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Sunday reading 16 October 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading. One of the best things I’ve read in the last few weeks is a 2014 article about water in the New Zealand Geographic. Dave Hansford tells the story of New Zealand’s water problems: “Liquidation“. It’s a broad-ranging and troubling tour through a policy with some sizeable benefits:


Some sizeable costs:


And some vexing questions about the way that our society and economy works:


Read it in full.

Meanwhile, other interesting things are happening around the way we manage our natural environment. This one has slipped almost totally under the radar in New Zealand, so it took an Australian to highlight it for me. In the New Matilda, Thom Mitchell writes about how, “In New Zealand, the land can be a person. Meanwhile in Australia…

Something revolutionary happened quietly across the Tasman in 2014: A very special statute was passed, transforming the Te Urewera National Park into a unique entity with “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person”.

Now, that tract of more than 200,000 hectares of remote wilderness on New Zealand’s North Island has the capacity to go to court. With a little help from its Traditional Owners, the Tūhoe tribe, Te Urewera can defend itself from the damage that corporations – which have long had legal rights – are wont to inflict on it.

Stretching almost 300 kilometres, the Whanganui River winds its way through a remote valley, also on the North Island. If legislation conferring similar rights on the River to those that the Te Urewera already enjoy passes Parliament (as expected later this year), the Whanganui might one day wind up in court as a ‘legal person’, too.

What a difference a Treaty makes….

At its bare bones, the concept of ‘legal personhood’ was devised to break a stalemate over the notoriously sticky question of ownership. The government has a policy of not returning National Parks to Māori ownership, but the Tūhoe tribe had always demanded it do just that.

By granting ‘legal personhood’ to Te Urewera the land was placed above ownership.

As the country’s then Minister for Māori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples, observed at the time: “The Settlement is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world.”

In an age of environmental crises brought on by Western expansion, the Indigenous worldview reflected in the novel concept of ‘legal personhood’ may have arrived just in time to point the way down a regenerative path.

This relates to something that I’ve been thinking about lately: Land ownership is not, and has never been, a straightforward concept. There are almost always multiple parties with overlapping interests in the ownership and use of the land. This inevitably makes land use decisions messy and contentious.


Land use in a Russian village prior to forcible land reforms. Households did not have absolute rights to any individual plot but were allocated strips of land across multiple fields through a communal process. (Source: James C Scott, Seeing Like A State)

We have only been able to entertain the fantasy that land ownership is simple – one lot, one owner – on settler frontiers where large amounts of land have recently been violently alienated from previous inhabitants. And, as the Te Urewera and Whanganui River cases show, that fantasy cannot be maintained indefinitely – eventually, complex new forms of ownership and rights to land emerge to reflect social realities.

These complexities and ambiguities are especially apparent in cities, due to the large number of people interacting with each other. This is probably why some people advocate a continual flight from the city to the next suburb in a paddock where the romantic fantasy of simple frontier land ownership can be re-enacted.

Speaking of land use, two good pieces from the Pacific Northwest, where cities like Seattle and Portland are coping with growth pressures much better than San Francisco, but still coming under pressure.

In the Portland Monthly, Randy Gragg (great name!) asks: “Portland is growing like never before. What should we do next?” On the whole, a pretty pragmatic set of policies:

Right now, almost 60 buildings at least 100 feet tall are in the pipeline for Portland’s central city—including at least 15 destined to rise more than 200 feet. And those are the projects we know about. Among Portland’s architects and builders, there’s talk of more—many more. Then there are the 14,000-plus apartments that have sprouted since 2012, across every neighborhood. And the 1,700 new hotel rooms expected by the end of 2017. And the 11 new buildings the Goodman family aspires to grow on its downtown parking lots, five proposed at more than 400 feet tall. (For comparison, Big Pink stands just over 530 feet.)

Some call it a boom; others, another bubble soon to pop. But imagine, for a moment, that all the cranes swinging above the streets, all the new, bigger buildings rising where little old ones once stood, the moving vans arriving from across the nation—imagine that this is Portland’s new normal…

Meet six imperatives of Portland’s urban future.

1. Build more—lots more—especially family housing. Now-trendy ideas like demolition taxes, tiny houses, and even inclusionary zoning are just political hyperventilating when it comes to keeping Portland affordable. We need to take deeper breaths. We’ll need major subsidies (bonds, tax breaks, and waived fees). But most of all, we simply need to build more housing—so much that older buildings start to become affordable.

It does no good to knock down old 750- square-foot single-family houses to build 3,000-square-foot single-family houses. It does make sense to knock down some—maybe many—little houses to make way for new tri- or fourplexes. We also need more apartment buildings, located near existing water, sewer, and transit infrastructure. We already have models: look at areas like Northwest and King’s Hill, where single-family homes sit among multiplexes, row houses, and small apartment towers—most dating to the early 20th century—ironically, when we had more land and resources and fewer cars. Given the state of the planet, it’s time to loosen our zoning and cozy up again.

2. Quit complaining about how hard it is to drive. Fretting about parking in front of your house? You’re a GBB: grumpy baby boomer. Millennials increasingly don’t own cars. And as Portland’s street grid gets more packed, you won’t want to sit idle in one anyway. Portland was an early leader in biking and car-sharing and just started bike-sharing, finally. But for today’s transportation avant-garde—electric bikes and micro-cars, both shared—visit Madrid, Copenhagen, Mumbai, or San Francisco. Portland’s tiny blocks and streets are ready for matching transportation.

The other four suggestions are also pretty good.

Second, at the Sightline Institute’s blog, Dan Bertolet does some myth-busting about zoning and growth: “No, Seattle does not already have ‘plenty’ of land zoned for housing.” It’s a wonky but important point about how we measure what our city will deliver us:

Seattle’s 2014 evaluation estimated that the city has a zoning capacity for 224,000 new homes, on top of the existing 308,000. Official population projections for the year 2035 anticipate an extra 120,000 people, in addition to the 684,000 already residing in Seattle in 2015. These figures and simple arithmetic give anti-growth voices all the ammo they need to push back on proposals for upzones, that is, changes to zoning to allow more homes. It makes for a powerful talking point, conveniently glossing over the fact that zoned capacity is exceedingly difficult to estimate correctly and is employed by planners only as a crude yardstick.

In a minute, I’ll go over the ways error creeps in. But first, a more important point—in fact, the most important thing to know about zoned capacity: in every city, zoned capacity is a side show to the main event. The main event is housing prices.

Housing prices are the crux of the matter. They reveal if people have enough housing choices. If vacancy rates are low and rents and housing prices are rising, then a city needs more homes. Period. The city needs to remove zoning-code barriers to more housing, so that builders can construct more homes. Compared with the evidence of the actual housing market, zoned capacity is just fuzzy math.

Bertolet also has some sharp points about the location of zoned capacity. The areas that cities ‘upzone’ for new residential development are often in unpleasant locations – declining industrial parks, next to freeways, or far away from parks and coastlines. While some disamenities can be mitigated or fixed, perhaps it’s better to start by asking where people would enjoy being, and zone accordingly.

On a completely different note, here are three articles about climate change, technology, and urban design. First, as the oceans warm up, prepare to be awash in jellyfish during the summer trips to the beach. Eleanor Aigne Roy reports (in the Guardian) on New Zealand’s impending epidemic:

Thousands of kilometres of New Zealand coastline have been invaded by giant jellyfish, a phenomenon that has been linked to warmer sea temperatures.

In the last month mass jellyfish landings have been reported on beaches from Nelson in the south island to Whangarei in the top of the north island…

Gershwin said multiple factors could have contributed to a population explosion this season, but likely contenders included warming sea waters providing fertile breeding grounds, nutrient rich seas and a lack of natural predators for the juvenile jellyfish due to over-fishing.

“Increased risk of jellyfish” is among my top 10 reasons to do more to halt climate change.

Fortunately, there are some tentative reasons for optimism. As Daniel Wood at shows, US uptake of new renewable technologies has been faster than expected, and costs are coming down rapidly:


While the first large wind farms were installed 35 years ago, wind power really began to surge around the year 2000, when wind costs dipped into the cost-competitive range of 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour (¢/kWh). Since then, wind installations have grown substantially, and now we have nearly 74 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity.

So what does this mean? It means that wind is poised to overtake hydroelectric power as America’s number one source of renewable energy. Wind power accounts for nearly 5 percent of total U.S. electric generation and reduces annual carbon dioxide emissions by 132 million metric tons, all while supporting nearly 90,000 U.S. jobs. This is exciting stuff, and it’s only going to get better. As wind turbines get taller, more affordable and more efficient, the Energy Department predicts that an additional 700,000 square miles of land will be suitable for wind development. That’s more than twice the size of Texas.


Here’s one more chart that sums up just how far prices have fallen for each of these five technologies.


The cost of each of these technologies has dropped between 41 percent and 94 percent since 2008.

What’s remarkable is not just the speed at which these technologies have become cost-competitive, but also how quickly they have been adopted across the country.

The other good bit of news is that we can make substantial improvements just by doing things differently with existing technology. The examples are obvious in transport (enable more use of bikes, more walking, more use of buses, trains, and ferries), but simple design decisions can also make a big difference. Mona Quinn (Houzz) discusses how “white is the new black in eco-friendly roofs“:

For centuries, white or light-coloured roofs have been cooling buildings in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Traditional Mediterranean buildings were made of volcanic stone and, before paint was so easily accessible, they were whitewashed to help deflect heat from the dark stones.Eclectic Exterior by Carolyn ChadwickCarolyn Chadwick

This process gives us the wonderful scenes we see of places such as the Greek Islands, but also helps explain why it’s more than just relaxed holiday vibes that help us feel cooler…

Six years ago, Ian Montanjees, who has degrees in engineering and architecture, and has worked in physics and as a hands-on builder, had a big goal – to make a positive contribution towards reducing global warming. He launched the New Zealand White Roofs Project to share the worldwide movement locally, backed by a depth of science.

He found that the majority of commercial buildings built in the last 20 years in Auckland have white or off-white roofs, including the airport, major shopping centres and warehouses.

While Montanjees unfortunately didn’t get funding to keep the organisation running full-time, his goal is to see the white-roof trend spread to houses. His calculations conclude that 100 square metres of flat white roof cancels the global warming of roughly 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions, so if one third of New Zealand roofs were white, then that would equate to taking up to 70,000 cars off the road for the 20-year lifetime of the paint.

Final article of the week: Mark Vink, a researcher at the New Zealand Treasury, has taken a look at savings patterns of young and old people today and yesterday. His findings roundly contradict condescending stereotypes of feckless, consumption-obsessed young people:

Each line in the chart shows the average saving rate of a generation of New Zealand households at different ages. For example, the chart shows that households with a household head born between 1960 and 1969 saved at average rates of around 5 per cent during their twenties.[1]

10-year-birth cohort average saving rates by age of household head
10-year-birth cohort average saving rates by age of household head.

The chart shows that younger New Zealand households do indeed generally have lower saving rates than middle-aged and older households, consistent with the common perception. This pattern is also consistent with the predictions of economic theory, based on the idea that people like to “smooth” their expenditure on consumption over their lifetime. In other words, it makes sense for a person to save less (or borrow) when their income is low as a young person, and to save more (and/or pay off debts) when they start to earn more later in life. The chart also shows that saving rates fall for older households. This, again, is consistent with what one would expect as older people work less and draw down on their savings.

A surprising feature of the data is that the saving rates of younger generations appear to be generally higher than those of the generations preceding them. To check this result I used a variety of econometric techniques, and all suggested that this pattern is robust. Contrary to popular opinion, successive generations of households appear to be saving at significantly higher rates than earlier generations did at the same age. One plausible explanation for this rise in saving rates, supported by other related research, is that it reflects the precautionary response of younger generations to an economic environment with higher unemployment and less generous public welfare than faced by their parents.

Add this to my list of reasons we should urgently try to raise voter turnout among young people: We seem to be substantially more financially prudent than previous generations. So if you care about fiscal responsibility, encourage a young person to vote.

See you next time!

North Shore Councillors Decided

The final tally is in, and the Mayor along with all the Councillors for the 3rd Supercity Council are now known, most were confirmed on Saturday, however the race for the second ward position for the North Shore went down to special votes, as Richard Hills was only 70 votes ahead at the time.

The final result for the two Councillor positions for the North Shore was

1.     Chris Darby  19396 Votes

2.     Richard Hills 12651 Votes

Grant Gillion who was 70 odd votes behind at the Preliminary count finished on 12523 votes, Richard Hills increased his margin after special voting was counted to 128 votes.

Richard Hills should be a good addition to the Council from a Transport perspective, he campaigned on in his words “Better public transport, cheaper fares, more walking and cycling initiatives including Skypath and secure Rail to the Shore,”

He scored an A+ on Generation Zero’s Scorecard & has served two terms on Kaipatiki Local Board. Along with Darby it looks like the North Shore have voted 2 very PT focused candidates with both advocating for Cycling, as well as Rail for the Shore.

As far as I am aware he ran a positive campaign, and like Chloe used Social Media to very good effect.

The Final Council make is now as follows with the final votes, Bill Cashmore is N/A as he was elected unopposed.

(Note ignore text below title, these are the final not provisional results)

Confirmed Results

The final turnout was 38.5% after special votes had been counted, and 18000 votes were made on the Saturday.

Submit on inner west cycle consultation

Auckland’s about to take a few significant new steps towards being a more cycle-friendly city. We’ve gotten the go-ahead for some major off-road cycleways, like Grafton Gully, Pinkpath, the Glen Innes to Tamaki cycleway, and (pending Environment Court appeals) Skypath. Investments to date are paying off nicely, with big jumps in cycle trips along the routes that have seen the biggest improvements in connectivity.


But the next steps for the city’s nascent cycling network are, in many senses, more important. In order to get the best use out of existing cycle routes, we need to connect them to things. This means making cycle improvements on local and arterial streets to make them safer and more comfortable for people on bikes.

Auckland Transport is currently running two consultations on cycle facility improvements in the inner west. Our friends at Bike Auckland have the details.

The first consultation is on cycle improvements in Grey Lynn, Arch Hill, and Westmere. This includes the potential for separated cycle lanes on a significant chunk of Great North Road. This consultation has now been extended to 21 October, so you’ve got a week to put in your views.

Here’s a run-down of the routes that they’re looking at:


Bike Auckland has a more in-depth run-down of the details that I’d recommend reading before submitting. Here’s their summary of the Great North Rd changes:

Route 4: Great North Road

This changes everything, as you can see from the project page and the detailed plans! As well as the installation of protected bike lanes, there’s a big bus-stop shuffle, improvements for pedestrians, and safer intersections.

Of particular interest to the bike community:

  • 1.5m-wide cycle lane, on-road for nearly the entire length of the route, on both sides of the road, inside the bus lane – separated from the bus lane by a 0.5m physical or painted buffer.

  • Due to lack of space on the road, a small section of raised off-road cycle path on the existing concrete berm (past the library) heading towards Grey Lynn shops, between Coleridge Street and Crummer Road.

  • Narrowing of the central median to 1.7-2.2m along the length of the route.

Bike Auckland member Max has  also written a more in-depth guide to the design issues, concluding with some key recommendations:

  1. Please ensure the cycle lane is physically separated – with a solid, durable divider!

  2. We like the bus stop cycle bypasses – please provide as many as you can, and as much space for them as possible.

  3. At intersections, please provide hook turns for safe right turns – we want this everyday movement to be stress-free.

Down the road slightly, there’s a lower-profile but nonetheless important consultation going on for the redesign of the Great North Rd / Bullock Track intersection. Bike Auckland has the details and the contact form for submissions. Submissions are open until 17 October – so get them done this weekend if you want to be heard:

…at some point – like when an intersection is officially listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Intersections in New Zealand” and “Third worst in Auckland” – you have to hope that something will finally get done.

That’s the case for the intersection of Great North Road / Bullock Track, west of Grey Lynn, which has a very long rap sheet: over fifty known crashes (including one fatality) over the last 10 years, among them one of our own close associates, who had a potentially very bad (but ultimately “lucky”) crash with an inattentive driver last year.

[…] Now, at last, Auckland Transport is proposing to provide traffic signals at this intersection to increase safety for all road users, which will also help cyclists.

Public feedback is invited until 17 October 2016.

Bike Auckland reviews the details of the project, and offers a verdict:

What’s good about it…

  • The intersection is signalised, making it less likely for that Bullock Track driver focussed entirely on getting to the other side to suddenly shoot out and ram you as you pass through on your bike, as in the case of our friend who got hit here.
  • A new pedestrian crossing over Great North Road replaces an old pedestrian refuge that obliged you to dash over multiple lanes. Better crossing options are good for a multi-modal city.
  • A longer section of bus lane into town for those taking public transport (which also functions as a small improvement for very confident on-road riders).
  • New zebra crossings around the motorway interchange to make those drivers pay more attention to pedestrians.

And what’s not so good…

  • No cycle facilities. A brand new traffic signal, just a wee ride away from the growing western cycleway network that is coming for Surrey Crescent and GNR (east of Grey Lynn into town). But no facilities for those riders, no protected lanes. And no connections westward, either – even though AT was going to look into this section after the Pohutukawa 6 were saved, and the design of GNR through the St Lukes Interchange was ‘to be rethought’, including improvements for people on bikes.

  • Those shared paths don’t count. Sorry, but they’re really just signs on a wide footpath (which is crowded with pedestrians when events are on). And the paths don’t lead anywhere, because directly west and east of these sections, it isn’t even legal to ride on the footpath. Sure, some people currently do – for example to get to MOTAT, Western Springs Park, or the Stadium, and the Northwestern Cycleway (and there’s a fair amount of school-age bike traffic to be spotted on the footpath morning and afternoon, an expression of how unfriendly the road space is for anyone other than very confident cyclists). But the fact that some 150m of this informal ‘heavy traffic avoidance route’ will now be legal doesn’t really change much.

  • Riding in the new eastbound bus lane may be better than having to claim a general lane, or riding in a narrower painted cycle lane between two lines of cars. But you’ll still have traffic to the left of you (turning into Bullock Track) and to the right of you (heading eastward on GNR) and of course, buses fore and aft. Rider beware. Would it be a better idea to allow cyclists to continue straight from the left turn lane, instead of making them use the bus lane? (NB this would only work if the footpath wasn’t built out on the northeast corner, so that riders could merge more gradually back into the bus lane once past the Bullock Track).

  • Some aspects of the new signal worry us a bit. Will we have motorists doing (illegal) right turns here? For example, will everyone who currently turns right out of Tuarangi obediently take the back way up the hill instead, to join GNR at the town centre? Or will some continue to risk turning right here, as is their habit? And consider the right turn into Tuarangi – it will still be allowed, but there is no dedicated right turn lane. Will people driving towards town suddenly swerve into the bus lane (where on-road cyclists will be) instead of waiting behind right turners? To be fair, we are bringing up some likely quite rare possibilities here – whereas right now, every single driver coming out of Bullock Track at peak hour is a potential hazard. But at minimum, AT will have to closely check whether such risky behaviour will happen.

  • Two of the three new zebra crossings around the interchange have no raised tables. How can people be sure that drivers off and onto a fast motorway will slow down and give way? Sadly, NZTA is very, very resistant to having raised tables on such lanes at their interchanges.

If you’re a regular (or aspiring) user of the cycle network in the inner west, I’d strongly encourage you to read up on the proposals and put in a submission!

The Victoria St Linear Park: Why it is vital, but not really a park.

This is one of a series of posts I intend to do about about the city streetscape we ought to be able to expect as a result of the CRL rebuild.

This one will describe the Council’s plans for inner western Victoria St, around the CRL portals, because it seems they are not well understood, especially by some at Auckland Transport, based on the recent release of a proposed design from the CRL team that appears to completely ignore the agreed streets level outcomes. In further posts I will:

  • Consider this problem; transport professionals dismissing place quality outcomes as frivolous or unnecessary, or as a threat to their authority, as a professional culture issue.
  • Have a close look at some of the bus routes through the City Centre, as these are often highly contested by multiple parties, and have a huge bearing on road space requirements



Last week Councillor Darby sent me a whole stack of work done by the Council on the Linear Park, I will reproduce some of this here, but I urge everyone interested to follow the links below; there’s a huge amount of multilayered work showing how the proposal was arrived at and just how important it is:

  1. The Green Link
  2. Aotea Station Public Realm

The first point I would like to make is that I am talking here about the finished outcomes not the interim ones that need to accommodate work-rounds of the street disruption caused by the construction of the CRL. This is about the early 2020s; what is best for when the CRL is open and running, when the new buildings going up, and about to go up, in the city are occupied, and the pedestrian demands are many times greater than currently. It may seem a long way off, but contracts are being agreed now, and if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves locked into poor outcomes that will prove expense to fix. And, remember, this is dividend time; when the city starts to reap the reward of all the expense and disruption of building the CRL itself. This is an important part of why we are doing it: to substantially upgrade and improve every aspect and performance of the whole city as possible, including its heart. Transport infrastructure is a means to an end; not an end in it self.

Second is to suggest that it has been perhaps a little unhelpful that Council called this reclamation of city street a ‘Park’. I can see why they have, this is a repurposing of space from vehicle use to people use, and it does offer the opportunity for new high quality design elements, which is similar to what happens in a park. But I think this undersells the full complexity of what is happening here. There is a great deal of functionality and hard rationality in this scheme, as well as the promise of beauty and the city uplifted.

The place to start is the CEWT study [City East West Transport Study]. This set a very rational and ordered taxonomy of the Centre City east west streets, concluding that Victoria St’s priority will need to shift to a strong pedestrian bias, be the only crosstown cycle route between K Rd and Quay St, and enable a reduced but still efficient general traffic load:

CEWT Preferred Option

Note that east west bus movements are kept to Wellesley and Customs Sts. This greatly helps Victoria St’s space location as shown below. It is becoming clear that AT now want to return buses here. I believe this is a very poor idea, and will unpack why in a following post. So many poor place and pedestrian outcomes follow directly from trying to get both buses and general traffic trough inner Victoria St, and it is still a very hard street to try to shove buses through in terms of their own functionality, and that of the other general traffic. As well as leading to the total deletion of the only Centre City east/west cycle route. Here is how it was shown in CEWT:

CEWT Victoria St

Now turning to the newer iteration from the docs linked to above. The key issue is that the sections of the ‘Park’ around the station entrances on Victoria are focussed on pedestrian capacity rather than place amenity:


Not a park as in a verdant garden, but largely hard paving for efficient and high capacity pedestrian movement under an elevated tree canopy. Very much an urban condition tailored to met the massively increased pedestrian numbers that we know will be here. Particularly from the CRL itself, but also from the rapid growth and intensification of the whole city centre as it builds up around them, and of course the considerable bus volumes on Albert and Bus or LRT on Queen St. At the core this is simply classical ‘predict and provide’ that surely even most unreconstructed and obdurate of engineers can understand. Meeting projected pedestrian demand; not just an aesthetic upgrade, though why we wouldn’t do that while we’re at it, I can’t imagine.


Because this station sits directly below the greatest concentration of employment in the whole country, as well the biggest educational centre, retail precinct, hotel location, and the nation’s fastest growing residential population, we can expect these entrances to immediately be very busy. The plan on opening is for there to be 18 trains an hour each way through this station all with up 750 people [or even 1000 when really packed] alighting and another load boarding, all milling a round; waiting or rushing. And mixing on the streets with all the other people not even using the system. This will make for a very busy place. Their will be thousands of people walking around here at the peaks. Many more than those  that use the entire Hobson/Nelson couplet in their cars over the same period. This will need space. Furthermore urban rail systems are very long term investments, what may be adequate for the first few years of the CRL is unlikely to sufficient for the years ahead, let alone decades. There is a clear need for the space for this human traffic to be generous to begin with, to err on the side of spare capacity. This really is no moment to design for the short term, once built that tunnel isn’t moving.





So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:



In particular the pedestrian traffic heading north, ie crossing Victoria St looks underrepresented. There will be no entrance to the station on the north side of Victoria street. Everyone heading that way has to come out of one of the east/west exists and crossover at street level. The document above does at least point out the pinch points between the exits and buildings on Victoria. And it is these that AT must be planning on squeezing further to get four traffic lanes back into Victoria St. One lane comes from deleting the cyclists, and the other must be from squeezing pedestrians passing the stations entrances. Just don’t AT; therein lies madness, very expensive to move a station entrance once built. And frankly a 5m width here between hard building edges is already tight and mean. Somewhere in AT the old habits of not really expecting people to turn up and low use of the very thing the agency is building seem to have crept back up to dominate thinking, and all for what? Vehicle traffic priority. The most spatially inefficient use of valuable street space in the very heart of our transforming city.

The extra wide pedestrian space that the Linear Park provides doesn’t just have value immediately around the station portals. Stretching up to Albert Park and the University beyond to the east and up on the flat plateau of western Victoria St offering a good pedestrian route to the new offices and dwellings on Victoria St West and Wynyard Quarter beyond. But as the distance increases from the big sources of pedestrians then the condition of the amenity can become more place focussed and more planting and ‘lingering’ amenity can be added, yet it will still need to primarily serve these Active Mode movement functions well:


And it is important to acknowledge this is a ‘substantial change’ from present condition. The Council recognise, and it is impossible to disagree, that there is nothing to be gained by trying sustain the status quo here. The CRL is brings huge change to the city and  how it is used and this needs to be reflected in very nature of our streets as well as in our travel habits:




The Centre City Cycle Network is hopelessly incomplete without some way to access both the Queen St valley and Victoria Park from the Nelson St Cycleway. And if not on Victoria then where? Not with all the buses and bus stops on Wellesley St.

And lastly, other than the never fully successful Aotea Square there has been no new public realm in the City Centre since the Victorians set out Albert, Victoria, and Myers parks. There are now many more people living, working, and playing in the city than ever before, and other than repurposing, or burying, motorways, or demolishing buildings, the streets are the only chance to provide quality space for everyone. This is so much more valuable than slavishly following last century’s subjugation to motor vehicle domination. We know better than this now. Vehicles will fit into whatever space we provide and people will flood the rest. And the later is the more valuable street-use for a thriving, more inclusive, and competitive, and sustainable urban centre to lead the nation this century.




A Visit to Portland

This is a guest post by our most august regular reader Warren Sanderson.

Over many years I have developed a dislike for what the concentration of motorway/roading only expenditure is doing to our cities and particularly Auckland. This heavy concentration on roading expenditure with ever widening multi-lane roads is promoting unsustainable car dominance and frequent severance of neighbourhoods from parts previously closely aligned. In other words, it is not doing much for “quality of place”.

I have been reading Transport Blog regularly for some years now because of my interest in architecture and city design and why some cities have so much more appeal as places to visit and live in than other cities.

And over the years Portland is frequently mentioned and photographed in Transport Blog as one of those desirable urban places for living.

So seeing that Portland was the only North American west coast city of any significance that I hadn’t visited, it was time for my wife and me to go.

But first I have to confess to recently attaining 80 years of age. I didn’t aspire to reach this age – it just crept up on me. And going forward there can’t be many advantages in reaching 80 but the reason I mention it is twofold:

When entering the U.S. this time they did not want to fingerprint me or make me take off my belt and shoes when going through security. The terrorist potential of 80 plus’ers must be considered low. My ‘young’ wife however, who in any event would cause far less trouble than me, got the full treatment.

The second advantage, although one only needed to be 65 for this, was one of nomenclature. We were not merely ‘pensioners’, not even ‘senior citizens’ but were ‘Honoured Citizens’ (Generation Zero take note!) and as such were entitled to half cost of the already modest cost of public transit on the TRI-MET System.

Upon arrival the volunteer information staff at Portland Airport quickly provided us with a ‘Journey Plan’ to the Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland. Other volunteer staff watched over our ticket machine purchase and another directed us to a substitute bus – all so friendly.   Because the light rail line was undergoing maintenance a free shuttle bus took us to Kenton N Denver where we transferred  to light rail for the remainder of the journey.

And wow!  The cost for each of us was $ US 1.25.  Unhonoured citizens pay double. If you choose to go by taxi I am told the cost is $ US 39 – 40.

On this basis, Auckland Airport, New Zealand Government policy, NZTA and AT together, have enormous scope/margin for improvement and it is fair to say that the travelling consumer with the lack of alternatives in Auckland, is being totally ripped–off, both financially and by insipid policy.


Our hotel was the Benson Hotel.  It was well located on the corner of SW Oak and Broadway. I am not sure when it was built but it is impressively Edwardian in character and especially in the lobby area.

From the picture you can see that a considerable portion of the façade is red brick and visually set on a solid base. It was designed to impress which is nothing less than you would expect from Simon Benson, the original owner.

The Benson name crops up frequently in Portland. Benson made a fortune in the timber trade and then moved on to other ventures, activities and also to philanthropy.  He gifted land including impressive waterfalls for state parks along the Colombia River Gorge. In Portland itself, he donated the ‘Benson Bubblers’ (a complete water system) that you can see on so many street corners. See picture below –


Portland’s street pattern is mainly organised on a grid system. Because each block is of fairly small dimension the city is reasonably pedestrian friendly. Most crossings do not have a beg button but don’t let your attention stray as there is no pedestrian buzzer. As a pedestrian you need to keep watch or you will miss your turn.

With some notable exceptions the buildings are not usually more than 5 or 6 storeys in height. Many are pared back Louis Sullivan Chicago Style which I find aesthetically pleasing – c.f. our General Building on the corner of Shortland and O’Connell Streets.

And yes, in Portland there are many buildings both older and more recent that are faced in brick. Portland has a high winter rainfall just like Auckland and brick certainly evokes the feeling of shelter and warmth far better than ever grey concrete can do.  See pictures below –

On my return to Auckland I am pleased to note that Ockham’s new Bernoulli Gardens apartment development at Hobsonville Point will offer a European brick façade with some white relief and contemporary detailing. I hope this is a trend and that architects and builders stop trying to con us all, that we are part of the Mediterranean.

Let us return to the reason for visiting Portland – that is to use and explore their light train transit system.

Well wow!  It is so easy to use – even for strangers. We walked three short blocks up to Pioneer Courthouse Square and purchased a number of HR (remember Honoured Citizen) Day Pass tickets at $ US 2.50 each. They need to be validated before use, at the little machine at the train stop. In the centre of Portland itself the trains run each way a street apart but with the aid of the TRI-MET System Map you soon get used to it.

For our first trip we took the Beaverton train westwards which soon enters a long rail only tunnel under the Washington Park hills before arriving at the Beaverton Transit Centre. We then took the Hillsboro train which comes on the same route but continues much further out to Hillsboro where Saturday Market was in full swing.

The light rail train goes fairly slowly on its tram style rails in the city but goes much faster on its railway style rails once it is on its own dedicated way a little further out.

On another occasion we went south crossing over the Willamette River on the much noted Tilikum Pedestrian and Rail only Bridge to Milwaukie.

On our final day we returned to the airport, initially part way by bus because of the maintenance and the rest of the way by light train from the Gateway Transit Centre – again the cost was $ US 1.25 each.

TRI-MET advertise that 45% of commuters and 45% of students use Transit every day and I understand that in Portland 6% of commuters bike to work each day compared with  .5% of commuters in the U.S. nationally.

Not everything in Portland is perfect however.  On the eastern side of the Willamette River there is a plethora of freeways flanking the river. You only have to go to the 30th floor of the U.S. Bankcorp Building to obtain a great view of the city and of these motorways including entries and exits snaking and weaving on the far river bank. Many are elevated like our motorways in the sky at Auckland’s Waterview and frankly all are rather ugly.


And then there is the question of stigma – the belief among some that only lower status people use transit.  For example, when checking in for our departure at the airport, I commented that we had used Portland’s excellent public transit system to reach the airport and the attractive airline girl replied “Yes, it is very cheap but you get some funny fellow travellers”.

I thought about this comment afterwards and to a very limited extent had to agree with it on that particular route. In the other direction to Beaverton and Hillsboro all passengers had seemed ‘very normal’ so I guess in large measure, passengers are reflective of areas transit serves. Furthermore the latter route goes through a long tunnel because of the natural barrier of the Washington Park hills which may make driving at peak over more winding roads a less attractive alternative, thereby upping the patronage.

Maybe too, the overcoming of the significant natural barrier of the Washington Park hills, would in turn, appear to be an indicator of success for light rail from the new Aotea Station under Auckland Harbour to the populous North Shore.

So bring it on.

I can’t wait !!

Why we blog

As delegates were leaving the American Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”. Franklin replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

He meant that, while the delegates had recommended a set of principles for government, it was up to average citizens to make them work in practice. That meant – and still means – having citizens who are informed and active in public debates over what and how we should proceed as a society, rather than citizens who will passively accept being ruled.

I believe in representative democracy. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s better than the alternatives. This model of government is most compatible with long-run social and economic prosperity, and with an expansion of human freedom and capabilities.

But hard work is needed to maintain and improve it. It’s not enough to just have the option to vote every three years. During and between elections, it’s vital to carry on an informed public conversation on policy issues. It doesn’t matter if it’s happening on the radio and in the newspaper, in church halls and cafes and public meetings, or in blogs written by unpaid volunteers. But it needs to happen.

I stress the words “informed” and “public”. It is important for the debate to be informed by facts and evidence, because they are essential for grounding conversations between different points of view. People with different values and principles can have an intelligent conversation if they are able to build on a common set of facts. For instance, when people who care mainly about predictable driving times talk to people who care mainly about safe cycling facilities, it would be useful to know what the research says about the impact of cycle lanes on driving speeds.

It is equally important for the discussion to be happening in public, where citizens in general can engage with it and respond to it. Discussions between politicians and lobbyists in smoky back rooms do not usually lead to awesome outcomes. This doesn’t mean that every conversation has to be publicly disclosed, but it does mean that part of the conversation has to be open to the public.

Having an informed public conversation about policy means that:

  • Citizens get a better understanding of policy issues and trade-offs, and vote in a more informed way
  • Politicians and policymakers face public checks and balances – if they come up with silly ideas, others will be there to point out their silliness
  • New ideas can enter the public debate from a more diverse range of sources, meaning that policymakers don’t accidentally exclude a good idea.

A key part of an informed public conversation is having people who are passionate and knowledgeable about an issue who will discuss that issue in public, rather than behind closed doors. Sometimes these people are outsiders to the field who have gotten interested in it and educated themselves. For instance, Transportblog editors Matt and Patrick have never worked in transport or urban planning. Matt works for a financial services company, while Patrick runs his own photography business.

But often, the people who help foster the public conversation work in the field, in business, academia, or (more rarely) government. Jarrett Walker of HumanTransit fame is an excellent example of a professional who contributes to the public conversation about his profession. While working as a public transport planning consultant, he also writes a regular blog about the principles of network design. (Disclosure: I also work in the same field, and Jarrett partners with the company I work for for projects in Australia and New Zealand.)

It isn’t necessarily easy to speak or write publicly about the field you work in. While there are social benefits to fostering a more informed public conversation, there are personal and professional risks. This is especially true in New Zealand, due to the small size of the place. It’s definitely possible to do yourself out of a job by taking the ‘wrong’ position on a controversial issue – in most fields, there just aren’t that many people hiring.

That’s a risk that can be managed, if not fully mitigated. This doesn’t mean taking a ‘party line’ and publicly advocating for the positions of employers or clients. In a democratic society, everybody is entitled to hold and express personal views. But it does mean strictly maintaining client confidentiality, and, from time to time, staying silent on an issue that you’ve worked closely on, or discussing it in a general sense rather than delving into the details of a specific proposal.

But in spite of the risks, I’ve been enthusiastic about writing for Transportblog (unpaid!) because I see it as a useful contribution to a more informed public debate about major issues like transport policy, housing policy, and the overall shape of our built environment – which is to say, the shape of our society. It’s my small contribution to making representative democracy work better.

Transportblog undoubtedly has an editorial voice that is shaped in different ways by all of the regular authors, who volunteer their own time to run the blog, as well as by interactions with commenters. Like all humans, we have our own values and viewpoints, and we express them in what we write. But my hope is that we manage to ground ourselves in the evidence, and to build our posts around facts rather than unsubstantiated reckons.

Other people with different values or viewpoints may look at the same evidence and come to a different conclusion about what should be done. Hopefully the work done by Transportblog will make people more aware of the common evidence base underpinning the debate, and help identify some of the big issues facing Auckland and other cities in New Zealand.

Is this where the conversation ends? No – certainly not! With luck, it’s just the beginning. I’d like to see a broader and more diverse conversation about public policy in New Zealand – not just in transport and urban policy, but across the board. I’d like to see more people grappling with important issues in public, rather than just talking about the weather.

The thing is: It won’t happen by itself. Participating in a public conversation takes time and effort. You have to inform yourself of the issues, and learn to debate others in a respectful fashion. If you’re talking about an issue that you work on, it can leave you feeling exposed to professional risks.

So if we want a good, well-informed public conversation about policy, we need to make it easier, not harder, to speak in public. I’d encourage everyone to think carefully about how to foster the debate:

  • Employers should ask whether their media policies (both social and conventional) enable employees to make public contributions. It’s certainly vital to maintain client confidentiality and avoid prejudicing your work. However, I would argue that many employers are too conservative and hence unintentionally stifle the debate.
  • Universities and schools should encourage their staff to engage more with public policy issues. These organisations are (in principle at least) more removed from commercial and political imperatives. There are some great examples of publicly-engaged academics and teachers in NZ – Thomas Lumley (StatsChat), Michelle Dickinson (NanoGirl), and secondary school teacher and occasional NZ Herald columnist Peter Lyons come to mind – but they’re in the minority.
  • Everyday New Zealanders should think about speaking up on issues you care about – and, equally importantly, informing yourself about those issues. But if you disagree with someone else’s view, don’t take that as a license to smear them or tear them down personally. Ad hominem attacks destroy quality conversations. Instead, try to understand how their values may differ from yours, and, if you think they’re simply wrong on the facts, engage with the evidence and debate the issue honestly.

And finally, Transportblog is always open to considering guest posts, so contact us if you’ve got ideas you’d like to share.

Could Morningside Drive Level Crossing be Closed?

Morningside Level Crossing Incident

Morningside Level Crossing Incident

After another unfortunate incident at Morningside Level Crossing, once again questions have been asked of our level crossings. Morningside Level Crossing alongside Walters Rd in Takanini have achieved a sense of infamy over the years, some incidents have been covered below in the media, and as anyone who with any HSEQ background will know for each Incident there will be countless more Near Misses.

This post will look into the feasibility of closing Morningside Level Crossing to traffic, however still creating grade separated access for pedestrians/cyclists to the station on each side of Morningside Drive, understanding in tight budgetary circumstances that fully grade separating the crossing for all modes may not be feasible.

The area in question is below

Morningside Crossing Area

Morningside Crossing Area

Removal of the Level Crossing to traffic would hinder three major groups, each which could be mitigated

  1. Users trying to access St Luke’s Mall via Car.
  2. Bus Users for routes 220, 221, 222, 223, & 224 some who may use the service for access to St Luke’s Mall.
  3. Residents who use Morningside Drive Level Crossing to Access New North Road.


Users trying to access St Luke’s Mall via Car

The closure of Morningside Drive may not adversely effect these users, at current St Luke’s is also accessible by two parallel major arterial routes, St Luke’s Mall via St Luke’s Road & New North Road, as well as St Luke’s Mall via St Luke’s Road & Sandringham Road.


Bus Users for routes 220, 221, 222, 223, & 224 some who may use the service for access to St Lukes Mall

Under the New Network these routes have been simplified into 1 the 22, this service could easily diverted down New North Road which is better placed to have Bus Lanes due to its 2 Lane-Flush Median-2 Lane layout & according to AT documents have planned Bus Lanes as part of the Central New Network.

New Network Central - Bus Lanes

New Network Central – Bus Lanes

The users wanting to access St Lukes Mall will at glance lose out from doing this of course, however would they? The New Network suggests not, under the New Network 22 users have the ability to transfer onto 1 of 3 Services heading to/past St Luke’s Shopping Centre, these are the Outer Link, 202, & Crosstown 6. Both Peak & Off Peak these services have the aggregate of 10BPH each way, therefore someone transferring at New North Road from a 22 service would have a wait maximum of 6m, or on average around 3m for a transfer, with Simpler Fares now in place transfers no financial penalty exists.

Also in the New Network, the old 233 which is now the 24 no longer goes past St Lukes Mall at all. So in conclusion Bus Users wanting to get to St Luke’s Mall may not be worse off  due to more likely Bus Lanes speeding up travel times as well as not being subject to delays at the level crossing which will only worsen when the CRL is completed and train frequencies increase further. Users of the 22 not intending to go to St Luke’s Mall will also benefit greatly due to not having to divert via St Luke’s.

St Lukes New Network

St Lukes New Network

Residents who use Morningside Drive Level Crossing to Access New North Road

These residents may also not be to impacted due to being able to access New North Road via Sainsbury, or having 4 local routes to access Sandringham Road as can be seen by the map of the area above.

So in final conclusion, it would be feasible to close one of Auckland’s most infamous crossings to traffic due to other options existing, as well as the New Network having sufficient services to transfer to if the 22 was changed to follow North New Road instead of Morningside Drive.

What do you think?

CRL and the opportunity to fix city streets

From the significant disruption of building the City Rail Link we get two huge benefits. First and foremost, we get a tunnel that transforms our rail network and allow significantly more people to travel around the region free of congestion. But for many of our city streets, it also delivers us blank slate from which we can deliver on the visions that have already been created for the future of the city. It is an opportunity too important to waste. And yet as we highlighted last week, Auckland Transport seem determined to waste that opportunity with their awful plans Albert St and the roads that cross it.

At their heart, AT’s plans once again show that many transport engineers and institutions seem to desperately cling to the belief that their role is to find ways of accommodating a set (and growing) level of traffic demand. In doing so they often fail to recognise that drivers respond to road network provided to them.

Adding traffic lanes and supersizing intersections is almost always a vain attempt to ‘solve congestion’. But any relief is normally only short lived because traffic tends to act like a gas, expanding to fill any space made available to it. Conversely it has now been seen time and time again that removing capacity from the road network results in traffic melting away as drivers respond to the changes.

Some of the most famous examples worldwide have been the removal of an elevated highway and restoration of the stream under it in Cheonggyecheon, Seoul, the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after it collapsed in the Loma Preita earthquake and recently Paris has permanently closed off a section of road along a bank of the Seine. These have actually resulted in net reductions in vehicle numbers as drivers find alternative routes or change how and when they travel.

Back here in Auckland we now have our own real life experiment underway right now thanks to the works to construct the CRL. Parts of Albert, Customs, Victoria, Wellesley and Wyndham Streets are currently shadows of their former selves having been narrowed down for works, in some cases significantly. An example of this is highlighted well by the image from my post the other day on the construction progress of the City Rail Link looking at the Albert/Customs/Fanshawe intersection. As you can see:

  • Albert St south of the intersection has been narrowed down to just one lane southbound with the other five lanes closed off for construction works.
  • Albert St north of the intersection only allows for vehicles to travel northbound. The southbound lanes are closed due to the proximity to the under demolition Downtown site.
  • Customs St has also been narrowed down to just one lane each way through the intersection. Previously there were three lanes westbound and two eastbound.


While the works are the scale they are for a reason, in many locations AT also appear to have adopted a policy of trying to minimise disruption for motorists resulting in footpaths that have been cut back and pedestrian phases changed to provide as much capacity for cars as they can. Yet for months now Auckland Transport have pushed the message that people need to change how they travel to avoid carmegeddon including through the use of Jerome Kaino to help push the message.

Based on results so far, I think we can say that Auckland Transport’s message has got through and/or that we’re seeing the same result as those examples mentioned earlier. This is because one of the most notable outcomes from the works so far has been a lack of major traffic issues. Peak time congestion doesn’t appear to be any worse than it was before the works started and during the day these roads can still be eerily empty, as this picture from looking South of Wellesley shows.

These works and previous city centre improvements show that the drivers will adapt to changes, that the city doesn’t grind to a halt. It confirms we can shape or city to promote more of the things we want and less of the things we don’t.

Therefore we believe we need to start looking differently at how we approach roads in the city centre. In some cases, plans that even a few years ago were considered visionary or even just “the best we could hope for” are now starting to look tame. We need to completely rethink how we approach space in the city centre and we can start but looking overseas.

Most great cities that we look to have come to realise that right priority for transport in cities is something like below.


We need to start thinking the same way too. And not just on those streets most directly affected by the CRL works. Take Customs St as an example. In places it is currently up to seven lanes wide. The City East-West Transport Study (CEWT) suggested the pedestrian space increase a little bit but that there would still be at least three lanes each way.


CEWT Customs St

Yet the image above shows that at one location at least, Customs St has been reduced to just one lane each way and last time I looked the sky was still well above my head. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rethink what we want for the city. Let’s be bolder and perhaps start by answering questions like:

  • Do we really need four general traffic lanes on Customs St?
  • Do we need traffic on Quay St at all?
  • How soon can we pull down the awful Hobson St flyover?
  • Can we be bolder in how we redesign Hobson and Nelson Streets, including returning them to two way streets?
  • Why do we still even have cars in Queen St?
  • Can we make Fanshawe St less like a motorway sewer?

We obviously can’t do everything at once what the CRL works perfectly show is that drivers will adapt, that the sky won’t fall so we might as well be bold and design a world-class city. And of course until we can deliver that bold design, we can always start by trialling it New York style with some planters and temporary solutions.

Dear Phil

Dear Phil,

Congratulations on becoming Mayor. While the margin was a bit closer than some had expected, that’s what happens when you get such a low turnout – who actually votes ends up being a bit different to those who get polled. By the way, we really have to make progress on online registration and online voting to increase turnout. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Of course, I want to talk about transport and housing – Auckland’s biggest two issues.

This is a good time to become Mayor. Much of the hard work has been done: the rating systems have been pulled together, the City Rail Link just needs a few t’s crossed and i’s dotted – and a few years of exciting construction to follow. While you’ll have a few tricky Unitary Plan appeals to get through, the hard work has been done here as well. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sit back in cruise mode. Auckland has added the population of Tauranga over the past three years and it’s struggling to keep up. People are living in cars and garages, buses and trains are often overcrowded, motorways are jammed. Aucklanders are impatient to see progress so your honeymoon could be very shortlived. Here’s some advice to focus on over the next six months – mainly on transport but a few other things too:


1) Start working backwards from the 2018 Long-term Plan now 

You might not have been taking that much notice, but the 2015 Long-term Plan was nearly a disaster and only ended up being passed by a single vote. That said, it was really a triumph as it included a massive boost for walking and cycling funding, a major programme of bus upgrades to support the new bus network and – most importantly – the funding for early construction of the City Rail Link that helped in forcing government to come to the party on this key project.

As you put together the 2018 Long-term Plan you’ll need to continue this momentum – now bought into by the government through ATAP. City Rail Link will eat up a really big chunk of your available funding for transport so figuring out what’s also essential in the next three years will define your term. You’ll be pulled in all directions by the different Councillors and Local Boards wanting funding for their local ‘pet projects’ and you’ll need to sit on Auckland Transport to make sure the detailed work they do reflects your priorities and not just Central Government’s.

If we’re honest, you’d be crazy to remove the “interim transport levy” that has helped fund the current transport programme. The previous Council took the political hit over the levy to make your life easier – don’t give that away. Call it something else, change the way it’s calculated, whatever. But by keeping it, in some shape or form, you’ve now filled around $170 million per year of the $400 million funding gap. This puts the ball back into the court of the government.

You’ve got some hard transport funding discussions with the government to come. Have those conversations early, bring something to the table, remind government that there’s a general election next year that will be fought over Auckland’s housing crisis. Start planning it all now.

2) It’s time for a change at Auckland Transport

Auckland Transport has achieved some great things over the past six years. They’ve taken the CRL from a few lines on a map to a project that’s now underway. They’ve embarked on a complete revamp of the bus network that was decades overdue. They’ve introduced the HOP card in a reasonably (more on that soon) successful way and they’re starting to take cycling seriously.

But there’s still an awfully large amount of old-school thinking coming out of AT. Despite excited noises a few years back, the organisation still lacks of vision for how Auckland can be a different place in the future to what it is today. They also continue to struggle to take advantage of being a CCO to push through essential changes that annoy a noisy few (Tamaki/Ngapipi intersection is but one of many examples).

There are a lot of great people working in AT. Passionate people that are incredibly ‘tuned in’ to best practice around the world. But equally, there’s a massive amount of dead wood that just want to keep on doing that same thing they’ve always done, as is so perfectly evidenced by their stupid designs for city centre streets after the completion of the CRL. There’s far too much reliance on transport modelling, coupled with far too little focus on fixing up the models we have to reflect how the world has changed over the past decade.

You can’t be over all this detail, but you can make change where it matters. Refresh the board and senior management, update the Auckland Plan to give clearer strategic direction about what’s important (and equally importantly, what’s not), encourage a culture change to a braver and more courageous organisation that wants to help make Auckland better.

3) Get the small stuff right

There will be progress on a number of big, exciting transport projects over the next three years for the photo opportunities. The roll out of the new bus network in South Auckland starts at the end of the month. Walk the tunnel under Albert Street as it gets dug out, take the credit for the Northern Busway extension to Albany and kicking off the Northwestern Busway when government eventually agrees to fund it. But there’s also a few key niggles that, if you can sort them out, you will be thanked endlessly:

Sort out the slow trains. It’s crazy that after spending a billion dollars on electrification, our trains run slower than they did before. Don’t listen to Auckland Transport’s excuses – overseas cities run their trains much more efficiently. Demand shorter dwell times at stations, extra drivers to eliminate three minute delays at Newmarket for western line users. Speeding up the trains will not only make us passengers happier, it will also buy you more capacity on the network as train service cycles can repeat more quickly allowing more services to run as 6-car sets. You’re going to need every extra bit of rail capacity you can get.

Sort out HOP card blacklisting. The great hidden secret of the HOP card rollout is the enormous number of people who get their cards blacklisted due to expired credit cards. Get Auckland Transport to fix up their system so people are warned if a payment doesn’t go through. This shouldn’t be rocket science, yet even after months (possibly years) of complaints over this issue it still hasn’t been fixed up. Take the credit for Auckland Transport finally fixing it.

4) Get a better deal out of government

Over 186,000 people ticked your name to become Mayor of Auckland. No other politician in the country has a personal mandate of this scale. Use it.

Solving Auckland’s two biggest issues – housing and transport – is utterly dependent on working together with the government. It also requires government to change the way they do things when it comes to Auckland – which (as I’m sure you’ll know) is difficult for them. You’ll need to push hard to change government’s transport funding processes so they suit Auckland better – ATAP has given you a platform here to build on.

You’ll need to get government to ramp up building more housing in Auckland – the recent Northcote development seems like a great model to apply across Auckland. Get Panuku and Housing New Zealand sharing the same offices and planning where the next 1200 house development will go, and the next, and the next.

Depending on the results of next year’s general election, two-thirds of your term will either be with the current government or another lot that you will be pretty familiar with. Obviously you’ll need to be able to work well with either. Figure out which Ministers truly understand that Auckland isn’t just a larger version of other parts of the country, that it often needs completely different approaches and completely different solutions. John Key gets this – he’ll be your most important relationship.

5) Confirm your vision

One of the biggest pieces of work this term will be reviewing The Auckland Plan – the 30-year vision for Auckland. Naturally it will need to be updated to take account of developments over the last six years, such as the work on the Unitary Plan and ATAP, but there’s also a risk that the forces of dreary try to dominate it and remove visionary elements and targets. YOU CAN’T ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN.

Furthermore, it’s important you stamp your own vision on the region that is aspirational. A lot of cities are taking increasingly bolder steps to improve the cities and the lives the people that live in them. No area is this happening more than in the realm of transport and public urban space. It’s important Auckland does this too. Whether you keep the tagline of “The World’s Most Liveable City” or not, it’s important to have a high level goal to be able to point to and to assess the outcomes of projects against.

Don’t forget you’re also going to need to communicate that vision well to get buy in from the public.

6) Pick a great Deputy Mayor

You’ll be sorely tempted to look for someone new as a “fresh start”, but remember that Penny Hulse has held this Council together over the past three years. She knows everyone and everything. You don’t have a hope in hell of finding a better Deputy Mayor. That’s a lot to give away for “fresh start”.


Good luck!

Sunday reading 9 October 2016

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

Here’s another study that quantifies the health benefits of cycling – “Bike lanes are a sound public health investment“, Fox News Health.

Every $1,300 New York City invested in building bike lanes in 2015 provided benefits equivalent to one additional year of life at full health over the lifetime of all city residents, according to a new economic assessment.

That’s a better return on investment than some direct health treatments, like dialysis, which costs $129,000 for one quality-adjusted life year, or QALY, said coauthor Dr. Babak Mohit of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.

Per person, bike lanes created an additional cost of $2.79 and a gain of .0022 quality-adjusted life years, according to the results published in Injury Prevention.

“For bike lanes the cost per QALY is $1,300, a little bit higher than vaccines but way lower than most medical interventions that we have in healthcare,” Mohit said. “We’re finding more and more of these social interventions are not directly medically related but have an extremely positive effect on giving us more life years.”

Confederation of Workshops of Architecture Projects Via New York Times

Confederation of Workshops of Architecture Projects Via New York Times

One undeniable trend is how big and growing cities are limiting car traffic in their city centres. Here Barcelona takes a leap forward past its peers in Europe by applying a new traffic system on top of its famous Eixample district block patterns. Other cities aggressively reducing car access include Madrid, Paris, Helsinki, and Copenhagen. And look for New York City to make some major changes during the L Line (subway) construction project. Winnie Hu,”What New York Can Learn From Barcelona’s Superblocks“, New York Times.

Beginning in September, city officials started creating a system of so-called superblocks across the city that will severely limit vehicles as a way to reduce traffic and air pollution, use public space more efficiently and essentially make neighbourhoods more pleasant.

The strategy has propelled Barcelona, a city better known for its soccier team and it Gaudi architecture, to the forefront of urban-transportion experiments and has attracted intereste from transportation officials, urban planners and advocates in many cities paralyzed by gridlock.

Here’s Elinor Chisholm responding to a news article about the lack of housing activism in New Zealand, “Renter activism in New Zealand and the United States“, One Two Three Home. Elinor will be hosting a forum about housing in Auckland on 20 October at the University of Auckland – Facebook details.

Why aren’t renters more vocal, or more active? After all, renters make up a third of New Zealand’s households and half the population, but in the conversation about housing, they don’t get half the airtime. It’s one of the questions I looked at in my PhD thesis, and that I’ll be writing more on in the future. Some answers come from looking at New Zealand’s hundred-year history of renter activism. From there, we can learn about some of the key challenges to renter activism – as well as common methods and key achievements.

People may wish to come along to an upcoming seminar in Auckland, organised by the Fabians, which looks at some of these issues. I’ll be talking about the history of New Zealand renter activism, touching on some of the groups active today. Milo West, of Save Our Homes, will be presenting on her recent trip to the United States, where she met with a number of housing activist groups and learned about some of their achievements and challenges. We’ll discuss what renters in New Zealand today can learn from the past and from the American experience.

Sally Schoolmaster via New York Times.

Sally Schoolmaster via New York Times.

When the dust settles from the Unitary Plan it should be much easier to build a second building on a single-family zoned site. Accessory units are considered a low hanging fruit to inserting housing supply and diversity into growing cities. Here’s a good article on Portland’s granny units. Zahid Sardar, “Portland’s Small-House Movement Is Catching On” New York Times.

This $175,000 house, one of the smallest she has lived in, will allow her to age in place if she chooses. It feels larger, thanks to the indoor/outdoor design solutions…

In 2010, during the economic slump, when many building plans were being shelved, Portland presciently began to allow homeowners the right to develop accessory dwelling unig units on standard 5,000-square-foot residential lots for the first time. The city also elimiated development charges of up to $15,000 for new accessory dwelling units to spur homeowenrs to build.

More incentives followed: Homeowners could build and even rent out a unit that did not have off-street parking; any design not visible from the street could be built without input from neighbors; and new height limits – raised to 20 feet from 18 feet – encouraged two-story units, like Ms. Wilson’s.

Here’s some more research on how urban design influences our well being. “Can Urban Environments Be Designed for Better Mental Health?“, American Psychiatric Association.

One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children. Research reported in the journal Scientific Reports used satellite imagery, local tree data and local health data in Toronto, Canada to quantify the benefits of trees in urban streets. They found that trees along streets are associated with a significant health benefit and that even small increases in the number of trees along streets can improve health.

A group of researchers set out to study the complex functioning of the urban built environment and its impact on mental health. They gathered data on the structure of the city, service (e.g., libraries, transportation, sports facilities, entertainment, etc.) and looked for connections between this data and use of antidepressant medication in the cities’ population.

They concluded that the key factors contributing to reduced risk of depression were accessibility to public transportation and a more dense urban structure (rather than sprawl). This was particularly true for women and older adults. Women and older adults who lived in places more accessible to public transportation and in more densely populated areas were prescribed fewer antidepressant medications. While this population-based study cannot identify cause, the researchers suggest that both of these factors could reduce stress by increasing opportunities to move around the city and to participate in social activities.

The design of streets is being democratised with open source tools like Streetmix and Counterapp. Increasingly, people are also resorting to fixing streets themselves using paint, posts or cones- “Bike Lane Posts Installed By Safety Vigilantes Can Stay, Says SFMTA“. Here’s a new tool/app that is designed to stop illegal parking in NYC by allowing people to publicly document cases of people parking in bike lanes. John Metcalf, “New Yorkers Are Publicly Shaming Cars in Bike Lanes“, City Lab.

The map invites cyclists who see motorists parked or idling in bike lanes to snap a photo and send it in, where it’ll be geolocated, time-stamped, and sometimes annotated with a comment like “Complete logjam all at this twerp’s convenience.”

The map is supposed to function as a public record of drivers behaving badly, but it functions equally well as a record of frustration in New York’s cycling community. “I’m sure he was only waiting here for a minute,” writes one person. “You know, only enough time for me to die 60 times over.” Chimes another: “The reason the guy in the white shirt had to park his car in the bike lane right below the busy Fulton St. intersection? Hot dog break.”