Yesterday Stuff published what is frankly an odd opinion from Mayor Phil Goff regarding public transport and a future harbour crossing.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff would prefer the city’s second harbour crossing to be built with a busway instead of a rail line.
Goff said the $4 billion tunnel under Auckland Harbour, planned for about 2030, should be built with a busway to begin with.
“Busways are easily translatable to light railways, so the two are quite compatible. You may sequence it in that order. That’s my preference,” Goff said.
Goff said he was keen for a rail line to Auckland’s North Shore, eventually, but a rail line to the airport was a higher priority.
There are quite a few things that spring to my mind from just these few lines.
The busway is an outstanding success and use of it has grown dramatically in the nine years since it opened. It now carries over 4.6 million trips annually which is not all too different to what our rail lines do.
One of the big transport issues facing Auckland and especially the city centre is how we cope with growth in public transport. As it is now many streets in the city centre have too many buses on them and are struggling to cope, let alone what would be needed if public transport use keeps growing like it has been. This is of course the main reason AT were looking at Light Rail in the Isthmus. On top of this is the city’s desire to become more walking and cycling friendly.
The NEX is popular and there can already be too many in the city with not enough space for them all
The northern busway itself still has capacity left for a while, at current rates probably till some time in the 2030’s, but even that means we’re likely to need to look for further ways of improving capacity within the next 20 years which is exactly the timeframe we’re going to be discussing the next harbour crossing. If we’re going to the trouble of spending possibly billions on another harbour crossing it makes no sense to build it as a busway if we’re only going to have to upgrade it again in few years time.
This is becoming an increasing sight on the busway
Goff campaigned on light rail down Dominion Rd and he’s quoted as saying that rail to the airport is a higher priority. I agree with him on that but it doesn’t mean we don’t discuss it for the North Shore. In fact, the two could even link up together to deliver a light rail rapid transit line from Albany to the Airport. That’s a vision I bet a lot of the city would get behind.
I also suspect Goff is underestimating the impact of converting a busway to light rail, especially the disruption it will cause. This won’t be a quick few weeks job but would likely take months or even over a year depending on how it was done and during that time the busway will be out of action. While I’m sure some of the smart people in our transport industry will find ways to minimise that, it will still be incredibly disruptive and we wouldn’t want to have to do both the existing busway and a busway harbour tunnel, even if it was possible.
It’s important to remember though that the timeframe listed, of a harbour crossing “planned for about 2030” is actually incorrect anymore. The recent ATAP work pushed the project back to completion in the 3rd decade (2038-2048), in part due to the work showing it as having a very high cost while having little impact on congestion. The current plans for the next crossing envisage a combined tunnel with road and rail combined. I can’t imagine that would be too save with buses though it and certainly not double deckers.
We believe there’s a strong case to separate out the PT and road crossings and build them separately, starting with the mode that doesn’t currently exist. This is also because a PT crossing would have considerably more capacity than any road crossing would. We also think it’s time we reconsidered the option of that new crossing being a bridge. Like the new Tilikum Crossing in Portland it could be for PT and active modes only, and would considerably cheaper than tunnel options.
Let’s hope someone tells Goff that a busway tunnel is a bad idea
In case you missed it, the North Shore Rail campaign is holding a meeting tonight to draw out support from the public and Auckland Council candidates.
As the media release says, the campaign is really pushing for North Shore residents to turn up and demonstrate their support for a high capacity electric rail connection across the Waitemata, otherwise it might not happen at all. An online petition has so far garnered over 1,500 signatures from the general public.
If you aren’t familiar with the background, NZTA’s proposed road crossing has no economic business case and is likely to cause even more congestion in the central city and surrounding road networks unless further road widening takes place. The New Zealand Transport Agency are planning to lodge planning approvals with the Auckland Council for the road crossing some time early next year.
The free public meeting will feature Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland as MC, with speakers including:
- Cameron Pitches from Better Transport
- Patrick Reynolds from TransportBlog and Greater Auckland
- Chris Darby, currently a North Shore Councillor and standing again in this year’s election
- Richard Hills, current Kaipatiki Local Board Member and also standing this year for the Auckland Council North Shore electorate
To be held:
- Thursday 15th September, 7:30pm
- Onewa Netball Centre
- 44 Northcote Road, Takapuna
Back in May in this post, Matt highlighted the NZTA’s strategy of designating only for road tunnels across the Waitemata Harbour, leaving any rail designation up to Auckland Transport. The NZTA have a total budget of $27m for the designation work, $14m million of which is an additional appropriation, approved under the delegated authority of the Chief Executive, to cover enlarged works at Esmonde Road and Victoria Park. The work is proceeding even though the comparative Preliminary Business Case for a road only crossing calculated a BCR of 0.4. The Western Ring route, which is designed to reduce pressure on the existing Harbour Bridge, is yet to open.
On the back of this I wrote to NZTA CEO Fergus Gammie pointing out that the NZTA’s governing legislation, the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA), was not being complied with and therefore the route protection work currently underway should be placed on hold until a number of issues had been resolved.
NZTA have responded to the letter but, before we look at that, let’s take a quick look at the LTMA.
The LTMA was introduced by the Labour / Green government in 2003, and a ministerial press release at the time promised that it would “broaden the focus of the land transport system beyond just roads and represent a true multi-modal, integrated, approach to land transport.”
Since then the LTMA has been amended, but it still defines the objective of the NZTA to “undertake its functions in a way that contributes to an effective, efficient, and safe land transport system in the public interest.”
Key functions are:
- to manage the State highway system, including planning, funding, design, supervision, construction, and maintenance and operations
- determine whether particular activities should be included in a national land transport programme
- approve activities or combinations of activities
The operating principles the NZTA must abide by include:
- exhibiting a sense of social and environmental responsibility
- using its revenue in a manner that seeks value for money
- ensuring that it gives, when making decisions in respect of land transport planning and funding , the same level of scrutiny to its own proposed activities and combinations of activities as it would give to those proposed by approved organisations
When approving a proposed activity or combination of activities for funding, the NZTA must be satisfied that:
- The activity is consistent with the GPS on land transport; and
- is efficient and effective; and
- contributes to the Agency’s objective; and
- has been assessed against other land transport options and alternatives
- relevant consultation requirements have been complied with
The NZTA must also take into account any national energy efficiency and conservation strategies, and act in accordance with its operating principles.
It should be clear from any reasonable interpretation of the law that any work on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing does not qualify for payments from the National Land Transport Fund as most, if not all, of the above criteria have not been met. But let’s return to the NZTA’s response and see what they have to say.
Under the Land Transport Management Act heading, the NZTA claim:
The NZTA claim that other land transport options (which aren’t limited to roads by the LTMA) have been assessed. But what the NZTA neglect to say is that the 2008 Summary Report found that for passenger transport alone, passenger transport in a new tunnel or on a new bridge between Esmonde and Britomart was the best option. No comparative cost benefit analysis was done for a rail only vs a road crossing – it was just assumed by the report that a road crossing was also needed.
The NZTA claim that the additional crossing was consulted on as part of the Regional Land Transport Plan (PDF 5 Mb). The RLTP contains a single line item for the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, for which no discussion on the shape or form of the route protection was consulted on:
The NZTA suggest “as the proposal is only to seek route protection at present, there is no need to include (or consult on) the construction of the crossing in the Regional Land Transport Plan”. I disagree. Route protection defines the envelope of the project, and necessarily needs to cater for a chosen mode. Right now on-going route protection work affects Victoria Park, Esmonde Rd and sensitive ecological areas. Exhaust stacks at Wynyard and Northcote or Esmonde Rd are included in the designation work because the chosen solution is a pair of three lane road tunnels, yet there has been no public consultation to date. It is socially irresponsible and in bad faith for NZTA to leave consultation to the Board of Inquiry process. The NZTA need to be getting feedback from the public and businesses now on the desired mode and how much road users would be willing to pay in tolls for the new crossing and also potentially the existing Harbour Bridge.
The NZTA don’t address the issue of efficiency or effectiveness in their response. Instead they rely on the fact that there will be a business case completed after the $27m budget for a road crossing designation has been spent. That business case will not examine whether a road crossing is required at all, because the decision has already been made. The NZTA is clearly not using it’s revenue in a way that seeks value for money, nor has it adequately considered alternatives.
Even the Government Policy Statement appears to be disregarded by the NZTA in its pursuit of a road only crossing. The GPS has the objective of mitigating the effects of land transport on the environment. The focus for Auckland is investment to maximise throughput of people and freight as Auckland grows, something the AWHC project which is dedicated to the movement of single occupant cars cannot achieve.
So what do you think? Is the NZTA following the law?
We are increasingly concerned that Auckland is in the middle of very poor process where by far the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure project is being forced along and at ill-considered speed without anything like the level of public participation nor detailed analysis that it should have.
NZTA are relying on a 2008 study into possible future harbour crossings to just get on with designing and designating a road only crossing. This study started with the assumption that any additional crossing would be a road lane crossing. No kind of comparative analysis of all options like the Centre City Future Access Study that was done to be certain that the City Rail Link is the right mode and route for that need has ever been undertaken.
Looking at the current options across the harbour it is clear that the highest capacity urban transport mode is what’s missing. There are 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, and some passenger ferries, but no dedicated Rapid Transit route. We hold that it is absolutely necessary to do a proper comparative analysis between modes for the next harbour crossing before any designation or final design work is undertaken, and have been consistent in requesting it. We are not claiming to know what the outcome would be but that it is frankly irresponsible to proceed any further without such a study.
Particularly as a great deal has changed since 2007 when that report was commissioned. Aucklanders have proven that they are just like city dwellers everywhere else in the world and are very keen to use good quality Transit systems when they get the chance. Since the upgrade and electrification of the existing rail network we have been piling onto our new trains at a rate well in advance of expectations. The Northern Busway too has excelled expectations even though it has to share lanes with general traffic on the bridge and therefore is not as Rapid as a dedicated route would be. These two top tier systems are attracting riders at a rate of 20%+ year on year, and while there is relief ahead for the rail network with at last the CRL underway, there is no plan to deal with an ever rising flood of buses into the city centre with this hugely expensive project.
The line that ‘Aucklanders just love their cars’ as an excuse to not provide quality alternatives to driving has been forever proven to be the nonsense it always was. Aucklanders are the same as everyone else; we love what ever works well for our needs. So when we get options like the example below from Panmure for reliable fast travel we take it.
Furthermore it is well understood that it is the quality of the alternatives that govern the speed and reliability of the surface routes. So that in this example the car and bus speeds and reliability would be much worse without the separate Rapid Transit alternative. The same will be the case for across the harbour; a great alternative means freer roads, another driving route means more cars everywhere; more congestion See here for a discussion on this:
There’s good science to back up the commonsense view. It goes like this: public transport operates to a fixed speed, a timetable. Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
Additionally the commitment to this road only crossing is made before the completion of the Western Ring Route, the current multi-billion dollar bypass for cross harbour traffic. It is also being made without any kind of business case. Existing estimates are up to $6Billion dollars for a return of 30-40 cents on the dollar. This desperately needs proper and thoughtful analysis, without the ridiculous haste from politicians.
All over the world cities are kept moving by building high capacity spatially efficient Transit systems. Auckland is simply at the point where it can no longer delay adding this essentially weapon to its arsenal of movement options. From statements by NZTA they agree that a Rail crossing is required but they insist, without any analysis or study, that this must come after another road crossing.
Three road crossings, and no more spatially and energetically efficient option? We would like to see analysis of what reversing this timing could achieve. What if the next crossing is high capacity electric rail? Especially driverless low operating cost rail.
- What are the outcomes for traffic congestion across the wider city?
- For land use?
- For the local environment?
- For Carbon Emissions?
We know that the people constantly say they want extension of quality Public Transport:
Survey of Automobile Association members
The public deserve to have a say in what is being done in their name and with their money. There are so many questions. NZTA know that this project will flood the city centre with cars and that there is simply nowhere for them to go. They also quietly discuss levels of tolling on both the new crossing and the old bridge. This massive project will not only soak up huge sums of investment funding closing off opportunity to make other decisions across the city and nation, but also induce more traffic everywhere on Auckland’s roads. It is also the reverse of future proofing as it commits us all to more driving:
The road only crossing is a huge Traffic Inducement scheme, as NZTA explain in this slide.
To claim all environmental and traffic congestion concerns can be waved away because of future technology is very weak. That argument suggests that the time to build this kind of infrastructure is when we all do have electric cars, not on the prospect of their arrival some time in the future. And if driverless cars are to be that revolutionary then perhaps all this expensive additional road space will not be required? Meantime there is current electric and driverless technology that can be invested in right now.
In Vancouver the SkyTrain mass transit system shifts 117m people per year, at frequencies often down to a train every 2 minutes, running from 5am to 1:30am daily and all at an operating surplus. Driverless, Electric Light Metro. North Shore people have already shown they are not too posh to bus, they certainly won’t be reluctant to use a quicker, quieter, cleaner, more direct, 21st century movement system like this.
The absence of rail as well as walking and cycling options to the North Shore has been considered an oversight by many probably ever since the Harbour Bridge was first approved for construction over 60 years ago. While Skypath will finally rectify the walking and cycling situation, many have looked to the prospect of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) to rectify the rail one.
Some papers I received from the NZTA at the end of last week as part of an official information act request suggest that those hoping for rail to be part of AWHC are likely to be out of luck again. They confirm the NZTA only plan to designate a road based crossing. This is in sharp contrast to how the NZTA have presented the project to the public to date which includes saying that the tunnels include provision for Rapid Transit and have pictures showing tunnels with both cars and trains in them – such as the one below and this one which is described as their current concept. Their plan is to have the tunnels become SH1 with the existing bridge acting as a sort of giant off ramp to the CBD.
In addition to the likely absence of rail from the project, the documents also suggest that:
- the NZTA could look to cut the connection to Onewa Rd
- they are waiting till after the route is protected before doing a detailed business case
- along with some other public information suggest that the NZTA deliberately ignoring any additional works needed on either side of the harbour
There are five documents in total and are dated between November 2014 and May 2015. They were the result of asking for ‘All advice to senior management, the board or the Minister on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing’
In November 2014 a paper to the NZTAs Senior Leadership Team makes this comment
The additional crossing has been identified as providing for both road and rail. Whilst the road network is mature in this area, there is currently no rail network on the North Shore. As a result Auckland Transport’s support for protecting the route for rail now is unclear. A high level discussion with AT is required to understand their aspirations.
On 10 February 2015 there is a short briefing to the Minister about the route protection process.
On 20 February 2015 there is a much more extensive briefing to the Minister after the minister obviously asked for more info. As part of a series of questions and answers the NZTA say:
The business case, which will be completed in 2017, will consider rapid transit options. Work on rapid transit options will be led by Auckland Transport. The preferred option will be secured through the route protection process.
It’s also from this brief that a small point about Shoal Bay is raised and that there are options to mitigate it.
Impacts on Shoal Bay: The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing would generate significant impacts on Shoal Bay on the North Shore including those resulting from land reclamation. There are opportunities to mitigate these effects.
Just under a month later the Minister announced the NZTA would be moving ahead with the designation process and a few days later this memo was produced discussing the next steps. This is what they say about rail.
They say a key decision is to ‘Agree with Auckland Transport the extent of rail involvement in the designation process.’
It is also from this document where they raise some of the other issues I mentioned including:
That they are considering holding off on the business case. Along with the rail comment above, deciding this is the other key decision that the memo says needs to be made.
That they are considering dropping the connection at Onewa.
Recently I’ve been hearing that extending the tunnel all the way to Esmonde to avoid reclamation in Shoal Bay is being progressed and that means anyone who accesses the motorway from Onewa Rd and wanting to go somewhere other than the CBD would have to drive north to Esmonde first then turn around and head down the tunnels. Alternatively they would have to go into the city and travel through city streets before re-joining the motorway.
The final document is a paper to the NZTA board in May 2015 discussing the route protection and other issues. In it they effectively confirm that the NZTA will not be including rail designations as part of its work and that instead it is up to Auckland Transport. They also note that the ‘lack of clarity’ around rail is the main risk to the route protection process.
Now obviously this doesn’t mean that rail isn’t going to happen as Auckland Transport could also look to protect a rail route at the same time but it seems fairly clear that the NZTA are fully prepared to designate for a road only crossing if AT don’t get on with a rapid transit option. That seems like a recipe for something going wrong due to miscommunication. We know AT have recently been conducting a study on the future of Rapid Transit to the North Shore but we haven’t even heard the outcome of that yet, let alone have the work needed for a notice of requirement completed to coincide with NZTA’s previously stated desire to start the NOR in the middle of this year.
All of the information also suggests that the NZTA intend on building road tunnels regardless with rail either at best happening concurrently or more likely never. There doesn’t appear to be any consideration a different staging of the project which could see a cheaper rail option built first and a road crossing considered if still needed in the future.
In addition this board paper notes the decision had been made to only do route protection at this time and leave the business case to later.
Next steps are tightly focused on route protection. The wider business case will be progressed as a subsequent piece of work, and subject to a separate funding application.
What is also worth noting from these documents is that appears the NZTA are treating business cases as only being used to inform when a project should start construction and what funding source it would have rather than whether it’s worth doing at all. That means the AWHC with a benefit cost ratio of 0.3 can (from an earlier study) is progressed because it passed the “do we like it” test.
There is also an interesting comment in the board minutes as a result of this paper. Included in the minutes it says ‘Board members discussed how to ensure the NoR process is contained tightly to matters relating to route protection only for the future crossing’. I’ve long understood that for the AWHC to function it will also need some significant widening of the motorway north of Esmonde Rd. It seems the NZTA want to keep discussion away from that.
One additional piece of information that was quite interesting from the 20-Feb paper was a little note on why the NZTA have picked the western alignment rather than going to the East of the city like the NZCID have suggested.
The eastern alignment was not progressed as it would have cost significantly more, including a $1 billion upgrade to Grafton Gully to accommodate additional traffic and improve connections into the central motorway junction. The eastern alignment would also have resulted in congestion on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and underuse of the new crossing.
An extra $1 billion just for Grafton Gully alone which presumably doesn’t include the extra cost of an even longer tunnel.
As I’ve said before, lets get the missing modes completed first before seeing if we need another road crossing. It might just be that a cheaper rail crossing has sufficient impact to delay a more expensive road crossing.
As regular readers will know, we’re not exactly big fans of another road-based harbour crossing being a priority. We believe that after Skypath, the next crossing should be a rapid-transit-only crossing, providing those travelling to and from the North Shore with a complete and attractive alternative to the current bridge. It could be designed to leave space so that a future road crossing could be built if still needed.
Instead, the current most likely outcome is that we’ll spend $4-6 billion on a tunnel and massive interchanges at each end. And yet, because of changes they’ll make to how the existing bridge is used, it’s likely the extra crossing won’t even provide any additional capacity to the road network. About the best we’ll get is some bus lanes – AT and the NZTA have been suggesting that light rail could possibly go over the existing bridge, but my understanding based on conversations with various staff is that this is unlikely to be a realistic option.
So if we’re going to build a road crossing that doesn’t actually do much, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a cheaper bridge option. According to the last study by NZTA in 2010, a bridge option would be around $1.4 billion cheaper. That level of saving is nothing to be sneezed at, after all the entire cost of the Waterview tunnels project is $1.4 billion!
A bridge would also be considerably cheaper to operate and maintain – about $4m per year vs $20m per year (in 2010 $). Again $16m a year, every year, is significant. That’s roughly how much public subsidy is paid each year to top up fare revenue on the North Shore bus network.
The main reason for selecting a tunnel rather than a bridge was the result of public feedback around 5 years ago on the council’s Auckland Plan, and I’d say most of that feedback took place without considering the huge cost impact of their decision. One of the main reasons for this is the view it would obviously represent a dramatic visual change, which many people would be fearful of.
But would a bridge option be all that bad? Bridges all over the world can be some of the most stunning and iconic features of cities. Designed well they are more than just function.
Below are some of the renders from the NZTA study, so take a look for yourself. We were reminded of these when leafing through some of the obscure old reports so I wonder if most people even knew this was an option?
We quite like the design, the triangular cable towers are vaguely reminiscent of volcanic cones or perhaps sails on the harbour. In any case they have a monumental look. Cable stayed bridges are quite popular these days, as they are strong, stable and self-supporting during construction, which makes them fast and cheap to build. Of course there would be other types of bridges that could work: a grand suspension bridge like the famous Golden Gate, another steel arch bridge, a very simple concrete girder or maybe something wild and unusual.
Thinking about this, we think there are some other potential benefits of a second bridge, beyond the big construction cost saving and the cheaper operations and maintenance over time.
Firstly, it would be easy to provide road and rail on the same bridge, something that is difficult and expensive to do in a tunnel. We know that Auckland Transport are currently looking at rapid transit options to the North Shore. Given they are considering light rail across the isthmus and the airport, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that they would consider it here too? And why not, light rail only takes up as much room as a traffic lane each way, and it can handle almost any grade you would want on a motorway bridge. So for the minimal cost of adding two lanes for light rail to the six lanes of motorway you could literally double the people carrying capacity of the crossing. It would also tie in nicely with the current plans for the isthmus which would see light rail along Fanshawe St to Wynyard.
There is also the possibility that you don’t need to add much at all. The NZTA designs below show a box section holding up the road deck. With a little tweaking to the design it could probably be big enough to run a rail line through each way. A rail deck inside the bridge structure is pretty common in bridges around the world, perhaps a double deck bridge is an efficient solution for Auckland?
Secondly, a new bridge would give a nice and more direct walking and cycling link, as we can see in the picture below. While we agree the Skypath is an excellent value retrofit and should proceed asap, having separate walking and cycling links on a more direct alignment would be even better in the long term. We would obviously expect walking and cycling connections to be a little wider than shown in the image below though.
Thirdly, bridges avoid a lot of the problems that tunnels can have with things like vehicle fires, water leaks and dangerous goods spills. Melbourne has had a pair of under-river tunnels since the early 2000s and it has experienced all three kinds of incidents, with many lives lost in one bad fire down in the tunnel.
So, could a relatively cheap and efficient new bridge with a mix of traffic lanes, light rail, walking and cycling be the right answer for the North Shore? Such a crossing might come in under $3 billion, less than half some of the recent estimates for doing motorway and rail in tunnels. But there might be some further savings to be had too. In the renders below we can see that the bridge itself is a fairly slender and graceful structure. But the real impact, and much of the cost, of the harbour crossing plans come from the connections either side, including what amounts to a new Spaghetti Junction in St Mary’s Bay complete with three additional tunnels under Victoria Park and a similar tangle of ramps and reclamation at Northcote Point though to Akoranga.
If the crazy plan to dump six lanes of bridge traffic onto Cook St was dropped, they could drop the duplicate Victoria Park tunnel and a mess of associated ramps and structures approaching it. The existing Victoria Park tunnel could be reconfigured into one lane each way to Cook St by adding a central fire wall, instead of building a second one next to it to get three lanes each way to the middle of town. This would improve connectivity to midtown while providing a reasonable, rather than insane, amount of vehicular capacity. Not only would this save the city from drowning in traffic that has nowhere to go from Cook St, it would also save a further half billion or so from the cost and reduce the amount of structures and reclamation on the waterfront.
A second advantage of new bridge with light rail would be the ability to drop the proposed busway additions on the old bridge. That sounds crazy coming from this blog, but you have to ask why you would need both a busway and railway next to each other when rail alone can do the job well. If you dig through the plans you can see NZTA have designed an elaborate series of busway lanes and flyovers either side of the harbour bridge, in addition to the rail designation (clearly they didn’t put much faith in rail ever actually happening). Dropping the busway links in favour of light rail only would likewise cut out a lot of concrete, and hundreds of millions of costs.
There are some further benefits of value engineering out the spurious ramps and links. With less linkages you need to reclaim less harbour and build fewer flyovers, but you’d also get to detune some of the worst bits we already have. Do the crossing right and St Marys Bay could be turned from eleven lanes of motorway into a six lane waterfront boulevard through to Fanshawe St and Cook St. It might have more in common with Tamaki Drive than Spaghetti Junction.
So what about it Auckland? Would we be happy with a new bridge if it meant traffic, rail and people could be accommodated together while saving billions of dollars and reducing the impacts on the waterfront areas? Is there a “lean and mean” road solution that could be funded and built earlier while also giving people the rapid transit crossing they want?
To finish we just have to ask, why was this option dropped so readily? Given the potential to save billions and get better outcomes shouldn’t we at least have a thorough discussion?
The issue of another road crossing of the harbour has been one we’ve discussed for quite some time. It’s a project that many Aucklanders like to think makes sense but that when you look deeply at the details it’s not so clear it’s a good idea. Without going over everything again – you can read some of our old posts on the subject – the project is hugely expensive and yet doesn’t actually appear to provide that much benefit.
In fact the impact seems to range from actually make some key things worse – to at best not actually changing all that much. It is expected that any road tunnel would plug in directly to the Central Motorway Junction and therefore only be used by those travelling through the city or to the connections with Grafton Gully or West Auckland. That would leave the existing Harbour Bridge as a giant off-ramp.
In fact it is actually likely to undermine many of the goals the council have been striving to achieve such as increased use of public transport and a more people friendly city centre. Both will be much more difficult to achieve if a firehose of traffic is turned on to the CBD.
From Sydney but appropriate here too
If spending $4-6 billion to undermine your city’s goals seems stupid, equally so is the more likely alternative version from the NZTA.
One thing that is widely accepted is the need to improve the rapid transit options across the harbour. The Northern Busway is fantastic however it’s missing any priority across the bridge despite buses carrying around 40% of the people going over it AM peak. They would use AWHC to finally dedicate some space on the bridge for PT but the actual number of vehicle lanes across the harbour will be about the same as they are now. In that case we end up spending a huge amount of money to add no vehicle capacity and just to add some bus lanes. It begs the question of why bother, why not just leave the bridge as is and build a better and cheaper dedicated PT crossing.
Because of the need to improve rapid transit options we’ve long advocated for a rail first option to be considered. This doesn’t mean we can’t build road tunnels in the future should they be needed but along with Skypath, rail tunnels more cheaply, directly and immediately address the modes missing across the harbour.
And we’re not the only ones. The Campaign for Better Transport have created a petition calling for a rail only option to be considered. It’s managed to pick up a good amount of media coverage and forced some interesting statements from the NZTA and the mayor. Reading between the lines and combined with what we’ve heard it highlights a concerning situation.
First up from the North Shore times
But NZTA Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner says Pitches is “misleading” people.
Rail hasn’t been ruled-out, he says.
Although harbour crossing route protection work is underway, NZTA doesn’t know precisely when it will be needed or what form it will take, Zollner says.
Previous proposed plans include twin vehicle tunnels future-proofed for rail.
An Auckland Transport spokesman says a public transport study anticipating future growth will be completed mid next year.
The agency which manages local roading connected to NZTA’s motorway network, says it’s investigating how public transport options would integrate into future connections.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown says central government has committed to starting a second harbour crossing within seven years.
Rail will either be part of the second crossing or complementary to it, Brown says.
Another proposal would see harbour bridge lanes repurposed to carry light rail to and from the North Shore.
The NZTA are intending to lodge designation documents for the crossing this year. That means there is no way they can be intending to include rail options within their plans. This matches with what we’ve heard elsewhere that they intend on building their road tunnels and leave the rail options to AT/council to sort out as a separate project. Despite what the mayor or AT say there is no way they’ll be able to justify spending huge sums of money on a rail crossing to the shore if we’ve just spent $4-6 billion on a road crossing.
The second piece is from the Central Leader
“At that point in time they either will build the capability for rail within the tunnels or as correlative part of it,” Brown said.
But the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which constructs state highways says no decisions have been made.
Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner said NZTA and local agency Auckland Transport were currently working to protect a future route for an additional harbour crossing.
“While we don’t yet know when it will be required, and precisely what form it will take, in a rapidly growing region it’s essential that we protect and keep our future options open,” he said.
The northern busway serving the suburbs north of the bridge had been a huge success, and one of the benefits of a second crossing would be to continue it across the harbour.
“(It) could then also be used for rail or other innovative public transport options in future,” Zollner said.
Again this all but confirms there is no intention to build rail as part of the next harbour crossing. At best it is happening as an afterthought and only once we’ve sunk billions into some road tunnels and massively upgrading the motorways either side – something the NZTA are being very quiet about. I suspect the only reason they’ll even consider having light rail on the bridge is that after they’ve built the road tunnels they’ll revoke the state highway designation and hang the bridge asking with its expensive maintenance costs over to AT.
The AWHC appears to be a classic case of the same gung-ho roads first approach that has left Auckland in such a mess for so many decades. So let’s build a great PT crossing first and then see if we still need more traffic lanes across the harbour.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
Parking, parking, parking! In many places in many cities – even eco-friendly German cities – the price of parking is distorted by minimum parking requirements (MPRs). In these places, local governments regulate an over-supply of parking, which in turn holds down prices.
The Auckland city centre is not one of those places, as MPRs were removed from the area inside the motorway cordon in the late 1990s. As a consequence:
- New developments provide a lot less parking. For example, the new Commercial Bay building would have had to provide over 2000 carparks if it was subject to the same MPRs as the rest of the Auckland isthmus. It’s actually providing 278 carparks – 85% less.
- The price of parking is higher, as new parking garages must “compete” with other land uses, such as valuable commercial, retail, and residential space. If parking doesn’t pay its way, it doesn’t get built.
Furthermore, the price of parking will tend to rise over time as a result of supply and demand interactions. New demand for parking will tend to be met with increased supply. However, new parking supply will tend to be costlier, as cheap surface carparks are likely to be redeveloped and new city centre parking will increasingly be provided in expensive structures.
In fact, parking fees has been rising. In November 2014, Auckland Transport announced that it would end earlybird discounts – meaning that all commuters would pay an all-day rate of $17 to park. In July 2015, AT hiked the all-day price to $24. Other operators have followed suit. For example, Sky City now charges $22 for earlybird parking – whereas it only charged $14 in 2013.
Of course, not everybody pays to park. According to a 2007 survey of city centre parking spaces summarised in a recent report, there were 22,639 public carparks in the city centre, and 22,121 private non-residential carparks attached to businesses. Here’s the table:
In the Auckland city centre, it is almost always necessary to pay to use public parking – e.g. parking garages or on-street parking. Private carparks attached to businesses may be offered as part of compensation packages, which means that people give up a bit of salary in exchange for a carpark that they don’t have to pay to use on a daily basis. Alternatively, employers may choose to rent them out for a monthly fee.
But here’s the thing. This data suggests that at most 50% of the nonresidential parking in the city centre is being offered free of charge. People using the other 50% must pay to park, either on an hourly or daily basis. The price to park for a day is now in the range of $20, and hourly prices tend to be higher.
In other words, the average price that people pay to park in the city centre could easily be $10/day or more, assuming that 50% of drivers get “free” employer-provided carparks and the remaining 50% pay market rates of around $20/day. Furthermore, the cost for the marginal parking user will tend to be higher, as the removal of MPRs means that they will be more likely to pay full market rates for parking.
This leads me on to the curious case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). Or rather, the peculiar assumptions about city centre parking prices that are incorporated into the transport modelling for AWHC.
If constructed, AWHC would be New Zealand’s most expensive single transport project – coming in at a cost of $5-6 billion to bore road tunnels under the Waitemata Harbour. A project of this magnitude demands extra-special care to validate all the model inputs and workings and ensure that they are as realistic as possible. Errors on a major project can have costly ramifications.
With that in mind, here are the parking price assumptions from the 2010 business case for the project. (They can be found on page 42 of the project’s transport modelling report.) They assume that the average price to park in the city centre was $2.83 in 2006, rising to $7.72 in 2041:
It is not clear how these assumptions were chosen, but they do not seem plausible. As I discussed above, the average parking cost in the city centre today could easily be higher than the modelling is assuming for 2041. Getting parking prices back in line with the modelling assumptions would require them to fall by perhaps 30% over the next decade.
A reduction in parking prices is highly unlikely without a major policy shift and a boat-load of investment in uneconomic city centre parking garages. In the absence of MPRs, parking must pay its way. It will not be built if it does not provide a competitive return to business or residential floorspace. This means that new parking will tend to be supplied at a considerably higher price than the AWHC modelling envisages.
Lastly, it is worth noting that parking prices can have a significant impact on transport outcomes. Public transport tends to be cheaper than driving if you have to pay for parking – but more expensive otherwise. Consequently, unrealistically low parking price assumptions will bias transport modelling results by inflating demand for driving and depressing demand for public transport and other non-car modes.
What do you think will happen to city centre parking prices?
As most of you are probably be aware, we’ve long suggested that we need to change our thinking about any future Waitemata Harbour Crossing. A $4-6 billion road tunnel and dramatically widened northern motorway which will only serve to flood the city centre with cars at a time when we’re trying to make it more pedestrian friendly.
Instead we’ve suggested that we need to look at completing the missing modes. These can provide a form of resilience in their own right, much like the BART tunnels in San Francisco did after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Soon Skypath will provide the missing active mode piece of the puzzle which leaves just a transit crossing as the missing component.
Given any new crossing will almost certainly be in a tunnel we believe that any dedicated transit crossing should be a rail one. This is for a number of reasons such as having greater capacity, not needing to deal with fuel emissions and from a purely political point of view, the idea of rail to the shore is a popular one. As we understand it, the current plans will see only one new crossing built – a road crossing. The NZTA have told us they will leave space in the designation for a rail crossing, either as a combined road/rail tunnel or separate tunnels next to the road ones. None of the options would include connections on either side of the harbour so regardless a rail crossing is a completely separate project and one for which the justification to build will be destroyed thanks to the new road crossing.
We believe that a rail tunnel could be built for much cheaper than a large road tunnel and that the money saved on the tunnel itself could then go to providing rail connections on the North Shore. There are actually a number of ways rail could be connected to the North Shore. I suspect many in the wider public would just see it as an extension of our existing rail network however this is our least favourite option. Other options include a Vancouver Skytrain style Light Metro system and AT’s recent infatuation with Light Rail also presents that as a potential option. I should point out that at this stage I don’t have a clear favourite but I do very much like the extra coverage that might be able to be achieved with the latter option.
To gain consent for the road tunnels the NZTA will have to show that they’ve properly investigated alternative options. This the failure to do this was one of the reasons they got tripped up over the Basin Flyover. We do not believe that the NZTA have properly investigated a transit only crossing as an option. This view was once again highlighted this week when they pointed us to a 2010 document which claimed a rail crossing would be astronomically expensive. By that I mean $11 billion+ expensive.
So how on earth would a rail crossing cost $11 billion? Here’s how it seems some of their thought process have gone.
They Say a rail alignment has to take in both Takapuna and Albany in a single alignment. The location of Takapuna being someway to east of the motorway is an issue and one of the reasons it’s not served by the busway. They also note that a rail corridor along the existing motorway would require substantial work to modify including pushing retaining walls by back 3m. In addition they note that other areas of higher density are not right next to the motorway – this is no surprise as motorways tend to push density away.
Next they dismiss high level operating patterns they effectively say buses are better because you can run them on lots of different (infrequent) patterns including express buses straight to the city. In contrast rail would require some people to use feeder buses – oh the humanity. Of course this was from all before the new network which in large part will see a lot more of the system operating like the rail diagram.
Taking the above into account they then try to join them all together in a rough alignment as is shown below, squiggling all over the North Shore. As you can see the line goes all of the place in a bid to serve various pockets of population and development.
As I’m sure you can imagine, getting consent for a project like this would be no easy task. Such an alignment would also create even more severance issues in many places on the shore. To deal with that the authors of the report state that the rail line would instead need to be underground. An entirely underground North Shore line, you can almost hear the dollar signs racking up.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Once in the city they want to send it somewhere else – ideally to link up with the existing rail network. Two options are shown for this, trains either going via Britomart then another tunnel up through the city to Newmarket or going via Aotea. The Aotea option is shown below.
So to get rail to the shore the NZTA are saying that we need a tunnel from Newmarket all the way to Albany, no wonder it will cost so much.
Lastly it briefly covers whether the project could be broken up and staged. Once again the short answer is no because it would limit the benefits available.
All up this appears almost like some kind of hatchet job deliberately designed to make rail look like a much inferior option. Given all the changes that have occurred in transport in just the last five years it seems it would be a good idea for the NZTA and AT to go back to the drawing board on this project and come up with some fresh thinking. We’ve been told that work is going on between the two agencies looking at what the future of the Rapid Transit Network on the shore is but it sounds like that is limited by not questioning whether the road tunnels happen. I also wonder if it will end up looking something like this from 2012.