We are increasingly concerned that Auckland is in the middle of very poor process where by far the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure project is being forced along and at ill-considered speed without anything like the level of public participation nor detailed analysis that it should have.
NZTA are relying on a 2008 study into possible future harbour crossings to just get on with designing and designating a road only crossing. This study started with the assumption that any additional crossing would be a road lane crossing. No kind of comparative analysis of all options like the Centre City Future Access Study that was done to be certain that the City Rail Link is the right mode and route for that need has ever been undertaken.
Looking at the current options across the harbour it is clear that the highest capacity urban transport mode is what’s missing. There are 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, and some passenger ferries, but no dedicated Rapid Transit route. We hold that it is absolutely necessary to do a proper comparative analysis between modes for the next harbour crossing before any designation or final design work is undertaken, and have been consistent in requesting it. We are not claiming to know what the outcome would be but that it is frankly irresponsible to proceed any further without such a study.
Particularly as a great deal has changed since 2007 when that report was commissioned. Aucklanders have proven that they are just like city dwellers everywhere else in the world and are very keen to use good quality Transit systems when they get the chance. Since the upgrade and electrification of the existing rail network we have been piling onto our new trains at a rate well in advance of expectations. The Northern Busway too has excelled expectations even though it has to share lanes with general traffic on the bridge and therefore is not as Rapid as a dedicated route would be. These two top tier systems are attracting riders at a rate of 20%+ year on year, and while there is relief ahead for the rail network with at last the CRL underway, there is no plan to deal with an ever rising flood of buses into the city centre with this hugely expensive project.
The line that ‘Aucklanders just love their cars’ as an excuse to not provide quality alternatives to driving has been forever proven to be the nonsense it always was. Aucklanders are the same as everyone else; we love what ever works well for our needs. So when we get options like the example below from Panmure for reliable fast travel we take it.
Furthermore it is well understood that it is the quality of the alternatives that govern the speed and reliability of the surface routes. So that in this example the car and bus speeds and reliability would be much worse without the separate Rapid Transit alternative. The same will be the case for across the harbour; a great alternative means freer roads, another driving route means more cars everywhere; more congestion See here for a discussion on this:
There’s good science to back up the commonsense view. It goes like this: public transport operates to a fixed speed, a timetable. Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
Additionally the commitment to this road only crossing is made before the completion of the Western Ring Route, the current multi-billion dollar bypass for cross harbour traffic. It is also being made without any kind of business case. Existing estimates are up to $6Billion dollars for a return of 30-40 cents on the dollar. This desperately needs proper and thoughtful analysis, without the ridiculous haste from politicians.
All over the world cities are kept moving by building high capacity spatially efficient Transit systems. Auckland is simply at the point where it can no longer delay adding this essentially weapon to its arsenal of movement options. From statements by NZTA they agree that a Rail crossing is required but they insist, without any analysis or study, that this must come after another road crossing.
Three road crossings, and no more spatially and energetically efficient option? We would like to see analysis of what reversing this timing could achieve. What if the next crossing is high capacity electric rail? Especially driverless low operating cost rail.
What are the outcomes for traffic congestion across the wider city?
For land use?
For the local environment?
For Carbon Emissions?
We know that the people constantly say they want extension of quality Public Transport:
Survey of Automobile Association members
The public deserve to have a say in what is being done in their name and with their money. There are so many questions. NZTA know that this project will flood the city centre with cars and that there is simply nowhere for them to go. They also quietly discuss levels of tolling on both the new crossing and the old bridge. This massive project will not only soak up huge sums of investment funding closing off opportunity to make other decisions across the city and nation, but also induce more traffic everywhere on Auckland’s roads. It is also the reverse of future proofing as it commits us all to more driving:
The road only crossing is a huge Traffic Inducement scheme, as NZTA explain in this slide.
To claim all environmental and traffic congestion concerns can be waved away because of future technology is very weak. That argument suggests that the time to build this kind of infrastructure is when we all do have electric cars, not on the prospect of their arrival some time in the future. And if driverless cars are to be that revolutionary then perhaps all this expensive additional road space will not be required? Meantime there is current electric and driverless technology that can be invested in right now.
In Vancouver the SkyTrain mass transit system shifts 117m people per year, at frequencies often down to a train every 2 minutes, running from 5am to 1:30am daily and all at an operating surplus. Driverless, Electric Light Metro. North Shore people have already shown they are not too posh to bus, they certainly won’t be reluctant to use a quicker, quieter, cleaner, more direct, 21st century movement system like this.
The New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development’s public shark-jumping exercise the other week got me thinking. While their flagship policy of a new megabillion eastern tunnel project is a bit mad, their report does a reasonable job of diagnosing one of the core problems facing Auckland. That is, the city’s land-use and transport plans are not always well aligned.
That’s illustrated nicely in their maps of intensification opportunities around rail stations – red circles indicate places where apartment and townhouse development is generally discouraged under the draft Unitary Plan.
In short, we’re fixing our city’s rapid transit network – and it’s long since time we did that! – but we may need to do more to get the best out of the investment by enabling intensive development around train stations.
As a point of contrast, I recently visited Sydney on the way back from a work trip to Australia and spent a day wandering around the city looking at stuff – it’s a great walking city. And I’ve got to say: they don’t waffle around with upzoning there. When they choose to redevelop a brownfield area, the debate isn’t between whether two or three storeys should be allowed. The question is whether to go ten, twenty, or thirty storeys. And they’re willing to back that up with new rapid transit where needed.
Auckland is different. We build rapid transit infrastructure haltingly, in fits and starts, and when governments choose to accelerate road projects, busways are left to progress through the queue. And while the Unitary Plan is a fine step forward, it’s really just the start of the conversation about how we should modernise our planning rules for a 21st-century city.
But change is needed. Because, as NZCID’s report unintentionally illustrates, Auckland’s arrived at the end of its growth model of the past 50 years. It’s kaput. We may be able to kludge it back into action for a bit, but make no mistake: it will seize up again. And so we need to design a new growth model.
The old growth model was as follows:
Build some roads and water pipes out into the countryside
Build some houses on the paddocks this opens up for development
Repeat when necessary.
This isn’t necessarily a bad model. It’s simple, and it works reasonably well provided that some schools and shops and jobs move outwards as well. But it’s got some subtle pathologies – e.g. street networks that preclude future transport choices, environmental impacts, etc.
No point walking to school… or the supermarket… What is hard about using grids pls suburb designer people pic.twitter.com/ZEpGnLl0ij
And, more importantly, this growth model is inherently self-limiting in a location like Auckland. There are two reasons for this:
First, geographic constraints. Auckland is situated on a narrow isthmus between two harbours. We run out of proximate land for housing much more rapidly than other cities – which means that we must build up much more rapidly than other growing cities.
Second, the spatial cost of road transport. Geography gives Auckland many pinch points – over the Waitemata Harbour and across the portages at either edge of the isthmus. It’s intrinsically challenging to keep pumping cars through narrow pinch points. Adding motorway lanes will only get more costly in the future – as NZCID’s eastern motorway proposal demonstrates.
We can’t avoid the consequences of these constraints by metamorphosing into a polycentric city… because that’s already happened. Only one in five jobs is located in the city centre and fringe. The rest are elsewhere. If there are major gains to be had from dispersal, we have already achieved them. We can’t count on more of the same to help us escape the geometric realities.
And here’s the thing: If we insist that we must keep on doing more of the same, we will instead do nothing. If it is truly necessary to build something like NZCID’s eastern motorway tunnel to enable urban growth in Auckland, we probably won’t grow. It’s not feasible to spend a decade of Auckland’s transport infrastructure budget on a single road. (And it’s not ethical to borrow the money from future generations, who don’t have a say in what gets built.)
So we need a different growth model. I don’t have all the answers – who does? – but here are a few thoughts on what that might look like, focusing on the transport infrastructure part of the picture. (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the role of pricing and the need to rethink policies that limit housing choice.)
First and foremost, we must recognise that this growth model is self-limiting due to its reliance on a single transport mode – cars. Cars are great for lots of things, but they occupy a lot of space both when in motion and when sitting around. This is not an advantage in a city as geographically constrained as Auckland.
If we invest in a way that ensures that all new entrants to the city must use cars for most travel, then it will come back to bite us. If people know that new housing in their neighbourhood will inevitably mean more people parking in their preferred spot on the street, they will oppose it. (No matter how mindlessly hypocritical it is to claim a property right over a public street!) If they know that a new suburb on the edge of town will mean more cars jostling for space on the road during their morning commute, they will oppose it.
And if they’re presented with the bill to build all the new roads needed to keep the cars flowing, they’ll vote against it. Roads are expensive, and people don’t like it when their rates go up.
Second, we must recognise that there are alternatives. Public transport and cycling can offer great mobility at a much lower spatial cost than cars. If we want to increase mobility in a growing city, we need to make much greater use of these transport modes.
It can be challenging to make the transition, as developing these networks means thinking about infrastructure and transport services differently. It means paying much more attention to how humans may behave out there on the street – i.e. what will make them feel safe in a cycle lane, or what will make it possible for them to transfer painlessly between buses. But it’s fundamentally possible.
Third, one key consideration when building these modes is that they should be built in advance of growth, so that they can lead and shape development rather than trying to catch up with it. At present, we very much take a “roads first” philosophy to greenfield areas – i.e. building lots of lanes on day one, and coming back years later to retrofit public transport to address the resulting congestion.
The perverse consequence is that this locks in a largely car-dependent urban form on the edge of the city, exacerbating the self-limiting features of our current growth model. Unwinding that is costly and difficult. A “rapid transit first” approach would save us a lot of that trouble.
But change doesn’t happen of its own volition: policymakers have to choose to change. So here’s a simple message: If you start a sentence by saying “we need more land for housing…” the next words out of your mouth should be “… and therefore here are some rapid transit investments we should make to support it.”
The City Rail Link will be one of the most transformational projects Auckland has ever seen. Perhaps nowhere else will see experience that transformation more than the inner west of the isthmus which effectively gets picked up and moved much closer to the city. As an example, a trip from Kingsland to the middle of town will reliably be less than 10 minutes at any time of the day.
So it’s no surprise then that even just the prospect of the CRL in the future is driving up demand for land in and around the rail network close to the city.
Commercial property on Auckland’s city fringe is already popular with mid-range investors but the planned City Rail Link (CRL) will really open up areas like Newmarket, Grafton, Mt Eden and Kingsland, predicts Nick Hargreaves, Managing Director of JLL.
Hargreaves says there are several forces at play that are making the city fringe suburbs so popular.
“The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan allows for mixed use zones around urban centres and along high frequency public transport routes – making it easier for a variety of commercial and residential developments in the city fringe.
“In this regard, Auckland Council’s investment in transport will pay dividends for city fringe property owners in future,” Hargreaves says.
“The major improvement to the urban area around Britomart Station, following its opening in 2003, shows how investment in transport can lead redevelopment nearby. It brought new life to what was previously an under-utilised part of the Auckland city centre and attracted large employers like EY and Westpac.
Hargreaves says it’s notable that city fringe properties have been keenly sought by commercial property investors with an eye to the future during the past year.
Much of the land near the rail line in the inner west near the rail line and New North Rd is low-rise light industrial and the notified version of the Unitary Plan earmarks that for mixed use which would allow for significant redevelopment of the area. Importantly this land use change isn’t even counted Auckland Transport’s business case which suggested the economic benefits of the CRL will be $2.96 – $3.2 billion (BCR of 1.6-1.7). They did however note that just the redevelopment potential within the CRL designation footprint to be worth an estimated $1.2-1.4 billion.
While on the topic of the CRL, if you’ve been near Britomart recently you would’ve seen that works are well under-way on getting ready for the demolition of the Downtown Shopping Centre and the construction of the CRL tunnels and Commercial Bay development. The various elements from Queen Elizabeth square and Lower Queen St have been progressively removed – the removal of the glass canopy along Queen St has opened up a much better view of the Britomart – and from Sunday the shopping centre will be closed so demolition can get started. The shopping centre website even has a countdown timer to it closing.
On Friday, one of the fences surrounding the works site sprouted some large banners from AT showing some images of what things will look like after the CRL. One that intrigued me and sent me looking for new images on the AT website was this one showing a plan view of the image above (although it seems to be missing the Quay St cycleway).
This one shows what Pitt St will look like after the CRL is finished. It appears that Pitt St will be narrowed down to two lanes with those structures you can see likely to be ventilation for the station. The narrowing of the road by so much is potentially a concern as the New Network for Central Auckland retains the road as the route for many of the buses accessing the city from the west of the CBD. In other words, this could become quite a significant congestion point for these buses. I also still think it’s a huge same and hugely short-sighted that AT are no longer building the entrance at Beresford Square as part of the project.
As mentioned at the start, the Mt Eden station is going to see significant development around it, especially as much of the land right next to the station will be used in the project’s construction and able to be developed on after the tunnels are completed.
An idea of the scale of redevelopment possible in the is shown in this image below with the orange buildings the ones within the CRL designation footprint.
We’ll be seeing a lot of disruption over the next few years as the CRL is built but these are definitely exiting times for the city and even the Herald on Sunday got in behind it all with a fairly positive editorial.
The absence of rail as well as walking and cycling options to the North Shore has been considered an oversight by many probably ever since the Harbour Bridge was first approved for construction over 60 years ago. While Skypath will finally rectify the walking and cycling situation, many have looked to the prospect of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) to rectify the rail one.
Some papers I received from the NZTA at the end of last week as part of an official information act request suggest that those hoping for rail to be part of AWHC are likely to be out of luck again. They confirm the NZTA only plan to designate a road based crossing. This is in sharp contrast to how the NZTA have presented the project to the public to date which includes saying that the tunnels include provision for Rapid Transit and have pictures showing tunnels with both cars and trains in them – such as the one below and this one which is described as their current concept. Their plan is to have the tunnels become SH1 with the existing bridge acting as a sort of giant off ramp to the CBD.
In addition to the likely absence of rail from the project, the documents also suggest that:
the NZTA could look to cut the connection to Onewa Rd
they are waiting till after the route is protected before doing a detailed business case
along with some other public information suggest that the NZTA deliberately ignoring any additional works needed on either side of the harbour
There are five documents in total and are dated between November 2014 and May 2015. They were the result of asking for ‘All advice to senior management, the board or the Minister on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing’
In November 2014 a paper to the NZTAs Senior Leadership Team makes this comment
The additional crossing has been identified as providing for both road and rail. Whilst the road network is mature in this area, there is currently no rail network on the North Shore. As a result Auckland Transport’s support for protecting the route for rail now is unclear. A high level discussion with AT is required to understand their aspirations.
On 10 February 2015 there is a short briefing to the Minister about the route protection process.
On 20 February 2015 there is a much more extensive briefing to the Minister after the minister obviously asked for more info. As part of a series of questions and answers the NZTA say:
The business case, which will be completed in 2017, will consider rapid transit options. Work on rapid transit options will be led by Auckland Transport. The preferred option will be secured through the route protection process.
It’s also from this brief that a small point about Shoal Bay is raised and that there are options to mitigate it.
Impacts on Shoal Bay: The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing would generate significant impacts on Shoal Bay on the North Shore including those resulting from land reclamation. There are opportunities to mitigate these effects.
Just under a month later the Minister announced the NZTA would be moving ahead with the designation process and a few days later this memo was produced discussing the next steps. This is what they say about rail.
They say a key decision is to ‘Agree with Auckland Transport the extent of rail involvement in the designation process.’
It is also from this document where they raise some of the other issues I mentioned including:
That they are considering holding off on the business case. Along with the rail comment above, deciding this is the other key decision that the memo says needs to be made.
That they are considering dropping the connection at Onewa.
Recently I’ve been hearing that extending the tunnel all the way to Esmonde to avoid reclamation in Shoal Bay is being progressed and that means anyone who accesses the motorway from Onewa Rd and wanting to go somewhere other than the CBD would have to drive north to Esmonde first then turn around and head down the tunnels. Alternatively they would have to go into the city and travel through city streets before re-joining the motorway.
The final document is a paper to the NZTA board in May 2015 discussing the route protection and other issues. In it they effectively confirm that the NZTA will not be including rail designations as part of its work and that instead it is up to Auckland Transport. They also note that the ‘lack of clarity’ around rail is the main risk to the route protection process.
Now obviously this doesn’t mean that rail isn’t going to happen as Auckland Transport could also look to protect a rail route at the same time but it seems fairly clear that the NZTA are fully prepared to designate for a road only crossing if AT don’t get on with a rapid transit option. That seems like a recipe for something going wrong due to miscommunication. We know AT have recently been conducting a study on the future of Rapid Transit to the North Shore but we haven’t even heard the outcome of that yet, let alone have the work needed for a notice of requirement completed to coincide with NZTA’s previously stated desire to start the NOR in the middle of this year.
All of the information also suggests that the NZTA intend on building road tunnels regardless with rail either at best happening concurrently or more likely never. There doesn’t appear to be any consideration a different staging of the project which could see a cheaper rail option built first and a road crossing considered if still needed in the future.
In addition this board paper notes the decision had been made to only do route protection at this time and leave the business case to later.
Next steps are tightly focused on route protection. The wider business case will be progressed as a subsequent piece of work, and subject to a separate funding application.
What is also worth noting from these documents is that appears the NZTA are treating business cases as only being used to inform when a project should start construction and what funding source it would have rather than whether it’s worth doing at all. That means the AWHC with a benefit cost ratio of 0.3 can (from an earlier study) is progressed because it passed the “do we like it” test.
There is also an interesting comment in the board minutes as a result of this paper. Included in the minutes it says ‘Board members discussed how to ensure the NoR process is contained tightly to matters relating to route protection only for the future crossing’. I’ve long understood that for the AWHC to function it will also need some significant widening of the motorway north of Esmonde Rd. It seems the NZTA want to keep discussion away from that.
One additional piece of information that was quite interesting from the 20-Feb paper was a little note on why the NZTA have picked the western alignment rather than going to the East of the city like the NZCID have suggested.
The eastern alignment was not progressed as it would have cost significantly more, including a $1 billion upgrade to Grafton Gully to accommodate additional traffic and improve connections into the central motorway junction. The eastern alignment would also have resulted in congestion on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and underuse of the new crossing.
An extra $1 billion just for Grafton Gully alone which presumably doesn’t include the extra cost of an even longer tunnel.
As I’ve said before, lets get the missing modes completed first before seeing if we need another road crossing. It might just be that a cheaper rail crossing has sufficient impact to delay a more expensive road crossing.
Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week, we’re leading off with two articles on innovative ideas from European places. The first is a Wired article explaining “why you should become an e-resident of Estonia“. Ben Hammersley reports on the Baltic country’s innovative approach to delivering government services digitally:
The most advanced digital society in the world is a former Soviet Republic on the edge of the Baltic Sea. And by handing over €50 and a photograph, allowing my fingerprints to be taken and waiting a few weeks while my credentials were verified, I have been issued with an identity card, a cryptographic key and a PIN code to access its national systems. I am now an official e-resident of the Republic of Estonia, as is the Japanese prime minister, and you will want to be one, too. And what’s more, by doing so, you’ll be part of a system that could not only reinvent public services for the internet age, but fundamentally redefine what it means to be a country…
Today, the fact that every interaction with, and within, the Estonian government happens digitally has had subtle social effects. For example, apart from only carrying two cards (driving licences, donor cards and the like have been subsumed into identity cards), Estonians have complete control over their personal data. The portal you can access with your identity card gives you a log of everyone who has accessed it. If you see something you do not like — a doctor other than your own looking at your medical records, for instance — you can click to report it to the data ombudsman. A civil servant then has to justify the intrusion.
Meanwhile, parliament is designed to be paperless: laws are even signed into effect with a digital signature on the president’s tablet. And every draft law is available to the public to read online, at every stage of the legislative process; a complete breakdown of the substance and authorship of every change offers significant transparency over lobbying and potential corruption.
Cool stuff. Hammersley points out that Estonia’s “e-government” model is replicable just about anywhere – just install the software.
Over in the bricks and mortar space, Vienna’s government-led housing development policies, a long-lasting legacy of “Red Vienna” in the 1920s, are also worth a look. In Governing magazine, Ryan Holeywell investigates how “Vienna offers affordable and luxurious housing“:
The idea that everyday citizens should have access to not just affordable apartments but also attractive ones — and that it’s the city’s responsibility to provide them — continues to this day. There’s a mindset that housing is a way to link residents to their communities and the larger city through design. “It was never just about housing,” Blau says. “It was always about the city. It was about not just providing private living space but also public living space to people for whom they were also providing housing.”
Thus, in Vienna, public space and private space are interwoven. Case in point: The city’s first libraries were part of the housing system. Kindergartens and day care, dental clinics and courtyard parks were all high priorities in the early days of public housing. “It made the division between housing and the city really kind of blurred,” Blau says. That trend continues, with the government emphasizing amenities that encourage interaction among residents. Those amenities also happen to be the same type found in high-end American residences. “These places are incredible,” says William Menking, an architectural historian, of the city’s subsidized housing. “There are swimming pools and saunas and bicycle parking.”
The city is able to put those standards in place through the control it has on land supply. The city government maintains a fund that aggressively buys up land throughout the city to be used for subsidized housing. Typically, if an area is suitable for residential development, the city already owns the land, which essentially gives Vienna a monopoly, says Wolfgang Förster, head of the city’s Housing Research Department. Once the city determines it’s time to develop residences on a piece of its property, it seeks proposals from various developers, who then present detailed plans that outline a development’s architecture, floor plans, costs, proposed rent levels, green features and more.
A jury ultimately selects the projects based on four criteria — architectural quality, environmental performance, social sustainability and economic parameters — that are all weighed equally. That means it’s just as important for the developers to create a building with a diverse group of engaged tenants as it is to create one that’s economical and visually pleasing. “It’s a way of avoiding ghettoization,” says Mark Gilbert, a Vienna architect who serves as a member of the jury. “It’s one of the problems American public housing has always faced.”
We see this is demonstrated on planet earth where cars are thriving & humans are doing very poorly HT-SD pic.twitter.com/s0HlQSCczv
The most viral blog post of the week (at least in the urbanist circles in which I catch viruses) was Eric Fischer’s data-driven unpicking of the San Francisco housing market: “Employment, construction, and the cost of San Francisco apartments“. It’s rare to see someone lay out trends and their causes so clearly. He starts by covering prices:
After adjusting for the Consumer Price Index, real rents have only gone up 2.5% per year and have only quadrupled in effective cost in 60 years. It is still an alarming increase. CPI-adjusted median rent by year
He then moves on to housing supply:
San Francisco’s post-earthquake housing was built in a series of booms. The biggest were the immediate post-earthquake rebuilding from 1906 through 1918, when essentially all of the densest areas of the city were built, and then the transportation-led boom from 1919 through 1934, when the Marina, the Outer Richmond, West Portal, the Parkside, and the Outer Mission were built. From 1935 to 1943, the Central Sunset and Parkmerced filled in. From 1944 to 1954, the Outer Sunset and Ocean View were built. And that was essentially the end of the easily developed greenfield housing.
The next boom, from 1955 through 1967, still could fill in the hillsides of Twin Peaks and above O’Shaughnessy Boulevard. But the boom from 1968 through 1982 had no genuine vacant tracts to fill at all. It was the Redevelopment Agency’s boom, rebuilding the Western Addition and the Golden Gateway and Diamond Heights. (The demolition of the Western Addition is subtracted from the net new unit count in earlier years.)
The first private infill boom was from 1983 to 1993. It was entirely on scattered sites, with no large tracts available. A long, double-peaked boom ran from 1994 through 2011, with a dip in the middle for the dot-com crash. It too was a scattered infill boom, aided by the South of Market sites made available by the former Embarcadero Freeway and I-280 extension. Since 2012 we have been in the ninth building boom, focused on sites on or near Market Street. Few sites are involved, but the numbers are the largest since the early 1960s because the buildings are large. I don’t know how long it will continue.
(The Housing Inventory data only goes back to 1960, so information about earlier construction rates comes from the Planning Department’s 2016 Land Use map. It tracks the year of construction of each building, not the year of first occupancy as the Housing Inventory does, and only of buildings that stil exist, but the numbers are generally comparable.)
Net new housing construction per year
Like Auckland, San Francisco is heavily land-constrained – it’s a city on a narrow strip of land surrounded by water. As it has grown, the pressure has come on to build up – but planning regulations have conspired to make that expensive, slow, and rare. This has collided with rising wages and employment from several tech booms, which he summarises in another set of charts. The conclusion of the analysis is stark:
Can we roll the clock back 35 years, to when the CPI-adjusted median rent was approximately one third what it is now?
It will be very hard. If the (first) model is correct, it would take a 53% increase in the housing supply (200,000 new units), or an 44% drop in CPI-adjusted salaries, or an 51% drop in employment, to cut prices by two thirds. A steep drop in salaries or employment would also be devastating to the ability of people to afford the new lower prices. It is enough to make you believe Randal O’Toole that affordability can only be achieved by continued outgrowth, as San Francisco could do in the early 1950s.
But does it even make sense to try to go back to 1981’s prices? CPI-adjusted rent is three times as much today it was then, but CPI-adjusted average income has also doubled in that time. Maybe we should be trying for 1995 instead, when CPI-adjusted rent was half what it is now, not a third. But a 30% increase in the housing stock is not much easier to imagine. Whatever the goal ought to be, it is a long way away.
If you don’t believe regulatory restrictions on building height and density are a serious part of the problem, take a look at this map of New York (from the New York Times’ Upshot blog). Effectively, in the century since New York wrote its first zoning code, it’s progressively tightened the screws on development, with the effect that:
Ironically, many of the buildings that would be illegal to build today – or at any rate subject to costly legal challenges – are probably also illegal to demolish as they’re seen as a historic part of the urban fabric. The article does a great job of explaining how.
No point walking to school… or the supermarket… What is hard about using grids pls suburb designer people pic.twitter.com/ZEpGnLl0ij
We shouldn’t be scared to go up. As Matt Yglesias (Vox) points out, in the US there’s a strong positive correlation between urban growth and changes in population-weighted density. He points to two cities above the trendline – Seattle and Portland – as good examples of the benefits of enabling more housing supply within cities:
Let’s finish up with three pieces on retail and the long-run financial sustainability of cities. First, designer Nitin Gadia asks, “are your taxes paying the cost of your street?” He then answers this question with data from Ames, Iowa. There is a lot of red ink in this fiscal picture:
Gadia explains the “growth Ponzi scheme”:
So how are streets being built, if they’re not being paid for?
It’s simple – here’s how it works:
*Say a community is built in Year 1.
*The community’s streets need to be rebuilt every 30 years.
*In Year 30 a new, identical community is built. Now twice the amount of taxes are coming, and so for time being the property owners only need to pay half the amount.
*And 30 years later, in Year 60, two new communities are built; as long as the number of properties and property taxes are doubling every 30 years, they can continue to pay half the amount.
In the US, city finances are also threatened by the digital trends that Estonia’s government is benefiting from. Online retail is undermining the big box anchor stores that underpin suburban malls, and in doing so undermining many cities’ tax model. Financial analyst Conor Sen summarises the dilemma:
As retail stocks get pummeled again today it feels like we’re one step closer to the majority of the country’s malls being functionally obsolete, with many of them on the way to becoming “stranded assets.”
We’ve been through this transition before.
The last time this happened, when we transitioned from walkable downtowns and Main Streets to booming suburbia, before sprawl was a dirty word, the politics were relatively easy. There was a lot more growth in the growing places than there was decay in the declining places. The Atlanta metro area is roughly 6 million people while the city of Atlanta’s population is around 450,000. If the city of Atlanta stagnated it didn’t matter politically, because the people in the much larger suburbs were pretty happy and had more votes. And the percentage of the nation’s infrastructure stock that was obsolete was becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the nation’s total infrastructure stock…
There’s also the challenge of how cities will fund themselves. Residential property taxes don’t get it done. Most communities rely heavily on sales taxes and commercial real estate property and income taxes for their budgets. What happens if more and more retail sales are powered by Amazon? How will that budget shortfall be made up if 60-80% of malls go dark?
Public spaces and retail centres are an important part of any city – not just for economic reasons, but also for their social function. In The Chronicle Review of Higher Education, Christopher Phelps describes his encounter “the Magic Bookshop“: an eccentric retail survivor in Manhattan:
Midnight is when I first came upon it, a step below street level and open for business. Never mind the lateness of the hour, the sheer existence of a secondhand bookshop was a miracle.
Almost all of Manhattan’s bookstores have been driven to extinction by high rents, although a few guerrilla booksellers persist out on the sidewalks. Near Tompkins Square Park one recent afternoon, I happened on a table whose proprietor could not be past her 30s but who had exquisite taste in the old literary counterculture. She wrapped her wares in clear plastic: immaculate editions of Richard Brautigan’s poetry, Abbie Hoffman’s ravings, Kafka’s stories, and Siddhartha. It’s as if she selected her stock to keep the East Village ’60s spirit alive against the depredations of the junior-finance types filling wine bars all the way over to Avenue C…
Some great news yesterday that Skypath has cleared another hurdle with it passing wind tunnel testing.
The $33 million SkyPath cycling and walking attachment to the Auckland Harbour Bridge just got a step closer following wind tunnel testing not finding any significant issues with the proposed structure.
In a progress report to Auckland Council, it’s revealed the testing was completed last month and consultants for the New Zealand Transport Agency are reviewing the results.
The SkyPath project will present the findings at a Governing Body meeting on Wednesday.
Opponents to the project have used the lack of testing as one of the reasons it should not go ahead.
However, Wednesday’s meeting agenda reports the wind tunnel testing did not identify any significant concerns and that NZTA’s consultants are currently reviewing the results and advise “it has not identified any significant issues”.
One of those opposing was of course North Shore Councillor George Wood who on Thursday was trying to scaremonger by invoking the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse.
Lets hope the SKYPATH wind tunnel testing is comprehensive. Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940. Worth a look https://t.co/AdBgbFlJGw
Next week Auckland Council’s Governing Body will decide whether the chief executive can enter into a public-private partnership to progress the SkyPath project, once all matters are resolved.
If the governing body agrees to progress SkyPath under the recommended public-private partnership option, it would be the first partnership of its kind for significant infrastructure in Auckland considered by the council.
The partnership would mean that the construction, operation and maintenance of SkyPath would be funded by the private sector for the contract period.
This approach would mean there is an admission charge for all users of SkyPath.
The council would provide a limited underwrite of the revenue, and assumption of ownership rights and obligations at the end of a contract period.
The private sector would manage the project costs, and the underwrite is a guarantee on a revenue stream that underpins the project.
The council would not be providing a return on capital for the private sector.
The great news is that if everything goes to plan, the project could be open fairly soon
Mr Woodward said if everything goes to plan, the path could be open by next summer.
Auckland Transport has had an on-again/off-again type relationship with the $170 million Reeves Rd flyover in Pakuranga. Yesterday they announced it was definitely back on again and sees them running back to the idea that before we can build any PT or cycling infrastructure, we must first build a massive road as compensation.
Work will begin soon on the design and consenting for the Reeves Road flyover and Pakuranga to Botany busway in east Auckland.
The projects are part of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI), which is aimed at giving residents of the eastern suburbs better transport choices.
AMETI will deliver rapid, high frequency public transport between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany. Roading improvements at traffic bottlenecks in Panmure and Pakuranga allow the busway to operate reliably and help manage growing traffic volumes.
The start of design and consenting work follows a comprehensive review of the timing of future Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) projects by Auckland Transport, the New Zealand Transport Agency and Auckland Council. It included more accurately modelling the traffic impacts and bus travel times on the main roads in the area.
The review concluded the best order for future AMETI projects to be built is:
Panmure to Pakuranga – busway, Panmure roundabout replacement, walking and cycling paths. AT recently lodged an application for consents for this stage, it is expected to be publicly notified by Auckland Council within the next few months.
Reeves Road flyover, Pakuranga town centre busway and bus station.
Pakuranga to Botany busway.
It also concluded that improvements may be needed on Pakuranga Road between Pakuranga and Highland Park to further improve bus journey times between Panmure and Howick.
Auckland Transport Group Manager Andrew Scoggins says this timing for construction will ensure journey times for both public transport and general traffic improve while the various stages are delivered.
“The Reeves Road flyover will not solve traffic congestion in the area. However it is highly effective at offering significant local congestion relief on the roads outside Pakuranga town centre. Shifting traffic off those roads allows the busway and cycle lanes to be built on them.
“Although the full busway could be opened first, the final evaluation of options showed it would create increased congestion for general traffic until the flyover is complete,” Mr Scoggins says.
The review also showed that the full busway between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany, as well as the Reeves Road flyover, needs to be open by 2025 to minimise future increases in congestion. Current long term plan funding from Auckland Council would only allow for this full network by 2029.
It’s good to see them saying the busway needs to be completed all the way to Botany, and completed sooner than the current funding allows. As it is, AT have taken way too long just to lodge the consents for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga – for which they currently don’t expect to start construction till 2021 going through to 2025. If they’re going to get the section from Pakuranga to Botany built within that timeframe too, then they’ll have to get cracking on designing the busway. Also welcome is the recognition that Pakuranga Rd needs to have bus lanes at least to Highand Park. I wonder if that’s a piece of work that could help congestion in the shorter term.
The same can’t be said for the flyover. The project has had quite an odd history. Back in February last year Auckland Transport surprised everyone by announcing that the $170 million flyover had been deferred, with the money they saved being used to advance the busway faster. One of the reasons they gave for this was that they realised, for the flyover to make any real difference, it would also require the grade separation of the intersections of the South Eastern Arterial with Waipuna Rd and Carbine Rd, effectively turning the route into a motorway. AT also cited the difficulties of consenting, which had only a few months prior seen the Basin Reserve flyover fail to get consent.
The deferring of the project led to politicians at both the national and local level, many of whom are not known for their support of PT projects, kicking off a frenzy of lobbying for the flyover to be built and built sooner. This included lobbying the government and NZTA to declare the road a State Highway, so it could get 100% NZTA funding.
Then a few months later in April, AT announced they’d made a mistake and that the board had never agreed to deferring the project and that deferring it was only one of a number of options. That meant the flyover was back on the table. This was definitely an odd turn of affairs. I will say that I later saw the board minutes from when the project was discussed, and that it’s correct that the board never approved deferring it but agreed to look into the options further.
That the project is now back on the agenda, and seemingly bring fast tracked, can most likely be put down as a win for political interference.
In an age where smart cities are rushing to tear down flyovers and replace them with better spaces for people, it’s absurd that we’re still trying to build one. At the very least they should be building the busway and seeing what actual impact it has before committing to this project.
Parking policies are frequently bizarre. Parking is, after all, a private good – it is both rivalrous (two cars can’t park in the same space at the same time) and excludable (if you don’t want someone parking in your space, you can keep them out). In that respect, it is more like a refrigerator than a public park.
But unlike a refrigerator, there are all sorts of public subsidies and regulations affecting parking. Although refrigerators are arguably more of a necessity of life than parking, councils don’t impose minimum refrigerator requirement for homes and offices. Central government doesn’t provide a tax subsidy for employer-provided refrigerators. And councils don’t invest in (or subsidise) public refrigeration facilities.
And if they did, it would almost certainly result in some perverse outcomes.
A recent NZ Herald story provided an example of how parking subsidies can lead to odd outcomes. (It was also a fine example of meaningless “gotcha” journalism, but never mind that!)
They are the crack team of economic and planning experts charged with sorting Auckland’s future growth.
But a member of the Unitary Plan independent hearings panel has fallen foul of the city – after sneakily parking a jetski in a central city council carpark for almost a month.
The mystery jetski appeared three to four weeks ago, taking up a Queen St park reserved for the panel listening to submissions on the future of the city.
Here’s the jetski in question:
The article implies that the panel member in question is rorting the system or acting unethically by using their employer-provided carpark to store a jetski. But, if you think about it, it’s actually a good illustration of the poor logic behind many existing parking subsidies.
Let’s back up a step: what subsidies are we talking about, exactly?
In the Auckland city centre, carparks have a market value, which is a good thing. The removal of minimum parking requirements in the 1990s led to an increase in the price of parking – and also to increased development as new buildings weren’t encumbered by the need to provide unnecessary but costly carparks. At present, Auckland Transport is leasing downtown carparks for between $110 to $490 a month – although the cheapest ones are fully sold out. Private operators seem to be supplying them at around $250-$300 per month.
So an employer-provided carpark in the city centre is likely to be worth somewhere in the range of $3000-$6000 per annum. Because fringe benefit tax isn’t levied on carparks, this is worth the equivalent of $4500-$9000 in salary for people paying the top marginal tax rate (33%). (As the panel members probably do.)
That’s a large public subsidy for a small bit of concrete!
In theory, the rationale for the tax subsidy on employer-provided carparks is that it makes it less costly for people to commute to work, and hence encourages people to enter the workforce. But the panel member’s jetski illustrates the absurdity of that approach.
For one thing, people have (or should have) a range of choices about how to commute. Some prefer to drive. Others may take the bus, train, or ferry, or walk or cycle to work. Consequently, a significant share of commuting trips don’t end in a carpark. Based on Census data, around half of the people working in the city centre in 2013 didn’t drive to work. A bit over one in four workers throughout Auckland didn’t drive to work.
Consequently, trying to subsidise commuting by subsidising parking is likely to be a distortionary and inefficient policy. Some people will change transport modes in response to cheaper parking, resulting in additional road congestion in peak periods. Others will be left with a subsidised parking space that isn’t much use to them.
The panel member who used their parking space to store a jetski probably falls into the latter category. They might walk to work, or take the bus or train. This leaves them with a bit of costly concrete that they don’t need to store a car – so why not use it to store another vehicle instead? I can’t blame them for that.
The jetski has apparently been removed from the parking space, but the policy distortions that led to it being there in the first place remain. So what could we do about that?
The key is to realise that our ultimate aim is to enable mobility, not to simply provide carparks, and make policy accordingly.
For some people, mobility means a monthly public transport pass, or a bicycle and access to a shower at work. But current fringe benefit tax policies discourage employers from offering those solutions to their employees – an employer-provided PT pass would be taxed as regular income, while a carpark is exempt from tax. We need to level the playing field.
The best way of doing so is by removing the fringe benefit tax exemption for carparks, but if that’s not political possible then a good alternative would be to exempt PT passes from FBT, as the Green Party has proposed.
Another alternative would be to offer people the option to “cash out” employer-provided carparks. It’s especially bizarre that employers aren’t required to offer this choice, as the current government changed employment law to allow people to exchange one week of annual holiday for the equivalent in cash. Why not adopt the same approach for carparks, which could easily be worth more than holiday pay for many workers?
Lastly, we also need to make some choices beyond how we price and subsidise parking. Getting a great range of transport choices will often require us to use existing road space differently. Sometimes the only way to get a dedicated bus lane or a safe, separated cycle lane is to remove a few on-street carparks. We need to look at those choices in a holistic way – i.e. do they improve overall mobility and access to destinations – rather than simply insisting that all carparks must stay in place.
How do you think we should address parking subsidies?
Construction has begun today on the new Half Moon Bay ferry pier, which when complete will provide a new, modern and safer ferry experience for its users.
It will be an important part of the new public transport network for east Auckland, due to be in place in late 2017.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown and Howick Local Board Chair David Collings marked the start of construction by turning the first sods at the end of Ara-Tai in Half Moon Bay. It is due to open by late 2016.
The $5.9 million project is funded by the Government through the NZ Transport Agency, the Howick Local Board through its Transport Capital Fund and Auckland Council.
During the last five years, patronage of the Half Moon Bay ferry has increased by over 50 percent to reach 372,141 total passengers in the 12 months to April 2016.
Patronage at Half Moon Bay growing by 50% over 5 years is decent and about twice the rate of overall ferry patronage growth over that time period. Yet even with that growth, it still only makes up a small portion of overall ferry use (6.5%). That kind of highlights the massive role Devonport and Waiheke play in passenger numbers.
AT list the features and benefits of the project as
Safer and accessible for everyone and designed to provide a greater level of shelter against the elements for passengers using the pier
Design will reflect the history of the local area
It will be located at the end of Ara-Tai, separated from leisure boat users
A sheltered cycle storage facility which has been recently built near the dinghy lockers will be relocated to within the new pier area
Of the total cost, $2.5 million is coming from the local board with Auckland Transport and the NZTA paying for the rest.
I’m sure ferry users out east will look forward to using it
Yesterday Phil Twyford announced that it would be Labour’s policy to abolish Auckland’s Rural Urban Boundary (RUB), as part of a policy to improve housing affordability.
Labour wants the Government to abolish Auckland’s city limits to get people out of cars, caravans, garages and tents.
Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the urban growth boundary had to go because it has fuelled the housing crisis and people would not be forced into bad circumstances if the Government acted.
“The Government should rule out any possibility of an urban growth boundary in Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan if it is serious about fixing the housing crisis,” Twyford said.
“Over 25 years the urban growth boundary hasn’t prevented sprawl, but it has helped drive land and housing costs through the roof. It has contributed to a housing crisis that has allowed speculators to feast off the misery of Generation Rent, and forced thousands of families to live in garages and campgrounds,” Twyford said.
“Labour’s plan will free up the restrictive land use rules that stop the city growing up and out. It will stop land prices skyrocketing, and put the kibosh on landbankers and speculators.”
There’s no doubt Auckland has a housing crisis at the moment, with house prices increasingly dramatically over the past five years. Rents rose more slowly but the impacts for some families are still alarming. There’s also no doubt that planning restrictions have played their part in creating this crisis – by making it too difficult to build the required number of houses that Auckland has needed.
Addressing regional scale issues like housing and transport was one of the key reasons Auckland Council was amalgamated in the first place and why one of its first tasks was to rewrite the city’s planning rulebook through the Unitary Plan.
But will abolishing the Rural Urban Boundary help? To answer that question it’s important to understand what the boundary is, and what it isn’t. As its name suggests, the RUB is the boundary between land where urbanisation is anticipated and provided for over the next 30 years and land which is intended to remain rural over that time. If you take a look at the map below, it is the black dashed line that separates the yellow-coloured “future urban” zoned land from the brown rural zones:
It’s also important to recognise that the RUB doesn’t exist yet as it’s part of the Unitary Plan being decided by the Independent Hearings Panel. It’s quite a different tool to the old metropolitan urban limit (MUL) that was typically set up against the edge of the existing urban area and made any urban expansion a significant challenge.
The RUB, by contrast, isn’t designed as a permanent boundary. It provides for a substantial amount of greenfield growth – enough to meet 40% of Auckland’s growth over the next 30 years. The scale of the areas in yellow is highlighted in an Auckland Transport video that looks at the future transport requirements to enable their urbanisation:
The main argument against the RUB is that it creates a scarcity of land where urbanisation is possible, which drives up the price of that land. Over time the high price of land translates into higher house prices and reduced affordability. Fair enough. But what can we actually do about that?
As Auckland Transport’s consultation video above shows, the RUB isn’t simply a line on a map: it’s a plan to provide publicly-funded infrastructure to new urban areas. If you wanted to expand the yellow future urban zoned areas on the map, you’d also have to find the money for additional infrastructure.
In other words, greenfield land is in scarce supply because it’s currently farmland that requires roads, pipes, train stations, parks, schools, hospitals and a myriad of other infrastructure investment to take place before development can actually happen. Making a dent in the housing shortfall by enabling more urban expansion to occur is therefore entirely about speeding up infrastructure, rather than whether or not there is a line on a map.
As we’ve talked about before, the costs of supplying bulk infrastructure to greenfield areas are large. It is time-consuming to investigate, design, consent and build these projects. There’s no quick and cheap way to make a whole heap more greenfield land “development ready”.
In fact, removing the RUB could easily disrupt existing infrastructure plans and slow down overall development. If you take a look at the work that’s been done on transport for future urban growth, the networks are optimised around the location of the RUB. Scattering small developments around the region could force AT and NZTA to react to piecemeal development rather than taking a more strategic approach to infrastructure development.
I suspect that the first thing to get cut due to funding pressure would be the city’s rapid transit plans, which have already been delayed long enough. This would have the perverse effect of putting a damper on the 60-70% of development that’s intended to occur within the existing urban area.
In short, abolishing the RUB isn’t a straightforward proposition. It’s not actually obvious that you could abolish it, as infrastructure plans would simply turn into a de facto RUB.
Ironically, Twyford acknowledges as much in his press release, where he says:
There is a smarter way to manage growth on the city fringes by properly integrating land use with transport and infrastructure planning. There should be more intensive spatial planning of Auckland’s growth areas in the north, north-west and south. Land of special value can be set aside, like the northern coastal strip or Pukekohe’s horticulture soils. Corridors should be acquired and future networks mapped for transport and other infrastructure
Let’s unpack this. First, he says that he’d like to see “intensive spatial planning of Auckland’s growth areas” with “future networks mapped for transport and other infrastructure”. That sounds a lot like the process that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are currently undergoing for the yellow-coloured future urban land.
Second, he says that “land of special value can be set aside, like the northern coastal strip or Pukekohe’s horticulture soils”. That sounds a lot like some sort of boundary between urban land and non-urban land, which is exactly what the RUB is intended to be. Basically, if you read beyond the headline soundbite, Twyford’s policy starts to sound a lot like Auckland Council’s current policy, just under a different name.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the current government has been looking at this issue for half a decade now, and they’re pretty critical of restrictions on land supply. If it was a simple matter to abolish the RUB, they probably would have done it by now.
So what could we do differently?
There aren’t necessarily any “magic bullet” solutions to land supply. Greenfield land needs infrastructure to be useful, and infrastructure is expensive and slow to build. Shifting some of those costs onto developers, either through development contributions, targeted rates, or design rules that reduce the need for hard infrastructure (e.g. stormwater pipes) can allow more of it to happen. But the problem is that the developers push back, which limits the gains that can be had in this area.
Consequently, other policies are also needed to enable housing supply. That means relaxing or removing restrictions on building height and density within the urban area. While Tywford and Labour have also said they support this approach, they devoted only a single sentence to it:
Freeing up growth on the fringes needs to go hand in hand with allowing more density – so people can build flats and apartments in parts of the city where people want to live, particularly around town centres and transport routes.
That’s a great aspiration, but to be useful it needs to be backed up by specific policies to limit the use of height limits and other density-killing rules like minimum parking requirements. For example, would Labour lift building height limits throughout the urban area? If so, how high?
Lifting building height limits and density controls would have some immediate benefits for housing supply. For one thing, the transport networks and water pipes have mostly already been built, meaning that there’s no lag time waiting for the infrastructure providers. For another, it would make the housing market a hell of a lot more competitive by opening up lots of new development opportunities in the places that people most want to be.
This would also have the benefit of allowing people to avoid the high transport costs associated with sprawling development patterns. Even given Auckland’s dispersed employment patterns, the further out from the centre people live, the further they need to travel to work. This map from a Ministry of Transport analysis of the 2013 census data which shows how far people travel to get to work based on where they live:
This trend is repeated around the world, with more spread out cities requiring a greater amount of travel and, consequently, a higher proportion of income being spent on transport. In some cases this can end up outweighing any savings in housing costs. If we’re going to lift restrictions on housing construction, it makes sense to prioritise lifting the ones that also pose a barrier to efficient travel patterns.