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Wise words from the (Australian) Productivity Commission

One of the best things done recently by governments on both sides of the Tasman has been the establishment of Productivity Commissions tasked with investigating the economic efficiency (or lack thereof) of various policy areas. The NZ Productivity Commission, which only started up in 2011, has been diligently building an evidence base on issues as diverse as international freight, service sector productivity, and land use policies.

Transportblog reviewed their recent inquiry on using land for housing, which had some excellent insights and recommendations. Not all of the recommendations made by the Commission have been picked up (yet), but they form a useful basis for future policymaking.

We’ve been paying attention to the NZ Productivity Commission, but it’s also worth keeping an eye on the Australian version, which is grappling with many of the same issues. They recently published a nice summary of their 2014 inquiry into public infrastructure, which highlighted some key steps for improving the efficiency of public investment.

The Commission highlighted the scale of capital investment. Australia’s expecting to spend megabucks on new capital investment, most of which will go into the built environment – i.e. houses, roads, railways, water infrastructure, etc:

In 2013-14, there was an estimated $5.1 trillion or more of installed capital that was available for use in the Australian economy — over three times the value of production in that year (figure 3.1, top panel). Over the next 50 year period, the Commission has estimated that new capital investment will be more than five times the cumulative investment made over the last half century to around $38 trillion in today’s prices (PC 2013).

The largest component of today’s installed capital is in the form of non-dwelling constructions — which consists of non-residential buildings (i.e. buildings other than dwellings, including fixtures, facilities and equipment integral to the structure) and other structures (including streets, sewers, railways and runways) — which amount to over $2 trillion (or 43 per cent of the total). The next single most important component relates to dwellings, amounting to around 35 per cent of the total installed capital (figure 3.1, bottom panel).

Given this, it’s important to get new public investments right:

Additions to the stock of capital will usually increase output and add to labour productivity. However, for productivity to improve, the growth in output must exceed the growth in inputs. Poorly selected projects can detract from productivity as the resources they use would have delivered a higher output elsewhere in the economy.

The Commission had some stern words about the quality of decision-making about public investments. Their analysis suggests that “there is considerable scope to improve the quality and efficiency of government investment in public infrastructure investment in Australia”.

This could probably be translated as: “You guys are doing a bunch of stupid stuff. For the love of god, please stop it!”

traffic avoids clem 7 tunnel

Brisbane’s Clem 7 tunnel cost heaps and has lost money for all of its investors.

So how could infrastructure investment improve? The Commission discusses public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a potentially useful option, but observes that they are not a magic panacea for bad project selection. In some cases, the PPP process can drive governments towards costly, oversized solutions:

Most relevant to enhancing the efficiency of the provision of public infrastructure is improving project selection processes. Australia’s cities and towns generally function adequately and assets undergo usual maintenance, although problems have emerged in some major cities. Nevertheless, the Commission found numerous examples of poor value for money arising from inadequate project selection and prioritisation. In particular, there was a bias toward large investments despite the returns to public investment often being higher for smaller, more incremental investments. In part, this was because the private sector is more interested in financing large investments (due to the costs involved), and governments have increasingly seen public private partnerships (PPPs) as a way of harnessing not just finance, but expertise in project delivery and operation.

Furthermore, the fact that PPPs typically involve complex negotiations and ongoing relationships between governments and private investors can make it difficult to properly assess costs, benefits, and risks. In essence, this creates a situation in which private sector involvement does not result in a better outcome, due to muddled incentives.

The Commission concluded by encouraging Australian public infrastructure providers to conduct rigorous, consistent cost-benefit analysis for all major projects and – equally important – to publish the results prior to committing to a project:

A key recommendation of the report was that governments should undertake a comprehensive and rigorous social cost—benefit analysis to all public infrastructure investment projects above $50 million. Such analyses should be publicly released during the commitment phase and be made available for due diligence. In general, cost-benefit analyses should be done prior to any in-principle commitment to a project or as soon as practicable thereafter.

Doing this would have avoided the farcical situation facing Melbourne’s East-West Link, an A$8.6 billion project to build a massive tunnel to link up several motorways:

Melbourne East-West Link tunnel portal

As far as I can tell, the project was announced and confirmed before a business case was completed or published. As a result, nobody really knew whether it was a good idea. The project was subsequently cancelled, albeit at a significant cost for cancelling the contract.

Do the figures stack up?

The truth is that we don’t know. Those against all new major road projects may not care about the figures one way or the other, but those who follow these things closely say the project is unprecedented for its lack of transparency. It’s been a nagging political problem for the government, and a key reason the East West Link is so contentious.

“Normally we would see more detail, and historically it’s been much clearer on what basis we are proceeding with projects like this,” [infrastructure consultant William] McDougall says.

“This is new for Australia,” says [transport policy lecturer John] Stone. “The fact that through all these court cases and all this political focus the government has never released its business plan – it released a back of envelope estimate – means probably there’s nothing to back it up. If they had a better number they would have put it out there.“

Fortunately, New Zealand seems to do a better job when it comes to consistent cost-benefit analysis of transport projects (although we don’t always take the findings seriously). However, there is always room for improvement. The Commission highlights three key factors that can undermine the effectiveness of cost-benefit analysis:

  • Optimism bias. There is a systematic tendency for project appraisers conducting cost-benefit analysis to be overly optimistic — the bias is toward overstating benefits, and understating timings and costs, both with respect to initial capital commitment and operation costs. Over estimates of traffic forecasts on toll roads and tunnels are a particular problem…
  • Treatment of risk and uncertainty. Costs and benefits are expected values based on the probability of different outcomes. Cost-benefit ratios may be sensitive to certain assumptions which have to be made without sufficient evidential support. For example, inappropriate assumptions about allowance for project risk in the discount rate (that is, the risk premium) may alter the ranking of projects and lead to suboptimal project selection…
  • Treatment of ‘wider economic benefits’. Infrastructure projects create direct benefits for users of the resulting service provided by public infrastructure. Where cost-benefit analysis is done, such benefits are routinely estimated and included. However, projects can also create wider economic benefits and costs. For example, investment in transportation infrastructure brings consumers closer to more businesses, potentially facilitating greater competition and leading to a more innovative and a dynamic economy. However, such wider economic benefits are hard to quantify and their inclusion in a cost-benefit analysis has the potential to show one project to be superior to another purely because of differences in the way such benefits are defined and estimated. Cautious and consistent treatment across options of wider economic benefits is warranted.

Transportblog’s highlighted a few of these issues in the past. I’ve discussed optimism bias on the benefits/usage side here and optimism bias on costs here and here. Stu’s covered off treatment of wider economic benefits here. And it’s probably high time we took another look at discount rates / risk premia…

Welcome Pānuku Development Auckland

Today marks the start of the council’s new CCO Pānuku Development Auckland. The combination of Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Ltd. It should hopefully see some of the fantastic work that has done at Wynyard spread to other areas of the city.

Pānuku Development Auckland

If you’re wondering about the name,

‘Pānuku’ means to ‘move on’ or ‘move forward’ and the name conveys the concept of dynamism, of building towards excellence. It has been likened to the motion of a waka that requires skill to navigate, and teamwork to propel.

 

Wynyard Quarter

The purpose of the organisation is:

Development Auckland will contribute to the implementation of the Auckland Plan and encourage economic development by facilitating urban redevelopment that optimises and integrates good public transport outcomes, efficient and sustainable infrastructure and quality public services and amenities. Development Auckland will manage council’s non-service property portfolio and provide strategic advice on council’s other property portfolios. It will recycle or redevelop sub-optimal or underutilised council assets and aim to achieve an overall balance of commercial and strategic outcomes.

And its objectives are listed as:

Facilitate redevelopment of urban locations

Consistent with the urban form and infrastructure objectives of the Auckland Plan, Development Auckland will facilitate private sector, third sector, iwi and government investment and collaboration into the sustainable redevelopment of brownfield urban locations. It will co-ordinate provision of council’s infrastructure and other investment in these locations.

Accommodate growth

Development Auckland will contribute to accommodating residential and commercial growth through facilitating the quality redevelopment of urban locations with excellent public infrastructure and services. Redevelopment of the overall portfolio should offer a range of residential choices and price points to cater for diverse households.

Facilitate vibrant development

Development Auckland will facilitate the creation of adaptive and resilient places that inspire wellbeing, promote health and safety and are fully accessible to disabled people and older adults. It will harness and incorporate the local community’s unique identity, attributes and potential to create vibrant communities.

Waterfront development

Consistent with the Waterfront Plan 2012, Development Auckland will continue to lead the development of the Auckland waterfront in a way that balances commercial and public good objectives, including high quality urban design.

Optimisation of council’s property portfolio

Development Auckland may facilitate quality redevelopment of underutilised council landholdings within current urban boundaries.

Contribute to the management of non-service properties

Development Auckland will also manage council’s non-service properties in partnership with the council group.

While there will obviously still be a lot of work to do on the waterfront it will be interesting to see what tasks they take on first. There’s certainly no shortage of areas to look at. The map below shows land owned by the council.

Council Owned Land

The larger areas are obviously things like parks, cemeteries or golf courses however there are also a lot of other opportunities – often hidden by the scale of the map above. Some examples are below.

Takapuna

Council Owned Land - Takapuna

Panmure – there are quite a few sites around the train station.

Council Owned Land - Panmure

Manukau

Council Owned Land - Manukau

Here’s the press release.

Auckland Council’s new urban regeneration agency officially opens its doors for business today.

The new Council Controlled Organisation (CCO), Pānuku Development Auckland, is a merger of two former council controlled organisations, Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Ltd, and came out of an Auckland Council’s review of all its CCOs that began in 2013.

The intent with the new entity is to bring together the commercial property and urban redevelopment skills of both legacy organisations to provide Auckland with a clearer focus on how it responds to the challenges and opportunities of a growing region.

Sir John Wells will chair Pānuku Development Auckland. He’ll be supported by three Directors from Waterfront Auckland (Richard Leggat, Susan Macken and Evan Davies), ACPL Directors (Richard Aitken – Deputy Chair and Anne Blackburn) and three new appointments (Paul Majurey, Mike Pohio and Martin Udale).

John Dalzell, the former Chief Executive of Waterfront Auckland, will be the Interim Chief Executive and David Rankin, the former Chief Executive of Auckland Council Property, will be the Director of Strategy and Engagement.

Auckland Council CEO Stephen Town, who has overseen the transition process, says with a specific mandate and visibility over all Council landholdings, the new organisation will be in a good position to assemble and shape larger scale and more integrated development opportunities.

“By co-ordinating and optimising Council assets and resources in agreed locations, and partnering with other landowners such as iwi or Central Government, Pānuku Development Auckland will enable and ensure private sector participation at pace and in step with defined outcomes in the Auckland Plan.”

“Such outcomes will include providing quality mixed-use development where good design reflects community need and culture, demonstrates sustainability and offers a diversity of commercial premises and residential dwellings.”

John Dalzell says he’s looking forward to the challenge and opportunities the new organisation will bring.

“Whether it’s a site in Onehunga or Takapuna, our role and responsibilities will be customised to each specific project, initiative and location. A few will be of high custodial nature associated with urban regeneration. Some will be at the other end of the scale with a more facilitative role; and some will be much more able to be delivered in the short term.”

Pānuku Development Auckland will have 170 staff with the majority of positions from the two previous organisations not changing or being subject to minor change.

The new head office for Pānuku Development Auckland will be at the existing Waterfront Auckland offices at Pier 21, 11 Westhaven Drive.

Wynyard - Kids Playing

I’m looking forward to more people centred urban developments around Auckland.

 

Guest Post: The Mangere Inlet – a Photo Essay

This is a guest post from reader Jeff

What do you think of when you think of the Mangere inlet?

For most of us, it’s probably the journey across the Manukau Harbour Bridge to the Airport, and those little darting concrete catwalks linking suburbs we only know by name.

AT and the NZTA revealed plans to build a nearly motorway grade link between the bridge, and the Southern motorway, right along the Manukau Inlet foreshore.

East-West Preferred Option

This is our last chance to see this piece of waterfront land properly activated. What if we could rehabilitate it? What if it could host apartments, sail-boats, restaurants and a promenade? With the old Mangere bridge soon to be removed, there’s room to do something truly special with this area.

“Oh better freight movement!” We reassure ourselves. After all, trucks are the lifeblood of the economy, they keep telling us the economy will grind to a halt without them.

Yes, trucks do link nearly everything, does that warrant such a huge investment of public money to make private KPI’s more efficient, in what is, admittedly, an industrial area that arguably won’t be industrial in only a generation’s time?

But what about Church Street? doesn’t that connect the North Western motorway with the Southern motorway, and eastern suburbs?

What is unworkable about NZTA’s proposed option B?

EW Option - Option B

Currently Church Street functions, albeit poorly, it’s cluttered, congested, and very, very stop starty. A bit of a nightmare Monday to Friday for anyone trying to deliver a consignment, B2B.

With Intersection improvements to Nelson and Church Streets including, removal of on-street parking and traffic Light sequencing, we can mitigate this need without the destruction of a previously destroyed coastline .

Foreshore Before and after

If you’ve been to Brisbane, you’ll no doubt have marvelled at their motorway, slinking around the river to inject people & cars into their CBD. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see prime,  beautiful, expensive river-front land, crushed and bound by nice, white motorway onramps. Imagine what you could do with those riverbanks… An absolute waste of prime waterfront property.

4 - Brisbane

Let’s take a trip, from end to end of this proposed new link. Will we lose anything?

Starting in Onehunga Bay, we have the Aotea Sea Scouts Hall, New Zealand’s oldest yacht club building. Famously nearly relocated during the Manukau harbour Crossing Duplication

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 5

Looking out onto the new foreshore reclamations funded by NZTA as reparations for foreshore destructions five decades earlier. (Note the Sewerage Surge outfall bottom right)

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 6

Heading under the bridges. Complete with a 1970’s style skypath. Imagine if this was planted with huge flax bushes, and the bridge properly lit up at night!

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 7

Lots of unactivated land under here. Reminds me heavily of Silo Park just a few years ago.

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 8

And onto the Path

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 9

Under this route runs a huge gas line. The Auckland Council GIS viewer doesn’t show gas lines but if memory serves this gasline powers the soon to be dismantled Southdown Powerplant. There’s a steam output line off that which heads back up a portion of the path providing steam to neighbours.

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 10

Now up to Waikaraka Park, war memorial cemetery. A very peaceful spot.

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 11

Looking back on Waikaraka Park

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 12

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 13

There’s a Heliport down here!

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 14

Recreational cyclists were abound, I counted just over 50. Including four families, and zero MAMILs. Despite what ones passing impressions may be of this area, it is heavily activated, and quietly beautiful.

Passing through I saw a few happy seals in amongst the mangroves, but with only my wide angle lens on, sorry no usable shots

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 15

I love this scene. A peoples space conjoined with heavy industrial, what would surprise you is just how amazingly peaceful it is, industry everywhere, and nothing but the gentle lapping of waves and birds to be heard

 

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 16

We’re now behind the Port of Tauranga Inland Port

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 17

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 18

Wow, this area had clearly had some special attention some time ago. Gently planted, with man made rock walls and Macrocapra fences run for perhaps a hundred metres.

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 19

Westfield junction. Port of Tauranga Inland port behind me. Note the passenger EMU crossing in the background

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 20

Heading towards the Soon to be retired Southdown Powerstation

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 21

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 22

Stage one? Imagine if the whole harbour was linked? Imagine being able to cycle from Mangere Bridge, to Otahuhu, train station, or Otahuhu behind Favona Rd back to Mangere Bridge or
Onehunga? This is one of Auckland’s last hidden Urban oasis.

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 23

The point of this photo essay was to give people a little look into a place they might never think about. Would a pseudo motorway on reclaimed land beside it be of any use, when church street simply needs minor intersection, and on street parking removal? What about AT’s Option B? I simply can’t fathom reclaiming more of the already destroyed Mangere inlet to build a road that is only supporting an industrial hub that won’t be there in a generation. Simply put, Penrose-Onehunga, will be gentrified within Gen X’s lifetime.

Coming back home. This is a disused front gate to a home on the Royal Oak hill. This would have once opened onto a foreshore, before the Onehunga Motorway came though in the 60’s

Jeff Smith - Onehunga Foreshore 24

 

The Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the NZTA had shortlisted three groups of companies to build the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway.

Confirmed route

One of our biggest complaints about the project is that despite repeated attempts over many years – including Official Information Act requests and via the CBT in the board of inquiry process – we’d never seen the business case for the project. Well the afternoon of that post the agency finally published it (4.6 MB) – although a heavily redacted version of it. As you can see by the revision history below this document has been around for a long time and has been frequently updated. The total document is over 160 pages in length.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Revisions

At a high level the business case confirms that the primary driver for this project is the simple fact that the government designated it a Road of National Significance (RoNS). The distinct impression I’m left with is that it’s a project about a decade too early and as such one that has massive consequences for a lot of other more beneficial projects. This is also backed up by the timeline of events showing that prior to being named a RoNS there was very little work – only a high level strategic study – that had been done on the project. One comment I think is particularly pertinent is below. Compare and contrast that statement with how the government have

The RoNS projects represent a ‘lead infrastructure’ approach. This means the Government is investing in infrastructure now to encourage future economic growth rather than wait until the strain on the network becomes a handbrake on progress.

Compare and contrast that statement with how the government have treated the City Rail Link for which they are requiring the rail network to be bursting at the seams before they’ll even consider funding.

From there it almost seems like the authors are trying to find reasons to justify the project – something that becomes clear when looking at the economic analysis. One of the big reasons for needing the motorway is the fact that in the Auckland Plan the council identified a lot of potential for greenfield growth. What’s not mentioned is one of the reasons the council put growth in Warkworth was because the NZTA/Government said they were going to build the motorway. A classic example of the motorway industrial complex at work

 

Another key reason is the often cited need to improve the Northland economy – even though the road stops well short of Northland. The improvement in the economy is supposedly about the fact that a motorway would allow a lot more freight to move in and out of the region. Yet the business case seems to give conflicting information about just how much more freight will be moved. In the executive summary it says:

 

Freight volumes between the regions are forecast to increase by 70% by 2042 – referencing the Ministry of Transport’s 2014 National Freight Demand Study which I talked about here.

Yet in the body of the report it says

Freight volumes are forecast to double by 2031, with the vast majority of this increase being carried by road vehicles – referencing the 2008 version of the National Freight Demand Study

The problem with both of these figures is from what I can see the 2014 freight study doesn’t support either of these claims. The tables below show the 2012 volumes vs what is forecast for 2042. Also of note is that of volumes leaving Northland, 7% go by rail and 60% by coastal shipping. Excluding the freight that stays within Northland, I’ve calculated the change in volumes at just 43% out to 2042, well short of the claims in the business case. There are also high and low forecasts with the increase range being from 38% to 48%.

2014 Freight study Regional Freight Movements - 2012

2014 Freight study Regional Freight Movements Forecast - 2042

As for why some of the potential increase in freight couldn’t go on rail, the main reason they give is that the rail network doesn’t have much available capacity. It seems to be the NZ way that a road with ‘capacity constraints’ get huge sums of money thrown at it while a parallel rail route with capacity constraints is left to rot and threatened with closure. The NZTA justify this position by effectively saying that even if the rail route was upgraded that it is unlikely to have much impact on road demand.

It seems the most valid of the justifications is that the road has a poor safety record and it suggests the road is the 16th worst in NZ. My issue with this is that by waiting for a full motorway solution to be built we will continue to have crashes in the future. Had the NZTA not been under a political directive that the road must be a motorway then it’s possible safety improvements like we’ve suggested in the past could have already happened by now.

 

One of the most interesting sections is how they say the preferred route performs against the project objectives. This is on page 43 (actually page 51) of the report. Some of the impacts are

  • Compared to not building it, traffic volumes increase from 25,000 to 29,000 vehicles per day in 2026 and from 30,000 to 42,000 vehicles per day in 2051.
  • Even in 2051 the road will achieve Level of Service A meaning the road will basically feel pretty empty almost all of the time.
  • They claim it will produce $9.1 million in crash reduction benefits in its opening year. Unfortunately no mention is made of what happens to the existing road which will still have all its existing safety issues.
  • In 2026 travel time will improve by 17 minutes in the PM peak. This is shown below and amazingly they say that with the new motorway it will take just 10 minutes to get from Grand Drive in Orewa to north of Warkworth. That’s a distance of about 24km so suggests vehicles travelling on average in excess of 140km/h.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Travel Time Savings

Also in the wider section they’ve included the following table on the risks to the project from a 2010 study. They noted that it’s highly likely that the project’s costs would outweigh its benefits and that traffic volumes would be lower than needed to justify a motorway.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - 2010 Project Risks

 

So what about the economic assessment, they were right that the costs would outweigh the benefits. Assessed over a 40 year period and a 6% discount rate it achieves a BCR of just 0.92 or just scraping over 1 if wider economic benefits were included. Hardly a massive economic saviour. Unfortunately almost all details about the assessment have been blacked out.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Economic Assessment

There’s no mention of what impact tolling would have on the BCR however they do say this.

An initial toll revenue forecasting exercise has been carried out based on the forecast traffic volumes and light and heavy vehicle mix, and using the conservative price assumption that the same pricing is applied from NGTR. [Blacked out section]. The conservative price assumption was used to produce a lower-end forecast.

This analysis suggested a conservative tolling revenue forecast in the first year of operations (2022), net of collection costs and diversion (but excluding the costs of the tolling gantry equipment), of around $10M, growing to $17M in 2030 and $28M in the last year of the P-Wk PPP concession. The total nominal tolling revenue over the PPP period was forecast at $440m. The potential tolling revenue profile based on this analysis is presented in the figure below:

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Toll Revenue

They suggest this may just cover the operation and maintenance costs of the road.

Lastly the project is going to be built as a PPP. There’s quite a bit of information as to why they think it should be a PPP which you can read though if you’re interested. What caught my eye was Appendix G which covers off where risk sits between the NZTA and the contractor. Below is just the first part of the table.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - PPP Risk allocation

 

Sunday reading 30 August 2015

Lily Kuo, “African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese ones“, Citylab. A good feature on Africa’s growing and changing cities, which are getting a lot in the way of investment and technical advice from Chinese firms. African cities are (in my view) going to become increasingly important over the next century – my main hope is that their population growth is matched with economic and social dynamism:

Do you see similarities between the pace and kind of urbanization in Africa that you do in China?

We all know China’s unprecedented urban transformation, which transformed China from a rural into an urban society in one generation. Now, Africa is urbanizing at the same pace as China did in the past 30 years, but in a process that is less coordinated and aligned. People do not only move to the capitals of African countries, but especially top second and third tier cities.

There are many resemblances. First of all, the speed of urbanization is similar. But also, the level of energy and dynamism and the ambition for progress in Chinese and African cities are comparable. Driving through the fringe of Nairobi, with its construction sites, road works, traffic jams, and advertisements for furniture and processed food one could easily imagine being in the outskirts of a Chinese city.

Here are some plans for a Chinese-led development on the Lekki Peninsula in Lagos – that’s one of the places where I grew up:


A Chinese consortium holds a major stake in the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Nigeria, near Lagos. The plan for the new city was designed by urban planners in Shanghai. (Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen)

As cities in Africa and elsewhere grow, they need to be careful that they’re growing in a way that connects people rather than maroons them. A reader sent us this reminder of how poor street design and insane laws in US cities prevent people from using the simplest and cheapest transport mode – stepping out the front door and walking.

Antonia Malchik, “The end of walking“, Aeon:

In 2013 more than 4,700 pedestrians were killed, and an estimated 66,000 injured, in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls ‘traffic crashes’. That’s a bite-sized phrase for what is, essentially, people in cars killing and injuring people on foot.

Kate Kraft, the National Coalition Director for America Walks, an advocacy organisation for walkability, says that, ever since towns began removing streetcars, we’ve undermined transit systems that would support the walker and planned instead for the car. Walking is an impediment to the car culture we revere, an experience we’ve intentionally designed out of our lives…

Over the past 80 years, walking simply as a way to get somewhere, let alone for pleasure, has become such an alien concept to Americans that small movements towards making neighbourhoods and communities more walkable are met with fierce, indignant resistance. Much of this fight has to do with who pays for the sidewalks. Once an area has been designed without walkability in mind, it’s extremely expensive to reverse the infrastructure. Municipalities and suburbs alike have to consider curbs, gutters, stormwater runoff, ongoing maintenance, and snow removal. I live in Montana, where snow cover from early November to late April is normal. While my town ploughs the roads, homeowners are legally obliged to keep sidewalks adjacent to their properties clear of snow with shovels or snowblowers. It’s excellent exercise, but not necessarily fun, especially for the elderly or disabled. In heavy winters shovelling can feel fruitless, and it’s not uncommon to see pedestrians giving up on icy sidewalks and shifting to the well-cleared roads.

The resistance to sidewalks, and to walking, often splits along generational lines. People who have come of age and grown old in a car-centric culture have trouble seeing why they should pay to enable walkers. One neighbourhood in suburban Chicago fought sidewalks so bitterly, with long-time residents speaking against sidewalk calls from younger families, that it ended up with a walkway stopping pointlessly halfway down a block.

I’m a sucker for maps, and this one is particularly fantastic:

For some context on how travel speeds have changed, here’s David Harvey’s infographic showing the world “shrinking” as transport technology has improved. (From The Condition of Postmodernity.) Notice that there have been very few improvements since jet aircrafts (and containerised shipping) in the 1960s:

david harvey shrinking world map

Ben Casselman, “What we don’t know about Canada might hurt us“, Fivethirtyeight. For the data wonks, a nice look at the negative impact of changes to Canada’s census. As it happens, I was recently working on a project that required Canadian census data. These changes made it more challenging to get the right data:

In 2006, the small Canadian town of Snow Lake, Manitoba, had 837 residents, many of whom worked in the local mining industry. It was a prosperous community: The typical family earned 84,000 Canadian dollars a year, well above the national median of about $66,000, and the unemployment rate was just 5.1 percent even though only a small fraction of residents had a college degree.

Five years later, Snow Lake had lost more than a tenth of its population, shrinking to 723 residents. But the government doesn’t know who those residents were — what they earned, how much school they’d completed, whether they were working. That’s because in 2011, unlike five years earlier, filling out the government survey that collected the information wasn’t mandatory — and nearly three-quarters of the Snow Lake residents who received it decided not to bother…

That seemingly small change has had far-reaching consequences. Canadian researchers say the new, optional National Household Survey is less reliable, less comprehensive and significantly more expensive than the mandatory survey it replaced. And it isn’t just researchers who are worried: A diverse set of groups, from local governments to business organizations, has criticized the shift to an optional survey as shortsighted.

Critics argue that the voluntary survey fell short in two crucial ways. First, because response rates were so much lower, the survey wasn’t able to collect reliable data on smaller communities, including Canada’s many sparsely populated areas. Second, surveyors struggled to collect sufficient data on certain groups — the poor, aboriginal populations, immigrants and others — that have always been among the hardest to reach. That means the resulting data could be biased, possibly in ways that could be difficult to detect.

On a completely different note, here are four designs for adding bike lanes to existing lanes from Jeff Speck (via Vox):

Jeff Speck: Four Road Diets from Cupola Media on Vimeo.

And now, two Auckland-focused articles. First, here’s the PM talking about what might (or might not) happen to the property market (from Interest.co.nz):

“If you look at Christchurch as quite a good example — when supply starts to meet demand then prices don’t go up anymore,” Key said. “And, actually over time, and it’s one of the things the Reserve Bank didn’t say, but frankly they should have said, is interest rates won’t stay low forever,” he said.

“So when people go buy houses purely on the expectation they are going to get a capital gain, you’ve just got to be careful they don’t come in for a nasty surprise – just like those people who bought stocks recently, and thought they were always going to go up forever, are in for a nasty surprise today.”

Later Key said history showed prices never went in one director forever. “If people think Auckland house prices are going up forever, they are misguided. History tells you that’s not normally the case, that the market goes in one direction forever,” he said when asked if the global market slump would hit Auckland housing.

And second, here’s Bernard Hickey asking “Why do Aucklanders fear Council debt?” in his weekly NZ Herald column. I agree with Bernard:

Here’s a question for Auckland’s property owners. Be honest. If you could take out a mortgage fixed for 12 years at 4.01 per cent to invest in an asset that will last decades and have a guaranteed customer base of over 1.5 million, would you? Would you take on that debt if the interest cost was less than 15 per cent of your income?

[…]

Auckland urgently needs investment in its roads, rail networks, buses, water systems and other infrastructure to cope with an extra million people over the next 50 years or so. They will be ratepayers and the growth of Auckland’s economy will support that debt.

The two-faced approach on the personal debts of ratepayers and the public debts of their councils in a city growing as fast as Auckland is odd. Ask yourself: would you borrow at 4 per cent to invest in multi-generational assets with guaranteed customers in a fast-growing economy? Of course you would.

Lastly, a few pieces on how we think, plan, and build our cities. In “Point of view matters: the scourge of modelitis“, Urban kchoze observes that the relevant viewpoint that should be considered when assessing planning applications (and planning rules) should be the perspective on the street rather than a top-down or ‘Sim City’ view. I really like the way he goes out and finds highly specific examples of things being done well or poorly:

Someone who sees cities from the point of view of a pedestrian knows that the human scale is horizontal, not vertical.

This focus on verticality is a clear effect of modelitis, higher stories are usually not visible from the ground for pedestrians. Even when they are, people tend to look down, not up, so most people will not even notice how tall buildings really are unless they take the time to check. A focus on a proper point of view, one of pedestrians, would focus on how a building’s 3 or 4 lowest stories meet the street, not on how high it is, ESPECIALLY when the sidewalks have awnings, in which case the buildings are largely not even visible!

At the foot of the Empire State Building, sorry for the windshield perspective, the actual height of the building is irrelevant
So even if you care about harmony and order in urbanism, you should focus on the harmony and order as seen from the street, not as seen on a model of the city or from the sky. For example, Vancouver has had good urban planners who understood this and allowed skyscrapers that also had podiums that maintained the “street walls”.
“Vancouverism”, towers are present without disrupting the “walls” of the street”, they are in the background, not the foreground
This is the view from the street, again, forgive the windshield perspective

This piece from Melbourne offers some thoughts on regulation of apartments, which is currently under consideration by the Victorian state government. It suggests investigating options for improving information available to renters and buyers of apartments as an alternative to regulations. Mark Sheppard, “Better apartments for the future“, Urban Melbourne:

We believe that many people make a deliberate choice to accept a lower standard of one or more aspects of amenity when buying or renting an apartment, either because this is the only way they can afford to enter the market, or as a trade-off for a higher standard of another aspect of amenity, such as location. An obvious example of this is people who choose to live in an apartment in a converted warehouse or office building, without a balcony or car parking space, because it enables them to live in the CBD where they don’t have the financial and time costs of travel to work and entertainment. Another example is studio apartments without a separate bedroom, which provide an affordable first home option. A further example is people who choose a south-facing apartment for its view, despite the lack of solar access…

There is also a legitimate concern that people do not fully understand the amenity standards of the apartments they are considering buying or renting, particularly with off-the-plan apartment sales. In response to this, we suggest that a rating system be developed for apartment amenity and that each apartment for sale or rent be required to have its rating explained to potential purchasers or renters. A standard set of apartment amenity criteria could be developed, so that apartments can be easily compared. For example, the size and access to natural daylight and ventilation of each room (including ceiling height), living room solar access, balcony size and solar access, energy efficiency, noise, outlook, storage, adaptability, universal accessibility, corridor daylight and ventilation, car parking and provision of communal facilities could all be rated “good”, “standard” or “poor”, based on a standard set of objective 2 criteria. At the same time, the location of the apartment in terms of its accessibility to amenities such as public transport and parks could be rated.

A rating system would ensure that potential purchasers and renters can make informed choices about apartments, without restricting the options available to them. It would also ensure that the price of apartments is closely related to their amenity, so that relatively poor apartments provide an affordable housing option.

Lastly, here’s a positive example of how public transport investments can benefit society by connecting people who want jobs (but who may not have the cars to get there) with firms that want workers:

Taxis on Grafton Bridge from Monday

From Monday bikes and buses will have another road user to share with on Grafton Bridge with Auckland Transport starting a one year trial to allow Taxis to use the bridge.

Grafton Bridge Taxi Trial 2

Taxis are getting access to Grafton Bridge on a trial basis to make it easier for people to get to Auckland City Hospital and Starship Children’s Hospital.

The year-long trial will allow taxis to use the bridge 24 hours a day giving them the same access as buses, motorcyles and bikes.

Auckland Transport’s Network Operations and Safety Manager Randhir Karma says the trial is being run to see if adding taxis affects other users of the bridge.

“We will be reporting back on driver behaviour, bus travel times and intersection queuing every three months.”

Mr Karma says Auckland Transport will carry out CCTV monitoring of Grafton Bridge throughout the trial.

“The bridge is a major link to the hospitals and allowing taxis to use it at all hours should improve access for patients and visitors.”

The existing bus lanes operate 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, at other times the bridge is open to general traffic.

“We will be converting the existing bus lanes to ‘bus and taxi’ lanes and the signs and road markings will be updated.”

Mr Karma says there will be rules around taxis using the bridge. “There will be no overtaking of cyclists and the taxis must give bikes space when following them. They won’t be allowed to pick-up or drop-off passengers and u-turns are banned.”

He also says the taxis cannot use the special vehicle lane when they are not in service.

Auckland Transport will be using video cameras to enforce the rules during the year-long trial which starts on 31 August.

I have a few big concerns with this.

  1. Taxis using the bridge and queuing at the lights at either end will reduce the number of buses that get through intersections. This will obviously make public transport slower so a case of a few taxi’s holding up buses that could be carrying more than 100 passengers.
  2. That this will be just the tip of the iceberg and following the trial there will be a greater push to allow taxis to use more bus lanes around the city.
  3. Some taxi drivers already struggle to follow the road rules so it wouldn’t surprise me to see ATs rules regularly flaunted unless they have near constant enforcement.

Just to reiterate, here are the rules for Taxis

  • Can only use the bridge if carrying passengers
  • Must be a branded taxi i.e. no services such as Uber
  • No stopping on the bridge to pick up or drop off passengers.
  • No u-turn manoeuvres on the bridge.
  • Give cyclists space when following them across the bridge – unfortunately there is no definition of how much space should be given
  • No overtaking cyclists on the bridge.

Given the general behavour of some taxi drivers – definitely not all – I suspect that AT are going to need a lot of enforcement for this. Wonder how long it is till we first hear of a taxi following a bike to closely or overtaking? If you do experience it also make sure you provide feedback to Auckland Transport.

Grafton Bridge Taxi Trial

On monitoring AT say

The trial will assess the impact that taxis have on pedestrians, buses, cycles and motorcycles along with any potential influence on general traffic.

  • Interim analysis of driver behaviour, bus travel times and intersection queuing will be carried out every 3 months.
  • Specific public or bus driver feedback will be reviewed as it is received.
  • Auckland Transport Operation Centre (ATOC) will undertake CCTV monitoring throughout the trial period.
  • A final review will be done once the trial has been completed.

If significant adverse effects on safety, compliance or lane productivity occur, the trial may be stopped early.

The next batch of Special Housing Areas

The council yesterday announced the seventh tranche of special housing areas and for the first time, all are redevelopments of existing sites within the urban area. They say that all up this could allow for up to 1,600 new dwellings in Auckland – if they actually get built. So here are the new SHA’s along with the previous ones announced.

SHAs 1-7

Bute Road, Browns Bay

The site at 4 Bute Road, Browns Bay will be developed for retail at ground level with four levels of apartments above, comprising 54 residential units plus accompanying car parking.
The residential units are a mix of one-bedroom (77m2) inclusive of balconies and two-bedrooms (88m2) inclusive of balconies.

The relocation of the former New World supermarket has allowed for the development.

The proposed scheme has been developed in close liaison with local real estate agents who have identified significant demand, particularly from older residents seeking to downsize and remain in the suburb.

Bute Rd SHA

College Hill, Ponsonby

Mansons TCLM Ltd plans to develop 99 College Hill, Freemans Bay into approximately 40-50 new homes over two-to-three years. The proposed residential development will consist of apartment style dwellings, to supplement the current shortages, including a combination of two-bedroom units and larger three-bedroom units.

The site is zoned a combination of Mixed Use and Single House zone under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Mansons TCLM Ltd has been progressing a consent for the development of the land. This will include earthworks, construction of a basement level and development of the residential units and associated areas.

Mansons TCLM Ltd intends to complete the entire development and have it ready for habitation by late 2017.

College Hill SHA

This one is interesting as one half of the site has mixed use zoning while the other half is listed as single house zone.

Corner Cornwall Park Avenue and Great South Road, Greenlane

Golden Key Development (NZ) Ltd plans to develop 65 new apartments at 115 Great South Road, Greenlane.

The development will include one- and two-bedroom units. The land is zoned Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Golden Key Development is progressing the preparation of the resource consent for the apartment development, which it plans to complete by January 2018.

Cornwall Park Ave SHA

Great South Road, Manurewa

DJI Limited plan to develop 309-311 Great South Road for approximately 24 two-bedroom apartments over two years.

The affordable homes within the development will be priced between $450,000 and $500,000.

Some of the features of the site include the Te Mahia Railway Station – 200 metres away, Beaumonts Park – 700 metres away, Manurewa South School – 15-20 minute walk, and the Manukau Golf Club – 400 metres away.

The land is zoned Mixed Use Zone under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

DJI Limited has been progressing a consent for the initial development of the land. It plans to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by late 2017, with the entire development completed by mid-2018.

Gt South Rd Manurewa SHA

But will any of the residents use the station?

James Road, Manurewa

DJI Limited plans to develop 9 and 11 James Road, Manurewa into approximately 39 new dwellings over two years.

There will be a mix of housing types, matched to current shortages, including smaller one-bedroom units and larger two- and three-bedroom units. Half of the units will be built as affordable homes; these will be priced at between $450,000 and $500,000.

The land, which is currently occupied by homes, is zoned Terraced Housing and Apartment Building under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. The site features a train station less than a 3 minute walk away, a bus stop 50 metres away, schools 250 metres away, a hospital 1 kilometre away, and a shopping centre (groceries, gas stations, food outlets) in close walking distance.

DJI Limited intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by the last quarter of 2016, with the entire development completed by mid-2017.

James Rd Manurewa SHA

Kingdon Street, Newmarket

New Investments Limited plans to develop 10 Kingdon Street, Newmarket for approximately 60 new apartments over two years.

The development will provide a mix of apartment types, matched to current shortages, including smaller one-bedroom units and larger two-and-three bedroom homes. The affordable homes within the development will be priced at between $325,000 and $350,000.

The Kingdon Street property is well located in a desirable part of Auckland, with innumerable state and private schools nearby, and Auckland University being a neighbour. The development is well located to amenities including parks and reserves. It is well serviced by bus and train transport, providing easy access into the CBD for workers.

The land is currently largely undeveloped with a 2-storey retail building on half the site. It is zoned Mixed Use under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

New Investments has been progressing a consent application for the initial development of the land. This will include ground floor retail, two levels of car parks, as well as residential apartments. It intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by August 2017.

Kingdon St SHA

Kirkbride Road, Mangere

Austin Management Limited plans to develop 8 Kirkbride Road, Mangere Bridge for approximately 54 new residential sites.

The development will provide a mix of housing types, matched to current shortages, including larger three-and-four bedroom homes. The affordable homes within the development will be priced at between $480,000 and $550,000.

The land is currently zoned Mixed Housing Suburban and Single House under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Austin Management plans to lodge a qualifying development consent application as soon as practicable to enable the redevelopment of the site. It intends to ready the first residential sections for houses to be established on them by spring 2016. Associated house plans will be established by the end of 2016.

Kirkbride Rd SHA

Layard Street, Avondale

Redevelopment of the former Avondale Returned Services Association site and adjoining land will soon commence to provide for more than 150 new dwellings, townhouses and terraced homes of various sizes and configurations.

The development, located between 1 and 7 Layard Street, Avondale, will be known as Rosebank Ridge in recognition of the elevation and views offered by the site.

It will feature a mix of housing types matched to current shortages including smaller one-bedroom units and larger three- and four-bedroom terraced homes. The apartments, terraces and townhouses will be affordable and likely to be priced between $350,000 and $800,000.

The building’s design will assist in the growth and rejuvenation of the Avondale precinct. The developer is currently progressing with a resource consent application.

It is hoped the development will be in part complete and ready for occupation by December 2016.

Layard St SHA

With a number of other developments planned for Avondale the area is going to see a lot of growth in the next few years

Pacific Events Centre Drive, Manukau

Gaze Property Partnerships plans to develop 834 Great South Road and 10 Pacific Events Centre Drive, Manukau into more than 800 news homes including retirement living, potential student accommodation and/or hotels.

The development, called 8 Pacific, will comprise a comprehensively master-planned area of 9.2 hectares. It’ll provide a mix of housing types, matched to meet current shortages and affordable housing requirements, from smaller 2-bedroom terraces, townhouses and apartments through to larger 4+ bedroom homes.

The development is well placed next to the Manukau CBD, well serviced by public transport and servicing infrastructure is already in place. There is significant nearby employment opportunities including the growing Wiri industrial area, the new Wero Whitewater Park and Vodafone Events Centre directly to the north. As well as the parks, reserves and a community hub to be included in the development, being in close proximity to the Auckland Botanic Gardens and the national cycleway will provide strong community and open space amenity.

The land is currently vacant. Construction is targeted to commence as early as possible in the 2016 earthworks season.

Gaze has already lodged resource consent for total land development along with Stage 1 of housing to include 18 apartments and 20 terraced and townhouses. This will include earthworks, roads, parks, a community hub and around 12 super lots for subsequent subdivision and development.

Beyond the land development, Gaze intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by the end of 2017. The entire subdivision development will be complete within 2–3 years and housing will continue to be delivered rapidly after that.

Pacific Events Centre Dr SHA

Sunnybrae Road, Hillcrest

Sampati Holdings Ltd plans to develop 3 Sunnybrae Road, Hillcrest over three years.

The site will yield approximately 125 new homes, which will be part of a larger new urban village of commercial and residential that will occur over the next decade.

The affordable homes within the first stage of the development will be priced at around $455,000. The development will provide a mix of housing types, including one-, two- and three-bedroom homes. The development is adjacent to major recreation areas, near good public transport links and has many education facilities within an easy walk.

The land, which is currently being used as a car park, is zoned Mixed Housing Urban under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Sampati Holdings has been steadily progressing the required documentation for the resource consent with the intention to have the first residential housing ready for habitation within 18 months.

Sunnybrae Rd SHA

Takanini Road, Takanini

Glenora Developments Ltd plans to develop 62 to 66 Takanini Road, Takanini for approximately 125 new homes over the three years.

The affordable homes within the first stage of the development, known as Glenora Park Village, will be priced from $350,000 upwards. The development will provide a mix of housing types, including terraced homes and walk-up apartments, and comprise one-, two- and three-bedroom homes.

The development is adjacent to a major shopping centre, near good public transport links and an easy walk from a railway station, schools, a major park and recreation facilities. The land, which currently has a vacant factory with a large yard, is zoned Town Centre under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Glenora Developments has been steadily progressing the required documentation for a resource consent application and intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation within 18 months.

Takanini Rd Takanini SHA

 

Another case for Yellow Paint?

With the government is now seemingly on-board with the need for safe urban cycling and Auckland Transport are about to embark on some great new cycling projects. Unfortunately it seems a shadowy group within AT are working to make the few cycle facilities we already have decidedly less safe. This issue has been really highlighted to me with some new cycle lanes I use.

I ride to/from work once a week and my route takes me via Upper Harbour Dr, the road that was formerly a semi-rural state highway until the SH18 motorway opened less than a decade ago. The road still has a speed limit that is a hang-over from its former status of 70km/h and provided little in the way of facilities for walking or cycling. In fact much of the road didn’t even have a footpath requiring people (including school children walking to bus stops) to walk on the road. In short it wasn’t great for any one not in a car but at least the road was fairly wide and importantly yellow lines along its length meant there were never any cars parked. As such it was easy for (most) drivers to give plenty of space. Here’s an example of what the road looked like.

Upper Harbour Before

Given its lack of facilities for walking and cycling and that it is the only route cyclists can use to ride between the North Shore and anywhere else in the region – without taking a ferry, bring on Skypath – AT decided to do something about it. The project was to add a new footpath on one side of the road and cycle lanes on both sides. Due to the speed of vehicles they also proposed those cycle lanes have an extra buffer zone.

https://at.govt.nz/projects-roadworks/upper-harbour-drive-walking-cycling-improvements/

The project has been underway for some months and is almost at completion with seemingly the only thing left to do is add a few bike symbols on one side. All good so far but ….

As part the process to install the painted cycle lanes the existing yellow no parking lines were removed. In probably no surprise to anyone pretty quickly the local residents took advantage of this change and cars started appearing parked on the street. At this time the markings for the cycle lane were still going in so I was told by AT to wait till this process was complete.

Fast forward to this week and as mentioned above the project is nearly completed with one side fully marked and the other not far off. Below are just a few examples that of what I’ve encountered on my ride, forcing me and other cyclists out in to the general traffic lane with vehicles going 70km/h – many much faster.

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 3

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 4

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 5

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 6

There’s something seriously wrong when the process of installing cycle infrastructure leads to a reduction in safety for people on bikes. The problem all stems not from the lanes themselves but the fact that the yellow lines were removed. Like parking on footpaths I suspect many drivers have either forgotten or don’t realise that parking in a cycle lane is illegal. By comparison compliance of yellow lines is very high.

So I asked Auckland Transport for a few comments on why they removed the yellow lines here (and in other cases that I’m aware of), especially seeing as some cycle lanes do also include yellow lines. I’d also heard that the decision not to include yellow lines was made by a group within called the Traffic Control Committee who I understand have to sign off road designs. Here’s their response.

Motorists are not allowed to stop, stand or park in a cycle lane, relevant section is 6.6 of the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004.

The requirements for marking cycle lanes are outlined in section 11.2 of the Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004. A road controlling authority is not required to install broken yellow line markings to indicate that motorists should not park in cycle lanes. However, Section 12.1 (3) of the Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004 does allow a road controlling authority to install broken yellow lines if it deems it necessary.

Some of the legacy Council’s choose to install broken yellow line markings in addition to the cycle lane markings and some did not. This resulted in inconsistencies across the region, in some cases customers believed that if the broken yellow lines were not present they were allowed to park in the cycle lane.

In order to address this issue the Traffic Control Committee issued a directive in December 2014 advising that broken yellow lines should no longer be installed in cycle lanes. Existing broken yellow lines would be allowed to fade and would not be remarked. The purposes of this directive was to try to move the region towards a consistent approach that customers could easily understand.

The Traffic Control Committee consists of the Manager Road Corridor Access, Manager Parking and Enforcement, and Manager Road Corridor Operations. Authority for passing resolutions under bylaws was delegated by the Auckland Transport Board of Directors to the Traffic Control Committee at its meeting of 26 October 2010.

In my view this is group have been negligent and as a result created unsafe environments – ones that will do nothing to encourage more people to ride a bike. It also seems completely at odds with how we treat road safety elsewhere such as actively designing roads to reduce hazards. What’s it all for, saving a little bit on the cost of yellow paint?

Of course AT could always go out and actively enforce the no parking rules however we we’ve seen that is only likely to drivers feeling like they’re being victimised. It also has the potential to create animosity between locals and those on bikes.

Lastly who thinks those buffers would be the perfect place for a few flexi poles or perhaps

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project agreed

The Government and the Auckland Council have signed a Terms of Reference on a project to come up with an agreed long term transport plan for the region. It’s been given the imaginative name of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and will be worked on by officials from the Council, Auckland Transport, the NZTA, Treasury and the State Services Commission. There’s no firm time-frame for this to be completed with the Minister and Mayor just saying the work is expected to take about a year.

Here are the press releases from both Simon Bridges and Len Brown below with perhaps the most interesting quote being from Len calling out the time wasting that has gone on for so long with Auckland

“The signing marks a new dawn in our relationship with the government ending decades of disagreement and time wasting,”

The council and the government have been talking about getting alignment for some time and the cynical side of me suspects there’s some quite different motivations at play. Len wants an agreement however the government will be acutely aware that a year from now we’ll be right in the middle of a council election cycle. Transport is always much more of a local government issue and as such has played a massive part in Auckland since amalgamation in 2010 with it being recognised as one of the key reasons Len became Mayor. The threat of an imminent agreed strategy will probably be enough to take transport off the agenda – or at least reduce it significantly and allow the focus to go on issues such as rates. Any agreement itself would also likely hamstring any future council who may want to advocate for more visionary outcomes.

As with anything, when it comes to this alignment project the devil will be in the details. Helpfully the Terms of Reference have been published so we can at least see what has been agreed so far. There are some good things in the ToR but also a few things that concern me.

On the good side the project isn’t just about confirming either the government or council’s objectives – both of which we’ve criticised in the past. The ToR states project needs to assess alternative packages of transport interventions and recommend the preferred indicative package(s). The scope goes further saying that consideration needs to include issues such as changing travel demand. Hopefully that means those working on the project will not just look at growth but also changes in behaviour – like we’re seeing with many younger people deciding not to even get their drivers licences. One aspect that I think is missing is the

7 Project scope

7.1 The project will test options, seek alignment on, and make recommendations in relation to a strategic approach to the development of Auckland’s transport system over three ten-year bands from 2018.

7.2 The project will include consideration of:

i. likely long term changes in demand for travel

ii. all land transport interventions, including roads, rail, public transport, personal mobility services, walking, cycling, technology, network optimisation and demand management (including pricing for demand management purposes)

iii. alternative combinations of these interventions and their broad timing and scale

iv. costs and benefits

v. the nature, scale and timing of any funding gap for the recommended strategic approach and its alternatives.

I think that one possible package that they should test is this

CFN 2030 + Light Metro

One aspect that I think is missing is the scope is the consideration of the potential to shape demand. Travel demand is often seen as a fixed outcome i.e. we’ve got XX widgets to move and how can we do that. Shaping demand is effectively coming at the problem from the opposite angle, for example perhaps the best long term outcome from an operational perspective is to have a public transport and/or cycle mode-share to 15, 20%, 25%. 30% or even higher across the region. What projects would be needed to achieve that outcome – I gather it would be quite a different list to one that just responded to predicted demand.

The part of the ToR that concerns me the most are the objectives that have been listed. While access is mentioned in point 1, a lot of emphasis seems to be put on reducing traffic congestion rather than focusing on improving accessibility and efficiency of the transport system. For example it seems to suggest that public transport investment is only useful if it addresses congestion.

5 Objectives for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project

5.1 The Parties broadly agree that the focus of the project is to test whether better returns from transport investment can be achieved in the medium and long-term, particularly in relation to the following objectives:

i. to support economic growth and increased productivity by ensuring access to employment/labour improves [relative to current levels] as Auckland’s population grows

ii. to improve congestion results [relative to predicted results], in particular travel time and reliability, in the peak period and to ensure congestion does not become widespread during working hours

iii. to improve public transport’s mode share [relative to predicted results], where it will address congestion

iv. to ensure any increases in the financial costs of using the transport system deliver net benefits to users of the system.

Those issues aside, overall it seems that the agreement at least is pretty good and should hopefully enable both parties to finally agree on something to do with transport in Auckland.

One positive outcome not listed above that I’m hoping for is that it might finally get the government and some of the Wellington based bureaucrats to understand that perhaps they don’t know everything. For a long time Auckland has suffered from being treated like some small rural council that doesn’t know what it’s talking about compared to the government’s “experts”. There are a lot of people within those AC/AT who know what they’re doing – not just on issues of transport – and hopefully this alignment project will show them that.

Lastly the Ministry of Transport are hiring for a Project Director and Project Coordinator for the alignment project.

Photo of the Day: Urban Surgery 1970s Style.

Auckland Star April 1973. Back in the Dark Ages it was considered appropriate to near kill the patient in order to help them. In the 1970s Central government transport planners nearly succeeded in killing the Auckland City Centre through the subtle act of flattening its densest and most proximate dormitory suburbs, then cutting it off any still standing from the city, and turning city streets into motorway off ramps. The charm and glory of these multi-year campaigns are still with us today on the beautiful avenues of Hobson and Nelson Sts, the terrible road pattern and wasted landuse of Union and Cook St, and the blighted devalued areas of K Rd and Newton. And of course the violated and severing gullies themselves. The scale of this ‘surgery’ can be seen in this spread.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_01_800px

The accompanying text is fairly flat and informational.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_02_800px

It seems the desire for a Tabula Rasa, a blank slate, like those postwar planners had in Europe, was so great that we made our own ‘bombsite’.

Happily now we live in more enlightened times and the next city surgery of scale will be much more sophisticated, the City Rail link which as an incision compared to this earlier work is laparoscopic; minimal invasive surgery. No need to maim the patient. Once done no one will even see it, except for that high value resource of people flooding on to city streets not in a car looking for a parking space. And will supply at least as much capacity as the three motorways that meet at this point do today*.  So the CRL will double the accessibility to the nation’s most concentrated, biggest, and highest value employment centre, and fastest growing residential area, seamlessly. After the recovery from a few precise cuts, that is.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_03_800

*Show your work, as Peter always says:

CRL 24 trains per hour each way 750 per train [not crush load; that’s 1000] ~ 36k [crush 48k]

M’ways 12 lanes @2160 [1800 vehicles @1.2 occupants] per lane hour ~ 26k

Of course the buses on the Bridge land some 9000 souls currently too.