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Breaking down Harbour Bridge volumes

I regularly keep track of a number of statistics about transport and one of those is traffic volumes from the NZTA. Recently I noticed an anomaly with the figures for the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Previously volumes were reported as:

  • Centre Span
  • Left Clip-On
  • Right Clip-On

The monthly data for March and the annual data for 2014 (released in March) was different, instead reporting just Northbound and Southbound traffic volumes – the annual data also included the clip-ons but not the centre span. That in itself isn’t such an issue however the total traffic volumes were quite different, even for previous months/years. An example of the difference is shown in the chart below of annual traffic volumes. You’ll also notice that the volumes are up slightly – although they are still less than they were in 2005 and in percentage terms is low considering Rapid Transit services like the busway are growing by double digit figures. The chart also includes the traffic volume predictions found in the most recent business case for another road harbour crossing.

AHB Annual Volumes to 2014

So seeking an answer for discrepancy I asked the NZTA why the figures were different. The answer is below.

The original site was a National Telemetry Site with loop detectors on the two clip-on sides and an infra-red detector over the four centre lanes. This equipment used on the centre span could not determine directionality and loops could not be used due to the steel deck (the clip-on counters are on the concrete deck north of the main span).

The Auckland Motorway Alliance (AMA) established a count site just north of the bridge some years ago to collect directional data, but it was noticed that the AMA counts and the Telemetry site counts were drifting apart. The problem was with the centre span equipment, which was missing more vehicles as time went by. Therefore, it has been decided that the data from the centre span counter was too unreliable to use.

The Telemetry site was life expired anyway, so the AMA site will become the new Telemetry site. I am told that the clip-on counters are still providing reliable data, so there is no need to decommission them.

That seems a pretty reasonable explanation however as the monthly data released so far only extends back to March 2014 I asked if any further data was available. What I received back surprised me. I did receive some extra monthly data but far more interestingly I also got two years of hourly data by direction – from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2014. Below are some of the insights we gained from that.

First up results by the day of the week. I was quite surprised to see that traffic builds up over the course of the week with an average difference between a Monday and a Friday of over 15,000 vehicles per day. The busiest single day over that two year period was December 19, 2014 when over 200,000 vehicles crossed.

AHB Traffic by Day

Breaking that down further by time the table below shows that while Fridays have the highest overall volumes, the strongest peaks occur earlier in the week which I can only guess is due to a lot of people rushing to get home whereas on a Friday the peak is smoothed a little, perhaps from people leaving work earlier or staying at work longer socialising. You can also notice that the late night/early morning volumes over the bridge are much higher than other days of the week from people ou

AHB Traffic by Time and Day

Click to enlarge

Showing traffic volumes over the course of the average weekday we get the chart below. I was quite surprised to see that the afternoon peak was stronger than the morning peak.

AHB Traffic by Hour

The data allows us to break that down further including by direction

AHB Traffic by Hour by Direction

While volumes peak in the morning and afternoon I was interested to see how things compare on a per lane basis as the moveable barrier on the bridge means that in the peak direction there is an extra lane available. It is often stated that a single motorway lane can move about 2,000 vehicles per hour. As you can see the volumes on the Harbour bridge fall short of that and peak at around 1,700 per lane. It’s also interesting that at times when the bridge is in a 5-3 configuration that lane volumes are similar.

Note: I’ve estimated the times that the barrier is moved as I’m not 100% certain.

Lane Capacities

I suspect it will be very hard for the bridge to hit any maximum capacity as it is limited by the motorways either side of it. That is also one of the major flaws of any plans to build and additional harbour crossing. You’d have duplicate or at least widen much of SH1 to either cope with the volumes or allow the connections to be used to their potential.

Lastly it’s worth considering the role that buses now play in the Harbour Bridge. Over the two hour morning peak (7-9am) around 200 buses cross the bridge southbound yet they carry around 9,000 passengers which is well more than the bridge carries in an a single morning peak hour. That points to one of the big benefits of PT investment, it’s capacity abilities. By having a strong, congestion free route it allows us to take the edge off volumes and move many more people at a time they want to travel. Imagine the impact there would be if tomorrow all the PT users who currently cross the bridge by bus instead tried to do so by car.

Overall fascinating data so thanks to the NZTA for providing it.

Comparing Capacity

It seems Auckland Transport is slowing getting better with simple advertising. First we saw the nice, simple and effective Bus Lane poster. Now it’s the rail network and City Rail Link’s turn. On AT’s Facebook Page for the CRL this image has appeared highlighting the capacity of our new trains.

AT Rail Capacity Image

I think AT are on the right track with this by highlighting the capacity however a couple of quick thoughts it would be good for them to consider.

  • Why not just talk about 375 people per EMU being moved free of congestion.
  • Using the car comparison a car occupancy rate of 1.3 seems a little high, a rate of 1.2 is probably more realistic and would mean ~312 cars off the road.
  • There’s no mention that at peak times many (not all) trains will consist of two EMUs. Based on ATs figures that means 576 cars off the road.
  • Why not highlight what that means at peak times. We know that if AT run the network to the full capacity they plan which is a train every 10 minutes on the Eastern, Southern and Western line plus half hourly on the Onehunga line that would equate to 20 trains per hour at Britomart. Most of those at the height of the peak will be 6-car trains. Based on ATs figures that works out to around 10k-15k vehicles of the roads over the 2-hour morning peak.
  • Taking the line of thinking above further, the CRL is said to allow for up to 24 trains per hour per direction or a total of 48 trains an hour. Assuming by then all trains would be 6-cars in length that’s a total capacity of almost 28,000 people who could be moved free of congestion and with much better frequency than we have today.

Overall a good effort from AT though it also opens up a lot of opportunity for expansion.

Deluge

This is a Guest post by Wellington Architect Guy Marriage

Wellingtonians get a hard press in the Auckland papers sometimes, but last Thursday we thoroughly deserved it. We are normally a fairly resilient lot, and put up with more than our fair share of howling wind and torrential rain at times, but regularly battle through with trains and buses all performing admirably. Even our regular rush hour traffic jams only just live up to their name, and are normally well over within the hour. We know about Auckland’s horrific traffic, and sympathies, we really do. But last Thursday, we suffered a total melt-down, and for a supposedly heavily resilient city, that was a pretty big fall from grace. So what happened?

brollies

As you may have heard, broadcast all over the evening news, we had a bit of excess rain. About 8 times more rain in an hour than we get in a month, or some such unbelievably wet statistic like that. And then the big wet went on and on, and eventually we had some slips, where our glorious hills decided they didn’t want to be vertical any more, and so they poured out over the flat bits along the edge of the water. Unfortunately for Wellington, all of our escape routes out of the city run along the same flat stretch of road to the Hutt, and so a small slip on the Hutt Road blocked off a route north along State Highway 2, diverting all the SH2 traffic to SH1. Doubly unfortunate really, because on the other side of the hills, SH1 was also blocked off, and that meant they had to send all the traffic back to SH2, over SH58. There is only one other road, the Paekakariki Hill Road, which is narrow and windy, and is frequently blocked by slips anyway, so inevitably that blocked up too. No way in, no way out. The capital was blocked off from the rest of New Zealand. Did you miss us?

WellingtonThursday

The road was therefore bumper to bumper traffic jam from Wellington all the way to Porirua, and also at a standstill over the hills back to the Hutt Valley on the other side. If you’re not from Wellington, then none of that will make sense, and the nearest I can give you as an example is if the Harbour Bridge was closed, and the NorthWestern motorway was closed as well, and all the traffic between Manukau and Auckland was diverted via Puhoi, and then all the cars stopped moving. Yes, exactly, a stuff-up in traffic terms of monumental proportions, one considerably worse than the average Friday night jam in Auckland, and we will inevitably face calls for yet more roads to be built, just in case this happens again.

NZTA WGTN flooding

But wait, there’s more. Surely none of those road closures matter, as Wellington is the most public-transport oriented city in the nation, is it not? Well, yes, but on Thursday even that let us down as well. Every single train to every single destination was cut, and the central Wellington Railway Station was closed down. That’s a station that normally is about 3 times busier than Britomart, and we have shiny new trains too for the most part. But that accursed rain had deluged rocks and washed out gravel over every set of tracks. Replacement buses normally suffice when there is a traffic setback, but with all the roads and all the rail out, there was no way that the few remaining charter buses could keep up with the demand. The city actually took the unheard of step of telling all commuters from out of town to stay in town, spend the night with friends, to rent a room or borrow a couch, and give up entirely on moving anywhere. I’m not sure if that has happened to any city in living memory before, outside of a war zone. Even when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, or when Super-Storm Sandy hit New York, they were still able to move people in and out of the city. But not Wellington, not last week. The only methods of transport still working were the planes (if you wanted to fly to Auckland and drive back down to Upper Hutt) and the ferries, which gave you a choice of sailing through the storm to Picton, or in a much smaller ferry, riding the waves up to Petone beach. Except of course that Petone beach has a damaged pier, and one of the small East-West Ferry boats was out of action, so that left just one small catamaran sailing back and forth to Petone all evening. I was fully expecting my floor to be full of refugees from the storm, but it was, miraculously, fugee-free.

NZTA WGTN

Wellington train_4740

Not that it really made the slightest bit of difference to Wellingtonians however. Within the city itself, there was a fair bit of wetness, more than usual, but nothing was broken. Everything still worked, everyone got home. Buses still ran, taxis still taxied, and cyclist continued to ride on their non-existent cycle network. We haven’t got a cycle network yet, because some pathetic councillors went feral, and have slowed everything down for reasons known only to themselves. We are, it seems, the only city in New Zealand with a pro-Green, fervently cycling Mayor, and yet we have not a single functioning separated cycle lane anywhere of any use on any major traffic route, which seems just a little bit odd. While the usual dips and hollows were fuller of water than usual, it seemed to me that the city performed admirably well, and lived up to its resilient reputation. You could have even thrown in a moderate earthquake or two, and the city would have shrugged them off as well, due to the steady stream of strengthening projects that have been going on. We’re a city that is like a brand new iPhone 6, already with a sturdy waterproof, shockproof rubber case on, and you could drop us from the upstairs balcony and we wouldn’t break, at least not completely. But we might bend a little if you sat on us.

But what this points to is that while Wellington City might be tough enough in parts, its the Regional Council and NZTA that were shown up as monumentally unprepared for disaster. I think we have just seen the biggest case for abolition of the Regional Council, right there. What if it had been a real, serious disaster, not just a few hours of torrential rain? The Civil Defence motto down here is “Get Through.” Clearly, that is not something that we yet can do.

WellingtonTransmission

NZTA have started work on the billion dollar highway known as Transmission Gully, an ironic name as they could only start work there when they had removed all the transmission lines, in case they fell over while they were digging out the gully road. One day, after an inevitable cost inflation to (probably) nearly two billion dollars, there will be a new road north, two lanes each way, all the way, and a new Petone to Granada link road – and you know what? If both of those roads had been built already, those other traffic snafu may well have happened just the same. The Petone to Grenada route will have to involve the moving / removal of some eight million cubic metres of rock, which wont be an easy task. The Transmission Gully route still relies on sending all the traffic along the waterfront and up the Ngauranga Gorge, both of which were heavily affected by last weeks rain, with several small slips/rockfalls and a lane taken out of action in the Gorge. Transmission Gully is also sitting firmly on an earthquake fault line and highly susceptible to slips as well, so there is a lot of work to be done securing hillsides before that route will ever be “safe”. We need NZTA to try a whole lot harder to battle-harden the existing network and we need Kiwirail and GWRC to make sure that public transport is a whole lot more resilient down here. 

Do property taxes affect housing affordability?

A few weeks ago, I took a look at property taxation in the US, Canada, and New Zealand. I found that Auckland homes are taxed lightly by comparison – rates average 0.39% of house value. Property tax rates are twice as high in most of the other cities I looked at. In some cases – e.g. Houston, where property taxes average 2.31% of home value – they are much, much higher.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read the literature. For example, Grimes and Coleman (2009) find that New Zealand under-taxes property:

McLeod et al (2001; p.26) showed that the proportion of taxation raised through property taxes was lower in New Zealand than in Australia or the United States. Taking into account all levels of government (federal, state and local), Grimes (2003) found New Zealand’s share of property taxes in government revenue was relatively low, at 5.7%, compared with a (20 country) OECD average of 8.3%. As a share of GDP, New Zealand’s property tax share was also relatively low at 1.8% compared with the average rate of 2.4%.

They go on to suggest that introducing even a relatively small land tax could result in fairly large changes to land prices. It’s intuitively sensible that higher property taxes would discourage people from bidding up prices – the more they pay for land, the more they pay in taxes!

Stu recently took a look at the same research, and some of the broader trends, and concluded that higher property taxes could take some heat off the housing market. But how much does property tax really matter for housing affordability?

To get a rough sense of the relationship, I’ve put together a chart showing the relationship between property tax rates (x axis) and Demographia’s “median multiple” measure of house prices relative to incomes (y axis). It includes data on all 59 US, Canadian, and New Zealand cities with a population over 1 million.

Notice the substantial negative correlation between property taxes and median multiples. There is a strong tendency for places with lower property taxes to have higher house prices, and vice versa. The least “affordable” places all have relatively low property taxes.

property taxes and median multiples chart 1

Overall, this chart suggests two things: First, New Zealand’s relatively low property taxes may contribute to our relatively high house prices. Notice how Auckland’s house prices seem to fit the overall trend in the data.

Second, as I’ve previously argued, Demographia’s analysis is largely meaningless as they have failed to account for the full range of explanatory variables, from interest rates to tax policies to economic fortunes.

Here’s another view on the same data. I’ve taken the natural logarithm of both variables to smooth out the relationship, and put a trend-line through the data points. This simple bit of analysis suggests that:

  • About 44% of the variations in median multiple can be “explained” by differences in property tax rates. For a bivariate regression, this is quite high.
  • The slope of the regression line suggests that, within this sample of cities, a 10% increase in the property tax rate is associated with a 4.6% reduction in the median multiple. Again, that’s a quite strong relationship.

property taxes and median multiples chart 2

I don’t think we can draw any firm policy conclusions from this data, but it certainly suggests that our low property taxes are worth investigating as a cause of our high house prices. In the words of xkcd, “Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

Finally, it’s worth taking a closer look at the four US cities with the highest median multiples – the top data points on the left hand side of the first chart. They are all large cities in California – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose (i.e. Silicon Valley), and Sacramento (the state capitol). They provide a great illustration of why failing to account for multiple, correlated explanatory variables can undermine an analysis of house prices.

But first, a California-themed music break:

In California, state-level legislation establishes a common planning framework. There are local variations, but if one city is constrained by regulations – as San Francisco and Silicon Valley are – the rest are likely to have similar problems. To give an example, the California Environmental Quality Act, which is the state’s equivalent of the Resource Management Act, has traditionally required all new developments to assess their impact on traffic congestion and mitigate it. As a 2011 Citylab article explains, this requirement has prevented the development of space-efficient forms of housing and transport:

There’s also a great irony underlying the use of LOS [traffic Level of Service] as part of CEQA’s environmental impact checklist. It seems self-evident that bike projects are favorable to the environment, but the use of LOS to evaluate them can sometimes imply quite the opposite. The person who filed the 2005 lawsuit against the San Francisco master bike plan, for instance, suggested that because bike lanes raise LOS they also raise congestion and car idling, and thereby cause pollution.

That’s not the only contradictory aspect of LOS. Case in point: a developer whose building fails an LOS threshold can mitigate the environmental impact by widening the street, which of course would attract more cars and pollution. So instead of encouraging dense development and lower vehicle mileage — the hallmarks of a transit-first city — San Francisco’s use of LOS as part of CEQA actually discourages livable design. In a three-part series on LOS at Streetsblog, one transportation consultant called LOS the “single greatest promoter of sprawl and the single greatest obstacle to transit oriented development” in California.

However, CEQA and its absurd requirements for traffic assessments (etc) aren’t the only thing going on in California. State-level laws have also constrained local governments’ ability to raise property taxes. Proposition 13, a citizen-initiated referendum passed in 1978, caps property tax rates at 1% and fixes them to the value of the house at the time it was purchased, plus a 2% annual increment for inflation.

This has had a number of perverse effects, including stripping away funding from California’s formerly excellent primary and secondary education and setting it on a path of decline. (Prop 13 is basically exhibit A in the case against binding referenda.) It has also distorted the housing market. Because home-owners know their property taxes won’t increase if the value of their house increases, they may be more willing to speculate on capital gains.

A 1982 paper by economist Kenneth Rosen offers empirical support for this hypothesis – he found that reductions in property tax rates were almost immediately followed by proportional increases in house prices.

Consequently, it would be foolish to analyse the Californian housing market without attempting to control for both taxation and planning policy. If you only looked at one policy, your conclusions would be biased by mis-attributing the effects of the other policy. (That’s precisely what Demographia seems to have done, by the way.)

What’s true for California is also true for New Zealand. I find it hard to take seriously the claims of people who attribute housing affordability solely to regulatory policy and fail to consider the potential impact of our low property taxes.

What do you make of the data on property taxes and house prices?

Sunday reading: 17 May 2015

Jarrett Walker, “Abundant Access: a map of the community’s transit choices, and a possible goal of transit“, Human Transit:

abundant access chart

The goal of abundant access has several kinds of appeal.

First, it can be measured objectively without recourse to psychology or culture.  Ridership estimates are based heavily on travel times that approximate the notion of abundant access, but they also add psychological factors that are less stable, such as observed preferences for particular technologies.  These factors may be emotionally vivid, but like many emotional factors they are likely to change with time and especially with generations — just as emotional attitudes toward cars are changing now.  Abundance access measures a fact that is entirely objective — travel times.  Unlike emotional reactions to technologies, the value of access has been constant across millennia of human experience.

Second, abundance of access is literally a quantification of freedom, in the sense that matters to us in transportation.  Isochrone maps like Mapnificent’s, in particular, show us our freedom in a very immediate way: here is where you are free to go, now.  Abundant access measures the transportation element of opportunity of all kinds, which is one of the main reasons people have moved to cities since their invention.

The concept of freedom is sadly undervalued in much urbanist discourse, and I am always looking for ways to reintroduce it.  Much urbanist writing, for example, is blatantly prescriptive (“you should want this kind of community”), which feeds conservative stereotypes of urbanism as manipulative or coercive.  We need to be able to talk not just about ideal communities but about freedom and personal responsibility, a frame in which all the great urbanist ideas — and all the urgent environmental imperatives — can be stated equally well.  In that frame, the key idea is not “the good” but “choice,” where freedom of choices also implies responsiblity for your choices.

David Hembrow, “The Grid: the most important enabler of mass cycling“, A View From the Cycle Path:

An individual cycle-path is only as useful as the rest of the grid of routes to which it connects. Even exceptional pieces of bicycle infrastructure are almost entirely useless on their own. They only reach their potential when they are part of a very finely spaced grid of routes which connects to all destinations. To be suitable for all people, this must provide a high quality level of service to all of those destinations. The average quality of service experienced by cyclists dictates how many people will cycle.

Example of a real, successful, cycling grid

Primary (red) and secondary (blue) bicycle routes in Assen. Grey lines are mainly residential streets almost completely free of motor traffic, green are recreational routes. Primary routes are never more than 750 m apart, but note that all the space between them is also available by bike. There are no real gaps in this grid and it leads right from villages outside the city to the city centre. Total map width approximately 6.5 km.

To summarise: Assen’s cycling grid goes everywhere, it has many high quality cycle-paths, but no “sharrows” and very few routes marked by relatively in-effective painted on-road cycle-lanes. Inferior junction designs such as advanced stop lines (aka bike boxes), central cycle-lanes and multi stage turns have been eliminated, while good roundabout and traffic light junction designs are common. Many one-way restrictions help to prevent drivers from using residential streets as through routes, but none of them apply to cyclists. Note that average speeds for cyclists are relatively high because stops are infrequent. Due to cyclists being unravelled from motorists they are often directed around large and time consuming junctions because they are needed only on motor routes.

Assen’s grid is successful. More than 40% of all trips are made by bicycle here.

Bernard Hickey, “Why Auckland landlords will be celebrating… and everyone else will be grinding their teeth“, Interest.co.nz:

New mortgages 2013-2015 chart

By the end of the week rental property investors were sitting pretty at the fireside.

They would have smiled on Monday when Mr Key downplayed again the prospect of any Australian-style restrictions on foreign buyers or any Victoria-style taxes on foreign buyers.

They would have grinned from ear to ear as the Governments responsible for encouraging new house building squabbled on Tuesday over how to pay for pipes and roads while the shortage of 25,000 dwellings grew ever larger.

Later on Tuesday, landlords would have given a little fist pump on hearing Labour Leader Andrew Little give his strongest opposition yet to any suggestion of a capital gains tax. Fresh from 20% rise in prices, those landlords who bought a NZ$600,000 rental with a 60% mortgage a year ago are sitting on a tax-free gain of 50% on their equity and are newly confident that, even with a change of Government, that they will not have that gain taxed.

Joseph Stromburg, “The real story behind the demise of America’s once-mighty streetcars“, Vox:

“There’s this widespread conspiracy theory that the streetcars were bought up by a company National City Lines, which was effectively controlled by GM, so that they could be torn up and converted into bus lines,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.

But that’s not actually the full story, he says. “By the time National City Lines was buying up these streetcar companies, they were already in bankruptcy.”

Surprisingly, though, streetcars didn’t solely go bankrupt because people chose cars over rail. The real reasons for the streetcar’s demise are much less nefarious than a GM-driven conspiracy — they include gridlock and city rules that kept fares artificially low — but they’re fascinating in their own right, and if you’re a transit fan, they’re even more frustrating.

Mike Ives, “New Zealand property boom attracts overseas migrants“, NY Times:

Auckland’s beaches, clean air and environmentally friendly image are clear selling points for foreign property investors, analysts said. And New Zealand’s property investment laws — which do not include a stamp duty or a capital gains tax — are seen as more welcoming than those of Singapore, Hong Kong and other global investment hubs.

“Offshore investors are having an effect” at all levels of the residential market, said Layne Harwood, country head for New Zealand at the global property consulting firm Knight Frank. “They’re here for security of capital.”

By the way, if you click on the article, notice who took the pictures the NYT used…

Chris Parker, “No, Mike, house crisis is not our fault“, NZ Herald:

Action is needed on several fronts.

The most fundamental challenge is how to balance what communities judge is best for them with what is best for Auckland and the country. There is a need to relax regulatory controls on height and density, while retaining provisions for quality urban design. That will allow more dwellings per unit of land, more choice, and improve housing affordability.

We need better tools, such as road pricing and congestion charging, to raise revenue from the value created by infrastructure.

For construction productivity, many changes are needed. Particularly, I would like to see the Productivity Commission make an inquiry into how to get a 25 per cent productivity gain in residential construction within 10 to 15 years.

Bored Panda, “Anonymous artist ‘Wanksy’ draws penises on UK potholes to make government fix them“:

After another cyclist friend was injured by potholes, Wanksy, an artist from Greater Manchester, England, decided to act. He used washable paint to draw penises around potholes in his neighborhood, and suddenly, they were repaired in 48 hours.

“People will drive over the same pothole and forget about it,” Wanksy said in an interview. “Suddenly you draw something amusing around it, everyone sees it and it either gets reported or fixed.” A Bury Council spokesman disagreed: “Painting obscenities around potholes will not get them repaired any quicker, but simply waste valuable time and resources.”

Bored Panda journalists found that using the Manchester City Council website, it took 5 clicks, 1 form, 1 survey, and a minimum of 5 days just to get a pothole inspected.

wanksy potholes

Emily Badger, “The myth of the American love affair with cars“, Washington Post Wonkblog:

This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who love their cars. The phenomenon of sports cars, weekend cars and collector cars is real. So, too, is the allure for many people of road trips, scenic highways or weekend drives through the country. Rather, the story Norton disputes, which he has written about in the book “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” is the history that says that we’ve built car-dependent cities and suburbs because that’s what Americans wanted, the story that says all our surface parking lots and spaghetti interchanges are a pure product of American preferences.

“When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”

Bob Dey, “Council approves budget in debate where policy and action get mixed“, Bob Dey Property Report:

Transport is the leading edge of the debate on the council’s core role: providing the infrastructure for a society to function smoothly. As usual, the infrastructure you don’t see until it breaks, like sewers & waterpipes, attracted no attention.

Government intransigence on funding methods meant the council couldn’t use either of the options it had proposed in lengthy consultation, a fuel tax or tolling motorways. If the council was going to fund any of a list of capital projects deemed necessary, not just desirable, something else had to be thought up. The short-term levy – $99 for every residential property, $159 for business properties, both + gst to make the levies in practice $114 & $159 – is in place for 3 years.

Opponents argued the levy hadn’t been consulted on, and it hadn’t, but what to do? Abandon hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure work or get on with it?

Ami Sedghi and George Arnett, “How does commuting affect wellbeing?” The Guardian:

Commuters are more likely to be anxious, dissatisfied and have the sense that their daily activities lack meaning than those who don’t have to travel to work even if they are paid more. Those were the findings of a study by the Office for National Statistics looking at commuting and personal wellbeing…

It found that each additional minute of commuting time made you feel slightly worse up to a certain point. However, strangely, once a commute hit three hours then the negative effects dropped off.

UK commuting and life satisfaction chart

The Albert St Sandpit

It appears that Albert St is shaping up to be one massive sandpit for the next few years after Mansons TCLM have announced details of their plans for the site currently occupied by the Herald.

New Zealand’s tallest new office tower, the $675 million 1 Mills Lane, is planned for the NZME. site in Auckland’s CBD.

Culum Manson, a director of real estate developers and investors Mansons TCLM, today announced the plans for the 190m-tall block between Albert, Wyndham and Swanson Sts and Mills Lane.

The block will include a 30-level tower for 4000 workers, a 125-room hotel, up to 10 luxury brand shops, a new garden penthouse viewing floor, a lower level garden floor and a 45m architectural feature at the top.

The NZME. site is leased to the Herald, which has been in the area since 1863 but in November is moving to Manson’s new office block at 151 Victoria St West.

“We now have demolition consent and we are looking to commence demolition of the old Herald buildings when the site is vacant,” Manson said.

The plan was for the Herald to move off-site at the end of the year to its new building.

“Our team is working closely with Auckland Council and receiving input from the Urban Design Panel.

“We are looking at achieving a final resource consented development design by October this year. This will be Auckland’s next premium office tower with a completion date of December 2018 and an end value of $675 million including the hotel.”

1 Mills Lane - Herald

Mansons certainly don’t muck around with their developments and get building quickly. Along with this development we also have the

  • NDG centre in the long empty site that is bordered by Elliot St, Victoria St and Albert St. At 209 metres it will be the tallest building outside of the Skytower – last I heard it is due to start next year

NDG Centre 1

  • Precinct Properties Downtown Office Tower and replacement of the Downtown Mall due to start next year

Precinct Tower 2

  • Park Residences which is ~30 storeys tall and under construction now (across the road from Mills Lane development

Park Residences

  • The site just up from Park Residences (51-53 Albert St) has resource consent for 46 storey apartment tower.

Through all of this is the City Rail Link of which the enabling works will be starting at the end of this year. I think it’s safe to say that when all of this combined there’s a hell of a lot of change and investment going in to that corridor which also means there’s likely to be a lot of disruption. In many ways having so much disruption at once might not be such a bad thing. It will be painful but far better than spreading it out over a decade or more. This level of private investment also shows that the private sector have a lot of faith in the plans the council have for Auckland and how much of it is only really feasible thanks to the increased people moving power of investments like the CRL?

Albert St post CRL

The developments will mean Albert St will definitely need wider footpaths

 

Of course this isn’t the only area being developed in the central city. A lot of work is going on in and around Wynyard Quarter and a large number of other locations.

Helping Our Heritage Come Alive – Newton Rd

This is an image from Mark Bishop. You can see the first of his works here.

These images were developed by merging together various historic black and white photographs (all from the “Sir George Grey Special Collection” – Auckland Library) with contemporary colour photographs taken at the same location.

The black and white photographs were taken between the years 1900 to 1940, and cover a number of areas of the city and the outlying suburbs. The colour photographs were all taken in early 2015.

The intention of these images is to use photography to help show how much has changed – or not changed – over almost one hundred years by focusing on locations that are familiar to Aucklanders.

It is interesting to think that the people, horses and trams seen in these images passed by around a century ago where we walk and drive today.

Looking south down Newton Road from corner with Karangahape Road.  Black and white photograph (1904) from “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 1-W1126”.

Newton Rd BW merge 1904 1-W1126

AT’s Ferry Development Plan

This week Auckland Transport announced they were looking to update the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) with a number of developments and one of those was to include the outcomes of the Ferry Development Plan. AT have now published the development plan which provides some more information into to their thinking around ferries.

First up, how ferries perform today. The map below shows where current ferry services run to.

Ferry Development Plan - Current routes

In the year to the end of March 5.4 million trips were taken on ferries which is up 5% on the year before and close to a peak reached in mid-2012. That patronage makes up around 7% of all public transport trips.

2015-03 Ferry Patronage

Around 77% of all ferry patronage comes from just two routes – Devonport and Waiheke -however AT also say that in the morning peak around 49% of trips are coming from other services. That indicates that the Devonport and Waiheke services do well off peak – probably due to tourism. The number of passengers arriving in the city in the current morning peak are shown below.

Ferry Development Plan - Current AP patronage

The Development Plan is focused on how AT will develop ferries over the next 10 years and covers both infrastructure and services. The modelling for it also considers the impacts over a 30 year period.

The overall takeaway outcome is that there are not any viable opportunities for new ferry routes and that the focus should be on improving the routes we already have. That means increasing capacity and services so that they can handle the predicted demand and provide regular all day service – just like what is being done with the bus and rail networks (note: regular service is different from frequent service so might only be hourly off peak). The additional daily services AT expects to add to each route are shown below and there is a more detailed version on page 21 of the development plan.

Ferry Development Plan - Increased Services

It is expected that between now and 2026 ferry patronage will increase from 5.4 million to around 7.5 million. Much of the growth is expected from just a few of the routes and the growth in AM peak trips is shown below and is based on integrated fares and no surcharge (more on that soon)

Ferry Development Plan - Modelled Growth

To accommodate that growth more vessels and improvements to existing ferry terminals will be needed – such as the recently announced new terminal at Half Moon Bay. In addition to the terminals, AT want to expand the Park n Ride at a few stations. The capital costs for all of this development is around $34.2 million and almost half of it is for the redevelopment of the downtown ferry terminal. The Benefit Cost Ratio of the terminal improvements are shown below and as you can see the result for Half Moon Bay is crazy high.

Ferry Development Plan - Ferry BCR's

You’ll notice the table has ‘with surcharge’ and ‘no surcharge’ and as mentioned earlier the modelling is based on no surcharge. AT say they want ferries to have integrated fares but that it isn’t possible just yet.

Potential patronage has been modelled assuming integrated fares with and without a ferry surcharge. A surcharge is necessary initially to maintain the affordability of ferry services and to avoid demand for unavailable capacity. In time, as patronage and capacity increase and costs are reduced, the surcharge will be reduced and eliminated.

Included in the development plan is analysis of the current park n ride users which I found quite interesting. As you can see most people make fairly short trips to the ferry but there are some quite long ones, especially to Half Moon Bay. Some seem quite odd such as driving from Albany next to the busway station to Devonport or Bayswater to catch a ferry or from Remuera to Half Moon Bay (perhaps they were going to Waiheke though).

Ferry Development Plan - Park n Ride

Lastly AT did look at the options for expanding ferry services including to Browns Bay, Takapuna and Te Atatu. If they were implemented the map below which also includes the SHA areas is how the ferry network would look however the all have BCR’s of less than 1 and as there’s little time savings compared to road-based modes it’s not expected they would attract enough patronage.

Ferry Development Plan - Proposed routes

Overall I’d say that the outcome is right, focus on get the existing services working well

Guest Post: Transport is a public health issue

This is a guest post from Donna Wynd

As a social scientist, I often look at transport ‘solutions’ and find my eyes rolling to the back of my head. Transport is a sector dominated by men who are, predominantly, trained to see transport as an engineering or technology problem. Engineers in particular are trained to solve problems: toasters, particle colliders, milking machines are all solutions to specific problems. Traffic flow is no more or less a problem than reheating lasagne.

Engineering solutions tend to focus on the here and now whereas the social and environmental impact of transport networks and infrastructure stretch across space and time: they influence behaviour, and our interactions with others, yet there seems to be little recognition of this. Much of my work ultimately involves public health issues such as housing, education, and social assistance. Transport, linking as it does so many disciplines, is clearly another of them.

In other words, transport is not just about relieving commuter congestion; it is about our ability to access work, services and leisure, our physical and mental health, our physical environment, and the relationship between all these things. As such, transport has significant public health consequences beyond widening a stretch of road. In Auckland, there are two aspects of this that seem to be particularly relevant, and I will focus on those: our obesity epidemic, and the demographic changes Auckland will experience over the next 50 years.

Obesity

Obesity is something we all have an opinion on but is not well understood, even by many health professionals. In part, this is because the causes and effects of overweight/obesity are numerous and complex. Are people obese because they because they eat the wrong type of food, don’t exercise, are poor, or have unfortunate genes? All of the above.

However, the evidence points to a strong correlation between obesity and car dependence (there’s a cute graphic here).

Suburbs with services that are difficult to get to other than by car tend to have heavier populations. We know from our own experience in Auckland that such suburbs are often very hostile for cyclists and pedestrians. We also know the picture is further confused by the strong correlation between low-income and living in outer suburbs with few transport amenities other than roads. Inner-city areas with good public transport tend to have leaner, wealthier inhabitants. In part this is because transport choices are incorporated into real estate prices, thus setting up a cycle whereby low-income families are forced into more distant (from the central city) suburbs.

In general, it is also easier for residents of suburbs closer to the central city to cycle or walk to work. By contrast, almost no one who lives in the Mangere-Otara suburban belt, and who works at Highbrook or the airport walks or cycles to their jobs. A lack of protected cycle ways and high speed limits on local arterials put the frighteners on most would-be cycle commuters. Yet it is the residents of these suburbs that have the highest rates of obesity in the country and correspondingly high rates of associated diseases, especially diabetes. Plus, these areas are perfect for cycling because they are flat.

One of the tragedies of our transport system is that it doesn’t have any incentive to engage with other sectors to reduce car dependence and improve public health (indeed, it could be argued that transport planners have a vested interest in maintaining car dependence). However, while Auckland Council is blackmailing the public into supporting motorway tolls in order to fund the completion of the $207 million Auckland regional cycleway, obesity is costing our health sector millions. A 2012 paper by Boyd Swinburn and his colleagues estimates that obesity cost over $620 million in direct costs to the health sector in 2006 alone (we’ve gotten fatter since then), plus a further $98-225 million in lost productivity. Then there were the non-monetary costs including disability, and loss of quality of life. In addition there are the welfare costs associated with people unable to work because of diabetes, heart disease, the impact of strokes, the list goes on and on. People with obesity-related disability often also need subsidised housing. Given these enormous public and personal costs, putting off building decent cycling and pedestrian infrastructure (including improved access to public transport) is more than poor transport planning: it is a dereliction of duty.

I’m not suggesting that completing the cycle network and making our pedestrian facilities more accessible and attractive will solve our obesity problems. But it will help, and in a way that is cost-effective, friendly, and will help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Demographic change

Overlaid onto the obesity tidal wave is the upcoming grey tsunami. New Zealand is an ageing society, something that importing younger workers will not reverse.

Older people have different transport needs to younger persons. Within 20 years it is likely that many of the current roadbuilding fraternity will be ruing the lack of alternative transport choices in Auckland as their mobility wanes. Older people don’t like driving as much, and as we age our ability to drive is reduced. Accordingly, an older, non-working, population has greater need for disability-friendly public transport, and local facilities that are easily accessible by foot. Or, if you’re my Mum, you’ll start biking to the shops to get the bread and milk when you’re in your 70s.

This means planners should be thinking about a population with higher rates of disability and a greater need for non-car transport options now. Unfortunately, the Auckland Plan, although purporting to look 30 years down the track, largely assumes today’s needs and priorities will be those in a generation’s time. The emphasis is on roading and congestion rather than the implementation of an accessible, multi-modal transport network.

Why is this a public health problem? Because the elderly still need to get to services, especially medical services, and lack of transport is a contributor to social isolation and exclusion. The 2003 report by the Social Exclusion Unit in the UK noted that “transport problems can be a significant barrier to social inclusion”, and that this may lead to a cycle of exclusion and undermine the wellbeing of communities. In addition, we know that low-income communities have a disproportionately high rate of pedestrian casualties (particularly among the young and elderly). The report notes that “the social costs of poor transport were not given any real weight in transport project appraisal. So the distribution of transport funding has tended to benefit those on higher incomes,” an observation that holds true in Auckland [emphasis in original].

The World Health Organisation notes that as a reflection of power relations, social exclusion makes it difficult for people to meet their basic needs, ignores their human rights, and undermines social cohesion. It also has a physical impact, notably through stress mechanisms that can have negative impacts on people’s health. Given the enormous costs to the health system of an ageing population, it is in all our interests to minimise the risk of injury and social isolation arising from poor transport planning. And for those with a political bent, it should not need stating that change will come one way or another because old people vote.

As with obesity, transport planners alone cannot deal with the problems of an ageing population. But a recognition of demographics should inform planning and decision-making.
Other public health issues associated with transport include the extraction and transport of fossil fuels, and public safety. Incorporating a public health perspective into our transport planning processes will pay off economically, environmentally and socially. In short, focussing on health and mobility should be the primary focus of transport planning.

Writers Festival event: Designing Auckland

EVENT45AWF

 

As part of the Auckland Writers Festival, Patrick Reynolds will be joining other local urban professionals in a conversation about transportation, housing and land use.

Join former Auckland Council urban designer Sue Evans, urban designer Garth Falconer, and architectural photographer and blogger Patrick Reynolds for a discussion on exemplars, blunders, and how many NIMBYs and/or planners it takes to cause paralysis.

Saturday 16 May 2015
16/05/2015 1:30PM —2:30PM

Upper NZI Room, Aotea Centre
50 Mayoral Drive Auckland New Zealand