and Anzac weekend, less than 2 weeks away! This is only just over 2 months since our blog post, and only one month since they agreed it was a feasible option. This is a very exciting development, as many of our frustrations with Auckland Transport relate to the speed at which they are able to implement their plans, and they do have plenty of decent plans around public transport improvements. Lets hope this is a sign of change within the organisation, and ensures they keep moving on implementing quick win projects, notably bus lanes, but also opportunities around walking and cycling infrastructure as well.

 

Skypath Open Day- TODAY!

If you’re interested in finding out about more about Skypath (particularly if you’re a local) then you might want to make your way to one of their open day sessions this Saturday. They also say they’ll have information packs available and want more feedback before a resource consent application is lodged which is likely to be in May. Further they are expecting the application will be fully notified so that people will have a chance to submit on the project as part of the consenting process, something I’m sure many of the locals will do.

Skypath Open Day

Skypath Images

Images thanks to Reset Urban Design

Modelling the Toll for Puhoi to Warkworth

This is the second in a series of posts based on the Campaign for Better Transport’s submission to the Puhoi to Warkworth Board of Inquiry. The full presentation is over at bettertransport.org.nz

Yesterday I talked about the growth assumptions that lie behind NZTA’s traffic forecast for the Puhoi to North Warkworth Toll Road. (Because I think this a more accurate name for the project, I’m going to refer to it as the PNWTR).

In this post we are going to examine how NZTA have modelled the effect of the toll on projected traffic. The following chart is taken from the NZTA Traffic Assessment Report and shows predicted Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) volumes in both directions.

2026 volumes

The two columns on the left indicate the expected change in traffic between 2009 and 2026 if the Base Case (“do nothing”) option is chosen. These are the same figures as the chart that appeared on yesterday’s post.

The three columns on the right are the predicted 2026 traffic volumes should the PNWTR proceed.

The 2026 PNWTR Corridor Total figure is higher than the 2026 Base Case figure because the authors of the report “assumed that the operation of the Project will increase growth rates in the study area [and therefore] we assumed that an extra 1% of traffic growth in the Project scenario is a reasonable approximation of the induced traffic effects of the Project” (p.13). In other words the 2026 PNWTR model has an underlying growth rate of 5.4%.

You can see from the chart that NZTA expect 13,700 veh/day on the PNWTR route, and volumes on the existing SH1 to be roughly the same as what they are today should the project proceed. ( As noted yesterday, I have yet to reconcile how the figure of 13,700 veh/day on the PNWTR with the 5,930 veh/day for trips “further north”.)

Obviously though the split of traffic will be dependent on the toll. The report doesn’t explicitly say what the assumption is on the toll tariff, but buried on p.59 is this:

tollsnippet

Translated, (and later explicity clarified with NZTA) this means that travel on the PNWTR extension of the existing toll road is assumed to be free.

In reality, however, NZTA acknowledge that:

  •  The PNWTR road will be classified as a toll road
  •  No decision on the quantum of the toll has been made
  •  If a toll was applied to the Project, depending on the level of that toll there would likely be a reduction in traffic on the new project route and a corresponding increase in traffic on the existing state highway

It would be extraordinary to classify the road as a toll road and then not charge a toll for its use. It would seem prudent to do some scenario analysis to find out what the impacts on traffic volumes would be. The risk is that the PNWTR ends up being like one of Portugal’s Ghost Roads, while traffic volumes on the existing SH1 will be far greater than the NZTA modelling suggests.

As I said to the BOI:

The importance of a realistic forecast cannot be overstated. The proposed toll road will most likely be with us for hundreds of years, along with the significant environmental impacts that come with its construction and operation. A realistic forecast that has considered all relevant scenarios is vital, and it is worth spending some time and effort making sure we get it right.

I’ve run out of time, so I’ll cover off the forecast traffic volumes for Matakana in a future post, along with other shortcomings with NZTA’s forecasting, before moving on to the issues of economics, saftey and consideration of alternatives.

Photo of the Day: Euskotren Tranbia

As well as the Metro and an excellent bus system -Bilbobus- Bilbao also has a small tram system. Running CAF built Urbos 1 Light Rail vehicles, the route covers different sections of the city to the faster and longer reaching Metro, offering a highly visible distributor from a couple of Metro stations it connects with to important destinations like the Guggenheim Museum. It runs both on the city streets and on dedicated and grassed corridors by the river. The Quay side has a wide promenade and cycleways on both banks. The revitalisation of Bilbao is built on the back of investment in high quality public realm with thorough attention to Transit and Walking and Cycling networks. The Guggenheim Museum is really the icing on the cake of this rebirth, not the starting point.

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Photographs by Patrick Reynolds.

Dominion Rd upgrade open days

Auckland Transport are holding a couple of open days on their plans for Dominion Rd (first one this evening)

Feedback sought on detailed designs for Dominion Road Upgrade

Auckland Transport (AT) is planning a major upgrade of Dominion Road, for which detailed designs are being shared with the public at two open days this week.

The open days are being held tomorrow Thursday 10 April, 3.30pm to 7pm, at the Auckland Deaf Society clubrooms at 164 Balmoral Road in Mt Eden; and on Saturday 12 April, 10am to 1pm, at the Dominion Road Primary School hall on Quest Terrace in Mt Roskill.

Public feedback will be used to fine-tune the design before construction starts in spring this year. The feedback period closes on 30 April 2014.

The Dominion Road Upgrade is designed to bring many improvements – particularly in regards to pedestrian and cycle safety and public transport reliability – to those living, working and travelling along or near this key arterial route.

Dominion Road is vital to Auckland’s public transport network and carries about 1.8 million bus passengers a year. It is one of the few transport corridors in the city where there are more bus passengers than drivers in peak hours.

The upgrade will increase the route’s capacity to deal with an expected 67 per cent growth in bus travellers by 2021. Continuous peak hour bus lanes (northbound 7am to 9am and southbound 4pm to 6pm) will be introduced on Dominion Road from State Highway 20 in the south to View Road in the north. Parking will be available on these bus lanes outside of peak hours. The upgrade will also see bus stops located at 400m intervals, which means pedestrians are always within a four minutes walk of a bus stop once on Dominion Road.

The three village centres of Eden Valley, Balmoral and Mt Roskill will be upgraded with new trees, lighting, artwork, seating and pedestrian improvements. The design has some elements consistent across the three centres but also emphasises the distinctive character of each village through the use of individual colours, patterns and plant species.

Village upgrades will include new footpaths, attractive landscaping, new seating and bike stands, improved lighting, planted rain gardens to reduce surface flooding and remove pollutants, additional stormwater bores to reduce run-off, and pedestrian-priority crossing and raised median to improve road safety. There are some proposed changes to the current on-street parking and loading areas along Dominion Road and some of the adjacent side streets to enable the upgrade to occur, and AT welcomes feedback on these plans also.

Implementation of the specially-marked cycle routes, to be created through quieter streets to the east and west of Dominion Road, is expected to start in May, prior to the main upgrade, and take about six months to complete.

The cycle routes will traverse about 12km long and are designed to make cycling an attractive, easier and safer option for the local community, in particular the area’s 12,000 school pupils, and will provide good connections to the area’s parks and 16 local schools.

Albert-Eden Local Board Chair, Peter Haynes says “We aim to upgrade the road without detracting from the colour and character that have made this one of Auckland’s best-loved streets,”

“It’s a special road, celebrated in song and remembered with fondness by many Aucklanders.  I can’t wait to see the major improvements to pedestrian safety, to the new cycleways that offer safer alternative routes, and greater public transport on the road.  We’ll be listening hard to what locals and local businesses have to say,” says Dr Haynes.

Julie Fairey, Chair of the Puketapapa Local Board says “The board is looking forward to collaborating with Auckland Transport and the local community to identify the elements of the much-needed upgrade at the Roskill Village shops.  We’ll be working alongside the improvements made through the Dominion Road Project to make some specific investments to revitalise the business area, which has much to commend it but is often overlooked because it has become run-down.”

More information on the Dominion Road Upgrade can be found online at www.at.govt.nz/dominion

I can’t make the open days but I am looking forward to seeing the designs. My biggest concern at this stage is that there is no proposed change to the times the bus lanes operate. The morning is probably fine but I frequently hear about buses in the evenings leaving town packed with people and getting stuck in traffic due to parked cars.

Speaking of parking, in light of the other demands on Dominion Rd, it seems odd that AT are also consulting on extending the amount of time people are allowed to park on the road in village centres.

Auckland Transport (AT) has been working with the Albert-Eden and Puketapapa local boards and the Eden-Valley Business Association on ways to improve parking throughout Dominion Road and the village centres of Eden Valley, Balmoral and Mt Roskill.

The existing short-stay parking restrictions of 30 minutes or less do not provide a sufficient amount of time to support the main retail and commercial activities. In addition, the current range of parking restrictions can be confusing and results in an excessive number of parking signs in a relatively small area.

In order to address this issue, AT is proposing to install a 60-minute parking zone (P60) throughout the main village centres. This proposal involves changing the existing on-street parking restrictions, which will reduce the number of signs and different restrictions. The type of signage used to describe those restrictions will change also.

The village centres are important and AT should probably change how they manage parking on side streets however they need to be removing parking from Dominion Rd.