Let’s ban everything dangerous, like walking

This week, the Herald on Sunday published an article calling out a dangerous new practice: walking under the influence of a smartphone. According to them, careless walking causes literally dozens of injuries a year and should possibly be criminalised:

Now legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would slap a US$50 ($72) fine and possible jail time on pedestrians caught using phones while they cross. And in the German city of Augsburg, traffic lights have been embedded in the pavement – so people looking down at their phones will see them.

The Herald on Sunday carried out an unscientific experiment at the busy intersection of Victoria and Queen Sts in central Auckland during the lunchtime rush to discover the scale of the problem here. Observing one of the corners, between 1pm and 1.30pm, we spotted 39 people using their cellphones while crossing.

Some people looked up briefly while crossing. Others kept their heads down, oblivious to what was going on around them.

In the past 10 years, the Accident Compensation Corporation has paid out more than $150,000 for texting-related injuries to a total of 272 Kiwis.

About 90 per cent of injuries were a result of people tripping, falling or walking into things while texting.

Incidentally, I have to admit some guilt here. While I don’t usually walk under the influence of a smartphone, I will often walk around reading a book – a habit I picked up during university. In over a decade of distracted walking, I’ve never fallen over, walked into anything, walked in front of a car, or walked into anybody else.


Let’s take the Herald’s suggestions seriously, and ask whether there is a case to ban other activities that risk injury to participants. Their threshold for “enough harm to consider regulation” appears to be around 27 injuries a year costing ACC at least $15,000.

What else fails that test?

I went to ACC’s injury statistics tool to get a sense. Helpfully, they break out injury claims (and the cost thereof) by cause, activity, and a range of other characteristics.

Here’s a table summarising some of the sports that should be considered for a ban. Rugby and league are obvious candidates, of course, as they result in tens of thousands of claims every year and a total cost in the tens of millions. But would you have suspected that humble, harmless lawn bowls was so hazardous? The sport of septuagenarians injures over 1,000 people a year and costs ACC $1m. Likewise with dancing, golf, and fishing. They’re all too dangerous to be allowed. It’s a miracle that we’ve survived this long with all of this harmful physical activity occurring.

Sport Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Rugby union 56,842 $65.4m
Rugby league 12,556 $15.3m
Lawn bowls 1,134 $1.0m
Dancing 6,972 $5.1m
Golf 5,797 $4.5m
Fishing 2,431 $3.2m

But it doesn’t stop with sports. Your home is full of seemingly innocuous items that are eager to kill or maim you. Your stove, for example. Boiling liquids cause almost 5,000 injuries a year, costing ACC $1.9 million. We should definitely ban home cooking. Leave it to the professionals, for pity’s sake! Lifting and carrying objects at home is even more dangerous – over 100,000 claims a year. So don’t pick up that tea-tray or box of knick-knacks: call in someone who’s suitably qualified for handling such dangerous objects.

And let’s not even mention the toll taken by falls, except to strenuously argue for a ban on showers, bathroom tiles, and private ownership of ladders.

Cause of accident Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Boiling liquids (at home) 4,680 $1.9m
Lifting / carrying objects (at home) 103,798 $95.1m
Falls (at home) 310,292 $323.4m
Driving-related accidents (on roads/streets) 13,322 $173.2m

Finally, it’s important to remember an important bit of context that the Herald doesn’t mention: Distracted walking is a far, far lesser danger than driving cars (distracted or not). In the average year, ACC receives 13,300 claims for driving-related accidents and pays out a total of $173 million for people who have been injured or killed. That far, far exceeds the injury toll associated with texting while walking.

On the whole, you’re more likely to be killed or injured while in a car than you are while walking. This chart, taken from a Ministry of Transport report on “risk on the road”, shows deaths or injuries in motor vehicle crashes per million hours spent travelling. Drivers experience 8 deaths/injuries per million hours. The two safest modes are walking (4.6 deaths/injuries per million hours) and public transport (0.7).

Because different travel modes are substitutes, measures to discourage walking – i.e. by penalising people who combine walking with smartphone use – may have the unintended consequence of killing or injuring more people.

MoT risk on the road chart

[As an aside, this chart presents a somewhat misleading picture of cycle safety. People on bicycles experience 31 deaths or injuries per million hours – considerably higher than driving. However, drivers, not cyclists, are at fault in the majority of cycle crashes. According to another recent MoT report, cyclists were primarily responsible for only 22% of crashes. Drivers were partially or fully at fault in the remaining 78% of crashes.

MoT cycle crash fault chart

Consequently, if we provided safe cycle infrastructure that kept people on bikes away from people in cars, cycling would get a lot safer. If we could completely eliminate the risk of people on bikes being hit by cars, cycling would be about as safe as driving.]

To conclude, there are two things that the statistics teach us.

The first is that although injuries and ACC claims are bad, it’s essential to put risks in perspective. And the relevant perspective is this: Walking is a safe mode of travel. It’s remained safe in spite of the invention of the smartphone and the existence of hoons like me who walk around with their nose in a book.

It’s always worth looking for effective ways to improve safety. That’s why Transportblog’s advocated for safe, separated cycleways, and also why it’s taken a positive view on cost-effective investments to improve road safety, like the recent announcement of safety improvements to SH2. But it’s also important to remember that the best way to improve safety is to make it easier to travel in comparatively safe ways. Like walking and public transport.

The second lesson is that there are many activities that can injure us, from rugby to lawn bowls to cooking. Walking while texting is a recent invention, so it may seem newsworthy. But it’s only one of the many hazards that people choose to expose themselves to. If you’re not living in a padded room, you’re probably risking your life in some way or another.

As humans, we’re very prone to focus on risks from new activities while ignoring the effects of things that are already common. Status quo bias is a very real thing – and it doesn’t just apply to transport reporting. It’s the reason why people can, say, oppose new three-storey apartment buildings while being perfectly comfortable with the three-storey houses next door to them.

What risks do you think we should pay more (or less) attention to?

Dominion Road feedback

There’s an interesting item in the minutes of the most recent Albert-Eden Local Board meeting: the full document outlining the feedback Auckland City Council received on the Dominion Road project that caused such controversy last year. I’ve updated a copy of the report prepared for the Council here.

One rather strange aspect of all this is how low-key the release of this report has been. As far as I know, the Council Transport Committee hasn’t been made aware of the report (at least not officially) while the agenda item was only a tiny summary buried deep inside the meeting agenda. Fortunately the Albert-Eden Local Board members were smart enough to request that they be provided with the entire report and ensured the report would end up on the Council website – hence we’re able to have a look at what people actually thought about the proposal.

To jog our memories a bit, in the middle of last year Auckland City Council announced that the long-awaited Dominion Road project would proceed to consultation, based on the following general aspects:

  • One lane of general traffic in each direction
  • One “T2” lane, allowing buses and vehicles with two or more people, would operate 6am-7pm.
  • A cycle lane would be constructed along ‘mid-block’ sections of the route to a fairly high standard
  • All on-street parking would be removed along Dominion Road
  • Right-turns into and out of a number of streets would be banned

There were three parts to the consultation. People were encouraged to give feedback by way of the council’s website or through other channels. There were also random telephone surveys of local businesses and residents to enable more of a ‘representative sample’ of people potentially affected by the project. The very summarised results of the surveys and feedback forms are shown below: The first thing to look at is the difference in opinion between the three main groups of the project as a whole. In general, it seems that residents were most supportive, those filling in the feedback form next and businesses least supportive. This followed through into a number of more specific elements of the project: with the businesses particularly disliking the removal of parking, and residents particularly disliking losing right-turns. Both are pretty non-surprising results one would think.

Some other results are a bit more surprising though. Residents were particularly supportive of cycle-lanes (though it’s a shame people weren’t asked to choose between cycle lanes and on-street parking) and the T2 lane (though this seems to be because the potential disadvantages of turning a bus lane into T2 weren’t explained).

Of course not everyone had a simple “like/dislike” opinion on the project – with often parts of it being supported but not others. Here’s a typical response that was quoted in the report: That seems like what my submission might have said actually.

I won’t go through every last detail of what the survey found, but it seems to me that the biggest community concern was certainly the loss of on-street parking. This was seen as a major concern not only for its perceived adverse effects on businesses, but also because it would turn Dominion Road into a “four lane highway” This is clearly indicated in the petition (that got over 6000 signatures) organised by “Save Dominion Road”. I would suggest that whatever solution we finally end up with for Dominion Road, it will probably be necessary to retain as much on-street parking as possible. While in some respects this illustrates how auto-dependent Auckland is – even along its best bus route – there may be some urban amenity advantage in having on-street parking as a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. If the buses end up down the middle of the road and there’s room for both a single lane of general traffic plus on-street parking, then this might be the best solution we can hope for.

Sorting out buses in the CBD

Last month, probably due to my travels, I missed out reporting on a quite interesting study that Auckland City Council has led into improving the flow of public transport in Auckland’s CBD. A summary of the report can be read here. The study analyses ways of trying to get around a pretty intractable problem with Auckland’s CBD at the moment: in that it gets incredibly clogged by bus traffic, particularly during the evening peak hours. This is set out in the “issues” that the study looks at:

I’m glad that these issues are being looked at. Wander around the CBD at 5pm and the number of buses that are sitting on the side of the road is quite incredible. While it’s obviously a good thing that people are using public transport, and much of the problem would be solved by more space being dedicated to buses compared to general traffic, the current situation doesn’t work well at all.

The report proposes seven main action points – these are detailed below:
Setting aside Action 1, which seems to be a rather strange and pointless action, I’ll work through the others. Action 2 is particularly interesting, given that the Public Transport Management Act was supposed to sort out these problems. Let’s hope the new Auckland Transport CCO has the ability to implement the changes that ARTA is unable/unwilling to touch – which relates to the ability to tell bus operators where to locate the routes, something highly necessary to achieve integrated outcomes.

I really like the idea of simplified routing. The current number of routes through the CBD is a complete mess, and includes stupid outcomes like my 004/005 bus having to travel up the congested Hobson Street rather than along Albert Street’s bus lanes! The plan for simplifying routes is shown below:
There are a few things I like about the map above. The first is that it includes Hobson Street as a key north-south public transport route – hinting once again that this road might be turned into a two-way boulevard from the one-way de-facto motorway it currently is. The second thing I really like is the focus on Wellesley Street as a useful crosstown bus corridor – linking the university with North Shore buses. As a lot of bus catchers from the North Shore are headed towards the university, it would make huge sense to take pressure off Britomart and off Albert Street by instead running the majority of North Shore buses along this alignment. Many could even continue over Wellesley Street, up Grafton Road to the Hospital and on to Newmarket easily too.

Shifting away from having Britomart as the only bus hub is also a good idea – with the obvious location for a second one being somewhere on Mayoral Drive behind the Aotea Centre (in the current council carpark). Even now Britomart can get horribly congested, with buses having to wait many phases to get onto Customs Street (why don’t they make the bus phase longer I wonder?) Such a bus station could link in well with a future Midtown railway station in this area.

The study also looked at off-street layover areas for buses. There are many advantages of being able to store buses in the CBD during the day, as otherwise you need to run a lot of empty trips back to the suburbs after the morning peak and then into the city before the afternoon peak. All this empty running adds to operating costs and inevitably means that we can’t provide as good a public transport system for the money we do have to spend. Yet at the same time we don’t really want to clog up the sides of all our inner-city streets with buses – so finding a place to store them during the day is damn useful. A few possible sites were identified in the study:
Getting better buses on the road is an obvious outcome, but unfortunately can’t happen overnight as we still generally need as many buses as we can get to handle the peak time loads.

The last major action point, to reduce dwell times, is quite interesting. In terms of reducing time spent at stops, this is something that I’ve talked about at length previously and is the great opportunity that integrated ticketing will provide for. It also relates to operating some bus routes “through the CBD” rather than into the CBD and then back out the way they came. I am a big fan of through-routing, although it needs to be done with caution as very long routes mean increased unreliability of service.

Overall, this is a useful study with useful suggestions about how we might better manage buses in the CBD. However, it seems that even with all the measures implemented we are going to end up with huge bus congestion in the CBD in the future. This is perhaps one of the strongest arguments for both the CBD Rail Tunnel and North Shore Rail: that they will enable us to reduce the number of buses headed for the city centre, and instead focus buses on feeding the rail system – which itself carries people into the heart of Auckland. After all, there weren’t that many buses around the centre of New York City when I visited last month – most people caught the subway in the inner-city.

Auckland City Council: more bus lane stupidity

Auckland City Council really has gone out of its way to make stupid decisions on matters relating to bus lanes in recent times. There was its frustrating stubbornness to refuse to accept the fact that its signage was inadequate and confusing, there was its bizarre championing of Tamaki Drive’s conversion from a bus lane to a T2 lane as a success when its own analysis suggested otherwise, and there was of course the Dominion Road debacle, where thankfully it seems as though all ideas of a T2 lane have been banished.

It seems as though the Council isn’t quite yet satisfied about being stupid enough when it comes to bus lanes though, with a most recent decision made at the September Transport Committee meeting going against all logic, and the advice of its own staff, to once again undermine bus lanes along key streets in Auckland’s CBD.

Item 8 of the agenda to the September Transport Committee meeting was a rather odd read – an analysis of whether the 24 hour bus lanes in parts of Auckland’s CBD really ought to be 24 hour bus lanes. I guess the most logical reason for questioning this is the fact that buses generally don’t operate between midnight and 6am – so it’s pretty pointless having a bus lane (although there’s never any congestion then either so it’s not like you really need the road space).

The agenda item analysed the issue, assessing a number of different options:

The response of the council to this recommendation is quite staggering in its stupidity. Here are the resolutions, as recorded in the minutes of the meeting:

  • That the Transport Committee note that Auckland City Council operates five 24-hour bus lanes that provide reliable bus services to Aucklanders. These bus lanes are located in highly congested areas within and around the CBD to ensure dedicated access and service reliability for critical regional services.
  • That the Transport Committee note that the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) are major funders of the 24-hour bus lanes and that any changes to the council’s funding contract to provide the bus lanes would require at least a three month process and a review of the funding contract and may result in repayment of grant funding. It would not, therefore, be possible for the council to implement any changes before the change in governance.
  • That the Transport Committee note that bus lanes also provide for motorcyclists and cyclists to encourage these forms of transport and ensure cyclists experience as little conflict with general traffic as possible. The council will investigate improving signage on bus lanes to notify road users that the bus lanes also provide for motorcyclists and cyclists.
  • That the Transport Committee note that 24-hour bus lanes do not require regulatory signage showing operating times. However, the council will investigate improving 24-hour bus lane notification signage to clarify that the lanes operate at all times of the day.
  • That the Transport Committee note that bus lane enforcement is focussed on peak daytime operation of the bus lanes to encourage bus lane compliance. Outside of peak times, monitoring is undertaken and bus lane enforcement is only carried out when required, to address disruption to the operational running of the network.
  • That the Transport Committee approve in principle bus lanes in Fanshawe Street, Symonds Street, Anzac Avenue and Park Road to operate as clear ways after 7pm and before 7am and that officers prepare a submission to ARTA seeking their endorsements of the change.

The first few of the resolutions are obvious and effectively just parrot back what was in the report, but the staggering one is the last one – that all 24 hour bus lanes should become clearways after 7am and before 7am. Let’s count the reasons why this is stupid:

  1. There are potentially large numbers of buses travelling along some of these core routes (Symonds Street and Fanshawe Street) after 7pm and just before 7am. They’re now going to all get held up by general traffic.
  2. The council will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on changing signage to indicate the new hours of operation of the bus lanes and clearways.
  3. The roads themselves are generally uncongested during night-hours, meaning that there is little gain for drivers.
  4. There is a clear contradiction between the fourth resolution and the sixth one.
  5. ARTA and NZTA funding for the Central Connector was provided on the basis that the bus lanes operated 24 hours a day (apart from Grafton Bridge). The council was made aware of this, but still pursued with the stupidity above.

Perhaps Auckland City Council knows that they won’t ever have time to implement such a stupid change, and were just looking for an opportunity to “bash the bus lanes” after their public humiliation over both the poor signage issue and the Dominion Road T2 debacle. It’s the only logical reason I can think of for making such a daft decision.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this stupidity and the Council even hints at it in the final few words of their resolution. ARTA need to not provide Auckland City with endorsement of the change, but rather go tell them to take a flying leap. Come on ARTA, stick up for the bus lanes.

Public Transport & the CBD

Auckland City Council has produced a very interesting policy document on improving transport in the CBD. The whole document is here, with a council agenda item that provides a summary able to be read here. The document as a whole is well worth a read, and outlines a pretty exciting and refreshing approach to transport in Auckland’s CBD.

One of the most useful things highlighted in the report are current transport trends – in particular the growing number of people catching public transport into the CBD and the reducing numbers of people driving to the CBD each day to work: So officially now of those working in the CBD more catch public transport than drive to work every day. This is a useful statistic to mention next time someone tries to disparage public transport: imagine twice the number of traffic lanes into the CBD, imagine twice as much of the city dedicated to carparking – that’s what would happen without public transport. We pretty much wouldn’t have a CBD for all the roads and parking buildings.

Looking at future trends, it becomes pretty obvious that there’s going to be huge pressure on trying to get more people into the CBD via public transport – as remember we have little, if any, way to increase roading capacity into the CBD: With around 33,000 public transport trips into the CBD at peak times at the moment, and almost all additional trips by 2031 and 2051 into the CBD also being by public transport, that suggests we’re going to need to at least double the PT capacity over the next 20 years. The argument for the CBD rail tunnel becomes pretty clear.

The study is certainly worth reading through. I’m pretty impressed by the vision – we just need to make sure it happens.

Dominion Road: council’s meeting on Thursday

Auckland City Council’s Transport Committee is having what should end up being a pretty fiery meeting this coming Thursday at 9.30am. The big topic of debate will be the proposed amendments to Dominion Road that have caused such consternation with various parties over the past few months: annoying local business through proposing to remove on-street parking and annoying public transport users by proposing to ruin the highly successful bus lanes.

The meeting should be quite interesting as there’s a large number of presentations by members of the public, as well as some seriously panicked responses from the various councillors who previously voted for the idea back in June. Transport Committee Chairman Ken Baguley proposes some interesting amendments to the proposal that his committee came up with at June’s meeting:

Fellow councillor Mark Donnelly, who’s not on the transport committee, has also prepared a ‘notice of motion‘ on the issue.

Looking at Cr Baguley’s proposals, it seems as though they involve the following:

  • The T2/bus lane debate will go to further consultation. Goodness knows why this is really necessary as I’m yet to actually find anyone arguing in favour of changing the bus lane into a T2 lane. Hopefully ARTA tell Auckland City Council in no uncertain terms how utterly stupid the T2 idea would be, and we can put that whole issue to rest and actually focus on the main issue at hand: how to improve public transport along the road in a way that works for both travellers and the local community.
  • Applying the bus/T2 lane for three hours a day each way (up from 2 hours a day each way) rather than the 24 hour lanes originally proposed. In a way this is a shame, as having 24 hour bus lanes along Dominion Road would have been fantastic for public transport. However, as I noted in a recent post I can recognise the concerns of the locals – and with the whole debate so clouded by the fear of a four-lane highway (thanks to the T2 lanes) this is probably a fairly decent outcome. Having the lanes operate four hours a day each way could be even better though.
  • Continuing the T2/bus lanes through intersections. This is a really big gain, particularly if the lanes stay as bus lanes. Many of the current delays are focused around the main intersections, so fully extending the lanes through intersections should help eliminate the problem. It might make left-turns at main intersections a little dicey though.
  • Reversing previous proposal to ban a number of right-turns. This is probably a debate between safety and access – and I’m not sure whether the Council has done the research to make the correct call on this balance yet.
  • Not progressing the cycle lanes for now. This is probably the biggest loss compared to what was originally proposed, and highlights the difficulties of trying to please everyone I suppose. Perhaps the council could look at providing cycle lanes between the footpath and the parked cars – as I think this is done overseas in a number of cities.

As long as on Thursday the council completely removes any further mention of T2 lanes from this whole proposal, while also extending the bus lanes’ hours of operation to around four hours each way, then I think this could be an acceptable short-to-medium term outcome. If we do go with this option then I don’t see why the road will need widening at all, which means that we can save the money proposed to be spent on this project and – at some point in the future – put it towards creating a high-quality long-term solution.

Finding a solution for Dominion Road

There’s some good news and some not-so-good news in a NZ Herald article on the Dominion Road bus/T2 debacle that I have written a number of blog posts about in the last few months.

It seems as though the proposed changes to the road – including the removal of on-street parking, the creation of lengthy cycle lanes down both sides of the road and the bus versus T2 issue has created a lot of controversy and anger in the area. The article outlines this:

Auckland City leaders, including Mayor John Banks, are backing away from radical changes to Dominion Rd which have had the local community in an uproar.

Mr Banks has confirmed that he will today accept a Save Dominion Rd petition – which organisers say has been signed by more than 5000 people – and that he intends supporting the petitioners.

The petition calls for the city council to abandon plans to remove all street parking along 4.5km of Dominion Rd outside peak hours. Neither do the petitioners want the road widened for cycle-only lanes, nor the introduction of restrictions against right turns.

The changes have been listed in an $83 million package of proposals on which the council has received 1250 submissions in a consultation round due to close on Sunday.

While I don’t agree with many of the things the petitioners are asking for, I think it’s positive to see so many people getting involved in the issue. It would have been interesting to see if the opposition had been quite so overwhelming if the council had stuck with the initial idea of making the lanes for buses only, rather than T2 lanes. The idea of a four-lane highway with no on-street parking to slow vehicles down is pretty scary and I’m not surprised the community has risen up against that.

The article continues, with the organiser of the petition confirming that the biggest fear is that Dominion Road would be turned into a soulless highway:

Petition organiser Penny Hickey said yesterday that the community would be happy with some simple changes, such as a possible minor extension of hours for existing bus lanes, and running these through intersections where general traffic is allowed to occupy two lanes each way.

But she said local residents and business owners had been horrified by a council proposal to turn them into 24-hour lanes, and to open them to any vehicle with two or more occupants, while banning all parking.

“This road has been blighted for 20 years by designation and held back from investment,” said Ms Hickey, a resident of a side street off Dominion Rd who teaches English to migrants.

I think that Ms Hickey’s suggestion of extending (perhaps to 7-11am and 3-7pm?) the hours of bus lane operation would be a useful first step – encouraging more people to use the excellent bus service that is provided along Dominion Road. Extending bus lanes through intersections is also a great idea, as it is intersections where buses often experience the most significant delays.

But I also think it’s worth recognising that these measures are a bit of a “stop-gap” and delay – rather than resolve – finding a longer term public transport solution for Dominion Road. Personally, I think that solution should be the placement of a modern light-rail tram line down the middle of the street – providing a significant boost in capacity and also benefitting the local businesses and residents in the same ways that light-rail systems around the world have proven to be fantastic tools in encouraging intensification, redevelopment and greater economic activity along their routes. I think it must be recognised that removing street parking from Dominion Road will always be difficult – and rightly so in many respects as local shops depend on it (or at the very least think they depend on it). In order for the parking removal to be accepted I think there will need to be something pretty significant given in return that will help these people out.

Something like this should do the trick.

Last chance to give feedback on Dominion Rd

There are just a few days left for people to make submissions on Auckland City Council’s proposed changes to Dominion Road – submissions close this Sunday (August 29th). To give a brief history, back in June the Council’s Transport Committee considered a report on Dominion Road – which largely focused on changes to the long-standing designation. These changes generally related to a change in approach for the proposed bus improvements: instead of taking the buses around the back of the Balmoral and Valley Road shops the new approach was to put the buses through the town centres, which involved shared cycle and bus lanes.

Interestingly, the recommendations of the staff report mentioned nothing at all relating to T2 lanes. In fact, the staff recommendations were these:

To be fair to the Council, there was always going to be some controversy about this proposal in terms of the way it reduces on-street parking. If there’s anything that will rark up local businesses and residents it is removing on-street parking. I’m mixed on the matter, in that I can see the huge gains from having a continuous cycle lane and from having the bus lanes operating for longer hours than the 7-9am and 4-6pm timeslots they currently have; but at the same time I think on-street parking can bring a calming influence to busy streets, as they narrow down the street, provide more “friction” between the moving traffic and the side of the road – which slows down the traffic.

While I imagine the Council were aware of this potentially difficult issue, they then went on to compound the problem by suggesting that the bus lanes not actually be bus only lanes – but instead become “T2 lanes”, allowing vehicles with two or more occupants to use them. Those worried about the removal of on-street parking now had to worry about all four lanes of traffic potentially being full of cars, rather than two of the lanes being dedicated to buses only, and therefore being fairly empty of vehicles (though critically, not empty of passengers as each bus carries a lot of people).

It actually took me a while to register that the Council had done something this stupid, as I blogged a couple of times on the proposed changes before finally realising the crazy decision on T2 lanes.

A good question is “what’s wrong with T2 lanes for Dominion Road?” and the answer to that question is fairly complex. For a start, I think it’s certainly useful to recognise that in some situations T2 lanes would make a lot of sense. For example, along the section of Great North Road that passes through Waterview (one of Auckland’s busiest arterial routes) a lot could be gained from turning one of the lanes into a T2 lane during the peak hours. Many buses are held up in the congestion along this route, but the sheer number of cars that have little choice other than to drive along here (and it’s one of the great ironies of life that the Waterview Connection motorway won’t actually make a difference) mean that a bus lane is probably not feasible. A T2 lane could be a great compromise, making priority for buses possible while also encouraging people to carpool and make more efficient use of the roadspace that is clearly in high demand.

North Shore City has similarly created a number of T2 lanes that seem highly successful – largely because they operate along roads with a relatively small number of buses. But that is not the case for Dominion Road – where there are around 38 buses arriving in the CBD between 8am and 9am that travel along this route. That’s a bus every 90 seconds roughly. Allowing a number of cars to enter into this lane would hold up the buses – and also potentially mess with cars in the general lane as those vehicles using the T2 lane are likely to have to pull out into the general lane to get past a bus every time it stops to pick up passengers.

Looking first at the “saturation issue” of simply ending up with too many cars in the T2 lane, research by North Shore City Council into  the impact of turning the Onewa Road T3 lane into a T2 lane suggested some pretty staggering results:

The most significant result of the modelling done on Onewa Road is the revelation that if the T3 lane was turned into a T2 lane, you could actually end up with more vehicles using that T2 lane than would be using the general lane. That would mean the T2 lane would be more congested than the main lane – entirely defeating the purpose of the exercise and meaning that we have two congested lanes rather than one congested lane and one free-flowing lane.

Such an outcome seems likely for Dominion Road as it has many similarities to Onewa Road. For a start, both roads have a large number of buses at peak times. Secondly, both roads suffer from severe congestion in the general lane – giving people a strong incentive to use the ‘priority lane’ – whether it be bus or T3. Therefore, if Dominion Road’s bus lanes were to become T2 lanes, it seems logical to expect that we would end up with two lanes of congestion and everyone would be worse off.

The other study that is very insightful into the effects of turning a bus lane into a T2 lane comes from Tamaki Drive, where such a change was made earlier this year. Now Tamaki Drive is very different to Dominion Road – as it has far fewer buses travelling along it and – quite crucially in my opinion – the buses that do travel along it tend to stop far less frequently than they do along Dominion Road, particularly in the Mission Bay to CBD section as the bus route doesn’t really have much of a residential catchment. The council’s analysis of the change makes for interesting reading, particularly the following bits: The big winners in the change were the 374 vehicles that used the T2 lane and could make the trip in 100 seconds less than before. The buses were only held up marginally – largely because of the wide stop-spacing and the relatively low (13 per hour) number of buses travelling along the route. But, quite fascinatingly, the biggest losers were those single occupant vehicles that remained in the general lane – whose trip times increased by nearly two minutes, a bigger increase than the improvements gained by those in the T2 lane. This means that the average time taken for anyone to travel along the corridor increased from 189 seconds to 214 seconds – a sign of failure in my opinion (although oddly enough the council didn’t quite see it that way).

One could expect an even worse result for vehicles in the general lane if the same changes were applied to Dominion Road. This is because the buses stop much more regularly, forcing vehicles in the T2 lane to chop into the general lane – holding up traffic in that lane.  Furthermore, with the larger number of buses it seems reasonable to expect the delays for buses to be greater, and the gains for T2 vehicles to be not as significant as was seen on Tamaki Drive.

All up, the proposed change for Dominion Road’s bus lane to a T2 lane is complete and utter madness. It is what happens when Councils don’t properly analyse the effects of messing around with important traffic priority measures – effectively it is what happens when Council don’t think before they act. Fortunately, the one good thing the council has done is give us the opportunity to make a submission on the proposal and to tell them exactly how stupid it it. So make sure your voice is heard – make your submission here before Friday.

If you’re running short of ideas about what to say – my submission is here.

How do you actually integrate land-use and transport?

It seems these days that just about every transport policy document and every land-use planning document talks about the need to integrate the two. I have discussed the importance of integrating land-use planning and transport on many occasions before myself, but I do worry that we are starting to bandy about this integration in a somewhat meaningless way. At the same time, in terms of actually integrating land-use and transport on the ground, I worry that the separation of transport into the Auckland Transport CCO might actually take us a step backwards at the very time the policy documents are repeating the need for integration over and over again.

Another document that looks at the links between planning and transport is to be released by Auckland City Council in the near future, as part of the work they are doing to guide the development of future planning documents in the Auckland region – what they’re calling the “Future Planning Framework“. I have actually been really impressed by the thinking that has gone into the Future Planning Framework, and I hope that this model for planning does end up being extended to the rest of Auckland. The most recent part of this work involves a number of “Planning Position Papers“, the recommendations from which have been put together into this document (a very large 17 MB file!) There are some very interesting recommendations around urban design and planning, which I think are worth a future blog post, but it is the transport section that I will talk about in this post – or more particularly how it looks at the vexed question of “how do we really integrate land-use and transport planning?”

One useful diagram from this study that I think explains the need to balance the “through” aspects of transport with the “in” aspects of what road corridors contribute to our urban environment is included below:
I think a critical part of truly integrating land-use and transport policy is to think more about our roads being part of the urban fabric, and less simply as “through-spaces”. I remember talking to an urban designer last year, and he mentioned the very interesting point that most of the work he felt urban designers needed to do was in the transport corridors – because they are the public spaces of our cities.

The paper has the obligatory recommendation for better alignment between land-use and planning resources: A lot of this recommendation is completely true, and it’s almost impossible to disagree with. But I guess my question once again is “how do we actually make this happen?” As Auckland City Council wrote this plan, they also gave resource consent for a supermarket to shift from Panmure town centre out to Lunn Ave, completely undermining efforts to encourage businesses and people to locate in transit-oriented centres just like Panmure. The level of disconnect between this high-level policy-talk and what happens on the ground is immense.

A second recommendation does recognise the need to focus more on what’s happening on the ground and start thinking about what provisions can be tweaked to encourage development in certain areas and to discourage development from other areas. Before I move on, I must have a bit of a chuckle about AMETI being mentioned in the same paragraph as recommendations for good alignment between land-use and transport policy. The whole reason why we are in the horrible transport situation that AMETI is meant to improve is because of the biggest mistake in the history of Auckland’s urban development: allowing such a huge number of people to live east of the Tamaki River while not providing a good quality railway link to southeast Auckland.

But anyway, moving along – most of the recommendation above is typical policy “fluff” talk, although it is interesting that the term “incentives” is used. I think that a big part of trying to make development happen where we want it to (and to not happen where we don’t want it) is to tweak our incentives, which generally will mean messing around with the system of development contributions: which developers pay to council to offset the increased demand on council services that the particular development will generate. At the moment these contributions are calculated in a horribly crude manner, generally on a “per-unit basis” – which illogically assumes that a studio apartment a town centre will have the same impact on infrastructure as a 6 bedroom McMansion in Flat Bush.

To actually incentivise development in places like the CBD, Newmarket, New Lynn, Henderson and other places along the Rapid Transit Network – to truly align land-use and transport planning – clearly the rules need to be tweaked so that it makes the most financial sense for developers to focus in those areas. That may mean giving them the most development potential in those areas, but it also might mean waiving development contributions there but raising them elsewhere in “non-aligned” areas to both offset the reduced revenue, but also to discourage development from those other areas. It would also reflect the fact that development located outside town centres and other nominated growth areas is generally very very expensive to service, particularly in terms of transport.

So, getting back to my overall point of this post – how do we really integrate land-use and transport? Well I think there are a few key points:

  • We must ensure alignment at the citywide scale. There would be little point in investing all the money in the rail network that we are doing if our land-use plans weren’t designed around encouraging growth in areas around train stations. Similarly, there is little point trying to focus development on areas already urbanised if our transport projects undermine this by encouraging sprawl.
  • We must consider the transport network for how it contributes to the urban environment as well as how it provides for people to travel around the city.
  • We must tweak our incentives (including development contributions) to make it logical for development to happen in areas where we want it.
  • We must ensure that “at the coalface” land-use and transport planners are talking to each other all the time about their work. This is going to get a lot more difficult thanks to the Super City and the splitting off of Auckland Transport.

Until I see developments declined resource consent (or Plan Change requests rejected) because they integrate poorly with the transport network, or development contribution policies being fine-tuned and tweaked to incentivise intensification, or see urban designers in top positions at Auckland Transport, I will find it difficult to believe that all this talk of “integration” and “alignment” between transport and land-use planning is more than just “feel good fluff” that keeps policy planners busy.

Bus lane debacle: damaging to PT?

While it seems (hopefully) that the big “bus lane debacle” is finally coming to an end, I think it’s probably time to take a look at what the effects of this completely unnecessary and avoidable issues have been. ARC Chairman Mike Lee, as quoted in an NZ Herald article today, highlights the potential for long-lasting damage from this issue:

Council chairman Mike Lee said yesterday that a public backlash against bus lanes might undermine support for public transport.

He said he was encouraged that the region’s annual public transport use had exceeded 60 million passenger trips for the first time in more than 25 years, but much remained to be done.

The city council’s bus-lane policies worried him.

“I believe Auckland City Council has engaged in revenue gouging.

“If bus lanes are used almost as a form of entrapment for revenue raising, it puts the credibility and popularity of public transport in question, and that’s bad for everyone.

“What I’m concerned about is a backlash against bus lanes if they’re used in a kind of Sheriff of Nottingham way to raise revenue from commuting motorists.”

Mr Lee denied suggesting the city council should allow drivers to clutter bus lanes, but said it should improve markings to end confusion about where the lanes began and ended.

My initial response to the NZ Herald raising this issue was as another attack on public transport, and I’m still certain that it would have been a NZ Herald editor or reporter getting nailed for driving in a bus lane that sparked the issue. However, the response of the City Council has – over time – changed my mind as their inflexibility over accepting criticism of the poor signage, has continued to give life to a pretty simple issue that should have died away almost immediately.

Now I don’t necessarily think that the council has deliberately been making the signage confusing to raise revenue, although I can certainly understand that it could be perceived that way. Particularly since the bus lanes are proving highly lucrative for the council’s coffers. However, the council’s reluctance to accept the inadequacy of their signage has enabled an ugly mixing of what should have been two separate issues:

  1. Whether the city needs bus lanes and whether the bus lanes that exist are a good idea.
  2. Whether the bus lane signage is a good idea.

The bus lane debacle was really solely about the second point: is the existing signage clear enough to get across when you’re allowed to enter a bus lane, when you must exit the bus lane and whether you’re in a bus lane at all? The problem is that the council’s very arrogant attitude towards the issue has meant that things have spread into the first point – a debate about bus lanes and whether they’re a good idea.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll actually have bus lanes removed (except for another recent Auckland City Council debacle – the Dominion Road T2 lanes), the real tragedy of this whole issue is the response that anyone proposing new bus lanes is likely to now get. I can already imagine the cries of “you just want to raise more money don’t you!” And this is a real tragedy, as undoubtedly the single most effective, best ‘value for money’ and quickest to implement thing you could do in Auckland to improve public transport in the short term would be to significantly extend the network of bus lanes. This debacle may well make it harder to implement the desperately needed Quality Transit Network, it may make it harder to implement desperately needed bus lanes on Queen Street and so forth.

I still think the best solution would be to paint a big fat green line across the bus lane every 10 metres. That way if people want to work out where 50 metres back from an intersection is, all they need to do is count back five lines from the intersection. Similarly, if they want to know where 50 metres is after pulling into a road with bus lanes, then all they need to do is count the number of lines they cross over.

If Auckland City Council’s immediate response to this debacle had been “we understand the signage could be clearer and we’re open to ideas about how to improve it, please send in your feedback” instead of “tough, it’s the rules”, I tend to think it could have been sorted out without anywhere near as much mess, and without anywhere near as much long term damage for public transport.