What’s causing Upper Harbour Dr congestion

Last week the Upper Harbour Local Board passed a resolution (below) to try and get Auckland Transport to rip out recently installed cycle lanes near the intersection of Upper Harbour Dr (UHD) and Albany Highway. It’s a section of road that I am very familiar with as I use it regularly when I ride to work.

That the Upper Harbour Local Board:

request that Auckland Transport urgently revert to the board with an interim solution regarding the potential to reinstate the second vehicle lane near the intersection between Upper Harbour Drive and Albany Highway, by evaluating options including a shared cycle path and walkway.

The cycle lanes along UHD were installed last year and I’ve previously written about how AT removed the existing broken yellow lines (BYLs) when installing the cycle lanes resulting in locals parking in the cycle lanes. This issue wasn’t unique to UHD but something good came from it with AT agreeing to change their policy and mark BYLs on all cycle lanes.

So what’s the problem this time?

This year UHD has been noticeably more congested this year than it has in the past. On the worst day I’ve seen the slow moving queue was over 2km long* although that’s an extreme – I’ve definitely been thankful to have been on my bike and not caught up in that.

Upper Harbour Drive Congested 3

Drivers and residents have been complaining to the local board about the congestion and all have taken a correlation equals causation position on the matter. In their view the problems all stem from the creation of the cycle lanes. You can see the old layout on the Google Maps image below where for about 200m prior to the intersection there were two lanes, one for each direction.

Upper Harbour Drive old layout

And here’s what it looks like now from Streetview. The cycleway extends to the intersection. You can still see the old lane markings.

Upper Harbour Drive new layout - streetview

Here’s what the local board chair told our friends at Bike Auckland:

Since the upgrade we have had too many complaints to count and have asked the residents for patience. We met with representatives several months ago, but the issue has only worsened. The peak time queue is at pre motorway levels.

The issue is the merge to one lane meaning cars wanting to make a free left onto Albany Highway have to wait. The police have been involved due to driver behaviour with people reported driving up the berm along the footpath etc. it is unsafe. There are corresponding issues on Albany highway with cars driving straight ahead in the right turn lane to jump the queue but that has nothing to do with the cycle lanes – it is the function of the junction as a whole.

It is noted that since the road changes there is significant additional traffic using it from the several hundred new homes in Hobsonville, Whenuapai and beyond. We have substantial delays on all of our arterial roads but this one has been exacerbated by the on road cycle lane.

What we are investigating is whether we can relocate the cycle lane on to the footpath and reinstate the free left. We do not wish to remove the cycle lane. Neither the footpath nor cycle lane is busy at peak times with commuter traffic but is well used at weekends by recreational cyclists. Over time with the many hundreds more homes planned in the surrounding area the delays will get longer and we will need to look at bus priority measures.

I don’t think it is car vs cyclist in this case but getting the most out of what we have with a population growing almost daily.

Even the local Community Constable is blaming the cycle lanes and pushing for the cycle lane to be removed or able to be used by cars.

Below are some observations I’ve made from travelling through here:

  • Northbound towards the commercial area (over 15k jobs) north/east of Albany Highway is frequently more congested than southbound traffic. In the few times I’ve driven to work I’ve also noticed the left turn off the motorway is normally much more backed up than the right turn.
  • I’ve frequently observed cars simply ignore the cycle lane and try and use it as an extra vehicle lane- ultimately they end up blocking the cycle lane.
  • The footpath is too narrow to be a shared path and widening it wouldn’t be cheap and would lead to poorer outcomes for those on bikes or walking (not many). For one it would likely increase the risk for those like myself who are turning right as we would have to cross the slip lane reach the right turn lane.
  • Returning the road to a three lane configuration would also likely require the removal of the westbound cycle lane.
  • If it’s new development which is causing the issue, then any change is only likely to have short term benefits at best before it’s all congested again.

By now you might be asking, “but didn’t we just build a parallel motorway, why aren’t people using that?” The image below is from Tauhinu Rd which crosses over SH18 at the southern end of UHD. Like UHD it only seems to have become so congested this year.

SH18 Congested - Tauhinu Rd

This changes the question to “why are both of these routes suddenly seem so much more congested than they were last year?”

The answer to that is actually quite simple, and is one of the oldest reasons in the book – roadworks. For some time now Auckland Transport have been working on Albany Highway and since about the middle of last year that work has focused on the southern section which is the one that most affects traffic to and from the commercial area. Those road works are due to finish later this year. That needs to be completed before any assessment is even considered.

It’s also worth pointing out that traffic isn’t always bad. This was taken last week at the same time and day of the week as the first photos. It was also taken the same day as the image above. The road was empty all the way to the intersection. Perhaps the congestion on UHD was being exacerbated by people trying to use UHD as a rat run to avoid the motorway?

Upper Harbour Drive Uncongested

I’ll obviously be watching closely to see how Auckland Transport respond to this request from the local board. It seems to me a case of correlation does not equal causation and if it is decided that the only way to get bike infrastructure is only if it never impacts drivers then it will be a very much longer and more expensive to make any meaningful progress.

 

* the 2km long queue appeared to be the result of the drivers rubbernecking at the police stopping drivers who travelled through the intersection illegally.

Busway Station Data for 2015

Last week Patrick posted the latest set of results of rail station data. We’ve long wanted to also see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and it’s fascinating, especially when compared alongside the rail station results.

Many people only associate the busway with the Northern Express however it is actually used by quite a number of services for part of their route, for example the popular 881 which travels from Torbay Bay and the city, joining the busway at Albany. If you are catching a bus to/from a busway station, then integrated ticketing makes it easier than ever to catch whatever bus turns up next but also means that when considering busway station usage you have to take into account more than just the Northern Express service.

Northern Express IMG_4447

The data Auckland Transport have provided is for the 2015 calendar year and shows the number of people boarding or alighting at any of the busway stations along with where they came from or went to. For trips where the origin or destination was outside of one of the busway stations they have broken the results down by broad geographic area. For example, someone catching the 881 at Torbay and getting off at Smales Farm would be counted as Boarding in the North Shore and alighting at Smales Farm. Crucially though this omits another important group of busway users, those that board and alight outside of the busway but whose trips benefit from the busway e.g. the people who board the 881 at Torbay and alight in the city.

 

Unlike the rail network we don’t have any information on how this has been changing over time but it’s good to finally have some results. Here are some thoughts I’ve had looking at the data.

  • Usage of the busway stations is very strong and stronger the further you get from the city. I wonder how much this is a reflection of the very high peak frequencies provided and how much of it is due to the busway being very competitive in terms of travel times, often twice as fast as driving.
  • Usage of Albany are huge and even larger than Newmarket making it the second busiest Rapid Transit station in Auckland which is impressive considering the busway itself stops at Constellation Dr. To me the numbers once again highlight just how important it is that the Northern Busway is extended at least as far as Albany.
  • Constellation Station is also very strong and it is the fourth busiest Rapid Transit station, significantly ahead of New Lynn.
  • Smales Farm ranks at 10th overall, another impressive result and one that I suspect will grow strongly as the area is further developed.
  • Sunnynook gets very impressive results for what is by in large a walk up station. It ranks 16th overall and is only slightly below Henderson.
  • Even Akoranga which is largely an isolated island (with the exception of the nearby AUT Campus) does better than most of our rail stations.

Busway Station Patronage 2015

I think it also highlights that we probably need to rethink how we count trips in Auckland. While many of the rail stations such as New Lynn and Panmure have strong patronage we only count rail trips from the station. Perhaps we should also be counting those arriving or departing by bus to give a more complete picture of how these stations are performing. For the busway it would also be interesting to know just how many people travelled over it i.e. the ones who caught the 881 from Torbay to the City.

Lastly it’s interesting to think of the impact that park & ride has on patronage. Many people suggest that it is key to getting a lot more people to use public transport. On the busway only Albany (1,100 spaces) and Constellation (450 spaces) have park & ride. They do get some use on weekends but primarily it is on weekdays that they fill up. Even every space was being used every day for a trip (including weekends and public holidays) it would account for less than half of the boardings at each station (402k at Albany or 43% and 164k at Constellation or 22%)

Overall some very solid numbers from the Northern Busway Stations and ones we can now start tracking to see the change over time, like we’ve done with the rail station figures.

The un-funded liabilities of sprawling suburbs

Matt’s post last month on a new apartment development in Albany caused me to start thinking about street grids. As Matt noted, the development will start filling in the big gaps between Albany’s broad, curving roads to nowhere. Here’s a picture of the development:

Albany Rose Garden Location

Albany’s got many attractive aspects. It’s got loads of space for growth, which in a growing city means that it will grow. It’s got aspirations to be a live-work-shop kind of centre, rather than just a mall in a paddock. And it’s close to the Albany Busway station – although the busway hasn’t made it far enough north yet due to some bad decisions by the Government. But that street network could easily cripple it. Albany’s curvy roads and over-sized roundabouts are good for drivers but highly inefficient for people on foot, bike, or bus.

As Jarrett Walker is fond of saying, you can’t argue with the facts of geometry. Roads that meander and don’t connect with each other will always be costly to serve with public transport and difficult for people to navigate on foot.

If sprawled-out exurbs remained on the car-dependent city fringe in perpetuity, it might be fine to build them with inefficient, non-connective street patterns. But if a century of urban expansion has taught us anything, it’s that today’s fringe suburbs will be part of tomorrow’s urban fabric. Over time, they will become more densely populated and require a greater range of transport choices. We will have to think about incorporating them into public transport networks and putting a sidewalk on every block.

Street networks are incredibly persistent. Some European cities are still laid out on right-of-ways first established by the Romans. Or think of Karangahape Road, which has been used as a thoroughfare since Auckland was first settled around 800-1000 years ago. But in recent years, some people have started to think about how we might rebuild or “retrofit” inefficient suburban street networks.

One such effort, Galiena Tachieva’s Sprawl Repair Manual, summarises a number of strategies for retrofitting suburban developments into urban places. Here’s one of her schematic designs for transforming a single-house subdivision, complete with cul-de-sacs, into a neighbourhood centre:

Sprawl repair manual subdivision rebuild

Unfortunately, retrofitting is costly, as it will require governments or transport agencies to buy and demolish houses in order to restore a street grid. As the overall density and efficiency of the neighbourhood would increase following such a rebuild, doing this might even make the government money in the long term. But it would involve some pretty serious up-front expenditures.

In order to quantify the “unfunded liability” associated with inefficient, car-based suburbs, I’ve gone back to Tachieva’s example and put a red X on the properties that we’d have to demolish in order to restore a sensible urban street grid that would enable better PT, walking and cycling provision.

Out of a total of around 180 properties, we’d have to buy and bowl at least 18 to retrofit a proper street grid. That’s 10% of the suburb’s houses that we would have to demolish!

Sprawl repair manual demolition requirement

Houses that would have to be demolished in order to repair a suburban street grid

In short, the costs of retrofitting inefficient suburban street networks are so high as to be prohibitive. This raises two questions.

First, what’s going to happen to Auckland’s existing sprawl suburbs? Will they hold their value if it’s not possible to provide them with better transport choices? And if we can’t, will they suffer a reversal of fortune, offering few opportunities for low-income residents cut off at the end of cul-de-sacs?

Second, why on earth are we still building subdivisions with dysfunctional street networks? What form of mad inertia is leading us to construct places like Flat Bush and Massey (below), where road geometry means that it will always be difficult to run a frequent bus route or give people direct walking access to the shops?

Flat Bush between Stancombe Rd and Ormiston Rd

Flat Bush

Massey between Royal Rd and Triangle Rd

Massey

Traffic engineers and subdivision master-planners seem to be quite good at “future proofing” their roads for growth in demand. They build them too wide in anticipation of the day when more cars will be driving on them.

But that’s not sufficient. They need to go a step further and future proof against a change in transport demands and a change in the functioning of suburbs. The places that are being built on the edge of the city today will not work very well when they begin to merge into the urban fabric tomorrow.

Remember, you can’t argue with geometry!

Hope for Albany and more

There’s been quite a few bits of development news in the last few days that are worth covering. The first is in Albany where an 800 apartment development called the Rose Garden apartments might finally give some hope that Albany won’t be a completely soulless auto dependant centre. The development located on what is currently empty grass land just to the north of the mall is only about 500m away from the Albany Busway station – although more on that shortly.

Albany Rose Garden Location

One of the things I really like about the development is that they are selling one to four bedroom apartments which gives plenty of options – although the price of these larger options will be key. A quick search online suggests most of the four bedroom apartments are around $800-850k (although some are higher or lower). I also like that it appears the development will create activation out to the street edges which is something that will hopefully become more useful as more of the empty space is developed. On the video about the development on the Herald the architects behind the plan talk about density done well and I hope this lives up to that.

Albany Rose Garden 1

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the sales pitch is to do with transport. There isn’t a single mention of car parking anywhere or even the common “it’s only X minutes drive to the city/beach/airport”. Instead the only mention of transport is that the development is in walking distance to the mall, Massey University, Albany Stadium and the busway station. On the busway station, it does talk about the bus only being only a 20 minute trip to town.

With Albany park-and-ride bus station two minutes’ walk away, you can be in downtown Auckland in less than 20 minutes. But everything you need is even closer to home at the Rose Garden Apartments.

To me this discussion about transport is a positive sign of both how successful the busway has been in changing perceptions about public transport and how much the city is changing away from the drive everywhere mentality. Even though it was already needed it does once again highlight how important it is that the Busway itself is extended from Constellation Station to Albany – something that the government cut out of their motorway project works. I think it also highlights that Auckland Transport will need to work to fix the racetrack like roads around Albany to make it easier and safer for people to be able to walk or cycle to the station.

In other news the Herald have announced (on Twitter) that in November they will move from their long time home on Albert St to office in Victoria St. Their site was sold last year to developer Mansons and is a substantial space in the heart of the city. The timing of the herald moving out is interesting as that’s likely to be just before works start on the CRL in the area. We’ll be looking to see what’s proposed for the site however one thing I do hope that happens is a new lane through the middle linking into Mills Lane.

Herald Site

Lastly it’s also been announced that the foyer of the St James Theatre is to reopen soon.

The foyer of Auckland’s long-abandoned historic St James Theatre will soon re-open as a cafe.

Major seismic strengthening of the whole building was also planned and sophisticated base isolation units being considered.

Mike Gibbon, development director for property owner Relianz Holdings, and architect Paul Brown, this morning said that in a few weeks, St James’ foyer would re-open.

But re-opening of the precious theatre was some years away, they said.

This will hopefully also help to activate some more of Lorne St outside the Library which for too long has had a large blank wall.

Lorne St Shared Space

Lorne St Shared Space

It’s also positive that already over half of the apartments planned have been sold however I do have big concerns about the carparking associated with it which will apparently open out to Lorne St.

St James suites

Albany Highway upgrade to start later this year

Auckland Transport have announced that they will spend $58 million to widen a 4km section of Albany Highway starting in September. The road is an interesting one in that some parts look like a typical suburban street while other parts don’t appear to have really changed since the road was a state highway. Here’s the press release:

Auckland Transport’s greatly anticipated upgrade of the northern section of Albany Highway is expected to begin this September.

The $58 million construction of the Albany Highway North upgrade involves widening a 4km stretch of the highway between Schnapper Rock Road and the Albany Expressway to accommodate four lanes of traffic and separated cycling and walking paths. The main aims are to cater for traffic growth, reduce congestion, improve safety for all road users and encourage alternative modes of transport, such as bus travel, cycling and carpooling.

About 15,000 vehicles, as well as cyclists and pedestrians, use Albany Highway every day, and it also serves the North Harbour industrial estate, five schools, Massey University and a cluster of residential estates.

The announcement is welcomed by the Upper Harbour Local Board, which says many locals are looking forward to the benefits the completed upgrade will bring to those living, working and commuting in the area.

“The local community – and in particular its 5,000 school students – can only benefit from improvements aimed at delivering safer and quicker travel options as this area of Auckland continues to grow,” says board chairman Brian Neeson.

The NZ Transport Agency is funding 53 per cent of the upgrade, which together with the agency’s current project to upgrade SH1 between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Road, is part of a wider strategy to improve transport links on the North Shore.

The Transport Agency’s Regional Manager of Planning and Investment, Peter Casey, says: “This is a priority investment for the Transport Agency to help ease congestion and provide more reliable journey times for people in a very busy and growing part of Auckland”.

Features of the Albany Highway North Upgrade:

  • Four traffic lanes (with two general traffic and T3 transit lanes)
  • Signalisation of three major intersections (currently roundabouts) at Rosedale Road, Bass Road and Wharf Road
  • Signalised pedestrian crossings and wider footpaths
  • Dedicated cycle paths and footpaths, or shared paths where there is insufficient space
  • Stormwater improvements to reduce pollution from the road flowing into local streams
  • Relocation and undergrounding of main utility services (gas, water, telephone and electricity)
  • Construction of a new four-lane bridge over the Oteha Stream (Days Bridge)
  • Street lighting upgrade using energy-efficient LED lanterns
  • New bus stops with shelters

The upgrade is expected to start in September, once the worst of the winter weather is over, and take about two and a half years to complete.

For more detailed information on the Albany Highway North Upgrade, visit www.at.govt.nz/albanyhighway

The section that’s being upgraded is in red below

Albany Hwy Upgrade route

Like so many projects this one seems to have some really good aspects and some not so good aspects. One one hand $58 million is a lot of money to be spending on road widening, especially seeing as the NZTA is currently in the process of widening the motorway northbound between Upper Harbour Dr and Greville Rd.

On the other hand, from what I can tell it might end up being one of the closest streets we have to a complete street that caters for all users. I understand that Cycle Action Auckland have fought hard for dedicated cycling facilities which AT are saying they are providing – although only through shared paths in some places. For a busy road like this mid-block pedestrian crossings are also quite useful providing they’re frequent enough.

If we are widening roads, making the new lanes T3 right from the start is a much better idea than just creating additional general traffic lanes – providing the T3 lanes are monitored of course. This is something I think Auckland Transport should have done for the Tiverton/Wolverton upgrade too. For this particular road bus only lanes would likely have been overkill as even with the new network, there won’t be that many buses using it. An idea of what the layout will be is below:

Albany Hwy Upgrade layout

There are a number of before and after images on the AT website however they are quite small and hard to see the details of so I’ve not included them in this post.

Overall I do find the timing of this announcement quite odd as construction is still months away. We’ve seen the NZTA stealing the limelight recently with funding announcements for local road projects. Perhaps this is a case of Auckland Transport trying to announce the project before the NZTA does. Also worth noting is that this is a project we did list in the list of road projects that would still happen even if the CFN was adopted immediately.

The future route for the extension to the Northern Busway

One of the key public transport projects on the books – and in our Congestion Free Network – is an extension of the Northern Busway to the north. Thanks to an Official Information Act request by reader Hamish O we now have a whole lot more information about the project. A study on the extension was completed for the NZTA early last year to look at the preferred route for the extension all the way from Constellation Dr to Silverdale. As well as the total route, for practical purposes the report also broke down the sections in Constellation to Albany and Albany to Silverdale. You can read the full report here (8.9 MB) however here is the executive summary.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (the NZTA) has engaged Beca Infrastructure Limited (Beca) to investigate an extension of the existing Northern Busway from Constellation Station to a future Hibiscus Coast Busway Station at the Silverdale Interchange (the NBE). The investigation by Beca involved: review and development of previously investigated and new route options for the NBE, to identify a preferred route; identification of land required to accommodate the preferred route; and consideration of station location and operational issues.

The investigation responds to the strategic objective of the NZTA to deliver an integrated, safe, responsive, affordable and sustainable public transport solution for North Auckland. The extension has been considered as a dedicated facility, separate to SH1 with associated stations being the responsibility of Auckland Transport and Auckland Council. These parties as well as local Iwi have been engaged throughout the project.

Increased population and employment growth is forecast for North Auckland and this will place increasing pressure on the transport network and available land. Current predictions to 2041 show increased SH1 traffic, resulting in congestion and varied travel times for people and goods moving through North Auckland. The need for additional dwellings and places of employment associated with the predicted population growth will require land which may also be necessary for an extension to the Northern Busway.

An extension to the Northern Busway would provide a public transport solution to accommodate some of the transport needs of a growing population within North Auckland. The Busway extension is not predicted to result in a significant decrease in traffic on SH1 because the number of people expected to use the bus rather than travelling by car is small in comparison to the overall number of vehicles using SH1. However, the NBE would improve travel times for people travelling by bus in the future.

To ensure an extension to the Northern Busway can be built in the future there is a need to allocate land for this purpose. This can best be achieved by introducing a new designation for Busway purposes and purchasing required land. It is recommended that the land purchase initially focus on properties where there is likely to be an increase in land value (as a result of population growth placing pressure on available land) and/or where negotiations with land owners may require significant time.

Through investigation and evaluation an eastern aligned option has been identified, and is recommended for the future extension of the Northern Busway. Being aligned to the east of SH1 the option:

  • avoids a site of ecological significance at the Lucas Creek West Bush (located just north of the Oteha Valley Road Interchange to the west of SH1) providing for the protection of the environment;
  • provides the greatest flexibility for future State Highway improvement projects;
  • provides a bus only road link across SH1 to serve the Albany Station, enabling this station to support the future growth of the Albany Centre; and
  • is cheaper to construct as it avoids the need to construct one or more major structures across SH1.

Based on economic investigations, the full NBE would likely be economically justified as early as 2019. Should the NBE be constructed in stages, a first stage from Constellation Station to Albany Station could be economically justified as early as 2015. The construction of the Busway during the indicated years would support the growth of the Albany Metropolitan Centre, Silverdale and Orewa in accordance with the emerging strategic direction for growth in Auckland.

The analysis undertaken as part of this project demonstrates that there is little benefit in providing bus shoulder lanes to Silverdale or incrementally. However, the case for bus shoulder lanes should be considered further when the project proceeds to preliminary design, and better information is available as to the associated costs and the effects on the network following completion of other projects (i.e. SH1 to State Highway 18 connection, Constellation to Greville improvements, SH1 to State Highway 17 connection and Penlink).

Prior to confirming the preferred option for a future extension of the Northern Busway and setting aside land for this purpose, it is recommended that NZTA undertake further consultation with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Hokai Nuku, in addition to initiating consultation with other Stakeholders, such as Watercare, and the community.

There are two really interesting outcomes to the study that are mentioned in the summary above. The first and most significant is that the preferred alignment is not to the west of the motorway like many people have long assumed but to the east. The second is that extension from Constellation to Albany could be economically by 2015.

So let’s look at the alignment options. The study into alignments needed to take into account the following potential projects.

  • Three Laning of SH1 – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed in a manner that would enable three lanes in each direction to be provided continuously on SH1 as far north as Silverdale without disruption to the Busway in the future.
  • SH1 to SH18 Motorway to Motorway Connection – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed to accommodate a future State Highway 18 (SH18) to SH1 motorway to motorway connection upon completion of the Auckland Western Ring Route (based on current design information).
  • SH1 Greville Road Interchange – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed so as not to preclude improvements proposed at the Greville Road Interchange in the future (based on current design information).
  • Penlink (or Weiti Crossing scheme) – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed so as not to preclude a proposed connection between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and SH1 (south of Silverdale) in the future (based on current design information).
  • Weigh Station – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed toaccommodate a future weigh station (compliance checking site) located to the east of SH1 and north of Bawden Road, which would enable overweight vehicles to be diverted onto the Western Ring Route away from SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge (AHB) should this be required in the future.
  • Hibiscus Coast Busway Station – the proposed NBE design has been developed to accommodate and connect with the Hibiscus Coast Busway Station.

The team investigating this then came up with 5 potential options.

  • Option 1: Offline facility primarily on the western side of the existing motorway corridor (crossing north of the Rosedale Oxidation Ponds);
  • Option 2: Offline facility wholly on the eastern side of the existing motorway corridor;
  • Option 3: Offline facility crossing from east to west beneath SH1 in a covered trench or tunnel and returning to the east by way of a bridge to the north of Lonely Track Road;
  • Option 4: Online facility comprising bus shoulder lanes in both directions, accessed via the existing motorway on and off ramps; and
  • Option 5: Central median Busway, accessed at Silverdale interchange and Constellation Drive.

After initial screening, options 1, 2 and 3 were considered the best to take forward for more detailed study which assessed them based on integration, social, environmental and economic criteria. I won’t bother going through details so feel free to read the report if you want more info but as mentioned earlier, option 2 was considered the best. Probably the most interesting part of it is how it would access the existing Albany Busway Station. The answer is it would be done by way of a bridge across the motorway which would able to be used by both buses from the south of Albany and those from the North. Essentially it means that only one crossing of the motorway needs to be made.

Northern Busway Extension - Eastern access to Albany

As for costs it is suggested that the section from Constellation to Albany would cost just over $200 million to construct while the section from Albany to Silverdale would cost just over $300 million although the report does note that the figures have been rounded to the nearest $100 million. A separate report from 2011 also released with the OIA request suggests the costs would be $249 million for the Constellation to Albany section while the Albany to Silverdale section would cost $304 million.

Northern Busway Extension - costs

To put things in perspective the original busway cost around $220 to build the roughly 6.5km of busway from Constellation to Akoranga. The study – as well as a separate one done at the same time by Auckland Transport – also considered whether any new stations could be justified along the route. The only one that was considered to be potentially viable was one at Greville Rd

One other comment really caught my attention in the report. It is this from page 18 and 19 and it explains quite nicely just how successful the existing busway and associated improvements have been.

Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.

Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.

Personally I think that the extension from Constellation to Albany needs to be built as soon as possible and is far more important than the works the government is proposing in the area with the motorway upgrades (which to be fair do mention Northern Busway improvements).

Lastly thanks to Hamish O for putting through the OIA request for this.

Is the shopping mall dying?

The indoor shopping mall turns 60 this year, but an Atlantic Cities article questions whether it’s dying:

At the mall’s peak popularity, in 1990, America opened 19 of them. But we haven’t cut the ribbon on a new one since 2006, for reasons that go beyond the recession.

Not a single new mall in the whole of the USA opened since 2006. That’s quite amazing. And by the sounds of it many of the existing malls are struggling to survive too:

By Dunham-Jones’ count, today about a third of our existing malls are “dead” or dying. That’s not to say they’re mostly vacant. But they have dreadful sales per square foot. High-end dress stores have moved out, and tattoo parlors have replaced them – “things,” Dunham-Jones says, “that would normally be considered way too déclassé for a mall.”

About a third of our malls are still thriving, and those are the biggest, newest ones. But America is no longer building many new highways, which means we’ve stopped creating prime new locations for mall development. Some of the earliest amenities of the enclosed mall – air-conditioning! – no longer impress us. And the demographics of suburbia have changed dramatically. Malls draw the largest share of their customers from teenagers, and the baby boomers who largely populate suburbia no longer have teenagers at home.

So what’s replacing these malls? Well, often it seems that we’re seeing something of a return to traditional style “main street” shopping, but within more mixed-use developments known as “lifestyle centres”. The article goes on:

… the suburban mall of Gruen’s plan appears to be victim of more than just the recession. Dunham-Jones, who has tracked this trend in her book Retrofitting Suburbia, estimates that more than 40 malls nationwide have been targeted for significant redevelopment. And she can count 29 that have already been repurposed, or that have construction underway.

In 2010, Columbus, Ohio, tore down the dead mall in its downtown for a park. Voorhees, New Jersey, demolished half of its dead mall, built a new main street and relocated its city hall into the remaining building. In Denver, eight of the area’s 13 regional malls now have plans for redevelopment. One of them, in suburban Lakewood, was converted from a 100-acre super block into 22 walkable blocks with retail and residences.

“It’s the downtown that Lakewood never had before,” Dunham-Jones says. Ironically, this is what Gruen had been aiming for. “Except that now it’s open-air.”

Americans haven’t particularly outgrown the consumer impulse that Gruen detected. We still love to flock to dense agglomerations of Body Shops and Cinnabuns and Brookstones. But now those places look increasingly like open-air “lifestyle centers,” with condos above or offices next door. Some of these places are just the old mall in a new Main Street disguise. But when you add residences, and cut Gruen’s mega-block into what actually looks like a downtown street grid, that begins to change things.

“You’ve got to get a mix of uses, but the connectivity is probably even more important,” Dunham-Jones says. “The uses will come and go over time, but if you can establish a walkable network of streets, that’s when you’re really going to establish a ripple effect in changing suburban patterns.”

Of course the City Rail Link project means that Westfield’s downtown shopping mall will need to be demolished. This is great as the mall is a pretty hideous building on one of Auckland’s best pieces of land. But elsewhere in Auckland it doesn’t really seem as though we’re following the USA’s trend. Within the land few years we’ve seen Sylvia Park and Albany malls open, two of Auckland’s biggest, while big redevelopments of both 277 Newmarket and St Lukes are on the cards to occur in the next couple of years.

I suppose this begs the question of whether Auckland’s fundamental retail environment differs from the USA, or whether they’re just a little ahead of us in the trend and it’s an inevitability that we’ll start to see a “post mall” retail environment. I certainly hope so, as long as it’s something better than the “mega centres” we often see sprouting up around shopping malls (yes I’m looking at you Wagener Place, St Lukes!)

Albany Park & Ride to be Expanded

Auckland Transport have announced that they will be doing a major upgrade to the park and ride at the Albany busway station starting in February and going through to July and this upgrade is pretty significant as it involves doubling the number of carparks at the station to 1100. At first this seems great, adding more car parks will allow more people to use the station however this doesn’t come cheap as the work is expected to cost $5.5m for those 550 carparks which is about $10,000 per carpark (more on that soon).

Here’s AT’s press release and an image of what the carpark will look like.

Auckland Transport is set to begin a major extension of the Albany Park and Ride facility that will see the number of current parking spaces doubled.

The $5.5 million project, which is due to begin in early February, involves a large extension to create an additional 550 parking spaces, bringing the total capacity to 1100. (Click to enlarge map, JPG 3MB)

The facility is part of the Northern Busway initiative which was New Zealand’s first purpose-built road dedicated to bus passenger transport. It forms a key part of Auckland’s Rapid Transport Network whilst improving journey speeds and reliability. ​

The busway provides an attractive alternative to private vehicle use and promotes the use of multiple modes of transport.

The Albany Busway station car park first opened in November 2005 with 370 car parking spaces. An additional 181 were added in May 2007 to meet demand.

Auckland Transport says the 2012 extension provides further evidence that the Northern Busway has significantly changed the way in which people in the area travel.

A sculpture designed by renowned Titirangi artist, Caroline Robinson will also be built on site. The seven metre high limestone tower represents the artist’s impression of the car park’s location near Lucas Creek.

Work is expected to be completed by the end of July 2012.

Now back to those costs, as I said it works out at $10,000 per carpark which is a hell of a lot of money to spend just so an extra 550 can park their car for the day. Even if every single space was used each day for 20 years it still works out at a cost of around $1.36 per day however that doesn’t take into account a lot of factors, looking more closely at how frequently it would be utilised, adding in opex costs and applying a discount rate gives us a massive cost of about $1.94 per trip, you can see the workings here: Albany Station P&R costs.

So what other options do we have, one thing we could do with that money is to buy a number of buses and run them as feeder services to and from the station, $5.5m is enough money for about 4 buses and 4 full time drivers each being paid about $50k per year for 20 years. This is of course a very basic calculation and doesn’t take into account a lot of other costs but lets look at how many people that could deliver to the station. Say the buses only ran at peak times, only did 5 runs per peak period with each bus run carrying an average of 30 passengers per run, that gives us 600 trips per peak which is already more than is provided for by the parking however that amount of money would allow the buses to run for much of the day which means that potentially far more people would be able to use the station than could have otherwise and those services have the potential to provide more local trips as well.

One thing that isn’t often thought about is the cost of the land, for that the councils GIS viewer is a very handy tool as it can give us the rateable land, the highlighted land in the image below is the corner of this new section of Park & Ride yet the land alone is valued at over $2.7m (you can see the existing entrance in the top left hand corner).  It isn’t clear if the land costs are included in the development cost or not but either way it is still a very expensive way to provide some car parks for what will become a very limited number of people.

One other thing to consider is that Auckland transport is currently in the process of creating a new station at Silverdale with its own associated Park & Ride, that development has the potential to take a decent number of the cars that currently use Albany out of the car park freeing it up for others who live in the area.

In saying all of this, for Auckland Transport, I do think it is a bit of a case of damned if you and damned if you don’t,  people will always complain that there isn’t enough parking, or at least not enough free parking yet at the same time others like me get annoyed about how much is spent just to store some cars for the day when that money could be used to give access to potentially a lot more people and not just those that can or want to drive to the station.

With this now going ahead anyway, one final thing I think should be considered is the idea of making part of the car park user pays. What AT could do is section off the closest 300-400 car parks to the station and charge a fee to access them, that would mean that the best spots, closest to the station would be available should people wish to pay and for those that don’t they can still use the free section and walk a bit further if they can find a space. The cost of the paid section could be adjusted over time to ensure that on average there was always a set amount of parks free for those that absolutely need them during the day. This would at least help to recover some of the costs and if done at the same time the new section opened would allow AT to say that even with the new pay scheme there were still more free spaces available than there were before.