Celebrating Auckland’s Transformation

Auckland has come a long way in recent years when it comes to the city and waterfront more interesting and people oriented. This was highlighted beautifully on the weekend as tens of thousands every day flocked to the waterfront to celebrate Auckland’s 175th birthday. From Captain Cook Wharf through to the Wynyard Quarter the place was buzzing with people once again proving that people respond when we make spaces for people.

Queen St Temporary Space - Ludo

Photo from Ludo Campbell-Reid

And it isn’t just Aucklanders noticing the redevelopment of the city. This piece a week ago titled Revamped Auckland waterfront inspires from The Press in Christchurch highlights the transformation that Auckland is making:

The girl sits inside what looks like a ventilation shaft, her very own stainless-steel cocoon, legs dangling over the side. Families with pushchairs, a woman walking her dog, cyclists, tourists, and locals stroll past. All look relaxed and carefree.

As they wander the length of the old pier, there’s plenty to grab their attention: Colourful metal cylinders, sculptures shaped like crabs, fish, whales, octopuses, and seahorses. Children splash through a pool underneath a gigantic metal sculpture that looks like it could be an intergalactic TV aerial. Teenagers shoot basketball hoops. Shoppers browse through treasures in market stalls.

Shipping containers have been turned into information booths; old warehouses have become restaurants and cafes. We join the throng for a leisurely and surprisingly affordable lunch.

Welcome to the Wynyard Quarter, part of Auckland’s burgeoning transformation of its previously neglected waterfront. Starting in 2011, this bold and imaginative, development has proved hugely successful. If you are heading to the City of Sails, go – you’ll love it.

We didn’t find getting around Auckland without a car too hard. We stayed on the North Shore. To reach the Wynyard Quarter, we used the Northern Express, a bus service that has is own motorway lane and bus stations. It couldn’t have been easier. We found Aucklanders more courteous to pedestrians than Christchurch drivers.

Public transportation makes a mockery of the calls for more car-parking in Christchurch. Without car parks, the city will fail, say those with a vested interest in developing their central city private businesses – for which they would love a dollop of public money.

Go to other cities and you won’t find car-parking easy either. If you can, you take the bus or train – or bike – instead.

Future cities will be nothing like the old ones. We need to be more flexible, and if that means tweaking or even radically changing former plans, let’s get on with it.

Hell even the few comments are fairly positive and it’s not like Cantabrians are known for their positive views on Auckland. This one in particular is good.

Wynyard Quarter is an amazing place to visit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been revising my long held opinion of Auckland as a bleak soulless wasteland. Auckland’s inner city is now full of vibrancy and character again.

Wynyard Busy

North Wharf was certainly busy with people enjoying the space

What’s often forgotten is that some of the city’s most impressive transformations have only really been completed for less than 5 years. This includes Wynyard Quarter, the shared spaces and much of the Britomart Precinct.

And then there was this fantastic piece from Jack Tame in the Herald a few days ago:

Imagine describing Auckland to a foreigner who’d never heard her name. A sub-tropical climate with 1.5 million people; suburbs freckled by volcanic nipples, each so perfectly coned and green you’d swear it was just clever landscaping; a city with two impressive harbours, two impressive and different coasts; a city where rich, poor, suburban or central, most people are only ever a few minutes from the sea.

You’d likely explain to your foreign friend that Auckland is the Pacific capital, a city rich with Maori and Polynesian culture. There may be more Pacific Island people here than in all the islands combined and the blend and diversity of Aucklanders is unlike anywhere else on Earth.

We’re spoilt. Auckland is an almighty playground, geographic and cultural. But as the city flourishes and booms it will take planning not to balls it all up. Our city must intensify. It’s unsustainable to sprawl our way to Hamilton, and naive to think that every Aucklander needs to live on a quarter-acre block.

We’re making progress. Britomart and Wynyard Quarter are perfect examples of good public space and will always be embraced.

But high-quality, high-density living options and public transport are essential in ensuring Auckland remains a great place to live.

I’ve long said that Auckland has one of the best natural settings in the world, one that many cities could only dream about. If we can continue down the path we’re on we have a chance to make our urban environment just as wonderful.

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

Photo of the day: Bledisloe Lane

This was from just before Christmas showing the newly upgraded Bledisloe Lane. The oppressively low canopy was removed, paving replaced and Bledisloe building facade repaired. The space has a much better feeling to it now and so much more pleasant to walk through.

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Now we need Metro Centre building to open up onto the lane to really help activate it, something I believe the council are keen on too.

Small apartments are beautiful

Peter’s recent post explains why apartments, even expensive ones, make an important contribution to housing affordability.

Expensive apartments improve housing affordability by taking wealthy households out of the market for the existing housing stock, thereby freeing it up for other households on lower incomes. In this way, expansions in the supply of housing – even in the form of expensive apartments – will generally improve housing affordability for everyone (NB: Provided they result in an absolute increase in housing supply).

A corollary is that regulatory barriers to apartment developments will tend to drive up the cost of housing for everyone.

Peter also presented some high-level data to suggest that during the last decade or so Auckland has become more spatially stratified by income, with low-income households increasingly concentrated on the urban periphery. If true, then this is concerning news. It implies Auckland is creating ghettos for the rich and poor alike. Such outcomes would seem likely to reduce equality of opportunity, exacerbate inequality in wealth/income, and ultimately reduce social connection and cohesion. I think these kinds of outcomes would concern most New Zealanders.

What’s also interesting is that Auckland’s city centre bucks the trend towards increased spatial stratification based on income; in among its glitz and glamour Auckland’s city centre continues to meet the needs of a relatively high proportion of low-income households, as evident in the figure below.

Auckland low income households 2001-2013

It is perhaps no coincidence that the city centre has hitherto avoided the trend towards increased spatial stratification by income-levels, because it is in the city centre that the development of apartments encounters the fewest regulatory barriers. No minimum car-park requirements and higher height limits, for example.

My motivations for writing this post are similar to the issues which prompted Peter’s recent post, but I take a slightly different tack. That is, I love small apartments. As a consequence, I would like to encourage the planning profession in New Zealand to allow my preferred choice of accommodation to be brought to market.

While the list of regulatory barriers to apartment development is relatively long and sordid, my primary concern is with provisions controlling 1) the minimum size of apartments and 2) the requirement for all apartments to have balconies. My back of the envelope estimates are that these regulations collectively add between $100k – $200k to the cost of developing an apartment. That’s a 50% – 100% increase in the cost of developing apartments. Ka pow take that poor people. But I want to leave the price effects of regulation to another post …

Instead, in this post I want to push back on these regulations in a different way, by arguing that small apartments can be beautiful to those who live in them. In my experience, the aforementioned regulatory barriers to apartment development overlook that the quality of an apartment (from the occupant’s perspective) is much less a function of floor area, balconies, or car-parks and more a function of the effectiveness of the design and the quality of the materials used.

To provide an example, consider my apartment (Brooklyn Building, Emily Place) shown below.

Original1

No apartments in my building have balconies, and many are less than the minimum apartment size proscribed in the Unitary Plan.

I know what you’re thinking – shock, horror, sure-fire squalor. Not quite. Instead of sitting on a 8 sqm balcony, I prefer to go outside. My apartment has its own green space at the back, as well as a park out the front – which seem to be much more effective ways of meeting the desire of people to be outside. I also rely on the common laundry in the basement and avoid the need for a washing machine and a dryer in my apartment. I’m happy; I’ve owned my apartment for 8 years and don’t intend to sell.

The importance of design and quality when dealing with small spaces comes through more generally in the following video from IKEA, which is titled “Small spaces – Small ideas”. IKEA has an entire YouTube channel dedicated to discussing these issues. So much for “market failure”!

If you walk into an IKEA store then you are likely to find kit-set fit-outs for apartments of between 20-25 sqm. Yes you read that correctly: IKEA sells decent kit-sets for apartments of 20-25 sqm, i.e. much less than the minimum apartment size in Auckland. Are Kiwis really such clumsy elephants that we can’t navigate apartments that are entirely appropriate in Europe?

My (kiwi) friend in Amsterdam, for example, lived in an 18 sqm studio and was perfectly happy, especially with the low rent. Of course this is anecdotal evidence and further research is required, but you get the drift: If you can live in 18 sqm in Amsterdam (where you spend much more time inside), why do we need 40 sqm in Auckland? Who wins from the latter arrangement? Landlords like me of course … who loses? Tenants like him, naturally (Callan’s not actually a loser; he’s a bright Nelsonian completing his Phd in Neurobiology). Intuitively, regulatory barriers to apartment development seem likely to transfer wealth from those who rent property to those who own it. Regressive much? But again, I’m diverging from the primary point of this post.

That is, small apartments are beautiful. And that instead of presuming their occupants are unhappy, why is there so little robust research asking them how happy they are? People postulate all sorts of things about small apartments, so why doesn’t someone go ask people how happy they are and whether they’d prefer if their home was vapourised by a regulatory laser pen?

The development shown below has used shipping containers to provide compact, cost-effective student accommodation (source). Yes there’s balconies, but they’re more like 3 sqm rather than the 8 sqm currently required in the Unitary Plan (and are formed from the container doors). Again, innovative use of cost-effective and durable materials has enabled people to live at moderate densities with moderate amenity and at an affordable price. Good news.

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For a slightly different take, here’s an article from the New Zealand Herald on Tiny Houses.

Do architecture/planning professionals at Auckland Council really know more about appropriate apartment design than say, IKEA? Or the people who will ultimately occupy the apartments? I mean, if we trust people to rent a house with the number of rooms that best suits their needs and budget, can we not trust them to rent an apartment that is sufficiently large to accommodate them? What exactly is the market failure that leads to too many small apartments being produced? Why do they think that small apartments are not beautiful?

A case could be made that the small apartments in Auckland that are frequently criticised as being “shoeboxes” actually made a major contribution to improving the density and vibrancy of Auckland’s city centre. Thanks very much low-income households; please now disappear!

In short, small apartments are beautiful in a social sense. They’re beautiful for two reasons: They make an essential contribution to affordable housing, while also reducing spatial stratification by income. Moreover, companies around the world, like IKEA, are increasingly helping to improve the efficiency of spaces. I realise we don’t yet have an IKEA in New Zealand, but perhaps that’s because one of their key market segments (small apartments) are difficult to build here?

Postscript: If you’re interested in an alternative (favourable) take on minimum apartment regulations then you may want to consider reading this conference paper. I consider the arguments advanced in this paper to be rather weak, but will leave that discussion for another post …

 

 

 

Holiday Travelling

With Christmas upon us tomorrow this is just a few reminders

Public Transport

From tomorrow through to 4 January (and till 11 January for the Northern Express and Western Line trains) a holiday timetable is in effect that will see fewer services available to use.

The holiday season is almost here and that means there are some changes to public transport services over the next few weeks.

Train

From Christmas Day, Thursday 25 December all trains will be replaced with rail buses. We’re putting on replacement buses so we can carry out important improvements on the rail network particularly around Newmarket.

For the first time replacement buses will run on Christmas Day and the other good news is you can now use your AT HOP cards on-board all planned Railbus replacement services as well. You will need to tag-on and tag-off the rail bus like any other bus service.

You can buy a cash ticket for your entire journey on board the rail bus from the driver.

The reduced timetable runs from Christmas Day, Thursday 25 December through to Sunday 4 January. The closure on the Western Line will run through to the following Sunday 11 January.

Bus

Most bus services will be operating to a Christmas/New Year Holiday timetable from Monday 22 December to Sunday 4 January, for the Northern Express the holiday schedule will run to Sunday 11 January.

Some additional NiteRider services will be operating prior to and on New Year’s Eve. Please check timetables carefully.

If you’re heading to the airport, Airbus Express and Airporter services will operate as normal over the Christmas and New Year period. They will run on a Sunday timetable on the public holidays: 25 and 26 December and 1 and 2 January.

Ferry

If you’re using a Fullers ferry, a special timetable will run from Wednesday 24 December to Sunday 4 January.

Other ferry services will be running special timetable, check out our website. All ferries will be back on a full timetable from Monday 5 January.

Christmas rail shutdowns are always a contentious issue and at least this year AT have explained what is being done.

Thursday 25 December 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2015:

Full network closure – a bus replacement service will operate on all lines. This is to allow for significant track maintenance at Newmarket, Penrose, Westfield, Wiri and Papakura, sleeper replacement on the Eastern Line, station work at Otahuhu and NZTA motorway work at Takanini and Ellerslie.

Monday 5 January to Sunday 11 January 2015:
Buses replace trains on the Western Line. Normal train services will operate on all other lines. This is to allow for track upgrades at Morningside and Kingdon Street and sleeper replacement works at level crossings.

Roads

The annual resurfacing of a few lanes on the harbour bridge is taking place, this year it will be the Northbound clip-on lanes and the closure of those lanes goes from 7am on Friday through to 5:30am on 8 December.

Around the Te Atatu Interchange there will be a number of disruptions due to work to raise the Te Atatu Rd bridge over the motorway.

  • Te Atatu Rd will be reduced to a single lane in each direction over the bridge between Te Atatu South and Te Atatu Peninsula 4am Saturday 27 December to 5am Monday 5 January
  • The Northwestern motorway will be reduced to a single lane each way under the Te Atatu Bridge during the day, and then closed under the bridge from 10pm each night. All lanes on the motorway will be open on New Year’s Eve night (31 December) and New Year’s Day (1January)
  • The Te Atatu city bound loop onramp will be closed from Saturday 27 December to Monday 5 January

And let’s not forget the annual “don’t drive north on Boxing Day” reminder. What’s more even the NZTA are saying the road is only busy because of holiday periods

Traffic on Boxing Day (26 December) will be heavy on regional highways and roads and the NZ Transport Agency is advising motorists to plan for a safe journey and to avoid delays.

“This is one of the busiest times of the year on our highways,” says the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon. “We’ll have all our teams working to help manage traffic flows and keep everyone as safe as possible and informed about traffic and road conditions.”

He says one of the busiest highways will be the Northern Gateway Toll Road on State Highway 1 north of Auckland. “Last Christmas holiday, there were an average of 20,600 trips a day – the busiest day being 2 January when there were more than 24,600 trips.

“This tremendous increase in holiday traffic on the toll road indicates just how busy the highways will be in Auckland and Northland and why we need everyone to plan their trips, allowing plenty of time for a safe journey.”

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Expect to see an image like this in the Herald at some stage

Most importantly if you are out on the roads please be drive safely and I hope you all have a great Christmas.

Uptown Pocket Park

Auckland Transport has been busy over the last few years buying up properties along the route of the City Rail Link in preparation for when the project will finally get the green light. Most of those properties are going to have buildings already one them however one site in particular has been an empty lot for many many years.

Symonds St Pocket Park now

That situation could have continued while we wait for the CRL however fantastically Auckland Transport, the Council, the Local Board and the local Business Association are hoping to get together with the community to create a temporary pocket park on the site this Sunday.

Symonds St Pocket Park

What a great initiative and way to make better use of the land for the next few years at least.

The sticky mess of the transport budget

The big news that the Council will be pushing back its preferred start date for the main part of the City Rail Link was not a huge surprise – aside from the enabling works the project’s probably not practically ready to start so quickly, even if funding support was available from Central Government (which it’s not). However, this is hardly a “win” on any account, as reduced spending on CRL in the next few years doesn’t free up money for other projects – as we stressed last month. This is because CRL doesn’t have an impact on rates until it opens, and it apparently is the level of rates income that constrains the transport budget.

So what does the rest of the transport budget look like? Looking at the details, the result is quite a mess, particularly during the first five years. This will become a core part of the big LTP question around whether the public wants a much larger transport programme and if so, how we’d prefer to pay for it (rates & fuel tax increases or a motorway toll). Hidden away at page 252 and 253 of the November Budget Committee agenda (27MB PDF) is the 10 year transport programme (although this is from before yesterday’s decision to delay the CRL):

2015draftltp-capex-list

This reflects the list of projects “above the line” in Auckland Transport’s ranking of all projects and reflect’s what’s possible in the “Basic Transport Network”. I don’t have a huge concern about the project list itself, although there are a few pretty low value things in there like Mill Road. The issue is more about the timing and sequencing of the programme – especially in the first few years.

You’ll see a number of important projects in there that are based around supporting the new public transport network that Auckland Transport are implementing over the next few years. Projects like the Otahuhu, Te Atatu and Manukau interchanges. Or the necessary improvements to Wellesley Street so it can cope with becoming the main east-west bus route across the city centre. The big problem is that these projects don’t appear to be funded until 2021 or in some cases (like Wellesley Street) even later:

2015draftltp-newptnetwork

This is a pretty insane situation, especially for projects like the Otahuhu interchange which is utterly fundamental to any implementation of the new PT network in the south. AT have started on the project but it seems they only have enough money for early works and design. The other big issue is the walking and cycling programme – which appears to be the line item “W+C Programme Risk Management”, that doesn’t have any funding at all for the first five years of the budget period.

The numbers at the bottom of the table above tell a rather strange and difficult to understand story about the total amount of funding available for transport over each of the next 10 years, jumping all over the place from a low of $453 million in the 15/16 year up to a whopping $978 million in 20/21 before dropping back down again significantly. The CRL numbers will change a bit, but remember not the rest of the programme.

But even within the funding envelope available, it seems that Auckland Transport has made some strange decisions around the timing of projects. Why is Albany Highway such an extremely high priority that it sucks up nearly $40 million in the first couple of years? Why is there no funding for AMETI, then one year of funding, then no funding again? Some of the project costs raise questions too – how does a Te Atatu bus interchange cost $46 million? How can a Wynyard interchange cost $25 million and a Downtown one $24 million when a Learning Quarter interchange only costs $8 million? Should we really be spending $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover?

There seems to be an expectation that the “Basic Transport Network” is just an academic exercise, with the public supposedly hugely in favour of the motorway tolls scheme (or higher rates and fuel taxes) that will “save the day”. I’m a bit sceptical about this – the government has not greeted the tolls scheme warmly and the public seem to be screaming even about the proposed 3.5% rates increase. We could very well be stuck with the Basic Transport Network for the foreseeable future, which means it needs a hell of a lot of work to ensure the new public transport network doesn’t fail, to ensure momentum on the walking and cycling programme is not lost and to finally make some tough decisions around whether we should be spending $143 million on Mill Road, $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover or $135 million on the East West Connections project.

The currently proposed budget is just a sticky mess that seems almost designed to fail.

CRL delay adds significant costs

The government’s stubborn attitude towards the City Rail Link is going to add $270 million to the council’s debt once it is eventually built. That is from a combination of increased inflation costs and the council having to pay in full for the early enabling works in full. The council is having to officially delay the main works of the project till the 2018/19 financial year after Audit NZ didn’t agree with them that they should include the government’s contribution from 2015/16. A special meeting is being held today to approve the change announced on Friday and the agenda highlights the financial implications from the project being delayed. First here’s the background information.

5. The CRL is the game changing project for Auckland, the most significant piece of our transport network which will ensure that Auckland can continue to grow without transport grinding to a halt.

6. We have been engaged in ongoing discussion with central government about the funding of this project. Government has moved from an initial position of opposition to the project, to one of commitment to contribute to funding from the year 2020. We know that this is not soon enough and have continued to work collaboratively with government agencies and ministers to support our case for earlier funding.

7. In the 2012-22 LTP we assumed central government funding would commence from the year 2015-16 and the financial data for the 2015-25 LTP has carried that assumption through. The consultation document has been written with three alternative scenarios set out for public consideration:

  • Option 1 – government funding starts in 2015/16 and project proceeds on original timelines
  • Option 2 – government funding starts in 2018/19 – enablement works only for next three years and then construction starting in 2018/19
  • Option 3 – government funding starts in 2020/21 – enablement works only for next three years, construction starts in 2018/19, backed by a firm commitment for government funding from 2020.

8. While all three scenarios are described in the public consultation document the LTP financials are currently built on Option 1.

9. Over the last couple of weeks, as staff have been preparing the consultation document for Governing Body sign off later this month, it has become apparent that Audit New Zealand’s view is that it would be more prudent to build the LTP financials on one of the alternative scenarios. In order to ensure we prepare a consultation document consistent with Audit New Zealand’s expectations, I am now proposing that we adopt Option 2 as the basis of our LTP financials.

10. This option will continue to keep the pressure on the Government to contribute funding earlier than the current commitment, but gives more time for us to work with it to achieve a common view. It also allows us to keep faith with our private sector partners by progressing the enablement works. While it delays the construction timing by a couple of years it has only a relatively minor impact on the financial situation.

And here’s the financial implications

CRL delay financials option 1

CRL delay financials option 2

So by delaying the CRL by two years adds almost $100 million in inflation costs and we can assume it would be a similar amount again if the project is delayed further to 2020 like the government still seem to be holding out for. The extra debt from enabling works is likely due to the council believing that once they have paid for them that the government will only contribute 50% of the remaining costs and not reimburse them for the early works – despite the governments agencies and the minister himself seeming to agree it is sensible for those works happen as currently planned. Unfortunately the government continue to hold out on the timing.

Even that is too ambitious for new Transport Minister Simon Bridges, who said last night the Government remained committed to a 2020 start.

“The Government would only consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage are growing faster than expected. To date, all indications are that this is unlikely to occur.”

Mayor Brown was keen to highlight the Government’s agreement in principle last year to support a project it previously opposed.

“We have moved them from a position of total opposition to one of commitment for funding half the project from the year 2020,” he said.

While the employment target was never likely to be met – and is a bad measure anyway – he definitely may want to get some independent advice on the rail patronage figures. After the government announced they would support the project in June last year the Ministry of Transport started monitoring the targets. In August they released the second update and about patronage say

Rail patronage

Auckland Transport’s Public Transport Monthly Patronage Report for June 2014 shows rail patronage of 11.4 million trips for the year to June 2014, compared to 10 million trips for the previous year. This is an increase of 1.4 million trips or 13.9 percent.

Assessment

Growth of 1.4 million trips for the year to June 2014 is the highest annual growth in Auckland rail patronage achieved to date.

If growth continues at 1.4 million trips per year, annual patronage would hit 20 million trips around 2019/20. We expect patronage growth to continue at a similar rate as for the year to June 2014 until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. After 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow and at this stage do not anticipate it is likely that the threshold of 20 million trips well before 2020 will be met.

Since that time patronage growth has continued strongly and is now up 18% on the same time last year. If it continues on at this rate we could hit 20 million trips in 2017/18 – although 2018/19 is more realistic.

City Rail Link delayed?

The CRL is going to be delayed after Audit NZ’s review of the council’s draft Long Term Plan.

Mayor proposes amendment to CRL timing in draft LTP

Following discussions with Audit NZ, the Mayor is proposing an amendment in Council’s draft Long-term Plan 2015-2025 on the timing for construction of Auckland’s number one transport priority – the City Rail Link (CRL).

In its draft budget, Council has the CRL project commencing in 2015/16, based on an assumption government’s funding contribution for the project would also start next year, five years earlier than government has so far indicated.

On Tuesday 9 December, council will consider changing the assumption of timing of the government contribution to 2018/19. This will mean enablement works of $280 million will still take place in the first three years of the plan, but construction will not start until 2018/19. This will also delay the completion date to 2023.

Mayor Len Brown says:

“We have a track record of success with central government when it comes to the CRL – we have moved them from a position of total opposition to one of commitment for funding half the project from the year 2020,” says Mayor Len Brown.

“Yes, we still have to work with government on final timing, but I’m confident we can come to an agreement and get on and get this job done.

“I understand why Audit NZ feel that we need to take a more conservative approach to our financial projections and I am proposing that we develop the LTP based on a later timing of government contribution.”

Public consultation on the draft LTP begins January 23 next year. The final plan is due for adoption June 30, 2015.

At first glance this seems like a big blow to the project however looking at the detail it’s not quite as bad as it seems.

The enabling works – the cut and cover tunnel from Britomart to Wyndham St – are unaffected and will still go ahead next year. For the main works, which relate to the remainder of the project, as the NZTA briefing to incoming minister highlighted, there’s still a huge amount of design, land acquisition, finalisation of consents to go before the project could start – let alone the issue of convincing government to pay for its share earlier than they’d previously indicated. It’s been suggested to me that even if the government can’t to the party for a 2015/16 start that the amount of work still to do would have meant the main works were likely to have a 2017/18 start anyway.

Currently the CRL’s funding in the draft LTP really starts to ramp up from 2015/16 and is fully completed by 2021/22 (the negative amount after that is presumably income from the sale of excess land):

crl-ltpfunding

I don’t know the extent to which this will change – as the ‘enabling works’ will still proceed as will design and land acquisition for the main project. Presumably the main impact might be on the 16/17 and 17/18 budgets which will allocate a lot less to CRL now.

It’s important to remember though, as we explained last month ahead of the November LTP meeting that discussed CRL, is that this won’t free up funding for other projects as CRL does not have an impact on rates until the early 2020s – meaning that deferring its cost can’t be used for other projects that would have a rates impact sooner.

I do wonder whether the government might take another look at CRL now, as it seems Council has shifted its position on timing to midway between its preferred 2016 start date and government’s 2018 preferred date. Especially given rail patronage is currently tracking to hit the government’s target of 20 million trips in 2018.

Stuart’s 100 #60: The Humble Zebra

60: The Humble Zebra

Day_60

What if we had more and safer zebra crossings? And what if it wasn’t so hard to put one in?

For a while there, it was seeming that the humble zebra was something of an endangered species on the streets of Auckland. Deeply out of fashion, its distribution and abundance across Auckland and New Zealand has steadily dwindled over the last few decades, being replaced by traffic signals on the busiest arterials and the now ubiquitous pedestrian refuge island everywhere else.

In spite of this, the humble zebra retains a number of advantages over signals and refuge islands, treating people walking with respect and responsibility and giving them the freedom to step out with confidence to cross when they please. Yet amongst the traffic engineering fraternity, zebra crossings, especially of the plain, old-fashioned variety – you know without the raised tables, planter islands, flashing signs and rumble strip approaches as if a crossing pedestrian was akin to a passing train – are deemed unsafe.

There is possibly a chicken-and-egg situation here; because of this disappearance, it seems many Auckland drivers don’t know the rules when they do come across them, worsening any safety issues. More widespread use can help drivers to learn to respect them.

Fortunately, it seems that in a few corners of Auckland at least, zebra crossings are making a bit of a comeback. The recently upgraded Halsey and Daldy Streets are two examples where these have been achieved in a simple way that seems to be functioning well.

There are many more situations that would benefit from zebras where we are told that they don’t meet the requirements to put one in. This shouldn’t be so hard.

More civilised streets where pedestrians are treated with respect and a right of way to cross the road; that should be a basic right in any city.

IMG_2614

New zebra crossing on Halsey Street, Wynyard Quarter installed earlier this year.

Stuart Houghton 2014