Monte Cecilia (car) Park

With housing such a hot topic right now this article in the Herald on Sunday highlights a situation of the council removing houses for that most Auckland of things, a carpark.

About 40 residents of Auckland’s council-owned properties face being kicked out of their homes to make way for 44 carparks.

Residents of a quiet Royal Oak cul de sac in Auckland have been told their council-owned flats and houses backing Monte Cecilia Park could go, possibly by December.

Eight properties – including blocks of flats – will be cleared to make way for 44 carparks to access a new playground, shown on plans for the reserve. Currently park users have to rely on streetside parks.

Letters have been sent to residents in homes and flats in Korma Rd telling them their properties will feature on park maps.

“Inclusion of this property on the map does not imply the public has access to your property but as the land has been purchased by Auckland Council and will become part of the park in the future it has been included in the map,” said the letter.

“We don’t have a firm date for the house removals but it is likely to be at the end of 2015 or during 2016.”

Auckland Council sports and parks manager Mark Bowater said the council had bought homes in Korma Rd between 2006 and 2011 under a strategic plan to develop the park. He said it could be some of the properties would be needed for carparking and a new playground. All residents would receive formal notification from the council to move out either later this year or next year.

It baffles the mind that the council would even consider doing this and given the size of the park at over 11 hectares even a playground should easily be able to fit within the existing footprint without anyone feeling like space is being taken away.

Monte Cecilia Park

I suspect there’s much more to this than the Herald have just said in their article however I did want to point out a couple of specific aspects that caught my attention.

If parking is such an issue then instead of demolishing homes then why not come to an agreement with the church across the road to use their car parking when it’s not being needed. That would help get better utilisation out of that space. Of course there’s the issue of the church wanting their own parking but I’m sure arrangements can be made (also even if the council did build a carpark what’s the chance they too would they be used up by church goers?)

Korma Rd - church parking

On the other side of the park, car parking was added a few years ago. How much parking does this park need?

Monte Cecilia Park new parking

I understand some consultation about the park has only just closed – and unfortunately the council have taken the documents down already so it’s hard to see just what they are proposing for the site but at a first look it seems crazy to even think of demolishing those houses for a (presumably free) carpark.

Toil and trouble; economy burn and housing bubble #1

Auckland’s house price “bubble” has been in the news a lot lately. Stories such as this one suggest large profits are being made in Auckland’s property market. And this one, which suggests growth in house prices is outstripping growth in salaries.

The first story suggests that if you’re an investor, then you’d be a mug not to invest in property in Auckland. The second story suggests that if you’re looking to buy a home, then don’t delay because you will only see you get left further behind. Either way the message is the same: Get out and buy now.

Even if I find it unconvincing, many people do seem seem to believe this narrative. House prices have almost doubled since 2006, and the rate of increase has accelerated since circa 2012, as shown below. This also highlights how it’s a uniquely Auckland phenomenon.

unnamed (1)

The Reserve Bank seems to think this is an issue, and I tend to agree with their judgment. The reason the RBNZ are concerned, of course, is because rapid escalation in asset prices can be followed by rapid falls, which can in turn threaten financial stability.

In this post I want to look at some of the fundamental drivers of Auckland’s house prices. The key question is whether price rises are being driven by demand, supply, or both?

In this recent video John Key suggests that the Government views lack of supply as the primary issue. That is, the escalation in prices is being driven by a lack of new house supply, partly due to local government restrictions. Someone close to him may want to show him the graph below, as I think it might prompt a rethink (credit to Peter Nunns for pulling this together).

unnamed

That is, we do not find a relationship between the elasticity of housing supply and changes in house price for 17 OECD countries in the period from 2000-2014. This suggests that increasing the responsiveness on the supply side hasn’t necessarily been able to reduce prices elsewhere in the OECD.

Now don’t get me wrong: I think a more responsive house supply is worth pursuing nonetheless, because it will result in more houses being brought to market when they’re demanded, and vice versa. But there’s going to be a lag between this policy changes designed to increase supply side and that supply becoming available. So while I support efforts to make our house supply more responsive in the future, this does not seem unlikely to keep a lid on prices right now.

Instead, it seems fairly clear that if (and it’s a big “if”) we want to prevent house price escalation now, then we need to address the demand side of the equation. In a future post I’ll look at potential policy measures, but let’s first identify and discuss some of the different demand drivers:

  1. Population growth is driving increased demand for owner-occupied dwellings: Auckland’s population is growing rapidly and this is largely good news, i.e. more locals are having babies, fewer locals are leaving (or coming home), and more migrants are choosing to live in NZ, especially Auckland. Reducing population growth is not really a viable proposition, as it basically means either making it less desirable to stay here and/or harder to migrate here. And it seems likely to be the sort of thing that risks over-shooting and heading into negative territory. Population growth does cause problems, but from what I can tell a lack of population growth would be even more problematic, and harder to turn around once it got started.
  2. Investment this seems to have two components, domestic and international. Domestically it seems like Auckland is attracting capital from around the country. This might be caused by some capital flight from Christchurch and/or a lack of population growth in many rural regions. International investment is likely being driven by increasingly liberalisation of capital flows, NZ’s open economy, low rates of property taxation (see below), and Auckland’s persistently high ranking in international liveability indices. Reducing demand for investment properties really requires policies that reduce the investment returns from property. This applies equally to domestic and international investors.
  3. Renters: The demand for houses is also affected by the number of people who are prepared to rent. Data suggests more people are opting to rent, which is indirectly serving to take demand out of the market for houses. In comparison to other countries NZ seems to lack long -term protections for tenants. It may be that increasing protections for tenants, or creating a more long-term market for tenancies, would make renting more attractive and in turn help to take heat out of the house market. In this context, it seems to be an odd time for the Government to use KiwiSaver to deliver subsidies to first home buyers (and thereby stoking demand).

For now it looks like the Government is not prepared to make a move on demand; I find their reluctance perplexing for one main reason: New Zealand collects a relatively low share of tax revenue from property compared to other OECD countries. Research by Arthur Grimes and Andrew Coleman (usefully summarised by Interest.co.nz) suggests New Zealand collects 5.7% of our taxes from property versus 8.3% for the OECD. In this context, it seems highly plausible to suggest that some of the demand Auckland is experiencing may stem from relatively low rates of taxation on property.

In my next post I’ll look at potential demand-side policy responses in more detail. But for now I’d like to hear your thoughts; these issues are complex and I don’t pretend to have a monopoly on knowledge and ideas, in fact far from it.

 

City Centre Investment Map

The last five years have seen Auckland change dramatically for the better. If you were in the city then you wouldn’t have found any of the shared spaces, much of the area surrounding Britomart was still run down and unused and Wynyard Quarter as a people place didn’t exist. While we’ve already seen a lot of change the next 10 years promises even more and much of it – such as the CRL – will fundamentally alter Auckland for the better.

In fact there is so much going on in Auckland’s City Centre right now that it’s starting to resemble a sand pit. There are a huge number of publicly and privately funded improvements happening. Importantly they are leveraging off each other to make Auckland a more liveable and attractive place. That’s good for Auckland’s economy which in turn is good for the entire nation. It also bears reminding that the changes and growth that’s occurred in recent years hasn’t spelt doom on the regions roads as all the growth in travel to the centre has happened not on in cars but via PT and active modes.

To highlight all of the known changes that are planned or desired for the next decade the council have created a map showing all the ones they know about (there are bound to be more appear over that time – especially private developments). Note: not all of these projects have funding confirmed yet so not all might happen. Click to enlarge the images or go here for the PDF version (2.6MB).

City Centre Projects April 2015

City Centre Projects April 2015 Legend

There are of course a few things missing from this map. A few I noticed quickly are AT’s Light Rail plans, Cycle lanes on Pitt St as part of the Nelson St Cycleway and cyclelanes on Karangahape Rd as part of the city centre priority routes.

The major criticism I can see in all of this is that the map is focused on the city centre. That’s understandable seeing as it’s come from the city centre integration group however perhaps the council should create an interactive version for the entire region. It could show what’s going on and how projects like the CRL benefit the entire region.

I’m looking forward to the changes that planned. It should make the city centre a much more vibrant and interesting and liveable place.

Council Transport Survey Results

As part of the Long Term Plan the council received thousands of submissions however on the topic of transport, to ensure they also had a representative sample of the views of all Aucklanders – not just those interested enough to make a submission they conducted a phone survey. The survey canvassed the views of 5,022 people and was carried out by Colmar Brunton with the entire process was peer reviewed by the University of Auckland. Yesterday they released the results of that research. Overall they are interesting but I think they have some major flaws.

The survey had three main aims, to measure:

  1. Aucklanders’ support for increased investment in the Auckland Plan transport network (APTN)
  2. Which of the two proposed funding options Aucklanders prefer
  3. How perceptions differ by travel behaviour, local board, and key demographic groups

Overall results for the preferred transport plan and how to fund it are below.

Just over half of people preferred the Auckland Plan Transport Network which is about building everything regardless of whether it helps improve the transport situation or not. As you can also see support for that plan increases with income so those who earn the most want the most spent.

2015 LTP Colmar Brunton Preferred Transport Option

Now it’s not surprising that this is the result when the council only presented such binary options to people. Below is what the participants were asked.

“Auckland’s population growth means Auckland’s transport issues will get worse over time. There are two options to address this: a basic transport network and a more comprehensive transport network. I’ll explain each and then ask which one you support.

The basic transport network covers the completion of current projects, some priority new projects such as the City Rail Link, and also spending to maintain current roads and the current public transport network.

The more comprehensive transport network also includes the City Rail Link and everything else in the basic network, with many projects being completed earlier, plus a range of new projects. These include new roads, rail, ferries, busways, ‘park and rides’, and cycleways, as well as school and community travel plans and safety programmes.

Over the next 10 years, the comprehensive network will cost around $300 million more than the basic network each year. The additional funding needed each year would either come from a motorway user charge, or from higher fuel tax and annual rates increases.

So, in summary, the basic network will result in greater traffic congestion than the more comprehensive network, but will cost less. On the other hand, the more comprehensive network will result in less traffic congestion than the basic network, more public transport options, and greater economic benefits, but it will cost more.

Do you support the basic transport network or the more comprehensive transport network?”

While I don’t expect the council to consult on the likes of Generation Zero’s Essential Transport Budget, there’s no indication that effectively the council are only presenting the extreme ends of the spectrum. I think it’s inevitable that a more balanced middle ground will have to be found and as we learnt recently, it’s not just us that think that with both the AA and the NZCID also saying the same thing (although without specifying what exact projects they prefer).

When it comes to funding a similar percentage of respondents preferred the extra funding needed to come from motorway tolls and as you’d expect the more people used the motorway the less keen on this option they were.

2015 LTP Colmar Brunton Preferred Transport Funding

The issue I have with the funding option is that I suspect most people vote for it thinking that they’ll be able to minimise their costs either though shifting their travel time (a good thing) or more likely finding alternative routes which will inevitably mean clogging up local roads and hampering any effort to make them better for active modes, PT and local connections.

The report breaks each of these results down by a number of measures and while there are some differences in the numbers across the different measures the overall trend is similar to the results above.

The final decision on what transport plan will be chosen and how the council would prefer to fund it won’t be decided by councillors till next month. However if they do go for an option that requires more funding they will have to go to the government who have so far not been keen on the idea. Today Transport Minister Simon Bridges is reaffirming that scepticism. He too seems to share the belief that the plans presented aren’t effective enough – something he’s said to us too.

Mr Bridges said, the question of funding tools did not arise until there was an effective transport programme.

Perhaps it’s time the council presented a middle ground version that delivers the benefits in the area’s Aucklanders say they want focus on i.e. PT and Active modes.

Mill Road economic evaluation

In this earlier post Matt discussed the proposed Mill Rd project in South Auckland.

I actually grew up in Franklin (Waiuku) and know the wider sub-region quite well. Mill Rd is, in my experience, an unsafe stretch of road within a somewhat disconnected/fragmented network. So there’s definitely some transport/land use issues in the area that deserve our attention.

Tick to AT on that front.

As a transport economist, however, one must always ask whether the benefits of a proposal are commensurate with the costs. In terms of Mill Rd, the economic benefits of the proposed project are shown below (NB: This is extracted from the scheme assessment report pg 79).

Project benefits

The benefit cost ratio of the project is stated to be 2.2. This means that the project receives a “medium” rating for economic efficiency under NZTA’s project evaluation policies. It’s worth nothing that in Peter’s post on the MoT’s analysis of capital spending on roads, local road projects were found to typically have BCRs in the range of 3-4. Mill Rd’s economic efficiency is, in comparison, somewhat underwhelming.

Digging a little deeper we can see that the largest 3 benefits attributed to the project are 1) travel time savings ($271m); 2) agglomeration benefits ($69m); and 3) vehicle operating costs ($27m). I thought the benefits ascribed to agglomeration were the most interesting (NB: For those who haven’t heard of “agglomeration” before, you might want to read some of our previous posts on the topic here and here).

In a nutshell the literature suggests the primary agglomeration economies typically arise from:

  • Regional economies of scale, i.e. larger markets for goods and services (especially more efficient labour markets). This can be achieved by either bringing more people/firms into the city and/or bringing existing people/firms closer together by reducing transport costs;
  • Local knowledge spillovers in dense urban environments that increase productivity; and
  • Efficiencies in the public provision of infrastructure/services.

When discussing agglomeration benefits the Mill Rd SAR notes (emphasis added):

“Agglomeration economies describe the productivity advantages that arise from the close spatial concentration of economic activity. There is a strong link between transport provision and the benefits that arise from the spatial concentration of economic activity. 

The contribution of the improved Redoubt Road-Mill Road corridor to the upgrading of the Auckland transport system qualifies for the agglomeration benefits to be taken into consideration. Economic Evaluation Manual, Vol.1, Section A10 provides the methodology for estimation of these benefits. 

The corridor provides an access route to Auckland CBD and Manukau City Centre. Both are major employment and commercial centres, which justify an adoption of the agglomeration benefits for the project. The value of these benefits was assumed at 20% of the total benefits, which is conservative as similar projects in the Auckland region use values in excess of 25% to 30%.

Having observed that agglomeration economies arise from the close spatial concentration of economic activity, the SAR then proposes to estimate agglomeration economies by applying a blanket 20% factor to total benefits.

At this point I emitted audible “hmmm”, a bit like Homer Simpson day-dreaming about warm pie (NB: Source).

drooling-homer-simpson

 

The SAR is correct that agglomeration benefits can arise from spatial concentration of economic activity. Where the SAR seems to make a fairly large leap of faith, however, is by assuming that the Mill Rd project (and specifically the land use patterns it enables) will logically lead to sizable positive agglomeration benefits. It’s worth noting at this point that from a quick read the above extract is the only discussion of agglomeration economies in the entire (200 plus page) report, despite them supposedly representing the second largest source of benefits for the project.

Before discussing agglomeration economies in more detail let’s introduce an important concept” The “counter-factual”. This describes would happen without the Mill Rd project. In the case of agglomeration economies, we’re primarily interested in land use effects, i.e. what would those 10,000 households do in the absence of the Mill Rd project?

It seems plausible to suggest that some households would simply choose to locate in the area anyway, while enduring slightly longer travel-times. For these households the agglomeration effects are almost identical to the base case. Other households might instead choose to locate somewhere else, most likely in a more central location. This  would actually tend to generate larger agglomeration benefits than would have arisen had they located in the Mill Rd area, i.e. for these households the Mill Rd project can be considered to have a negative effect on agglomeration economies.

This discussion highlights two important points about agglomeration economies: 1) You can’t have a very informed discussion about them without first carefully defining the counter-factual (land use) scenario and 2) depending on this counter-factual scenario, it is possible that transport investment gives rise to negative benefits, because it encourages/enables development to spread out more (and create more congestion) than would have eventuated otherwise.

In this context, simply assuming a 20% agglomeration premium on total benefits strikes me as a tad presumptuous. Let’s now go back to the three micro-economic channels that contribute to agglomeration economies that we listed above and consider how they relate to the Mill Rd project.

First, it seems unlikely the Mill Rd corridor will, on its own, impact on regional economies of scale. It’s simply not a sufficiently large step change in accessibility that it would encourage more people/firm to migrate to Auckland than would have done otherwise. Indeed, with Auckland’s annual population growth running at approximately 50,000 people per annum, the total growth expected in this area over the next 30 odd years (25,000 people) is a veritable drop in the growth bucket. It’s primary effects seem to be bringing Papakura closer to Flat Bush and Botany Downs, and both of these centres slightly closer to Manukau. Unlike the SAR, I’m not sure how it provides a new access route to the city centre, at least to a degree that would have implications for regional productivity.

Second, it seems unlikely that the Mill Rd will contribute much to knowledge spillovers. In a geographic sense, the area is right on the periphery of the metropolitan area, and relatively remote from employment areas to the north. It is especially remote from the city centre, which is the source of most of the knowledge spillovers in Auckland. While secondary centres like Manukau do experience some agglomeration economies, these seem more likely to arise due to the two types of agglomeration discussed above and below.

Third, Mill Rd doesn’t seem to give rise to major efficiencies in the provision of public infrastructures and services. Indeed, the Mill Road transport project represents approximately $20,000 in CAPEX costs for every household that is expected to locate in the immediate vicinity. It seems plausible to suggest that these households could be accommodated for similar (if not lower costs) somewhere else in the region. To make the case for these agglomeration economies, we would expect to see evidence of surplus capacity existing in nearby health and education facilities.

So what’s the take-away message from all this econo-mumbo-jumbo-fiddle-faddle?

First, even taking the economic evaluation of Mill Rd project at face value, we find that it’s a fairly mediocre local road project. While there are transport issues in this area, addressing them in this way seems expensive compared to most local road schemes around the country.

Second, I’m not confident it is reasonable to assume the agglomeration benefits of the Mill Rd project equate to 20% of the total benefits. By extension, I question whether there is sufficient evidence to include them in the base economic evaluation. Instead, it seems more reasonable to treat them as a possible sensitivity, and even then 20% seems to be a very high premium given the location of the project. Removing these benefits from the evaluation causes the BCR for the project to drop from 2.2 to approximately 1.8. It’s important to note this is not necessarily a terminal issue for the project; the proposed scheme obviously still manages to address some importany problems in the wider area. It’s just probably not as urgent as it appears from the evaluation.

Finally, it highlights what I think is the most important and interesting policy issue: That is, the need for land use policies to be informed by transport outcomes, and possibly linked to financial incentives. In this case, it seems like the Mill Rd project will cost quite a lot. Perhaps, then, there is a need for AC to revisit the merits of enabling growth in this area. Indeed, AT can rightly say that they are to some degree simply responding to land use plans developed by AC. And the latter may want to consider whether development would even occur out this way in a hypothetical situation where the actual infrastructure costs were internalised into the costs of development and ultimately passed onto consumers?

What do you think is the best way to balance public/private interests when it comes to transport and land use outcomes?

 

 

 

 

2015 Long Term Plan Final Feedback

The council have announced the results of the public submissions on the Long Term Plan. We saw a few updates during the consultation including this one from on the results up to 19 February. At that time there had been around 5,000 submissions however the full consultation ended with over 27,000 – that’s a lot more than the 10,000 from the previous LTP.

Auckland Council’s 10-year budget consultation received a record 27,353 written submissions, with the majority of Aucklanders opting to support the advanced transport network, it has been revealed today.

In addition to the written submissions, there were 1,354 pieces of feedback via social media and more than 1,400 Aucklanders attended a Have Your Say event. The previous LTP consultation received 10,084 submissions.

The consultation saw Aucklanders provide feedback on a number of issues including the levels of investment in the region over the next decade and what council needs to do to fix the region’s transport problems.

Figures show that 50% opted for the advanced transport network and 29% supported the basic transport plan. On the question of funding the transport options, 34% supported motorway tolls, while 27% favoured a fuel tax and rates rises.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says that elected officials now had a responsibility to listen to what Aucklanders have said.

“Aucklanders have spoken and their wishes are clear,” he says.

“They want a more comprehensive transport system that will cater to the needs of our growing city.

“The council now has a responsibility to listen to what they have said and act decisively through the decisions we make.

“Yes, it will be challenging to get where we need to go, but there is no doubt in my mind that Auckland is ready for that challenge.

“Our future depends on us having a transport network that is fit for purpose and has the ability to cope with the increase in population that will take place here over the next 30 years.

“So my thanks go to all those who got involved to give us their views. I will do everything in my power to ensure that we don’t let them down.”

Elected officials will now consider the feedback in a series of briefings and workshops ahead of final decisions that will be made on May 7 & 8.

The plan will be formally adopted by the council on 25 June and the final plan, including 21 local board agreements, will be available at www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz along with a summary of decisions made in July.

The accompanying report provides a lot more information. First up the demographic breakdown. This is something Peter looked into more closely in this post. I’ve updated his table with the final information which shows that over time the numbers from some demographic groups did improve however some segments of the population are still well over represented. One of the biggest shifts has been in the 15-34 age brackets which likely highlights the great work that Generation Zero did and shows that younger people are keen to be involved when engaged correctly.

2015 LTP Final Demographics

The next table breaks down the results by local board area (where it was available) and you can see that the rural areas, the North Shore and much of the Isthmus area tend to be over represented while the west and south to be under represented.

2015 LTP Final Local Boards

Moving on to the actual results.

Of the people that answered, 54% disagreed with the proposed 3.5% rates increase which was up slightly from the earlier updates. This update doesn’t say whether people think the rates should be higher or lower but I assume most would think the latter (was 79% last time).

More interesting are the areas where people want more or less focus to go on. There are some notable changes compared to the earlier feedback. Previously those saying to spend more on transport only slightly outnumbered those who said spend less. The comparison now shows a lot more people want more spent on transport. The other major change is for parks and community. Previously those wanting more spent were only about half of those saying to spend less whereas now it is much more even. The graphs for the other results aren’t that different to the earlier results.

2015 LTP Final Changes in Investment

Next up the question of which of the two official transport plans people support and preferences for how the Auckland Plan network should be funded. The results seem very similar to the numbers from February. It’s worth remembering that the council tried to push both of these questions as a binary choice yet the results are anything but.

2015 LTP Final network and funding preferences

So what is it people think we should be focusing on? In short public transport and cycling. I wonder what out transport budget would look like if it mirrored the results below. Of course this isn’t that dissimilar to the results the AA released a few weeks ago.

2015 LTP Final Changes in transport Investment

The last question I was interested in was on the public’s views for merging a few CCOs such as Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Ltd to create a single one called Development Auckland.

2015 LTP Final Development Auckland

Now we wait to see if the councillors listen to the results.

A Boy in the City

*** Here at TransportBlog we’re big advocates for making Auckland more “family friendly”. In general, this means designing our city to be safe and pleasant for the most vulnerable people: Children. While many parts of Auckland are a long way from idal, the City Centre has – in my opinion – come a long way over the last 10-15 years, I’m struck by the number of families and children I now see wandering around enjoying all that the city has to offer. This post documents the experiences of one such family. Edward and his family have lived in an apartment in the City Centre for almost a decade. This post provides a glimpse into their experiences, warts and all. We hope it encourages decision-makers (elected representatives and public servants) to continue to “family proof” Auckland, while also encouraging more families to consider living in the City Centre. As Edward notes, there are some significant upsides to living in an apartment. Less time spent maintaining property and/or travelling = more time spent with loved ones. ***

My name is Edward and this is a photo of my son eating a Popsicle while watching cricket on a large screen down at Britomart.

watching the cricket at Britomart

My son has spent all of his seven years living in an apartment in central Auckland. He goes to the only primary school in the city centre.

We are not particularly well served with playgrounds where we live. Until recently the closest playgrounds were Victoria Park (which he doesn’t rate highly – the equipment looks good but doesn’t offer good climbing challenges); Wynyard Quarter (which is fun because there are a lot of other kids playing here on the weekends); and Gladstone Park (opposite the Parnell Rose Gardens, which is a hidden gem with long slides and climbing apparatus).

The newly upgraded playground in Myers Park is a great addition to the city centre. Last time we visited there were about 40 people of all ages using the playground, with the large swing especially thrilling for children of my son’s age. The primary issue with Myers Park is the poor pedestrian connections to Aotea Square, which makes it less easy and safe to get to the park from that direction.

Living in the City Centre has encouraged us to to improvise. We wade through every water feature we can find, climb a lot of the pohutukawa trees, and play on the steps of buildings. Indeed, it’s almost as it the city is his playground. The photo below shows us enjoying Auckland Anniversary activities on Queen Street.

Auckland Aniversary activities on Queen St

Cycling is particularly important to us: It allows us to roam further afield and unlock more places to explore and play. From our apartment we can easily reach the Parnell Baths and Pt Erin Pools within 20 to 30 minutes away along mostly flat routes with only about five road crossings to tackle. We take cycle paths when they are available but we will bike on footpaths, parks, squares and shared spaces to get where we are going.As a parent, however, I’m aware of how the design of our streets creates unsafe situations for children.

Britomart Farmers Market

Pt Erin pools

The city centre is alive in the weekends and we try to make the most of it. But when we need quiet time it is easy to retire to our apartment and shut out the noise.

There are so many activities for him to do. Every year we go to the Diwali, Lantern and buskers festivals. During the Lantern Festival we ate dinner in Albert Park and walked home in 10 minutes, with none of the stress and hassle involved in driving through traffic and having to park miles away. In December we walked to the Domain to Christmas in the Park.

We have been spoilt over the last few years and now the idea of driving somewhere and searching for a car park when we get there seems like too much hard work, so we try to avoid it if we can. When we feel like an excursion we tend to take the ferry to Devonport or a bus to Takapuna. On a recent weekend we took the ferry to Waiheke, which simply involves a 5 minute walk to the Downtown ferry terminal.

Winter activities are a bit scarcer. We swim at the Tepid Baths or the Newmarket Pool (after mid-day when the smaller pool is released from lesson duties), visit the Art Gallery or  library, and attending the great Pick & Mix activities at the Aotea Centre on Saturday mornings. The Britomart farmers market on Saturday morning at Tukatai Square also has a great hum and there are always other children there. I’m interested to know whether they also live in apartments nearby or whether they are simply visiting.

The primary thing the city lacks is other children.

He is the only child in our apartment building. Pregnancies begun and babies have appeared but they have all disappeared into the suburbs within a short time. Children come into the city whenever there are events on or to visit Wynyard Quarter but we don’t see regular faces on a day-to day basis. The birthday parties he attends are all in the suburbs, as is his sport and extra activities he has participated in. Cricket at Victoria Park would be the closest organized sport he could attend or tennis at Parnell (the closest tennis club at Stanley St doesn’t have a children’s holiday programme).

I think his life will be more interesting if he had friends living nearby. I understand the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall on Freyberg Place will provide a space for children’s activities soon. I hope so. We will support it if it does. The recent closure of Quay Street was a fun opportunity for us to explore a place that is usually hostile to families.

Cycling around on a closed Quay St 2

Some people are unsure how to treat kids in the City. Security guards tell him to stop playing on steps because he could fall and hurt himself. Adults tell him to walk on the edges of shared spaces because a car might drive down it.

Apartment living has many aspects we like. We can lock up and go away for the weekend without too much effort. We don’t have to spend time commuting or maintaining our property. We are lucky that we have a lot of friendly people in our building willing to give my son some attention. I know more of my neighbours than I ever did when living in the suburbs. The city centre has most shops we need. I do need to get in a car if we want things from a hardware shop.

Living in an apartment means I spend a lot of time with my son, which I see as a good thing. But it is not just the quantity of time we spend together, but also the quality of time – both of us enjoy the interesting things on our doorstep together, with little to no stress involved. Living in a smaller space encourages us to get outside more and experience the spontaneous entertainment one often encounters in the city.

It is different from my childhood in Hawkes Bay and I am constantly looking for signs of deprivation, but so far I haven’t found any.

Last day for the LTP

Today is the last day to submit on the Council’s Long Term Plan and Auckland Transport’s Regional Land Transport Plan and if you haven’t already, you need to get your submission in before 4pm.

If you’ve been reading the blog recently then hopefully the need to submit has been made clear. The council is trying to force a very binary decision with the two options being

  • The budget plan that scales back spending in a way that seems deliberately designed to force support for the more expensive option. It’s a stance that’s managed to annoy all the transport advocacy groups regardless of what modes and priorities they support.
  • The Auckland Plan Transport Network that includes almost every project every thought of and many of which either aren’t likely to be needed or at least not to the scale envisioned. This plan also brings with it additional funding requirements either through tolls or

In effect it’s a clayton’s choice with the city being asked to either condemn itself to poor transport outcomes regardless, either through not enough investment or too much in the wrong types of projects. The kind of binary decision the council is pushing has been exemplified by the absurd stunt that has been set up outside the Downtown Mall.

LTP Transport Arches

I believe the numbers combined are up over 50,000 now

 

I think it’s absurd because it’s effectively been boiled down to a mind-numbingly stupid level. There is very little information given about the financial implications of each option so faced with a basic or advanced choice most will obviously choose the advanced one. Of course that’s if they even bother thinking about which portal they walk through and most people I’ve seen walk through it were just carrying on in a straight line from where they came from, oblivious to the options. It gets even stupider when the council say that it has no weighting on the LTP in which case one has to ask why they even bothered. Note: There are some more comments from me on this in an NBR article last week (paywalled)

Thankfully our good friends at Generation Zero have come up with a Goldilocks option that focuses the projects needed to fix our city. You can read more about it at http://www.fixourcity.co.nz/ or read the posts they’ve written here or here.

Gen Z Goldilocks

If you haven’t submitted yet, here are a few extra reasons why you should.

Based on the numbers the council have released so far there are a lot of demographic groups who are under represented. This was shown by Peter in this great post.

LTP submitter demographics vs Auckland demographics

While initial figures showed strong support for more public transport, walking and cycling investment a lot of the submissions are likely to come in during the last few days including those from organisations. Some examples of some of the feedback we’re seeing from these groups and from politicians who are scaremongering is below.

Cameron Brewer is flat out making stuff up to suggest that we and others are pushing for motorway tolls to pay for PT projects.

“As it stands, it seems the Green Party, Generation Zero, students, the cycle lobby, and public transport bloggers have all got their submissions in pushing for road tolls to fund their own Auckland Plan pet projects at the expense of everyday Auckland drivers.”

The Road Transport Forum (the Truck lobby) who seem to support building everything but only if it’s paid for by selling assets. In other words they want lots more roads but don’t want to have to pay for them.

Interestingly both the AA and the NZCID are also saying that we need a third option. They don’t quite say what that they think that option should be but that neither of the options presented is good enough. Below is a press release from them both this morning.

The Automobile Association (AA) and the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) believe that neither of the Auckland Council’s Long-Term Plan budget options is up to scratch, and are calling on central government and Auckland Council to develop an alternative strategy that delivers better outcomes for Auckland.

“Neither the cheaper option nor the more expensive option is going to address Auckland’s traffic problems in the long term, or deliver on the public’s expectations, ” said NZCID Chief Executive Stephen Selwood. “So our message for officials is: It’s time for Plan C.”

AA infrastructure spokesman Barney Irvine said the congestion gains of the more expensive option (the Auckland Plan Network) were underwhelming, despite Aucklanders paying an extra $300 million per year through rates, fuel taxes or a motorway charge.

“Congestion is expected to get worse over the next 20 years, regardless of which option we go for,” he said. “After that, it might ease under the Auckland Plan Network, but only by a little. When you think that most households would be paying $350 extra a year – with regular motorway users paying up to $1500 more a year – you have to question whether it’s worth it.”

Mr Selwood said that the starting point for a new approach needs to be a transport accord between local and central government.

“At the moment, the Government is rightly concerned about the outcomes that result from the proposed transport investment and land use plan,” said Mr Selwood. “You can’t make long-term decisions about the Auckland transport network when the results are so poor and Council and Government are so far apart.”

Pleasingly, said Mr Selwood, Mayor Len Brown has clearly stated his desire to reach an accord with central government and transport Minister Simon Bridges has also signalled Government’s willingness to engage.

As part of an accord, Mr Selwood said that central government and Auckland Council need to agree on an improved transport investment strategy, and ensure that urban intensification and transport investment are better integrated. If they decide to look more seriously at a motorway network charge, he said, they need to make sure it’s also considered from a demand management perspective – not just as a way to raise revenue – and that the combination of intensification, transport investment and demand management improves accessibility and provides meaningful travel-time savings for users.

Mr Selwood said that many other stakeholder groups – from the public transport lobby to the freight lobby – are saying similar things.

Meanwhile, the AA has carried out its largest survey yet of its Auckland membership – an online survey of 6000 Auckland Members, backed up by an in-depth survey of a 100-strong AA Auckland panel – to better understand how people feel about the Council’s budget options.

Mr Irvine said the survey results showed that Auckland AA Members preferred the Auckland Plan Network to the cheaper option (the Basic Network) – 46% support versus 30% support – but not to the point where a meaningful consensus could develop behind it.

“There’s a big difference between support for the Plan and willingness to pay for it,” he said. “A lot of our Auckland Members would be happy to pay a little for improved congestion outcomes, but less than 20% would be prepared to pay what’s required for the Auckland Plan Network.”

Mr Irvine stressed that it wasn’t just cost standing in the way.

“Many of our Members look at this plan and don’t see a great deal in it for them,” he said. “There’s also a perception that Council needs to get its own house in order – in terms of financial management and accountability – before asking Aucklanders to open their wallets.”

Both Mr Irvine and Mr Selwood cautioned officials against pushing ahead with the current plan, when it does not have strong support, as it could hold back progress on the transport programme long term.

It’s not mentioned in the press release but one aspect that’s really interesting is that the AA’s own polling says their members want more choice in how they get around.

If you haven’t done so then make sure you give your feedback and lets make the ETB, Option C.

Auckland’s public transport growth – How good is it?

As discussed in this recent post, public transport patronage in Auckland grew at an annualised rate of 9% last month. This growth was led by the rapid transit network (rail and busways), but underpinned by solid growth across the rest of the network.

While this is obviously a positive result, I found myself pondering the question of just how good is it?

One way of answering this question is to place the recent patronage growth within a historical context. In the figure below I’ve plotted annual PT patronage growth from 1921 to the present (NB: I’ve excluded a couple of outliers). The red line on the right shows what would happen if the current annualised rate of 9% holds for the whole financial year.

Annualised PT Grpwth

On this basis I’d conclude:

  1. In the last 20 years, Auckland’s patronage growth has ranged from -2% to +11% with an average of 4-5% p.a; and
  2. In this context, patronage growth of 9% p.a. is at the upper end of what one might expect, but not completely unprecedented.

In my experience, people who doubt the strengths of Auckland’s PT renaissance tend to fall back on some common refrains when presented with such data.

The first refrain is that Auckland’s public transport is starting from a low base. This argument observes that our current high annualised growth is being occurring from a low baseline level of PT usage. This comment has some merit; Auckland does indeed have a low base of PT use, especially compared to many cities and/or levels of private vehicle use. But this argument is also rather disingenuous for two reasons.

The first reason is that PT patronage is high in the places and at the times when it matters the most. Screenline surveys, for example, show that approximately 50% of peak motorised trips into the city centre are on PT. Similarly, data shows that at peak times almost 13,000 passengers are travelling by train. And that’s just rail – you need to multiply that by a factor of approximately 5 to get an indication of total peak travel on PT. Yes that’s right – at peak times approximately 65,000 people are travelling by PT. To shift that many people by private vehicles we’d need the equivalent of 30 additional lanes of motorway. By extension, the fact private vehicles are used for most travel across the rest of the day and week is not evidence which can be used to downplay PT’s transport contribution. 

The second reason is that with growth rates of 5-10% p.a., low levels of demand can quickly become quite large. That is, if Auckland’s PT patronage grows at circa 9% for ten years then twice as many journeys will be undertaken by PT as currently. Experience also suggests that in a transport and land use context growth rates of 5-10% are actually relatively high. If we consider data from the Auckland Harbour Bridge (AHB), for example, then you’ll find the highest recorded annual growth rate in vehicle traffic was approximately 16%. That’s right: Even a transport project as transformational as the AHB didn’t hit annual growth rates above 16%. What the AHB did achieve, however, was to sustain high-moderate levels of growth for a very long time (approximately 30-40 years). That’s how it became the critical piece of infrastructure that we know today.

The second refrain is that Auckland’s PT patronage growth is being driven largely by population growth. Again there are several factors that do not support this perspective.

The first reason is fairly obvious. That is, Auckland’s population is growing at only 1-2% p.a. As such, while population growth explains approximately one-half of the growth in PT patronage, it does not explain the balance. We can show this by calculating PT trips per capita p.a., as illustrated below.

PT trips per capita

 

 

This shows PT trips per capita p.a. growing by a touch over 2% p.a. since hitting a low point in the mid-1990s. Another way of putting this is that the average Aucklander is now using PT 50% more than the average Aucklander was 20 years ago.

There is one more reason why Auckland’s current rates of PT growth may be rather special: In the last 5 years vehicle travel per capita has fallen by 23%. I’m personally fairly optimistic this decline will be sustained for a while yet, especially if Auckland accepts the need for the city to intensify (and subsequently removes density controls).

Vehicle trips per capita

This graph also makes it clear, however, that the average Aucklanders makes approximately 1,800 vehicle trips p.a. compared to only 50 trips by PT. So even while I am a believer of the ability for PT to contribute to meeting big chunks of travel demands in key locations and key times, we shouldn’t over-estimate its importance either.

One thing is relatively clear, however: PT patronage in Auckland has been on the rise for over two decades. In my opinion the job is only half-done: If PT is to rise to real prominence in Auckkand, then we’ll need to sustain current rates of growth for a good decade. This would place Auckland’s PT use per capita on par with South East Queensland’s (Brisbane) levels of usage. I think a combination of electrification, integrated ticketing, the New Network, and the CRL will get us to a respectable level of PT usage.

It is, however, what I call the “next round” of PT investments which will get Auckland to a point where it challenges the likes of Melbourne and Sydney, and perhaps rightly lays claim to being the “world’s most livable city”. The sorts of projects in the next round include light rail, SH16 rapid transit corridor, and major city centre bus infrastructure.

But for now let’s just enjoy the moment: Public transport in Auckland is doing pretty well; long may this continue.

P.s. And thanks to all the people who have worked hard over the last two decades to help Auckland get to this point. You know who you are …

 

 

 

 

On The Waterfront

Crab-Golden-Claws-Karaboudjan-docks

I’ve always loved a working port, growing up on Tintin, where intrigue and big issues always led our hero to docks, and [sadly] being old enough to just remember Auckland’s finger wharves busy with cranes and the last of the goods trains still running on Quay St, I’m a sucker for the romance and tough rough-neck image of it all. Which of course has always been grounded in the realities of the physical movement of goods, and at ports these realities seem more laid bare than most anywhere else; an example of the laws of physics meeting human desire = economics.

So what’s going on down on the wharves? For quite a long time it’s felt very unsatisfactory. The Council, who in our stead owns 100% of the port company, is of course also the regulatory authority over its operations as it is over all businesses and residents in the Auckland Region. Unfortunately this combination doesn’t seem to be working at all well.

It seems clear that the current management of the port company has little interest in any responsibilities beyond direct port operations despite that these being very real; they seem to treat the city’s desire meaningful cohabition with the working port as something to be gamed. This narrow idea of social and environmental responsibility is unlike many privately owned companies, let alone publicly owned ones. But there also appears to have been an almost total abrogation of governance by the Council over port decisions.  Sometimes it seems more like the port company is playing both the people and Council and other times it looks more like collusion between parts of the Council ad the company. I, like almost everyone else in the city has no idea what is really going on. This is my biggest complaint here, there is little daylight or transparency about what is going on down on the waterfront, and a huge amount of spin coming from PoAL.

The latest is the sneaky slip of a resource consent through the Council on December 23rd for two extensions to Bledisloe Wharf without any public discussion initiated by either party. It is clear that the port intends these extensions as a prelude to filing in the resultant space between the piers at a later date, but even without this it’s worth seeing what they are doing to our harbour. Specifically I am interested in the outcome for Queens Wharf. The space that we [Council and government] bought for $40million from ourselves [Port Company] in 2009 specifically as a public space, the ‘people’s wharf’. Here’s how Waterfront Auckland describe it, in the first words on their dedicated Queens Wharf page:

Queens Wharf lies at the foot of the Auckland CBD and offers a unique vantage point overlooking the sparkling Waitemata Harbour… Queens Wharf has been transformed from a private working wharf to a public waterfront space for all to enjoy.

This is a big investment in an important idea: allowing people to bust through the red fence enabling the north south axis of Queen St to continue out into our wonderful harbour forming an intersection with this eastern city edge, and penetrating into the harbour to reconnect this harbourside city with its deep water. Expressly in fact to cement Queens Wharf as a ceremonial space of symbolic arrival and departure. After all, we or our ancestors have all come to this city from over the sea. Here’s how WA put it:

The wharf has social significance for its central role on the Auckland waterfront; for its function as a major place of arrival to, and departure from New Zealand; and as a place of formal welcome and farewell.

Here then is an introduction to PoAL’s plans [and style; a very don’t worry nothing to see here kind of document]:

PoAL expansion Plans

This shows a plan to extend Bledisloe Wharf [on the left],

So what does it matter what happens east of Queens Wharf in the operational zone of the port? We want to have a successful port don’t we, and that’s going to take space, right? Agreed. Which is why we have invested in Fergusson Wharf, the big and modern container wharf at the eastern edge of the ports operations area. But since the decline of New Zealand’s vehicle assembly industry and the rise of car imports PoAL have used the old finger wharves for temporary car storage. A very Auckland and very space hungry activity. But would we allow Wilsons, say, to use this land for car parking? We need to have an honest and open discussion about the trade-offs involved in this use, as there are other options like [but not limited to]:

  • not importing so many vehicles through Auckland [some through Tauranga- an actual national ports strategy]
  • incentivising shippers to space out deliveries so the peak arrivals are smoothed
  • storing them more space-efficiently on the existing land [a parking building rather than reclaimation]

A key thing that is very easy to miss in the image above is the two light grey fingers either side of the dark grey pointed out ‘Proposed reclamation’ that we don’t ‘need to decide on right now’. This is what that December consent about is and is to begin construction next month. What do these two extension mean for Queens Wharf? Here’s a schematic of the sightline from the end of Queens Wharf:

Bledisloe Wharf extensions_6

The new wharves will clearly cut Queens Wharf off from any view of the Harbour entrance, that point of ‘arrival to and departure from’. Queens Wharf will no longer be out in the harbour but just in a contained little ferry basin. Just a big concrete deck leading nowhere. Below is its current state. As I took this picture a car carrier was docked at the existing Bledisloe wharf disgorging its contents:

QUEENS WHARF_9717

Working from the visual above, and doing a bit of very quick photoshop here’s what I reckon, roughly, will happen to the experience on the end of the People’s Wharf’ when a ship is docked at the new western pier extension on Bledisloe. Forgive my crude Photoshopery, it’s intended to be approximate rather than perfect, I did adjust the ship extension for perspective, making the stern smaller and have invented a new shipping line with an appropriate name…

QUEENS WHARF_9717_FUKO_blog

Is this really the outcome we want in order to accommodate the peak flow of car imports through one port? Currently 90% of the entire county’s car imports arrive through Auckland. If this is the cost of that continuing, is it one are prepared to pay?

A further example of the lack of any coordination between the ambitions for our city and the plans of the frankly visionless port company or it’s governors is shown by the contradictions between the plans for a major artwork based on the idea of arrival and departure at the end of Queens Wharf as described here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:

In the furore over Port of Auckland’s plans to extend Bledisloe Wharf nearly 100m out into the harbour, one of Mayor Len Brown’s pet projects was overlooked.In more ways than one. The controversial Barfoot & Thompson state house lighthouse at the end of Queens Wharf will be blinkered.

In persuading councillors of the need to commandeer the tip of Queens Wharf for the lighthouse, the mayor and council arts panel argued the site was “a key portal into New Zealand for international visitors arriving via vessel” and was “visible from multiple vantage points”.

Mr Parekowhai explained that his work would be “a lighthouse that signals safe harbour and welcome”.

It seems to me that a very Auckland kind of tragedy is unfolding down

ON THE WATERFRONT_1