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Stuart’s 100 #28 Walking to the Supermarket

28: Walking to the supermarket

Day_28_Supermarkets

What if supermarkets cared as much for their walk-up customers?

The extent to which the main supermarkets place emphasis on accessing their stores by car is, in a number of locations throughout Auckland and other towns and cities in NZ, quite out of proportion to the choices and habits of their customers.

Wouldn’t it be good if the starting line from the supermarket companies was to acknowledge that in locations with good walkability (i.e. any town centre or main street and older established residential areas with generally good walkability) people will and do walk up to supermarkets. Sure, they might not carry away a fortnightly shop but the supermarkets know as well as you do that that is not the only way people shop anymore.

Similarly, it is a nonsense to suggest people won’t use the bus to go to the supermarket. Some people will choose to do so, especially if only getting a few items. And even more likely, people catching the bus home from work by bus are quite likely to drop by the supermarket after they alight and then walk the rest of the way home.

Things are improving for pedestrians through supermarket car parks but it could be a lot better and often with minimal effort or impact on operations.

Stuart Houghton 2014

The Pullman Hotel – Pulled into line?

Greetings from Barcelona, where I’m currently winding up a 3 week European holiday that has also taken me to Amsterdam, Paris, and Porto. But my thoughts on those cities will have to wait for another day, because right now I want to engage in some bloated, tapas-filled celebration of a more local achievement.

That’s right – our wee TransportBlog community can notch up another sweet (albeit small) civic success on our train belts (NB: Some of our earlier successes are documented here and here).

First some background. Some of our longer time readers may remember this post from approximately 18 months ago, in which I ranted and rallied against a metal post that had been rather brutally plonked smack in the middle of a narrow footpath, as illustrated below. I live and work in the area and this metal post was, frankly, a small but constant pain in the ass head whenever I stumbled home blind drunk from many and varied soirees.

Pullman post gone

 

And just take a look at it now (NB: Photo taken by Kent Lundberg – urbanist extraordinaire and fellow MRCagney worker bee). Note this photo has been taken looking south, i.e. opposite direction from the previous photo.

photo

Boo yah – begone ye post! And look at all those happy pedestrians; no longer do they have to swerve around the plywood box inconveniently placed in their way. Instead they can move freely, and glower at oncoming pedestrians without obstruction.

More seriously though: This is just one more small example of the sorts of positive transport outcomes that can be driven by an educated, informed, and pro-active community – such as that which TransportBlog has – over a number of years – sought to cultivate.

Of course credit needs to go to Auckland Council and/Auckland Transport for taking this issue up with the Pullman. I believe, from my not-so-secret contacts with democratically elected representatives, that Christopher Dempsey of the Waitemata Local Board also deserves mention for pursuing the issue.

In terms of the Pullman Hotel, I think it’s a crying shame you took so long to come to the civic party and acknowledge that you, or the Hotel’s previous owners, had clearly erred in placing this metal post in the footpath. Personally, I believe that “law” is a minimum morality and that their references to having consent for the aforementioned pole were a dereliction of duty to the community in which their Hotel operates.

But now that it’s been put right, I hereby declare that my Company’s embargo on your services has been lifted. Not that I’ll be using it anytime soon, preferring instead the wonderful travel opportunities opened up by the likes of AirBnb (NB: I hope to cover how this so-called “sharing economy” website is revolutionising how we travel and in turn how we utilise our housing stock in a subsequent post).

In spite of this sweet success, there is one obvious outstanding question: What’s the next priority for Auckland’s long-suffering pedestrians? Speak now; the AT/AC God’s may just be listening.

 

 

Population-weighted densities in New Zealand and Australia

Urban population density is a hot topic – some people complain that it’s getting too high in Auckland, while others worry that it’s too low to get the urban outcomes we want. Either way, density matters – it can have a big impact on:

  • The efficiency of infrastructure provision and public transport services
  • Urban productivity and levels of competition in industries like retail
  • Amenity for residents – higher density can support cultural institutions and local vibrancy, but some people may prefer more open space
  • Preservation of open space and agricultural land on the urban fringes
  • Cities’ energy efficiency and use of resources.

However, we seldom ask: What is population density and are we measuring it correctly?

With the support of my employer, MRCagney, I’ve just written a short working paper that looks at this issue: Population-weighted densities in New Zealand and Australian cities: A new comparative dataset. It can be read in full here (pdf) and comes with an interactive spreadsheet that allows easy comparisons between cities.

This paper presents a new, more robust measure of density: population-weighted density. In contrast to simple average density measures, which basically measure the number of people living in the average hectare of land in the city (which is generally found in a low-density fringe suburb), this measure estimates the density of the neighbourhood in which the city’s average resident lives. As a result, this measure is much more representative of the lived experience of a city’s residents. The US Census Bureau has used a similar approach in their recent population density profiles.

While a wider range of results are available in the full paper, some of the most interesting findings actually relate to Auckland. In short, there have been some massive changes to the city over the last decade:

  • Auckland’s population density has increased 33% since 2001 – the city’s population-weighted density is now around 43 people per hectare after a decade of infill development and intensification
  • As a result, Auckland is now the third-densest city in Australasia – behind Sydney (76 people/hectare) and Melbourne (45 people/hectare) but significantly ahead of Wellington (38 people/hectare), Perth (30 people/hectare), and Brisbane (34 people/hectare).
  • There is no geographic reason why good public transport will not work in Auckland. Cities that are less dense than Auckland have successful, high-patronage PT systems.

And now, some visualisations!

Here are maps of Auckland’s population density in 2001 and 2013. As you can see, the city’s gotten incrementally denser throughout its entire area – look at the slightly darker shades of blue appearing all over the isthmus, on the North Shore, in the West and in Manukau.

Auckland density 01-13 v2

If we zoom into centres of New Zealand’s three largest cities, we can see that there have been big changes in city centre density in both Auckland and Wellington. Christchurch, on the other hand, as suffered from the effects of the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, which demolished much of the city centre and reversed the city’s tentative moves towards apartment living. In spite of rapid demographic transition in Auckland’s city centre, rising density hasn’t really spilled over to surrounding suburbs.

Akl Wgtn Chch city centre comparison v1

Comparisons between cities also provide some interesting insights. The following chart, from the interactive spreadsheet, compares population density profiles in Perth and Auckland. Perth has frequently been cited as an example for Auckland due to the success of its electrified rail network, which now carries over 60 million annual boardings. However, Perth’s less dense, and significantly more sprawling, than Auckland. Clearly, low density isn’t holding back Auckland’s PT system.

Auckland Perth density profiles

The following chart makes that point even more clearly. It shows population-weighted densities and annual public transport ridership in eight large Australasian cities. Although Auckland is the third-densest city, it’s got the lowest PT boardings per capita.

Density and PT ridership

In short, Auckland is in an especially good position to benefit from a virtuous cycle in its transport system. Recent increases in density throughout the urbanised area have contributed to rising ridership on public transport, strengthening the case for further investment in projects like the City Rail Link, the AMETI busway, and the city’s New Network. Delivering a better public transport system will, in turn, encourage further land use change.

If you’re interested in this topic, take a look at the working paper and the interactive spreadsheet. What do you think about Auckland’s changing urban form?

Stuart’s 100 #27 Civic Uses for a Civic Asset

27: Civic Uses for a Civic Asset

Day_27

What if we found better uses for the old Beach Road Rail Station?

Continuing the series on forgotten and under-utilised spaces in the city, some of them, like the former Beach Road Railway Station, are not so small!

In a story of missed opportunities familiar to the Auckland we have hopefully now put behind us, the former station building was cheaply converted to student accommodation after the rail services relocated to Britomart in 2003. No use was found for the large forecourt and public park out front.

Surely there can be better uses for the front of the station complex, if nothing else?

The old forecourt has a civic scale and feel to match the station building with a sweeping crescent providing covered drop off and pick up right at the front door. What a great place to establish a new terminal for inter-city and tour coaches in the city centre. This could provide for the relocation of the existing InterCity coach terminal from Hobson Street and also a bunch of other services with a need for a city centre terminus point, many of which currently congregate around the Ferry Building on Quay Street.

The site seems an ideal location to accommodate this coach activity, being a short and flat walk from the Britomart transport hub, close to rental car companies on Beach Road and with fast transport links in and out of the city via Grafton Gully. It also has plenty of space, something that should be valued at a premium in the city centre.

Throw in related or new public uses for the lobby befitting its grandeur, a revitalised public park on the disused forecourt, and future-proofing out back for Auckland-Hamilton rail services, and you start to have a recipe for making much more appropriately civic uses for what should be a real civic and historic asset in the city.

Stuart Houghton 2014

The difference between Traffic Engineers and Planners

We often deride traffic engineers for the road dominant nature of Auckland. Sometimes this can be a bit unfair as we know not all engineers are bad and the term is often be a bit of a catch all phrase for those involved in the road design process. So when I refer to traffic engineers I’m referring perhaps more to the people and processes that sees the focus on movement and storage of vehicles over a public realm that focuses on people, the type that an urban planner might try to deliver. This post from Greater Greater Washington highlights these opposing ideas perfectly. A freeway was closed along a section of the Anacostia River in Washington DC after a new and updated freeway bridge was built over the river and the old freeway bridge turned into a local road.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT’s options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.

Washington Freeway replacement Option 2

So basically a road and a few cycle lanes surrounded by likely a lot of not very useful green space (the option above even included underground parking under the road for almost the entire length). The other options were all variations of the same theme and this is exactly the same type of thing we would see here in Auckland – and are seeing with proposals to upgrade local roads e.g. Lincoln Rd.

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT’s analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells’ urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP’s options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:

These are just some of the options they came up with and include various versions of parks, and development options.

Washington Freeway replacement Planner options

What’s worth noting is that the planners options contained just as many traffic lanes as the traffic engineers options did due to the transport engineers making it a requirement. The post questions the need for it to be four lanes but what is clear is that there are some quite different thinking going on between those just responsible for the movement of vehicles and those who also consider people and the city as a whole.

In Auckland if we could get more of the latter and less of the former then we could end up with a fantastic city that still allows for a wide range of movement even for those that want to drive.

 

The costs and trade-offs of free public transport in Auckland

One perennial discussion in transport circles is whether we shouldn’t just do away with public transport fares completely and make the whole network free of charge. Why not fully subsidise the network as a public service using public monies as we do with most education, healthcare and other social benefits? I wish to use this post to explore the idea. A word of caution though, I am a dilettante when it comes to economics so by all means feel free to enter into debate!

Obscure but relevant Sci Fi/economic theory reference. Bonus points for the first to work it out.

So, why would we want free fares anyway? Promoters of free public transport suggest various benefits, which from what I can see generally boil down to three main concepts. I think it is worth picking these apart a little.

Freedom for all?
First of all there is the idea that making PT free would make it universally and freely accessible, a benefit to individual mobility that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their financial situation. This is what we might call the social equity argument.

Universal public transport access is a worthy goal, however I am not convinced that free fares is the way to go about it. My main retort is that the number of people that can’t afford public transport in Auckland is actually quite small, and giving everyone a literal free ride along with the small needy minority is probably not the best answer. There are presumably much more effective ways of targeting improved transport access for those that truly need it.

In this regard I’m drawn to the concept of the “middle 80%”. This suggests that we should strive for a public transport system targeted to the needs and means of most of the general public, but not waste resources on chasing the patronage of either the 10% of the wealthy elite nor the 10% of the most vulnerable poor. The argument is that you will expend increasingly excessive funds on rapidly diminishing returns trying to attract CEOs out of their Mercedes and onto public transport. Yet similarly trying to design a public transit system that works for the very least privileged is also a quixotic exercise in subsidy and economic inefficiency, one that can undo the whole enterprise. However if you aim for the majority between those two extremes you are targeting the bulge in the bell curve, rather than the little asymptotic tails.

Put simply, it would cost a lot to provide free fares for everyone and that would most likely come at the expense of good service (more on this below). In that regard it seems that targeted financial benefits are a better way to serve the transport needs of our very poor, rather than making it fully subsidised for 100% of users to meet the needs of 10%.

Increased patronage?
Secondly there is the subsequent argument that if you make public transport free it would be very well used, and therefore result in all the benefits of well-used public transport like reduced traffic, lower emissions, reduced fuel consumption, etc. Basically, this idea is you make it free and lots more people use it, which is a good thing for the city and society and worth the cost.

If you unpack the logic of this argument you can arrive at two statements worth testing. Effectively the argument suggests one of two things:

A) There are plenty of people who would use public transport, except the ticket price prevents them from doing so. In other words, price is the major reason more people don’t use public transport in Auckland. …or

B) Price may not be the major factor preventing people using it, but if you make it free people would be willing to overlook all the other reasons and use it anyway.

I think proposition A is clearly false and could be easily demonstrated so. Ask folks why the don’t take public transport and cost is not a major response. Normally you hear things like “it’s takes too long”, “it doesn’t go where I want to go”, “it doesn’t run at the right time”, “you have to wait ages and the bus is always late anyway”. For that middle 80% of the population the cost of the ticket is far down the list, and it is practical things like timing, connectivity and reliability that keep people away.

So proposition B, if we make it free will people see it as good value despite the other problems and be willing to foresake their time and convenience to save a buck? Again I think not, well maybe for the poorest sectors of our society but not for the general public. If the bus can’t get you to your workplace, then a free bus that still doesn’t get you to work isn’t going to make you switch. Likewise an unreliable service that makes you late for your appointments isn’t going to get more timely if it’s free, nor are you going to use the free ferry that still doesn’t run on the weekends when you want to go out for a night on the town. You get the point I’m sure.

It seems free PT would probably just benefit existing users with a cash windfall. I’m not convinced there are particularly significant amounts of people who don’t use public transport now, but who would start using it if it were free.

Operational benefits?
Thirdly, there is the idea that there are operational benefits to doing away with fare collection. Namely passengers can simply hop on and off any transit vehicle without stopping to pay or use a card, such that dwell times are minimised and staff time spent on revenue collection is done away with entirely. This would then result in either lower staff costs and cheaper operations, or better service delivery from the same staff and operating expenditure.

Personally I think this is the most concrete of the three arguments, but also the least significant. In Auckland we are now in a position where smart card ticketing and prepayment on the rail network have already minimised the impact of ticketing on operations to the point where getting rid of ticketing entirely would only have a small marginal effect. Furthermore, at particular problem points we still have some scope to improve without dropping fares, for example by fitting all our bus stations and city centre stops with HOP machines and making them card or prepay only. I believe the effect of no fares over a well used HOP system would be minimal, and not a good return on the large costs required to cover the farebox take.

What would it actually take to make It free?
Surprisingly this is a question that doesn’t get asked very often. How would you actually make PT free, what would it require and how much would it cost?

The first question is whether it is actually possible to prevent operators collecting fares. Under the previous contracting regime I would have said no, operators were entitled to run any route they like and charge whatever they wanted and it was illegal for local government to ‘interfere’ with their business. Under the new PTOM model I would say maybe, effectively it would mean every route would be a fully subsidised contract.. I think. Someone with better knowledge might care to comment.

For now let’s assume the contracting arrangements can be taken care of, so what of the cost? Here it is important to lay out a few known facts. Fares revenue in Auckland isn’t something that is published publicly. However by picking through NZTA reports we can estimate it amounts to roughly $150m a year, and we do know Auckland has a farebox recovery rate of a shade under 50%. Using those estimates this means the cost to run all the existing buses, trains and ferries amounts to about $300m each year, with something like $150m of that covered directly through passenger fares and the other $150m covered by ratepayer subsidy. Take away the fare revenue and we are left with a $300m operation cost with only $150m in revenue, in other words a $150m shortfall per annum.

With these fiscal facts in hand we can see there are only two fundamental options for making PT free in Auckland: either we drastically slash the network so it can be funded with half the current budget, or we need to find $150m extra per year to keep transit operations at the existing level.

Free PT option 1: Halve the network to meet existing subsidy levels
Looking at the first option, to go fare free we would need to halve the service delivery costs to keep funding at the existing level of subsidy from ratepayers. Halving the service delivery cost means halving the network effectively (in fact it’s a bit worse than that because you would lose some of the economy of scale of running a large PT network). That means half the frequency of service, half the operating hours, half the peak capacity, or rather some combination of the three. Halving the service budget would be a tricky exercise in prioritisation. My guess is you would see some peak capacity cut so that people would be literally left standing, with a larger cut in interpeak frequency and bigger cuts to evening and weekend. Your bus that only comes once an hour during the day would now be once every two hours, buses and trains that run late at night would have to end around 7pm, and you would probably have to stop most weekend service entirely.

That is the price of halving revenue: half the funding for service delivery means a massively less useful transit network. Say goodbye to any chance of a frequent, all-day every-day, connected network. With half the funding all you could achieve is a rudimentary ‘network of last resort’ as a basic public welfare service. Rather than increasing patronage, such a move would kill off all but the most captive of trips sending the system productivity into a death spiral.

So the ‘cut service to meet the budget’ option seems like a non starter. Needing to cut half of the service out of the network would never achieve any of the claimed benefits of free public transport. Instead of growing patronage we would lose much functionality and most customers.

Free PT option 2: Double subsidy to run existing network
This second option has a little more currency I think. To make fares free in Auckland without cutting service and halving the network, you would need to double the subsidy income to cover the shortfall. For this Auckland Council ratepayers or New Zealand taxpayers would need to step in with an extra $150m of operations budget per annum. In the scheme of the national transport expenditure that’s not an enormous sum. However to be perfectly clear, that’s an extra $150m each and every year just to keep things exactly the same. Twice the operating subsidy for no extra services, no extra buses or trains, no longer hours, no faster trips or easier rides.

So maybe some government might step in with the money, but that wouldn’t really change much. A few people would get a break, students might bus around a bit more often, but on a whole the city would be paying twice as much for a network that is only as useful and accessible to most people as it already is today.

Alternative investment options: the double down?
This leads us to a subsequent question. If council or the beehive did step in with an extra $150m a year, every year, would free fares be the way to spend it? That’s a big stack of cash to pump the budget each year, more than the entire HOP card system cost for example. In other words the opportunity cost of free fares amounts to over a hundred and fifty million a year, what other opportunities do we have for that money?

We could, for example, go the other way: spend it to boost service delivery by 50% across the network. That sort of funding would allow us to extend the frequent network to just about every route in the region, and run that frequency an extra few hours a day. Consider what might happen if we could guarantee every bus route in Auckland ran at least every fifteen minutes, from 6am to 10pm, seven days a week.

Another option would be to take the core of the proposed Frequent Network routes and run them at a minimum of five minute headways all day instead of every fifteen minutes. This would be doubling down on where we know PT already works well. Surely that would be a lot more useful to more people that free-but-mediocre service?

There is another way to think of this too, turning extra revenue into capital expenditure. With an extra $150m a year we could build an extra billion and a half worth of busways and rail lines in the next ten years. Plus if you use that funding stream to service debt over twenty-five or thirty years, you could fund perhaps three or four billion worth of projects in the same time. Again, what would do more, what would create the better outcome for the people and the city?

Conclusion: fare-free public transport is an expensive answer to the wrong question
It appears to me that having fare free public transport in Auckland would not result in very good outcomes. Dropping fares would either require slashing the public transport network to half it’s current level, guaranteed to decimate patronage, or it would require an extra $150m a year in new subsidy just to keep running what we have today. If we did have an extra $150m each year to spend it would be far more effective to spend it on extra services or infrastructure instead.

Many of the supposed benefits of free fares aren’t actually attributable to the lack of price itself, rather most are related to assumptions of increased patronage, faster travel times, reduced traffic congestion, etc, resulting from zero fares. These assumptions are tenuous, and all these factors are things that that Auckland can and will achieve anyway through good planning and design.

The one exception to this is social equity issue. Free fares would indeed make public transport truly accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of their means (although what they have access to might not be particularly useful if the price of free access is much reduced service span and coverage). However, making public transport free for everyone to address an equity problem for a small fraction of the population is clearly not an efficient or effective means to that end.

Rather, those few that legitimately cannot afford to travel because of the ticket price should be served with targeted subsidies or other interventions. Pensioners are already covered with the GoldCard scheme, perhaps there are grounds for something similar for Community Service Card holders and their dependants, or for increased discounts for children and students of all levels. That could take many forms: pure discounts on the cash price, discounted annual passes, two for one deals, bonus credit after the first trip, child travels free with an adult, etc.

Personally I like the idea of fare structures that give extra value for the same price, the kind of thing where you travel twice in a day and all further trips are free, or a price cap, or bonus days when you use it X many times a month. Hopefully with the proposed integrated fares system we will see some of that.

One final note. I think it is clear that free fares is not a good move for Auckland in the foreseeable future. However, this isn’t to say that the existing prices or fare structures are necessarily perfect. Perhaps cheaper fares will result in more people travelling at more times of day, in particular cheaper off peak fares could fill up empty seats leading to more net revenue without more costs. Greater occupancy means better revenue per kilometre run overall, so some tweaking may be appropriate. I think AT could do with another small discount on HOP fares, if only for marketing purposes, but in the long run holding fares constant as patronage and efficiency increases would result in real prices becoming cheaper over time. That said, we are far away from the conditions where reducing fares to nothing would be either feasible or effective.

Photo of the Day: Wellington Waterfront

A fantastic Harbour in a vigourous climate and out of reach for people for many years, but now a really great series of different toned places. Urban and wild; industrial and recreational; gastronomic and cultural; contemporary and faithful to its past. A very real role model for Auckland as our more benign version is still nowhere near as accessible nor as integrated into the city as Wellington’s is now.

MERIDIAN_8340

Just one small section, note how a commercial and retail building is right there surrounded by great and varied public realm improvements. Total and free access all around the commercial users. Proper mixed use, and indeed used by the full mix of society.

Where is the Heart? Critical Public Space in the City Centre

Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.

Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canalis still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without  building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.

These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.

And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.

The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.

Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.

Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.

It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.

This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.

So the plan is a good one:

1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances

2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]

3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square

4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.

Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.

This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.

Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:

Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre

Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could  ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.

 

What to do with the Central Wharves

The Downtown Framework (18MB) was released last week and one of the interesting set of challenges to deal with is the Central Wharves. These are the finger wharves spread out across the core of the CBD from Princes Wharf in the west to Bledisloe Wharf in the east.

Central Wharves

There are a number of challenges but the key ones seem to be

  • The future demands of providing public transport. Patronage on ferries has increased by ~140% over the last decade and almost 600% since 1992 (less than 900k trips in 1992 and over 5m now), that is likely to grow further.
  • The future demand of the cruise ship industry which like ferry patronage has grown strongly and is expected to keep doing so. This means more ships and people to accommodate as well as the providoring needed for them. In addition ships are expected to get larger.
  • Managing the demand for water space, cruise ships often like to leave port during the evening peak right when ferries are busy.
  • The demand for increased and improved public space including making Queens Wharf a Peoples Wharf
  • Managing port operations and the impact the other changes will have on them.

Getting the right balance will be tricky and to help guide the decision a Central Wharves strategy is being developed while the Ports of Auckland are also developing the second stage of their Ports strategy. Some of the options being considered in the strategy are below and some of them would see significant change on the waterfront. A key to them is below

Wharves options Key

 

Wharves options 1

There seems to be a few common themes amongst all options which is aimed at addressed some of the key challenges listed earlier. In particular all four options involve the extension of at least one wharf, the largest of which would be to Bledisloe Wharf. Most of the options would also see Marsden Wharf removed to create more space for the growing size of passenger and cargo ships.

Of all the options #4 presents perhaps the most radical change and would see the ferry terminal moved to a new purpose built floating pontoon facility in the place of Captain Cook Wharf. I personally have always liked the idea of #3 having Captain Cook Wharf as the primary cruise terminal which is able to service multiple ships at once but which is still extremely close to Queen St. That would then allow Queens Wharf to become dedicated public space.

All up the information suggests an interesting and exciting future for Auckland’s and one we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

Lincoln Rd consultation feedback

Between last November and February this year Auckland Transport ran consultation for a plan to further widen Lincoln Rd. It’s a road I’m particularly familiar with seeing as I use it regularly.

The upgrade seeks to

  • widen Lincoln Road to provide an additional bus and high occupancy vehicle (transit) lane on each side of the road to increase capacity and improve passenger travel times.
  • upgrade existing intersections to reduce congestion and improve safety
  • build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety
  • install shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the road
  • implement stormwater treatments to minimise surface flooding
  • relocate and upgrade existing utility services
  • integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s current motorway interchange upgrade.

The plan raised a number of concerns for me, in particular that despite all the widening buses still wouldn’t have a dedicated lane. That despite having to buy up land for the widened road AT were still only proposing shared paths for walking and cycling – which happens to go against the region wide standards they were separately consulting on. Lastly that the intersections where horrifically massive blowing out to 9 lanes in places in a bid to try and cater for every single direction of movement in a dedicated lane or two. Here’s a cross section

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

And a video of the proposal

Auckland Transport have finally provided the feedback from the consultation and all up they received 162 responses and here are the results of some of the key themes.

Of the 162 people who made submissions, only 12 did not support any aspect of the proposals. Of the 162, 79 made a postal submission and none opposed the project overall.

The major issues identified by submitters, were:

  • AT’s proposal is to widen Lincoln Road to create include a bus/T3 lane in both directions. This would convert to a bus-only lane when demand is great enough

23 submissions supported having bus lanes
25 submissions suggested that if Lincoln Road is to be widened a bus lane should be installed immediately and not also be a T3.

Decision:
It may not be possible to make bus-only lanes immediately. This is being explored.

17 submissions supported T3 lanes.
27 submissions supported T2 instead of T3 lanes
19 submissions suggested converting an existing road lane to T3

Decision:
Many more vehicles would use the transit lane if it is a T2 and this would interfere with the efficiency of the bus service.
Converting an existing lane to T3 was explored and will cause greater congestion and delays because it will restrict the majority of vehicles to one lane

  • AT’s proposal is to have off-road shared paths on either side of Lincoln Road, for pedestrians and cyclists.

16 submissions appreciated improved cycling provisions and a further four supported improved pedestrian provisions.
60 submissions favoured separated cycle-ways.

Decision:
A separated facility for cyclists will be investigated as part of the detailed design

  • AT’s proposal is to have a raised solid median which would enable centreline planting and restrict right turn opportunities, including right turns to and from driveways.

29 submissions supported a solid median and only six submissions opposed a solid median.

Decision:
With clear support for the solid median, AT will include this in the final design

  • AT’s proposal included connecting Preston Avenue to Lincoln Road.

31 submissions opposed this aspect of the proposal.

Decision:
Because of the clear majority opposed, AT will not make a vehicle connection between Preston Avenue to Lincoln Road.

  • AT proposals covered a variety of other measures, such as pedestrian crossings, slip lanes, right turns, signals, etc.

39 submissions were received in total in relation to these issues, but no more than five submissions on any one individually

This feedback raises some questions. Why do they say AT may not be able to make the new lanes bus only, after all they do control the road and the widening project. In addition why do they only say separated cycling facilities will only be investigated as part of the detailed design. That seems very non-committal and hints that they may turn around later and say “we investigated separated facilities but decided against doing them”.