Are you passionate about cities? Interested in transport? Want to find out about potential careers in the transport industry?
Then come along to the IPENZ Transportation Careers evening. Come listen to speakers from a broad range of backgrounds talk about how they fell into a career in transport.
There will also be an opportunity to informally talk to people from a range of transport companies over some light refreshments.
Interested students from all universities, disciplines and stages of study are welcome to attend. Last year we had students from Arts, Science, Law, Commerce, Architecture and Engineering attend.
Martin McMullan (National Zero Harm Manager, NZTA)
Michelle Ye (Transport Modeller – AECOM / Air New Zealand)
Georgia Luxton, Mark Fisher (84 Recruitment)
Niko Elsen (Generation Zero)
The networking will include representatives from the following sponsors:
NZTA, Auckland Transport, Ableys Transportation Consultants, AECOM, Aurecon, Beca, GHD, MRCagney, TDG, Tonkin +Taylor and Eighty4 Recruitment
29th September, 5pm
University of Auckland General Library, B28
Following a few days in Mexico City, I’ve had the pleasure of staying a week in Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is both the federal capital and the capital of Cundinamarca state, and while it probably doesn’t yet figure as a world capital of culture or clout, it certainly is a thriving mega city of regional importance.
Because of its position straddling the Andes, Colombia is a country with every climate conceivable, it has snow covered alps, temperate savannah, dense jungle, dry desert, not to mention both tropical Caribbean and temperate-maritime Pacific coasts.
The city itself sits on broad plain high up on the middle finger of the three-branched Andes mountains, in fact at 2,700m it’s high enough to cause altitude sickness in some people. The altitude gives the nominally tropical city a very mild temperate climate, with clear skies, low humidity and temperatures that sit around the high teens and low twenties every day of the year. You could call it the city of eternal Spring.
Bogota is big. At around 11.5 million people it is as populous as greater London, or all of New Zealand two and a half times over.
Bogota is also dense. The majority of inhabitants live in apartment towers, mid rise block or terraced house style developments. The north of the city has a very European feel, with four to six story apartments of brick or concrete on a grid of fairly narrow tree lined streets. If it weren’t for the language you could be in the Netherlands or Germany.
Curiously, the city is three sided. The original colonial centre was established on one edge of the plain at the foot of a great mountain range. It has since sprawled across the plain to the north, south and west, but not to the east on account of the mountains. This allows for one unique benefit: you can ride a cable car a further 400m up the mountain of Monseraté near downtown and take in the whole sprawling metropolis in a single vista, including the bizzare experience of standing on terra firma and looking down at the tops of fifty story skyscrapers in the commercial district far below. If the thin air doesn’t take your breath away, the view certainly will!
Accordingly Bogota has basically two types of land use structure. A long, thin, but dense band of apartment towers runs for 40km north-south along the eastern edge of the plain, taking advantage of the Andes foothills to provide spectacular view back across the city. These buildings are accessed by a circuitous web of winding narrow switchback roads not too dissimilar to western Wellington. For the most part the wealthy live here in gated apartment communities, however dotted amongst them are university campuses (Bogota has dozens of them for some reason) and patches of impoverished and dangerous barrios similar to the famous favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
The other structure is on the plain itself, an enormous flat and regular grid of broad multi-lane avenues, filled with three to thirty storey buildings. Think Los Angeles but consistently taller. This is perhaps Bogota’s downfall: it land use is what can only be described as dense sprawl, and it’s transport system is entirely road based. Not surprisingly the traffic is truly horrendous. I have to laugh whenever people complain about Auckland’s supposedly worlds-worst traffic. Puh-lease. If you want bad traffic, take a city the same area as Auckland, with an entirely road based transport network… then add another ten million inhabitants all trying to drive at the same time.
Naturally Bogota has spend decades trying to accommodate it’s traffic with more, bigger roads. The city is covered in a massive amount of six, eight, ten lane avenues. They appear to have tried a bit of everything, separated motorways, limited access avenues, boulevards, frontage roads, slip lanes, underpasses, overpasses, one way streets, the works. The system almost works too… when conditions are perfect. However that almost never happens. It only takes one small crash, a truck parked illegally to unload, a taxi doing a u-turn or one of a thousand other small disruptions to infarct the system. This is perhaps the folly of huge roads for huge capacity, on an eight lane road one disruption clogs up eight times the traffic.
Transport here has an interesting socio-cultural element. From what I understand Bogotano society has six distinct classes with a broad spread of inequality, from the destitute poor up to the untouchable elite with money and connections above the law. For the middle classes, there is a great preoccupation with not sliding down the ladder. Few in the middle classes would ever dream of catching public transport as that is the domain of the underclass. Maintaining a private car is a necessary symbol of status regardless of the cost or the traffic, and if one does not drive they rely on cheap and ubiquitous taxis or town car services. Either way, not escape from the traffic is possible and it’s one form of private car all the way.
The transit wonks among us must now be thinking, but what about the Transmillennio? For the less frothy-mouthed readers, the Transmillennio is a now-famous busway system with half a dozen lines running along Bogota’s main arterials forming quite a wide reaching and effective network. This system is A grade busway of world class design. It is based around a system of dedicated, physically separated median busway lanes, some of which are grade separate at key intersections. The are combined with train-style island platform stations accessed by elaborate overpasses and footbridges. The busways themselves are serviced by special red colour high capacity trunk-only metro buses, very long vehicles with two or three articulated sections, high floors that match up with platform level, and four or even five double doors per bus. At the end of each of the busways there are huge interchanges where green-coloured feeder buses of conventional design connect the surrounding suburbs to the trunk busways. In that regard it really is metro system writ with rubber.
So what is it like to use? I wouldn’t know myself, as I was consistently dissuaded from trying it by friends and family whenever I mentioned it. The locals advised it was too crowded, too dangerous, too much of a risk for any decent person to use. I do wonder if this is simply a hangover of the same cultural understanding that buses were for the poor and to be avoided. Indeed when I asked few of my advisors had ever set foot on the system. My one young cousin who did actually use it to get to university each day only complained that it was too crowded, and the station too far away from his apartment.
What we do know is that the system is indeed hugely popular and overcrowded, a victim of it’s own success. Preoccupations of class and status aside, hundreds of thousands of people use the system every day. For all its efficiency at beating traffic and it mega capacity buses ability to move the masses, the simple fact is it barely touches the sides of the transport task in Bogota. Imagine London with no tube, not overground, no suburban trains, no national rail, no DLR, no tramlink. Imagine a London with six busways as the only rapid transit. That is Bogota. They have a long way to go to turn the traffic situation around. So yes it is a massive success, and very worthwhile, but for Bogota it is just the start of fixing things.
So if the Transmillennio is so effective (if not comprehensive), one has to ask why we don’t build them in Auckland. Indeed we hear this quite often from certain politicians, why are we talking about CRL tunnels and trains and light rail, when the bus can do the job for half the price? It’s a good question, and one that deserves an evaluation. Nonetheless, the answer is pretty simple: space.
The Transmillennio takes up space, lots of space. More space than we have. The basic cross section of these busways is two bus lanes either side of a median. That’s basically the full width of most of our main roads to start with. However, once you get to a stop the situation blows out again. Each of the stations has a large platform, then stopping lanes either side, then passing lane beside those again. That means a cross section of four bus lanes and the station, about 25 metres wide. Now as most of Auckland’s arterial roads are one chain wide (about 21m), building a Transmillennio in Auckland would require buying and demolishing all the buildings down one side of the street just to fit in the bus corridor, let alone any other traffic lanes, footpaths or street trees. Indeed, the one place we are looking at a multilane street busway, the AMETI corridor in east Auckland, they are planning to do exactly that.
So while we can do busways alongside motorways like we do on the North Shore (and hopefully the northwest), we can’t fit them in the street for the most part. This is why AT is looking at light rail, because for the same capacity LRT needs only two lanes and compact platforms, where the bus systems need four to manage the greater number of vehicles.
Bogota managed this by building into their existing avenues, which had huge wide medians in addition to three or four lanes in each direction. The Transmillennio got away without any land or building purchases by virtue of having huge road reserves to start with. In fact they had such wide corridors that they actually widened the roadways at the same time, adding extra lanes for traffic to offset the squeals of indignation about spending proper money on public transport. So in one way Bogota was lucky to have a fair whack of empty space effectively lying around, or arguably they were wasting land to start with and found a better use for it.
My end evaluation? The Transmillennio was a good move for Bogota that fits the city well and takes advantage of spatial resources, however it’s only the start of much more for fixing their transport issues.
Last week we had two important announcements with the Government finally confirming they’ll pay for half of the City Rail Link (CRL) and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) finally seeing the council and government aligned on the future of transport in Auckland, including agreeing on the need in the future for a number of big PT investments. Also last week I was looking on Auckland Transport’s website and came across a lot of new images and drawings, one of which I used in the CRL post.
These three things got me thinking about one of the big disappointments about the CRL, the decision to not build the Beresford Square entrance for the K Rd station, having only an entrance at Mercury Lane. It originally seemed to stem from AT value engineering the station to try and cut costs but in the process engineering out much of the value – to the point that at one time there were rumors they were looking to not build the station at all. After the decision to go only with Mercury Lane, AT released a board paper in which they claimed:
- It would save $30-40 million – a tiny amount compared to the overall cost of the project.
- A single entrance would be enough to cope with the demand out to 2046 – but given how frequently transport models are wrong, this seems completely bogus.
- They only ever intended to build one entrance at first – despite having always shown the station as having two entrances prior to this point.
- It would be more difficult to dig the Mercury Lane entrance later compared to the Beresford Square one and the Mercury Lane entrance had more future development potential.
That last point is what I want to focus on because as the technical images show, they’re actually doing most of the work needed for the entrance but then leaving off the useful bit. The extent of the works is shown in some of the images below and on others on the AT website. As you can see the plans show an approximately seven storey building to be built under Pitt St to service the CRL but it skips the planned connection to the central concourse area and also across to Beresford Square. Here is the longitudinal section
This version shows the cross section.
With the government now on board with the project and obviously wanting it to be as successful as possible, it’s time to stop the penny pinching and build the station properly, especially as it will undoubtedly be much harder and more complex to build the connections at a later date.
As a reminder, this is what the entrance may look like if built.
Moving on to ATAP, while some were disappointed by more PT projects not being prioritised sooner, one of the key outcomes is the government has signed up to Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network (RTN) including new busways and their new favorite term ‘mass transit’. ATAP lists a ‘mass transit upgrade’ to the busway in the 3rd decade but at this stage we don’t even know what mode it might be or where it might go. Depending on the mode chosen, some options could see a line from the North Shore built under Wellesley St to connect perpendicularly to the Aotea Station the and then possibly travel elsewhere.
In the past Auckland Transport have said that they’re designing the Aotea Station for just this possibility, once such example is this from the CRL resource consent hearings where AT’s expert said this:
The Aotea Station concept design has been future proofed for potential platform level interchange between CRL and the potential North Shore Line (see table 1-2 of the CDR) by identifying space within the station box for the provision of two heavy duty metro style escalators and one 26 person lift, connecting passageways and additional structural works that would provide this connection.
Yet in recent times I’ve been hearing suggestions that the value engineering has gone a bit overboard again and at this time it may make future plans more difficult. While I don’t expect a North Shore line to be built quickly, designing and building the Aotea station to enable that kind of change is the future just makes sense.
My take on both of these issues is challenged by Finance Minister Bill English though, One such example is a few days ago on Paul Henry’s show where he talked about funding the project. Most concerning was this part.
“The big number that’s come out should pour a bit of cold water on some of the other dreams that have been expressed about what might happen in Auckland, because this is a large contribution from everyone outside Auckland to a critical piece of infrastructure there,” Mr English told Paul Henry on Monday.
Because the Government has essentially written a blank cheque, with the final cost still a mystery, Mr English says it’ll be taking a big role in the decision-making process from here. This he expects will ensure it comes under budget.
“In recent years our large roading projects have actually come in a bit under budget.”
Traffic in Auckland has gotten progressively worse in the past decade. More than 40,000 new cars hit the road every year, and the average rush-hour journey from Papakura to the CBD has gone from 46 minutes in 2013 to 67 now.
“We’re getting a more realistic view of how to deal with congestion and the need for more roading projects in Auckland,” says Mr English.
“They might just have to pull back on some of the big ambitions for [the CRL].”
This suggests even more cost cutting is on the blocks and therefore more key features of the project shelved. In a addition English says he expects the project to come in under the government’s revised budget of $2.8-3.4 billion – yet Len still says it will cost $2.5 billion +/- 20%, This makes me wonder if the government have deliberately inflated the cost of the project so that they can later claim they saved money.
Perhaps I’m just reading into it a bit much, what do you think?
For a long time I have been fascinated with Tilt trains, I have now decided to write a post about them. For those that don’t know a tilting train is a train that is designed to tilt with the curve as banking around it. Think of it this way, when you are riding a bike as you move into a corner you tilt inwards which allows you to take the corner better at a higher speed. By tilting the train combats the centripetal force which causes inertia e.g. when standing you losing balance as you come around a curve. So when the curve goes to the right, the train tilts right, making a more comfortable ride as well as allowing faster speeds.
In Queensland there are two regional lines that run tilt trains, an Electric tilt train entering service 1998 built by Walkers, who are now owned by Downer (Tilt Train) service between Brisbane to Rockhampton covering 638km in in 7h45min, & a Diesel tilt train entering service 2003 built by Downer (Spirit of Queensland) between Brisbane and Cairns covering 1680km in 12h20min. They both have revenue top speed of 160km/h, however the Electric Tilt train holds the Australian record in a speed run hitting nearly 210 km/h just north of Bundaberg. The yellow boxes in the first attached timetable are the tilt train times, while the blue is the standard diesel, notice the 1h5m-1h50m difference in times.
You are asking why does this matter, Australia has completely different infrastructure to New Zealand, we could never make those speeds. What if I told you these run on Queensland’s rail network, which is 1067mm Cape Gauge (Narrow Gauge) the exact same as us, as well as for the Electric Tilt Train using 25 kV AC Overhead lines the same used on Auckland Electrification, and the NIMT Te Rapa-Palmerston North Electrification.
So could tilt trains be used here, Britomart to Hamilton is over 138.7km, at current there is a 87.1 km electrification gap from Papakura to Te Rapa & 60km gap if electrification to Puke goes ahead. An estimate of the cost of electrifying the former was $433m, however this was 2008 and the actual report is hard to track down. There is also a single track section between Te Kauwhata & Amokura that should also realistically be duplicated.
Interestingly I looked into CAF, who built our Class AM EMU’s, they offer tilt train technology which they call SIBI, recently they have provided 8 Diesel tilt trains to Sardinia for $88m NZD, so they have experience in designing and building using this technology.
So we have a few options depending on the level of works you want to do, however I will simplify to two as examples
- Go all out, finish the electrification, upgrade a few stations Huntly, Te Rapa, Hamilton (There is a underground station that exists however is closed at current, double track Te Kauwhata & Amokura, complete the 3rd main (At the very least to Westfield), plus complete any other signal/track upgrades needed. These upgrades minus the stations would benefit freight speed/capacity as well, and many would argue are needed eventually regardless of intercity passenger services being introduced. This would be a quick, clean, modern comfortable service, if built with good windows (Because everyone loves a view), in train wifi, USB charging in the seats, as well as passenger trays for a laptop to watch a movie/catch up on emails, this service could be very competitive with driving.
- Start Small, procure from CAF, or another company some DMU tilt trains, upgrade a few Waikato stations, double track Te Kauwhata & Amokura while completing any track/signal upgrades necessary. Over time add upgrades depending on success.
So what do you think, have something like the below running to/from Hamilton, could technology like this give the Expressway a run for its money?
The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) report, which was released last week, identified the need to spend more money on transport infrastructure in Auckland. ATAP estimates that we need to spend $24 billion on new transport infrastructure over the next decade, around $4 billion of which would not be funded by current transport budgets.
While $4 billion is a sizeable gap, it’s smaller than previously assumed, due in part to ATAP’s recommendation to defer costly projects like the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. But meeting it will mean raising fuel taxes, fares, rates, general taxes, or implementing congestion pricing to manage demands until funding is available.
ATAP’s obviously identified a need to spend more money on transport infrastructure in the Auckland context. But is spending more money on infrastructure in general a good idea? In other words, should any additional spending in Auckland be balanced by proportionately higher spending everywhere else in the country?
Two prominent American economists, Larry Summers and Ed Glaeser, recently took contrasting views on this question. Summers is most well-known as a policy advisor to Democratic administrations and (in recent years) an advocate of fiscal policy as a cure for long post-GFC recession. Glaeser, on the other hand, is best known for his work on urban economics, including his great book Triumph of the City.
Summers lays out the case for spending more (in the Financial Times). His key argument is that low interest rates signal an underemployed economy where the “opportunity cost” of paying people to build more stuff is relatively low, and that infrastructure spending is a good way to do this as it can enhance a country’s long-run productive potential:
There is a consensus that the US should substantially raise its level of infrastructure investment. Economists and politicians of all persuasions recognise that this can create quality jobs and provide economic stimulus without posing the risks of easy-money policies in the short run. They also see that such investment can expand the economy’s capacity in the medium term and mitigate the huge maintenance burden we would otherwise pass on to the next generation.
The case for infrastructure investment has been strong for a long time, but it gets stronger with each passing year, as government borrowing costs decline and ongoing neglect raises the return on incremental spending increases. As it becomes clearer that growth will not return to pre-financial-crisis levels on its own, the urgency of policy action rises. Just as the infrastructure failure at Chernobyl was a sign of malaise in the Soviet Union’s last years, profound questions about America’s future are raised by collapsing bridges, children losing IQ points because of lead in water and an air traffic control system that does not use GPS technology.
In particular, Summers argues that priority should be placed on funding deferred maintenance, which is a major problem in the US:
What is the highest priority? The fastest, highest and safest returns are likely to be found where maintenance has been deferred. Maintenance outlays do not require extensive planning or regulatory approvals, so they can take place quickly. And they tend naturally to take place in areas where infrastructure is most heavily used.
Glaeser sets out a considerably more skeptical perspective in the City Journal. Contra Summers, he argues that infrastructure spending isn’t a particularly efficient way of getting unemployed people back to work, and that the political incentives facing decision-makers tend to mean that additional funding is misspent in declining areas like Detroit or on projects that don’t do much good:
While infrastructure investment is often needed when cities or regions are already expanding, too often it goes to declining areas that don’t require it and winds up having little long-term economic benefit. As for fighting recessions, which require rapid response, it’s dauntingly hard in today’s regulatory environment to get infrastructure projects under way quickly and wisely. Centralized federal tax funding of these projects makes inefficiencies and waste even likelier, as Washington, driven by political calculations, gives the green light to bridges to nowhere, ill-considered high-speed rail projects, and other boondoggles. America needs an infrastructure renaissance, but we won’t get it by the federal government simply writing big checks. A far better model would be for infrastructure to be managed by independent but focused local public and private entities and funded primarily by user fees, not federal tax dollars.
Glaeser takes more specific aim at the notion that infrastructure investment inevitably generates broader economic returns:
Infrastructure spending is a form of investment: just as building a new factory can boost productivity, laying down a new highway or opening a new airport runway can, at least in principle, generate future economic returns. But the relevant question is: How do those future returns compare with the costs? Just because infrastructure is a form of capital doesn’t mean that spending a lot on it is always smart. When a firm estimates the rate of return for a new factory, it can calculate the expected net profits and compare those with the expense. The analog for, say, new or improved roads is to estimate the benefits to users from reduced travel times, add the likely modest spillover benefits to nonusers, and then subtract the spending needed to construct and maintain the infrastructure. The results can differ significantly across projects. A well-known 1988 Congressional Budget Office survey found that spending to maintain current highways in good shape produces returns of 30 percent to 40 percent—but that new highway construction in rural areas showed a much lower return. A clever study that used firm inventories estimated that the rate of return to new highways was sizable during the 1970s but sank below 5 percent during the 1980s and 1990s.
The existence of plausible transportation alternatives and the law of diminishing returns have also tended to reduce the benefits of infrastructure investment over the past two centuries. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1821 brought enormous value because the inland transportation options at the time were dismal. In the early nineteenth century, it cost as much to ship goods 30 miles over land as to send them across the entire Atlantic Ocean. Yet the very existence of canals, as much of a breakthrough as they represented, reduced the benefits of the later rail system, as Nobel economist Robert Fogel has shown. The returns for new transportation infrastructure in places with terrible roads, such as much of Africa and India, will be much higher than in the United States, which already enjoys an impressive, if under-maintained, array of mobility options.
While Summers and Glaeser take different views on the value of spending more money on infrastructure, there are some important points of agreement, such as:
- Prioritising maintenance spending to replace or upgrade run-down infrastructure
- Better cost benefit analysis to ensure that money is being spent in more beneficial ways
- Where appropriate, funding new infrastructure more from user charges and fees, rather than general taxes.
Lastly, it’s worth asking whether these issues look different in New Zealand than in the United States. I don’t have a complete answer to this, but in previous posts I have looked at the issue of infrastructure spending from a variety of perspectives. For instance, I’ve asked:
On balance, I’d say that those posts present a moderately skeptical view of the case for significantly ramping up transport investment – ie more in line with Glaeser’s view than Summers’. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t spend a bit more, but any additional spending should be backed by robust analysis.
What do you think about infrastructure spending? More or less?
On Saturday a short but important and long awaited new connection was officially opened to the Mt Albert Train Station. A new bridge crosses the tracks and directly connects the concourse added when the station was upgraded in 2013 upgraded with the town centre, saving a detour out to Carrington Rd and back.
The connection was planned for when the station was first upgraded so s you’d expect the new bridge matches the design of the connection out to Carrington Rd, including the smart and distinctive pattern on the windows.
Here you can see the new bridge from Carrington Rd
At this stage the new connection is only for able bodied people though as it ends in stairs. Those, such as wheelchair users still need to use the Carrington Rd exit.
The exit also puts users out into the carpark that still exists and which I believe is subject to a long term lease, how long till we see someone ignoring the paint and parking over it.
Upgrading the carpark to a plaza for people is being considered as a future option though and it’s at that time it appears ramps may be provided for this exit.
Mt Albert is in a prime spot, served by both the train station and multiple bus routes as part of the new bus network coming next year. This will be further cemented after the CRL is completed which will have the effect of shifting the town centre much closer to town. Given this and its current urban form, it is more ripe than most for some serious urban regeneration – the row of buildings that back on to the station are looking particularly sad. This bridge is one small step in enabling that to happen.
Following it’s 2013 upgrade I’d say the station is arguably now one of the best stations in the city, a far cry from it looked like just over three years ago.
Voting papers have now started going out for local body elections. While the Mayoral contest understandably gets the most coverage, there is considerably less the further down the chain the position is and so the harder it becomes. In some cases at a Councillor level but almost certainly by the time you get to the local board level you’re likely to be voting on people you’ve never seen or even heard of before based on nothing more than a picture and a vague blurb – and it’s amazing how crappy they can be. And candidates for DHB and if you have one, a licencing trust take this to another level.
To try and help inform the public, our friends at Generation Zero have put in a huge effort to interview and score candidates for mayor, council and local board. Here’s what they say:
We asked every council candidate the same 14 questions on Transport, Housing and the Environment. We gave them points based on how well they answered and how well they matched Generation Zero’s vision for a liveable low-carbon Auckland.
One thing I really like is how much detail they’ve provided this time. They’ve explicitly list the questions they’ve asked and their marking criteria so that it’s clear everyone is marked by looking through the same lens. The 14 questions are grouped into the three categories mentioned above – with over half focused on transport – a fourth category is scores a candidate’s competency and is based on a number of different factors.
At a glance readers are able to see the overall score and the score for each category. By drilling down on a candidate you can to see how many points were scored for each question along with the markers thoughts on the candidate.
As an example, here are the five highest scores for mayor. John Palino scored the lowest of probably any candidate with a E overall.
Given Goff is the front runner in all polls so far I’ve used his result to show the synopsis and break down in his scores for the transport section.
What is interesting about looking through the various council wards is some have lots of candidates that have scored well to pick from – such as in Manukau
While in other areas people will to choose from candidates who have scored fairly low, one such ward is Maungakiekie-Tāmaki where the best score was incumbent Denise Krum with a C+.
As well as getting an A+ score, Manukau candidate Efeso Collins is also probably the first Auckland candidate in to have his own song. Perhaps it should become a requirement of candidates from now on?
Unfortunately, not all mayoral or council candidates have a ranking as it relied on Generation Zero being able to contact them and them being willing to be interviewed for this. Overall it’s a fantastic resource so thank you to Generation Zero for putting so much effort in for it.
In addition to the work above, if you’re looking for more information candidates the council’s official website has information too. And lastly, Vote Local has a quiz you can do which then compares your answers to mayoral candidates.
Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week, we’re starting with two bits of authentic Kiwiana. First, in Stuff Henry Cooke reviews New Zealand’s best and worst town slogans. You’ve got to read the entire article for the full effect, but here were some of my favourite ones:
MOST IMPROVED: THE HUTT
Someone once suggested a slogan for the wider Hutt area “Right up my Hutt Valley,” which sounds like a joke the marketing agency pitched by accident. Luckily, something closer to “Love the Hutt” or “I love the Hutt” has taken over the slogan game now.
BEST SLOGAN: DUNEDIN
Dunedin, after years of enduring “I am Dunedin” and the much more fun “It’s alright here,” seems to have dropped the whole idea of a slogan altogether, instead branding the city as simply “dunedin” – but written in a gothic script so they look like a black metal band. In their brand story Dunedin notes the new logo is “irony-proof,” and, well – they’re not wrong.
Frankly, before the Hutt Valley gets another slogan it should consider renaming itself. Te Awa Kairangi could be a good alternative, but they’d have to scrub the toxic algae out of the river to make it worthy of the name…
Second, the Loading Docs initiative, which supports 10 filmmaking teams to create three-minute, creative documentaries that tell New Zealand stories, has put together a short video telling the story of two refugee migrants to New Zealand: How Mr. and Mrs. Gock Saved the Kumara. Pretty inspiring story:
Away from New Zealand, Jarrett Walker (Human Transit) tells the story of Barcelona’s “drunken metro and sober bus”. It’s an interesting story of good and bad public transport design, and the kludges that build up over time as networks expand:
Some simple math: In an optimal grid network, lines keep going more or less straight, and intersect each other more or less perpendicularly. You change direction in this network by making a connection. The perpendicularity maximizes the area of the city that each connection could take you to.
Transit grids can be standard or polar, but are almost always some subtle fusion of the two. The polar grid arises when there’s a huge center on which the network logically converges, because desirable destinations are packed most tightly there.
Once you recognize these patterns, you notice how coherent most metro networks are. Even those that are kludges to a degree have usually been patched as much as possible to create some appropriate fusion of radial and standard grid effects.
But among the metros I’ve encountered Barcelona’s metro network seems unusually chaotic in its network structure, often seeming to meander without intention.
[…] Again, most metros are kludges to some degree. It’s unlikely that anybody alive in Barcelona today deserves blame for the odd patterns of the metro’s flow. There are always historical reasons for why things have ended up as they are. If you want to follow that history, here’s a fun video.
But meanwhile: Does your head contain some received wisdom along the lines of: “European metros are so fantastic that why would anyone take buses?” I can remember when many Europeans used to believe this, but today, bus network improvement is one of the most important of European trends. The need for a rational bus network may be even more urgent if your metro is staggering around drunkenly, unable to follow a straight line.
What’s great about the new Barcelona’s bus network then, is not just that it’s a grid, but that it really wants you to know that it’s a grid, and how straight its constituent lines are:
The new lines have numbers preceded by “H” or “V” for “horizontal” or “vertical”. (Vertical is quite literal: not just up-down on standard maps like this one, but also up to the hills or down to the sea.) These frequent lines are also numbered in logical sequence across the city, so that as you get to know the network, a number reminds you of roughly where in the grid each line sits, and thus what it’s likely to be useful for.
The idea is that people should be able to keep a sense of the whole grid network in their heads. If you just remember what H and V mean, and the sequence in which they’re numbered, you have an enormous amount of information the whole system. When you see any bus numbered this way, you have a general sense of which way it’s going, or at least along which axis. And when you hear a bus route number, you can easily form a general sense of where it is.
Jarrett’s an advocate for legible, user-friendly public transport systems that are accessible to a wide variety of people and transport demands. But our transport systems are often designed to meet different goals: to exclude and separate, rather than connect. Lena Groeger (ProPublica) explores the sordid history and present of “Discrimination by Design“:
You can’t talk about discriminatory design without mentioning city planner Robert Moses, whose public works projects shaped huge swaths of New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s. The physical design of the environment is a powerful tool when it’s used to exclude and isolate specific groups of people. And Moses’ design choices have had lasting discriminatory effects that are still felt in modern New York.
A notorious example: Moses designed a number of Long Island Parkway overpasses to be so low that buses could not drive under them. This effectively blocked Long Island from the poor and people of color who tend to rely more heavily on public transportation. And the low bridges continue to wreak havoc in other ways: 64 collisions were recorded in 2014 alone (here’s a bad one).
The design of bus systems, railways, and other forms of public transportation has a history riddled with racial tensions and prejudiced policies. In the 1990s the Los Angeles’ Bus Riders Union went to court over the racial inequity they saw in the city’s public transportation system. The Union alleged that L.A.’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority spent “a disproportionately high share of its resources on commuter rail services, whose primary users were wealthy non-minorities, and a disproportionately low share on bus services, whose main patrons were low income and minority residents.” The landmark case was settled through a court-ordered consent decree that placed strict limits on transit funding and forced the MTA to invest over $2 billion in the bus system.
Of course, the design of a neighborhood is more than just infrastructure. Zoning laws and regulations that determine how land is used or what schools children go to have long been used as a tool to segregate communities. All too often, the end result of zoning is that low-income, often predominantly black and Latino communities are isolated from most of the resources and advantages of wealthy white communities.
Discrimination by design is hardly a thing of the past. Many cities are going out of their way to put up barriers to building smaller, affordable dwellings that can meet the needs of people without a lot of money. On the Sightline Institute’s blog, architect and developer David Neiman explains the problems with Seattle’s recent effort to impose minimum apartment sizes:
Unfortunately for the many other Annas out there, eager to live close to good city jobs or to participate in city life, Seattle has now effectively outlawed micro-housing through the minutiae of policy and zoning rules. Seattle was the modern birthplace of micro-housing in North America. It went strong from 2009 to 2013, but building micro-housing projects has since become an uphill battle. In fact, the local war about micro-housing is over… and micro-housing lost.
[…] You buy a plot of land in an urban village to develop micro-housing, anticipating its future residents will benefit from nearby frequent transit, grocery stores, a library and park, and some local shops. Your goal is to provide homes at affordable rents in a desirable neighborhood for the most people that you can. You’d also like to participate in the MFTE program, which gives you a property tax break that covers the cost of dramatically lowering the rent for a share of your tenants as long as those tenants have low incomes.
You draw up plans to build 40 apartments of 175 square feet each. You estimate rent at $900 per month. That amount might sound expensive if you haven’t shopped for rentals in Seattle recently, but it’s a steal: conventional studios now go for $1,400 on average.
Not so fast. Some of the folks who live nearby are upset about what you have planned. So the City Council passes new rules bumping up your units to an average of 220 square feet, and then, in committee, adds some more rules that jack your average unit size further.
You redesign your project according to the new rules and find that you are now down to 27 units of 260 square feet each. Thirteen Annas just lost their housing, and the remainder saw their rent rise by a third, to about $1,200 per month. But at least you are in the MFTE program, so five of your apartments will offer a discounted rent of $1,020 per month to people whose incomes qualify. (You facepalm in disbelief, however, that whereas your original plan offered 40 units, unsubsidized, at $900 a month, your new version has just five units, subsidized, at $1,020.)
Hold on just a second, though, because your Plan B just ran aground. The City Council has decided that the MFTE deal is too good for you, and it adopts more-demanding program requirements, dropping MFTE-discounted rents to $618 per month. Some quick math tells you your property tax break will not come close to covering the rent subsidy.
On top of this, the Mayor’s Office decides to promote family-sized housing by bumping up your MFTE participation quota: you have to subsidize rents for a quarter, not a fifth, of your tenants. You’re baffled why the Mayor’s Office thinks that driving you out of the MFTE program is helping to build family-sized housing. You give up on the MFTE program. There will be no discounted units. The Annas will all have to pay $1,200 a month. Maybe their parents will chip in?
Nice try. The building department is concerned that your apartments are so small that they might pose a threat to life, health, and safety. (You groan in frustration. The National Healthy Housing Standard was revised by an expert panel in 2014 to radically reduce the emphasis on minimum space as a health and safety concern. Previous editions of this model US building code had, based on little empirical evidence, recommended space quotas that criminalized the living conditions of many low-income families, but the new codes, based on a thorough review of the research literature, suggest a minimum of just 70 square feet per room and eliminated all other references to crowding. Sightline’s research informed this change.) The building department publishes a new code interpretation that requires your SEDUs to have larger living rooms. You redesign your project again: Plan C. Three more Annas lose their homes. You are now down to 24 apartments of 290 square feet that rent for about $1,300 per month.
At this point, you realize you’re better off converting the units into small, conventional studios. Your unit size bumps up again, to a little over 300 square feet—Plan D—but at least conventional studios can rationally participate in the MFTE program because the required rent subsidy is lower, so 25 percent of your tenants will get an affordable rent.
Not quite. The building department has a follow-up memo. It turns out that the living room size problem doesn’t just concern SEDUs; conventional studios are now also in danger of sliding below the purported minimum threshold for human habitation. This new interpretation applies to all housing, so your studios have to grow yet again. Your units jump up to an average of 330 square feet, Plan E. Three more Annas lose homes. Your unit count drops to 21. Your rents are now at $1,400 per month. They are not micros. Micros are dead.
This is how Seattle micro-housing regulations have evolved in less than two years. Spread over dozens of proposed small unit development projects, this represents the loss of hundreds of affordable dwellings and a huge increase in average rents. How much?
Seattle’s micro-housing “fix” costs the city 829 affordable homes per year
How many affordable homes is Seattle losing due to its new thicket of rules against micro-housing? The graph below illustrates how the production of congregate housing (including pod-style) and SEDUs changed between 2010 and 2015.
This is just a stupid catastrophe of a policy. Unbelievable. And remember: Auckland Council just decided to impose a more restrictive minimum dwelling size. While Seattle’s policy bans units with less than 330sq ft, or around 30m2, Auckland’s restricts anything under 35m2.
However, Auckland’s doing it right in other areas. Consider this article on Houston’s 1999 reform to its (minimal) zoning code, by John Ricco at Greater Greater Washington:
But in 1999, Houston enacted sweeping land-use reforms: it decreased the minimum residential lot size from 5,000 square feet [465m2] to 1,400 [130m2] in close-in neighborhoods. In effect, this reform legalized townhouses in areas with suburban-style houses on huge lots. Two or three houses could now take the spot of one.
The political significance of these reforms cannot be overstated. Single family zoning is somewhat of a third rail in American local politics; it’s exceptionally rare for residents of suburban-style neighborhoods to allow denser development. Urbanist commentators have noted that “missing middle” housing—forms like duplexes and small multifamily apartments—has been regulated away in most American cities. Houston represents an important dissent from the notion that single family neighborhoods are to be preserved at all costs.
The results of these reforms have been remarkable. Areas that were once made up entirely of ranch-style houses, McMansions, and underused lots are now covered in townhouses… The infill process is typically incremental, with detached homes being replaced one at a time. This often leads to a diversity of housing styles on a single block:
Other blocks are unrecognizable in their transformation:
And in some parts of the city, this redevelopment process has gone hand-in-hand with light rail expansion:
(There are so many striking before-and-after images that I programmed a twitter bot, @densifyingHOU, that tweets one out every day.)
One major benefit of these townhouses: they’re cheap! Development at this scale uses cheaper construction methods than those of large buildings, and Houston’s straightforward permitting process reduces regulatory uncertainty and thus financing costs. A cursory search on real estate websites reveals luxury townhouses a mile from downtown from the low $300s.
Now, Houston’s approach does have its flaws. Parking is still mandated, setback requirements and inward-facing homes make for a lousy pedestrian experience, and some new houses are, frankly, ugly. In some areas, unhappy homeowners have lobbied successfully for block-level regulations that re-outlaw townhouses.
But the key insight here is that piecemeal densification is possible, and it works. Houston has found a way to add significant amounts of housing without sprawling.
I wrote about this process after visiting Houston a few years ago. To be clear: the public face of Houston, especially if you’re trying to walk somewhere, is ugly and inhumane. But the buildings are changing rapidly in response to a more liberal set of density controls, which is benefitting people trying to find housing.
The interesting thing is that Auckland has recently surpassed Houston when it comes to deregulating minimum lot sizes. The Unitary Plan drops minimum lot sizes to zero in three of four urban residential zones (Terraced Housing and Apartment Blocks, Mixed Housing Urban, Mixed Housing Suburban) that cover the majority of the city – albeit with a requirement to get a resource consent before building too many dwellings. And in the Single House zone minimum lot sizes are counterbalanced by a more permissive approach to granny flats. We will see how it goes.
Finally, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley reviews his new electric bike. He seems to be enjoying it:
Q: So, it’s been about 11 months since you got your fancy electric-assist bike
A: Yes, that’s right
Q: Have you given up yet?
A: No, it’s still fun.
Q: Even with the rain?
A: Combining Doppler radar and the detailed weather forecasts has mostly kept me dry
Q: And getting killed by cars?
A: So far, still at less than 1 event.
Q: How do you feel about busy two-lane roundabouts?
A: I have a Theory.
Q: Do tell!
A: Busy roundabouts rely on informal negotiation over the details of the ‘give way to the right’ rule. Since cyclists are excluded from the negotiation, we inevitably offend either the drivers to the right or those behind us.
Q: Can’t they just four-letter-word themselves?
A: They are driving deadly weapons.
Q: Ah. Yes.
There are many, many other examples. Auckland’s sausage flats, for instance, were designed to respond to zoning rules. A mid-1970s reform allowed people to add units on standard residential sites, but they didn’t waive setback and height rules. The result was a lot of long, skinny ‘sausages’ running down the centre of suburban lots, as seen in Royal Oak:
Sausage flats are not the most beloved aspect of Auckland’s urban fabric. (Unjustly, in my view, as they serve a valuable role in housing people who may not be able to afford a typical standalone house.) But some responses to zoning are more well-loved. Take the Mansard roof, which probably forms a key part of your mental image of Paris: Steeply pitched roofs with windows facing out and apartments built within:
According to Wikipedia, this emerged as a response to French zoning codes:
Later examples suggest that either French or American buildings were taxed by their height (or number of storeys) to the base of the roof, or that mansards were used to bypass zoning restrictions. This last explanation is the nearest to the truth: a Parisian law had been in place since 1783, restricting the heights of buildings to 20 metres (65 feet). The height was only measured up to the cornice line, making any living space contained in a mansard roof exempt. A 1902 revision of the law permitted building three or even four stories within such a roof.
Humans are great. We’ve never seen a rule that we didn’t try to weasel our way around.
So the long-awaited final report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released yesterday. This is the third “deliverable” from the project, building on the “Foundation Report” in February and the “Interim Report” in June. The Final Report isn’t dramatically different from what was reported in June, although there’s a lot more detail – particularly around the timing of major projects. I’ll get onto that soon. First if you want to watch the announcement from Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Mayor Len Brown you can do so below thanks to Auckland Transport filming it.
Overall, ATAP appears to have landed at a pretty sensible overall strategy for Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years and see’s the government agree to something fairly close to the council’s Auckland Plan. For example, the report highlights:
- We can’t build out of way of congestion
- A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
- Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
- The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
- We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.
Here’s the strategic approach in a nutshell, it seems very similar to what we’ve seen in existing Auckland plans:
Of particular interest is, of course, the timing of projects – especially what’s “brought forward” into being a first decade priority. The first decade is the key as it’s difficult to project what will happen much more than that – something the report acknowledges. The major projects are summarised in the table and map below:
There are a few interesting things in here:
- Northwestern Busway – a project we’ve long been calling for and should have been included as part of the current SH16 works – has been brought forward into the first decade. Remember this was a third decade project in the Auckland Plan.
- With the exception of some improvements to the existing rail network, there seems to have been an allergic reaction to the term rail for any new lines. Instead the report uses the phrase Mass Transit instead.
- There seems to have been a compromise on isthmus light-rail, with it now being a second decade priority. On the positive side, this project wasn’t officially in any of the plans before ATAP.
- The Early Rail Development Plan priorities include Pukekohe electrification and a third-main between Westfield and Wiri. I wonder if this means government is agreeing to fully fund these?
- A “mass transit” upgrade of the Northern Busway is now officially in the plans as a longer-term priority. Presumably this means to some sort of rail in the future.
- The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is not seen as required before the third decade (around 2040). Given that NZTA had previously been talking about it needing to be in place by 2030, this is quite a major shift.
The major projects shown above are only those on the ‘strategic networks’ and there are a lot of smaller projects that sit below that. The strategic networks have also been shown in a schematic form too.
The road version shows that while map above looks busy, there’s not a heap of new major roads on the horizon. The black arterial roads should also be AT’s basis for a bus lane network map.
By comparison the strategic PT network shows that a lot of development is needed – and the government has agreed with this, also does it look familiar?
I’m sure we’ll have plenty more posts to come on the details of ATAP as we sift through them over the coming days. But what’s perhaps most interesting is how ATAP has landed at a reasonably good overall approach, even though it seems to have come at the issue from a pretty “old school” predict and provide approach. Firstly, the project objectives are very focused around congestion – even though we know that higher or lower levels of congestion are a pretty poor indicator of whether a city is succeeding or failing. Secondly, the analysis (which is described in much more detail in the “Supporting Information” report) is very demand-led, predict and provide. It is the result of a massive reliance on transport modelling that we know has traditionally not done well, especially in the face of transformative change that projects like Britomart, rail electrification and the Northern Busway.
We would have preferred to see a strategic, top-down, outcomes focused approach that focused on the jobs we might want different parts of the transport system to do. I guess the challenge with this approach is that it would have required all of those involved to actually agree to a vision for the city.
Despite this, ATAP has still landed in broadly the right place – which in a way makes it even stronger. Even if your focus is very old-school, predict and provide etc. the evidence shows that the best solution for Auckland is a major expansion of the public transport network and a shift to managing demand. Of course ATAP isn’t perfect:
- There are a lot of major roading projects in there which seem unnecessary if you were to bring in smarter pricing, something the report even acknowledges in this section about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles
This could present opportunities to defer or avoid future investment in additional road capacity
- Some of what’s said about arterial roads is quite worrying as there’s a really strong push for those to have more of a movement focus when many of these are also places where we want a lot of development to occur – a balance between place and movement is required
- I think some major public transport projects will probably need to be brought forward – if for nothing else, to respond to massive demand
One thing you may have noticed is missing from the report is active modes. This is in part because our transport models are hopeless on active modes and because “the views of central and local government are already well aligned on the priorities and likely level of future funding”. Hopefully that means more initiatives like the Urban Cycleway Fund are expected.
Overall it’s a pretty big step in the right direction, especially in terms of having something the government has signed up to. At the briefing yesterday the representatives from the business and infrastructure lobbies were fairly dismayed at the outcome of the report, perhaps a sign it’s on the right track. They want to more built sooner but have also separately said they don’t want to pay more rates to enable that.
The next challenge is of course how we fund it. ATAP estimates that over the next decade we’ll need to spend $24 billion but based on current budget trends, that will leave a $4 billion funding gap (mostly in the later part of the decade). With leading mayoral candidates promising to cap rate increases, it will make for an interesting few years while this issue is addressed.