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The case for free-market urbanism

In the National Review, a conservative American magazine, Reihan Salam takes a look at the confused state of the American debate over intensification. His article, entitled “The Great Suburbia Debate” criticises the position taken by Joel Kotkin, a long-time campaigner for low-density suburban development. He writes:

Though I’m an admirer of Kotkin, and though I can’t speak for every conservative who has made the case for denser development, he gets a number of important things wrong…

For example, Kotkin claims that “some conservatives” (again, no names) have been “lured by their own class prejudice” into turning against market forces. “In reality,” Kotkin writes, “imposing Draconian planning is not even necessary for the growth of density.” Of course, this is exactly the argument that Edward Glaeser makes in The Triumph of the City, a manifesto for the pro-market, pro-density right. “In places that have both liberal planning regimes and economic growth, such as Houston and Dallas,” he observes, “there has been a more rapid increase in multifamily housing than in cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York.” Indeed, this is why many conservatives, myself included, have explicitly argued that cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles should look to the liberal planning regimes of Houston and Dallas as a model. (To be clear, by “liberal” planning regimes, Kotkin means less-restrictive, more market-oriented planning regimes, and so do I.)

The global cities that manage to be both highly productive and affordable, like Tokyo and Toronto, tend to have liberal planning regimes, which allow for rapid growth of housing stock, and in particular of the multifamily housing stock. These regions are characterized by rapid housing development in the suburbs and in the urban core, and their “suburbs” tend to be more urban than low-density suburbs in the U.S. governed by stringent planning regimes that tightly restrict multifamily development. When Glaeser makes the case for density, he does so not by calling for “imposing draconian planning” on cities and towns. Rather, he explicitly calls for the relaxation of land-use regulation.

[...]

Kotkin relies heavily on the work of Wendell Cox, a transportation consultant who seems to believe that denser development is necessarily a product of central planning. In desirable regions, however, less restrictive planning regimes will naturally lead to higher densities, as property owners will naturally seek to maximize the value of their investments. Restrictive land-use regulations tend to limit density, not impose it on unwilling landowners.

Salam’s article is excellent and I recommend reading it in full. I pulled out these excerpts as they highlight a few essential facts that often go missing from the debate over urban policy:

  • Denser development cannot be imposed by fiat – it will happen if and only if there is market demand for it (as there often is in places that are accessible to jobs and amenities). If nobody wants to buy apartments, then no apartments will get built!
  • Urban planners can’t simply require people to build at higher densities – but they can limit density to below what the market wants.
  • The rising demand for higher density development isn’t a market distortion, but evidence that the market is working.
MERCHANT Q

The market’s been at work in New Lynn (see also: Transportblog’s development tracker)

In short, we must interpret rising population densities as the result of many individual decisions rather than the whim of an urban planner. My research shows that population densities are rising rapidly in Auckland and several other large NZ cities, which suggests that we’re voting heavily for density with our feet and our wallets. This is, as Salam suggests, a natural outcome of market forces and should be accepted with equanimity. We should recognise this demand where it exists and make complementary public investments in walking and cycling facilities and public transport.

Lastly, I’d note that people from all across the political spectrum should be able to appreciate cities. As Jane Jacobs observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a good urban neighbourhood demonstrates many of the virtues that conservatives celebrate, such as small business ownership, a close-knit community that watches out for itself, and independent-minded civil society (often battling against big government bureaucracy in the form of overreaching traffic engineers).

Jane Jacobs campaigned against this Pharaonic act of bureaucratic hubris (Source)

Jane Jacobs campaigned against this Pharaonic act of bureaucratic hubris (Source)

As a result, we often see centre-right mayors implementing good urban policies. Big-city mayors such as New York’s Michael Bloomberg, London’s Boris Johnson, and Buenos Aires’ Mauricio Macri have been right at the forefront of the movement for better cities. They’ve realised that better cities are more prosperous, and that it’s possible to improve a city by improving the choices available to people.

Improving AT’s Patronage Reports

This week we should learn about the patronage results for September and with this post I want to explore whether Auckland Transport are delivering the results to the public in the best way that they can.

Currently we get patronage results a couple of reports that go to the AT board each month. There is the Public Transport Monthly Patronage Report, the Monthly Transport Indicators, the Statistics Report and even some details about HOP usage in the Chief Executive’s Report. Each offers the same high level information but there are variations between them. I tend to use the Statistics Report as that generally has the more detailed information than the other reports. The fact there are multiple reports to begin with is odd and at the very least the Public Transport Monthly Patronage Report, the Statistics Report and the HOP reporting from the CEO’s report should be combined together in a single report.

Other than the number of them, there are a couple of other issues I have with the reports. The primary one is that they are only available as a PDF report. That means each month I have to go through the report and pull out all of the details manually if I want to keep track of them (which I do and I know some others do too). This opens up the chance of data entry errors with the information or incorrect numbers if a figure is revised which happens from time to time and happened recently with the ferries. You also have to know that the patronage results are included in the board reports and where those reports are buried on the AT website. Other issues relate to what information is available compared with what other cities provide.

So with that in mind here are some examples of what some similar organisations provide to the public.

Wellington

Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) through Metlink recently improved the level of information they provide and importantly do so in an easy format for anyone wanting to look at it. They provide a range of graphs showing the monthly results for the current financial year or the annual results as far back as 1999/2000 and most of the data is available in a spreadsheet that can be downloaded. The data provided includes many of the same types of areas that AT provide but there are some important additions. In particular

  • Annual peak and off-peak patronage – this shows how much patronage occurred during the peak and off peak and in the spreadsheet is also available by mode.
  • Annual passenger kilometres by year and mode – This shows how far people have actually travelled on each PT mode which is useful for seeing how commuting trends are changing. As an example on average bus trips are getting longer while rail trips are getting shorter.

The one downside to how GWRC produce their PT information is there is no context able to be given, for example patronage that is impacted by special events or holidays etc. The results are updated approximately 1-2 months after they occur.

Wellington Patronage Spreadsheet

Perth

The Public Transport Authority runs PT in the Perth through their Transperth brand. The authority provides monthly and annual patronage information via an online interactive table by mode and for trains by line. It’s not clear how frequently the information is updated however as the image below shows, it’s not as frequent as Auckland or Wellington. There are no graphs or any contextual information however. There’s also no information on other metrics

Perth Patronage Tool

Portland

PT in Portland is run by TriMet and they provide a number of ways for the public to get patronage information. Firstly there is a Performance Dashboard which shows graphs about the average weekly boardings per month (instead of total patronage) but most interestingly they also provide financial information including the average cost per trip and revenue. Reporting revenue monthly is particularly interesting as in most cities you have to delve through dull Annual Reports to find the information hidden in the financials – although even this isn’t possible with Auckland Transport as it isn’t specified in their annual report.

In addition to the Performance Dashboard also publish monthly reports which includes all of the figures from the dashboard plus a few others and to top it off the data is also available back to mid-2008 in one file.

One of the more interesting aspects about all of the TriMet data is how they break the bus data down by whether the bus is a frequent route (at least 15 minutes all day) or a local connector route. In Portland frequent buses carry over 50% of all bus patronage. As Auckland Transport roll out frequent buses as part of the new network here I hope they differentiate between the frequent and non-frequent services too.

Portland Operating Cost per Ride

It would be great if AT could also provide operating cost information regularly

 

San Francisco (BART)

San Francisco is unusual in that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is run completely separately from the rest of the PT services in the Bay area. The patronage information BART release doesn’t show the total number of trips, instead it shows the average daily ridership for a weekday, Saturday or Sunday. One of the advantages of using an average weekday result is it more easily accounts for the variations of the calendar and is something Auckland Transport have recently started doing. Instead of just showing the overall result the monthly data goes a step further by using an Entry/Exit Matrix which shows the average daily ridership from each station to each other station on the network. The image below is from last month and as an example it shows that on average for a weekday 852 people catch a train from El Cerrito Plaza (EP) to Berkeley (BK). This is a level of detail is likely to only be practical to provide for a rapid transit system and something I think AT should definitely do for both the rail network and the Northern Busway.

San Fran patronage matrix

In addition to the level of detail the files are updated quickly and are usually available by the 5th of the next month (compared to almost one month later in Auckland). Lastly one extra feature is that a spreadsheet is available with the annual patronage information back to when the system opened in 1973

Conclusion

So what could AT learn from these cities to improve how it provides information on patronage to the public.

  • At the very least:
    • consolidate the various reports into a single report that contains all the relevant information
    • a page on the AT website with links to each of the monthly patronage reports to the board.
  • Should have:
    • A page on the AT website with some graphs explaining the key PT results
    • Provide a downloadable file with historical patronage results
  • Would be nice to have:
    • An Entry/Exit Matrix for the Rapid Transit network (rail and busway)
    • Data updated automatically earlier in the month
    • Operating Cost and Revenue information
  • Would be ideal but won’t hold my breath for:
    • An Entry/Exit Matrix for the entire PT network that the data wizards out there can use to create new insights into our system.

Is there anything else you would like to see?

AT’s Get on Board with Jerome Campaign

Auckland Transport recently launched a new campaign featuring Jerome Kaino encouraging people to use PT and HOP. It seems to be primarily an online campaign focused on the videos below however I’ve also seen a few ads on the backs of buses too. Overall I think the campaign is pretty well done and Jerome seems like a good choice to front it.

I’m not sure I agree that the journey planner is as great as Jerome suggests. I find it often ignores the most logical or sometimes even the fastest options. For example to get from Takapuna to New Lynn on a Monday afternoon it only suggests catching the horrid 130 bus for almost two hours but ignores the much faster option of catching a bus to town and then transferring to either another bus or a train.

It’s good to see AT talking about what’s coming up and importantly highlight that the changes are helping to give Auckland a system like found in many other cities around the world.

Overall I think AT have done a decent job with this

Although it doesn’t have quite as many cool points as this 1980’s style video that L.A. Metro has just released.

An Auckland Urban Redevelopment Agency?

Details are starting to emerge from the Council’s review of its Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) to see if any changes need to be made to them. The CCOs were set up in 2010 by the government as part of the super city changes to manage many of the council’s functions. The CCOs are:

  • Auckland Council Investments Limited
  • Auckland Council Property Limited
  • Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Limited
  • Auckland Transport
  • Auckland Waterfront Development Agency Limited (Waterfront Auckland)
  • Regional Facilities Auckland
  • Watercare Services Limited

We’re not likely to see many changes to Auckland Transport or Watercare as their existence is enshrined in legislation however the other CCOs are not.

One change I’ve long liked the idea of is to merge Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Property Limited (ACPL) to create a region wide urban development agency. Waterfront Auckland has been the driver behind the spectacular and internationally award winning redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter while ACPL manages almost 1200 properties around the region worth over $1 billion. They say part of their role is to facilitate development that supports the council’s broader place shaping and housing development objectives however on the surface it doesn’t appear that much has happened in this regard. A combined agency that is able to harness some of the knowledge and skills that Waterfront Auckland have built up and leverage that across the region would be extremely useful.

Wynyard Central

Density done well coming to Wynyard

I know many others who have expressed this view too and it appears this might be exactly what will happen.

The Auckland Council is considering merging its waterfront agency and property company as it focuses on how to improve run down main streets.

The new development agency is the biggest change being considered in a year-long review of council-controlled organisations, which has so far continued behind closed doors.

Council chief executive Stephen Town has provided a glimpse into the review, which will run for a further month.

Mr Town said the council had looked at similar re-generation agencies in Australia, which put existing council property into joint ventures, with the private sector or government.

“In some parts of Auckland we’ve got very large land holdings clustered in town centres,” he said.

“It’s not inconceivable to see $500 million to $1.5 billion developments occurring over 10 years.”

The council is loathe to name possible redevelopment centres at this stage. However there are obvious candidates.

On the same day as the council unveiled the agency proposal, members of Avondale Community Action appealed to the Auckland Development Committee to re-vitalise their neglected town centre.

Avondale includes vacant private sites in the middle of the town centre, run down council-owned facilities, and Housing New Zealand property ripe for redevelopment. Other long-established centres in decline include Mt Albert, Otahuhu and Papatoetoe.

Mr Town said the work though could begin in earnest before then, under existing council structures. He said the development agency would likely begin life inheriting a portfolio of surplus council property, but would be expected to enhance council finances, rather than be a burden on them.

If an Urban Development Agency is formed, it is expected to result in cuts to management within the existing Waterfront Agency, and Auckland Council Properties Limited. That has yet to be explored.

If it goes ahead the biggest risk is what kind of culture comes through and that will likely be determined by how the merger occurs. In my view it would be better to put the property acquisition and management experience into the Waterfront Auckland structure rather than to put the urban design, planning and development experience into the ACPL structure.

Overall a well run urban redevelopment agency would be a huge asset to the council that would enable some of the visions highlighted in the Auckland Plan to become a reality.

Wynyard Quarter Residential 1

 

Stuart’s 100 #45: What if Renters….

#45: What if Renters had the choice to have Rights and Responsibilities like Commercial Tenants?

Day_45

Home ownership is of course a daily debate in this city of Auckland. In the absence of anything else, the New Zealand Herald will always run a  story to ensure that it is front of mind. Declining rates of home ownership are certainly a significant issue and one worthy of debate. But what isn’t often talked about is the reality of renting. More and more people are doing it, and doing it for longer, maybe for life. And some even by choice. This will be extremely foreign to older generations of New Zealanders. But it is happening.

So isn’t it about time we had a discussion around renting and how that tends to work in this country? Are there ways it could work better?

Commercial tenants for example, have far greater certainty, in terms of longer term fixed leases, with clauses such as rent reviews and rights of renewal built in to the contract from the start. They also tend to have greater flexibility, negotiating the ability to alter and shape the space to how you want it.

For residential tenants, these two things hand-in-hand would go a long way to changing some of the downsides of renting. Greater certainty around living in a space for a period of years, together with the ability to paint the walls or make some changes to the place to have it the way you want it; would lead to a greater sense of security and ‘ownership’ or responsibility for the space that is your rented home.

It is certainly true that there is nothing stopping anyone negotiating these types of terms with their landlord. That is one thing where a tenant is in the position of direct contact with the owner, but quite another matter when the property is managed through a property management company or agent. These businesses tend to have stock standard contracts and conditions and show little desire for negotiation. Where is the public discussion around these things? Blanket rules like no pets for example are quite common. Is that reasonable?

These things should be looked at, as regardless of your views on home ownership or housing affordability, renting is a reality right now for many New Zealanders. In Auckland this isn’t likely to swing around in the opposite direction anytime soon, so lets’ start looking at these things at least.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Precedent: Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco

Multiway boulevards remain a workable street form that can resolve many of the problems related to movement and access in urban areas, especially the need for balance between the needs of of the city as a whole and those of local people. Allan Jacobs, The Boulevard Book

plan-freeway-594253-o (1)

San Francisco Trafficways Plan, 1951

In late 1940’s and early 1950’s, during the height of the freeway building era, the plan for San Francisco was an extensive network of freeways both radial, circumferential around the waterfront, and through the city’s Panhandle and Mission District.

The Central Freeway was conceived to carry traffic through the centre of the city and connect further north via the Golden Gate Bridge. The construction of the Central Freeway began in an industrial area but soon faced “vociferous” resistance when it reached residential neighbourhoods that included Victorian-era buildings. In 1959 with the results of the freeway building precedents in plain sight, politicians stopped progress of the Trafficways Plan and terminated several projects mid-stream. Since that time the Central Freeway remained a double-decked stub of a motorway reaching only five blocks into the Hayes Valley before dumping traffic onto a one-way system of heavily congested local streets.

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Central Freeway archive photo, San Francisco Chronicle

In 1989 the Loma Prieto earthquake badly damaged the Embarcadero Freeway along the waterfront and also the Central Freeway. While the Embarcadero Freeway was famously torn down to reveal the waterfront, the Central Freeway had a more protracted story.

In 1997 a city-wide referendum was placed on the ballot to fund the restoration of the freeway. This passed, surprising anti-freeway activists and local residents who had stymied such projects as far back a 1959.

Fortunately, during at the same time the city had at its disposal the expertise of pre-eminent urban designer Allan B Jacobs who had worked for the City of San Francisco, studied streets all over the world and written one of the more important books of urban design – Great Streets. Great Streets includes several examples of multi-way boulevards, a street type found around the world but the design of which has fallen out of favor with traffic engineers due to their complexity and perceived safety issues. The suggestion of the multi-way boulevard with its unique ability to carry through traffic reliably while also supporting local land uses gained traction with the public.

Avenue d'Iéna, Paris

Great Streets: multi-way boulevards, Avenue d’Iéna, Paris

Jacobs, joined by Elizabeth MacDonald, embarked on a two-year study further documenting the multi-way boulevard street type. The research and insights form The Boulevard Book- another must read book on streets, urban design, and critique of orthodox traffic engineering.

With a growing body of research and built precedents the concept of a multi-way boulevard was placed on the ballot in 1998 and ultimately approved. Highlighting the comical nature of California referendum politics a final attempt to restore the motorway was placed on the 1999 ballot. It was too late. The motorway replacement option failed. The research, precedents, and design concepts of a boulevard solution were too compelling.

In 2004 work began on converting the Central Freeway to a multi-way boulevard, one of the few to be built since the modern traffic engineering era.

octavia

Octavia Boulevard under construction. (San Francico Planning Department)

Today the project is largely considered a success. It is not perfect as the designers concede, for example, the access lane are too wide and there are ‘threshold’ issues where the motorway touches down. The boulevard carries a whopping 45,000 vehicles a day including heavy vehicles, and as could be expected there are vehicle delays.

It is incredible how the neighbourhood has been transformed since when I lived here 20 years ago. In the place of a double-decked freeway is now is very attractive, active and connected street network and a new local park. Some of redevelopment is no doubt due to the massive tech boom/urban renaissance happening across the Bay Area. To be clear though, with an elevated freeway bisecting and severing the neighbourhood it would not look like this today.

octavia_summer

When I visited San Francisco in July the city was was experiencing a heat wave and people in this neighbourhood filled up the new park and spilled out of the dozens of the small restaurants and cafes. This is the magic of San Francisco that has made its neighbourhoods literary settings for over a hundred years and why it remains a magnet for the world’s tourists and talent. This would not be happening with an elevated freeway cutting through the neighbourhood.

beirgarten

Biergarden, Octavia Boulevard, San Fransisco 2014 (Kent Lundberg)

There is also a lot of building activity happening here. Replacing the motorway footprint and its excessive road reserve with a boulevard has released significant amounts of useful land for redevelopment.

octavi_building

Octavia Boulevard building boom. (Nick Reid, June 2014)

A multi-way boulevard by design provides a degree of physical separation from through traffic and heavy vehicle traffic enabling adjacent urban land uses. By some accounts 1,000 housing units have been added to the project area. Perhaps most stunning is this fact. The release, sale, and ultimate redevelopment of the redundant motorway land has paid for the entire project. Consider too how the ongoing tax receipts and local economic activity contribute to benefit the wider city.

Clearly the multi-way boulevard serves a very narrow range of contexts and movement requirements. The street type does warrant consideration in places where there is the unique requirement to provide for through traffic movement, access to abutting land uses, and a need or desire for significant pedestrian movement across the street.The multi-way boulevard seems able to resolve these complex requirements and while helping to integrate neighbourhoods instead of dividing them like conventional flyover or flyunder solutions.

octavia3

 

Stadium Strategy un-strategic on transport

There’s been quite a bit of news in the last week or so about council CCO, Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) and their stadium strategy. RFA is the body who manage most of Auckland’s stadiums and other facilities such as the Art Gallery, the Zoo and MOTAT.

The strategy is trying to address the fact that Auckland has three major stadiums – Eden Park, Mt Smart and North Harbour (QBE Stadium) – all of which are underutilised and face financial pressures as a result. Mt Smart and QBE Stadium are also owned by the council meaning any shortfalls as a result of those financial pressures directly affect ratepayers. In summary the strategy is

  • The Warriors would have to move from Mt Smart to QBE stadium which would basically become the default venue of most small to medium sized games for the rectangle field codes
  • Move Cricket from Eden Park to Western Springs
  • Speedway would move from Western Springs to Mt Smart
  • Eden Park would basically only be be used for large sporting events such as rugby tests or shorter format cricket international tests. Technically Eden Park won’t come under the Stadium Strategy due to the ownership situation

Most of the noise about the strategy of late has revolved around the Warriors being forced out of Mt Smart when their current contract expires in 2018. I personally think that moving the Warriors to QBE stadium is a bad decision and if the information from the club about the process is true, it paints RFA’s approach in very bad light.

But what I want to talk about is a part of the discussion that hasn’t really been discussed, how the strategy affects transport.

Firstly QBE stadium. Put simply, it’s a real pain to get to, as being right on the northern edge of the urban area it means almost everyone converges on it from the south in one of two directions, Albany Highway or SH1 (via Albany Expressway or Oteha Valley Rd). To make matters worse all approach roads converge on and are affected by a single intersection. At times of events, especially large ones, this generally means traffic chaos which is further multiplied by people searching for parking. This is something I experienced first hand during the Rugby World Cup where I remember it took what felt like close to an hour either side of the game to move a few km’s. Let’s not forget that in the case of the Warriors, many fans come from well south of the harbour and as such a move to Albany would see them having to travel much further to attend games.

Unfortunately PT options aren’t any better. The Albany Busway station is over 1km away through a currently barren landscape and even during the RWC when PT use was heavily encouraged and a lot of special services put on, only around 30% of people used it. As a comparison for large events at Eden Park sometimes over 50% will arrive using PT (although much less for some games). All of this is important as the council have set a target of doubling the number of PT trips from 70 million to 140 million by 2022 and special events have potentially a large role in helping to achieve that.

North Harbour Stadium

Overall it seems like moving all smaller games to QBE is likely to mean very little opportunities for any real change in travel habits. This is a shame as it seems that events provide one of the better opportunities to get people who don’t normally use PT to try it.

Before we start getting comments about the Waterfront Stadium the former government suggested for the RWC, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it too would likely have suffered from some of the issue of being too big for most games. Also sorting out the issues surrounding too many stadiums is one of the reasons why RFA exists in the first place.

Stuart’s 100 #44: Express Lunches

44: Express Lunches

Day_44

What if Auckland had better express lunch options?

One thing that has always surprised me is the paucity of good and fast lunch options in the city centre. Trying to get a good, freshly prepared food, and pronto with it, seems a remarkably rare commodity given there are 90,000 odd workers in the city centre. It can often seem easier to grab a great sandwich or salad out in the suburbs. Why is that?

Franklin Rd Upgrade options

One of Auckland Transport’s current projects – as highlighted in the August board report – is a rehabilitation of the iconic Franklin Rd

Photo is copyright to oh.yes.melbourne.

 

 

AT have now released more details about the project. Here’s why they say the project is needed.

Franklin Road is an iconic Auckland street with significant heritage value. It is lined by mature, hundred year old London Plane trees that form a canopy over the road during summer months. During the Christmas festival period residents of Franklin Road host a Christmas lights event which attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Franklin Road is also an important connection between Ponsonby and the Central Business District with over 14,000 vehicle trips per day, including buses and over-dimension vehicles. While predominantly residential in nature, there are some small businesses along the road operating from previous homes and larger commercial/retail activities at either end.

Franklin Road is in poor condition creating safety hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Over time tree roots have damaged footpaths, drainage infrastructure and road pavement. A high demand for parking and a lack of well-defined parking spaces often sees drivers parking too close to trees and driving over exposed roots which can damage the trees.

A number of utility providers are also concerned about the condition of their infrastructure in Franklin Road and are planning service renewals and upgrades in the near future.

As part of the improvements AT have come up with two options, both of which include.

  • Moving the kerbline to the other side of the trees and narrowing the roadway enabling the trees to be located within the berm.
  • Parallel parking on both sides of the road in front of the trees.
  • Upgrading the drainage system.
  • Building the new road pavement on top of the existing pavement to reduce the impact on tree roots.
  • Sewer separation and water main replacement by Watercare Services Limited.
  • Improvements to street lighting subject to power undergrounding works by Vector Limited.

The biggest change is that the kerb is being extended to the outside of the trees in a bid to protect their roots. As the space between the trees is currently used for parking that is being pushed out into the carriageway. I think there definitely needs to be some level of on street parking seeing as many houses don’t have off street parking (although some do) but by pushing the parking out into the carriageway it actually creates more parking spaces. As explained soon I wonder if that’s the best use of the space.

Here are the trees on Franklin Rd likely not long after they were planted circa 1880

Franklin Road, Ponsonby, Auckland. Creator of Collection Unknown : Photographs of Auckland and Lyttelton. Ref: 1/2-004185-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22791340

In addition to the features mentioned above there are two separate options on what to do with the remaining carriageway which is 12.3m in width.

Option 1

Key features of this option are:

  • A shared use footpath cycleway on the uphill side of Franklin Road.
  • A marked on-road cycle lane on the downhill side.
  • The removal of the painted median.

Advantages

  • Retains parking on both sides of the road.
  • Provides an off-road cycling facility in the uphill direction when cyclists are slower and a dedicated on-road downhill cycle lane to separate quicker cyclists from pedestrians.
  • Maximises the traffic calming effect as vehicle speeds reduce with narrower traffic lanes and being closer to parked vehicles.
  • Provides a narrower road width for pedestrians to cross.

Disadvantages

  • Traffic delays caused by right turning vehicles sitting in the traffic lane waiting to turn.
  • No central refuge area for pedestrians crossing the road.
  • The downhill cycleway is less than the desirable width.

Franklin Road Option 1

The first thing I thought when looking at this was “where’s the uphill cycle lane”, that was until I realised that uphill cyclists were meant to share the footpath with pedestrians. To me that’s a bad outcome as even uphill many cyclists are likely to be much faster than walkers, especially as electric bikes become increasingly common. After that I also wondered why AT are still proposing to use squishy car protectors on the downhill side. Surely the cycle lane should be swapped with the parking lane.

I hoped the design would get better with option 2, sadly I was mistaken.

Option 2

Key features of this option are:

  • A shared use footpath cycleway on the uphill side of Franklin Road.
  • A wider downhill lane that safely caters for both cyclists and vehicles.
  • A 1 metre wide painted median (narrower than existing).

Advantages

  • Retains parking on both sides of the road.
  • Provides an off-road cycling facility in the uphill direction when cyclists are slower and a wide shared downhill traffic lane separating faster cyclists from pedestrians.
  • Provides a narrow painted median which should allow most drivers waiting to turn right to sit clear of the through traffic.
  • Provides a narrower road width for pedestrians to cross.

Disadvantages

  • No dedicated on-road cycling facilities (shared downhill lane only).

Franklin Road Option 2

So for this option we get less cycling infrastructure in return for a median strip so that cars don’t have to slow down as much if someone occasionally turns right.

I’m not sure why we keep coming up with seemingly crap designs for projects like this. To me both options seem like they are compromised by the desire to have as much parking as possible and to use both sides of the road. Instead I think AT need to look at having parking space on just one side of the street which should then allow for two (protected) cycle lanes, something like below.

Franklin Road separate option 1

 

Why it’s not possible to build our way out of congestion

Wired magazine recently published a good, succinct explanation of induced traffic. It’s worth reading in full as it hits upon an incredibly important, often overlooked fact: it’s not possible to eliminate congestion by building more roads. Here are a few of the more interesting excerpts:

The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. Though some traffic engineers made note of this phenomenon at least as early as the 1960s, it is only in recent years that social scientists have collected enough data to show how this happens pretty much every time we build new roads. These findings imply that the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless, and that we’d all be spending a lot less time in traffic if we could just be a little more rational.

But before we get to the solutions, we have to take a closer look at the problem. In 2009, two economists—Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania—decided to compare the amount of new roads and highways built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period.

“We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” said Turner.

If a city had increased its road capacity by 10 percent between 1980 and 1990, then the amount of driving in that city went up by 10 percent. If the amount of roads in the same city then went up by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, the total number of miles driven also went up by 11 percent. It’s like the two figures were moving in perfect lockstep, changing at the same exact rate.

Los Angeles: Sitting in traffic after ignoring supply and demand for over 50 years.

In their excellent paper on the topic, Duranton and Turner describe this as “the fundamental law of road congestion: New roads will create new drivers, resulting in the intensity of traffic staying the same.” Their research also digs into a couple of other related and equally interesting phenomena:

  • Better public transport provision doesn’t actually reduce road congestion – but it does enable more people to move without being affected by congestion
  • Reducing road capacity has no measurable impact on congestion – if less road space is available, people take public transport or active modes instead, or avoid making low-value trips.

Urbanist.co also has some further discussion of Duranton and Turner’s work. The economists go on to suggest economists’ favourite answer to congestion: road pricing. (If you’re interested in reading more about that topic, Stu Donovan and I have written several posts about the economics of road pricing.)

So what can be done about all this? How could we actually reduce traffic congestion? Turner explained that the way we use roads right now is a bit like the Soviet Union’s method of distributing bread. Under the communist government, goods were given equally to all, with a central authority setting the price for each commodity. Because that price was often far less than what people were willing to pay for that good, comrades would rush to purchase it, forming lines around the block.

The U.S. government is also in the business of providing people with a good they really want: roads. And just like the old Soviets, Uncle Sam is giving this commodity away for next to nothing. Is the solution then to privatize all roads? Not unless you’re living in some libertarian fantasyland. What Turner and Duranton (and many others who’d like to see more rational transportation policy) actually advocate is known as congestion pricing.

Incidentally, I like Turner’s “Soviet Union” metaphor a lot – I’ve said on occasion that we’re running our transport system like a Polish shipyard.

Lastly, it’s incredibly important to consider induced traffic when making policy recommendations. As I wrote in my review of Alain Bertaud’s talks in Auckland, keeping commute times down is an important part of maintaining an efficient urban labour market. Some people seem to have taken Bertaud’s recommendation that policymakers focus on keeping average car commutes under 30 minutes (and PT commutes under 45 minutes) as a call for more roads. This is a superficially appealing but deeply wrongheaded idea.

Induced traffic means that building roads to keep commute times down will not work. And it will be expensive. While there is often a good case for specific road improvements to remove key bottlenecks or improve safety – the Victoria Park Tunnel comes to mind – Duranton and Turner’s work shows that a strategy of building lots of roads will not succeed in minimising commute times. An alternative approach is needed.