Stuart’s 100 #53: Concentrating on Corridors

53: Concentrating on Corridors

Day_53

What if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does?

One of the things we hear all the time in Auckland is ‘Unlike – insert City X – we can’t do that here because – insert excuse Y’. Now, sometimes these differences are real and we need to work harder to translate good ideas into a New Zealand context. But more often than not we exaggerate the differences between city life in this small corner of the world and that elsewhere. Fundamentally we have much in common with cities elsewhere, especially the New World cities of Australia and North America, even when they are much bigger than ours.

So what if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does? We tried this once before; the former Auckland Regional Council’s growth strategy put a lot of emphasis on intensifying centres and corridors. But not a lot of development happened. We often hear that the problem is our original grain of subdivision and street patterns that doesn’t lend itself well to this type of development. Is that the case, or do we just need to go about it differently or work a little harder to change that?

To really go to town on corridors, we would need to accept greater change in character of the say 7.5% of land area that fronts these arterial corridors, to offset less intensive change elsewhere across most suburban streets. This seems to be the basic premise of recent strategic planning in Melbourne. We can debate how successfully that strategy is being realised over there, but it is hard to argue against the fact that Melbourne already has far more examples of good mid-rise mixed use development on its major roads than Auckland. Why is that?

Here in Auckland, have we forgone such an opportunity with the Proposed Unitary Plan? Imagine if the Council had put more effort into zoning for these outcomes along corridors like Dominion, Mt Eden and Remuera Roads on the isthmus, the former highways of Great North and Great South Roads or the likes of Onewa Road or Lake Road over on the Shore. Such an approach could have adopted a strategy of greater protection of historic commercial buildings balanced with more aggressive up-zoning across the balance of sites including much deeper back from the main street to create viable sites for more intensive mid-rise development.

In acknowledging this as a great planning and urban design outcome, we would also need to acknowledge that it is pretty tough for developers to assemble sites and make it work. Council would need to look to use as many carrots as it can muster across its regulatory, revenue-gathering and investment toolboxes to provide far greater incentives for this to happen.

An Auckland where more people could afford to live amongst the great amenities and character of the long-established suburbs we already have? Wouldn’t that be a better Auckland?

Stuart Houghton 2014

New Auckland valuation maps

New property valuations for Auckland were released yesterday and here are a few maps of from the council’s GIS viewer. All are just for residential properties.

Land Value per m²

Completely unsurprisingly it can be seen that urban and coastal land is the most valuable with values doing off further away from there.

It’s worth noting that the areas with the highest land values are also the same areas most suited to intensification she to their amenity values however the are also the same ones with residents that objected the strongest to the Unitary Plan.

Auckland Residential Land Values per sqm 2014

Auckland Residential Land Values per sqm 2014 Legend 2

Percentage change in Land value

Looks like the busway has had considerable impact on the values on the North Shore.

Auckland changes in Land Value 2014

Auckland changes in Land Value 2014 Legend

Percentage change in Capital value

Auckland changes in Capital Value 2014

Auckland changes in Capital Value 2014 Legend

 

CRL passes another hurdle

Yesterday the council started debating and voting on what will go out for consultation as part of the Long Term Plan. There were two big interrelated issues people were watching closely, what level rates would be set at and whether or not councillors would vote to delay the City Rail Link. These weren’t the only items on the agenda but they certainly took up a lot of time, most of the day in fact with the meeting continuing tomorrow to discuss the rest of the agenda.

By the end of it all the councillors voted 16-7 to increase rates in the next two years by 3.5%, up from the original 2.5% increase (the subsequent eight years were already set for a 3.5% increase). For transport voting on whether to delay the City Rail Link also thankfully fell short, again with a 16-7 result which is notable as on Monday Bernard Orsman was reporting that nine 9 councillors were going to vote to delay the project. The councillors that changed their minds were Ross Clow and Calum Penrose leaving those supporting a delay being Cameron Brewer, Linda Cooper, Denise Krum, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, John Watson and George Wood.

I wasn’t at the meeting but was following it Twitter and so I thought I would just highlight some of the interesting tweets from those that were there as there is clearly tension on the issue between many councillors.

The council say even the CRL wasn’t ring-fenced it would still be number one on the priority list due to how much positive impact it has.

On Capacity issues

It sounds like Council CEO Stephen Town did a good job in stepping the councillors through the information

On CRL Operations

Even from before today Chris Darby and Penny Hulse seem to be the best councillors we have and Chris once again show they actually understand many of the issues.

The last comment clearly upset George Wood

Dick Quax not wanting to be left out later added this gem

Perhaps Dick forgot that cars are a 19th century tech too.

There’s still a lot of work to go before the CRL gets started but at least it’s cleared another hurdle

A delay to the CRL?

The Herald reported yesterday that an increasing number of councillors are thinking of voting to delay the City Rail Link to 2020.

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The issue stems from the fact local boards and the council have promised a huge number of projects over the years, many of which originated in pre supercity days. Cuts and deferrals to some of these projects combined with efficiency savings as a result of having a single council had already brought projected rate increases down to around 4.9%. To take things further Len Brown’s plan for rates was to limit rates rises at 2.5% to 3.5%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a programme of spending that requires a 4.9% rates increase but you limit the increase at 2.5 to 3.5% that you will have to cut some projects somewhere. For transport those cuts mean a very reduced transport spend and the tables below show the extent of a 30 year transport programme (not including state highways) with that limited rates increase.

committed-projects

 

basic-network-projects

On top of that there were many cuts to other areas of the council’s budgets including a lot of funding for local board projects, something which angered most, if not all of the local boards.

That has contributed to some councillors now supporting delaying the CRL.

Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government’s 2020 start date.

He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of “pet projects” like the City Rail Link.

“Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget,” said Mr Clow.

Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.

Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.

“Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that’s totally unacceptable,” Mr Watson said.

On the side of delaying the CRL there seem to be two general groups, the haters and the opportunists.

The haters are those who primarily for ideological reasons either don’t like Len and/or don’t like the CRL/rail. This group includes the likes of Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. Those in this group are unlikely to ever support the CRL although if they’re still around when it opens I’m sure they will happily take some of the credit for its success.

More of a concern are the opportunists who have arisen primarily due to the funding discussions. Some of them look at the cost if the CRL and mistakenly think that by deferring it, it will suddenly mean a heap of money will be available that they can use to fund projects in their local area. Alternatively some know the importance of the CRL and are trying to use it as leverage to get concessions out of the mayor, again for local projects. In many ways this is one of the big issues with having all councillors elected from wards rather than having some elected at large like the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. I’m aware some have taken this stance in the hope that it will put pressure on the government to stump up with funding but if anything it will do the opposite. Effectively what these councillors are doing is using the CRL to play a game of chicken with an oncoming train.

The whole situation has shades of Robbies Rail to it. Back in the 1970’s mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s plans for a regional rail system were cancelled by the government after support for it was undermined by similar parochial local body politicians and planners.

I part I think some of the issue with this comes from the poor job Auckland Transport have done in really explaining the region wide benefits the CRL provides. That there are councillors and local board members who have a rail line passing through their area opposing the project because they think there are no benefits to their communities is a testimony to the fact it hasn’t been explained well enough. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is needed to look at how the project is communicated to both the politicians and the public. The video below is probably the best effort AT have made with their comms but it relies on people actually watching it fully to get any info.

Before people get too concerned there are a couple of important things to note. The Herald note that most of the group that supports deferring the CRL do support work on the first section which will be tied in with the redevelopment of the Downtown Mall. That will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to as far as Wyndham St and is crucial if many of the other Downtown projects are to go ahead. By the time we’re getting towards needing to get started on the remainder of the tunnel – likely around 2016/17 – we will have had another 2-3 years of strong patronage growth on the back of the current tranche of PT projects and as the pressure mounts on transport capacity it is likely to leave little choice for both the council and government but to invest in the CRL.

The second thing to note is that by delaying the CRL it won’t actually free up money to build the local projects these councillors are hoping for. While debt will be needed to fund construction the council capitalise the interest until the project is complete and the region starts benefiting from the investment (those interest costs are already built into the overall project cost). What that means is there is no impact on council finances until the projects opens which isn’t likely to be till 2021/22.

 

While the project will definitely go ahead at some point in time a speed bump imposed by local politicians is far from ideal. I would suggest that it would be a good idea to email all councillors expressing your support for the project to go ahead and be open by 2021/22 along with the regional benefits it provides. It doesn’t have to be a big email and rather than provide a template it’s best if it comes from you in your own words.

An Auckland Urban Redevelopment Agency?

Details are starting to emerge from the Council’s review of its Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) to see if any changes need to be made to them. The CCOs were set up in 2010 by the government as part of the super city changes to manage many of the council’s functions. The CCOs are:

  • Auckland Council Investments Limited
  • Auckland Council Property Limited
  • Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Limited
  • Auckland Transport
  • Auckland Waterfront Development Agency Limited (Waterfront Auckland)
  • Regional Facilities Auckland
  • Watercare Services Limited

We’re not likely to see many changes to Auckland Transport or Watercare as their existence is enshrined in legislation however the other CCOs are not.

One change I’ve long liked the idea of is to merge Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Property Limited (ACPL) to create a region wide urban development agency. Waterfront Auckland has been the driver behind the spectacular and internationally award winning redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter while ACPL manages almost 1200 properties around the region worth over $1 billion. They say part of their role is to facilitate development that supports the council’s broader place shaping and housing development objectives however on the surface it doesn’t appear that much has happened in this regard. A combined agency that is able to harness some of the knowledge and skills that Waterfront Auckland have built up and leverage that across the region would be extremely useful.

Wynyard Central

Density done well coming to Wynyard

I know many others who have expressed this view too and it appears this might be exactly what will happen.

The Auckland Council is considering merging its waterfront agency and property company as it focuses on how to improve run down main streets.

The new development agency is the biggest change being considered in a year-long review of council-controlled organisations, which has so far continued behind closed doors.

Council chief executive Stephen Town has provided a glimpse into the review, which will run for a further month.

Mr Town said the council had looked at similar re-generation agencies in Australia, which put existing council property into joint ventures, with the private sector or government.

“In some parts of Auckland we’ve got very large land holdings clustered in town centres,” he said.

“It’s not inconceivable to see $500 million to $1.5 billion developments occurring over 10 years.”

The council is loathe to name possible redevelopment centres at this stage. However there are obvious candidates.

On the same day as the council unveiled the agency proposal, members of Avondale Community Action appealed to the Auckland Development Committee to re-vitalise their neglected town centre.

Avondale includes vacant private sites in the middle of the town centre, run down council-owned facilities, and Housing New Zealand property ripe for redevelopment. Other long-established centres in decline include Mt Albert, Otahuhu and Papatoetoe.

Mr Town said the work though could begin in earnest before then, under existing council structures. He said the development agency would likely begin life inheriting a portfolio of surplus council property, but would be expected to enhance council finances, rather than be a burden on them.

If an Urban Development Agency is formed, it is expected to result in cuts to management within the existing Waterfront Agency, and Auckland Council Properties Limited. That has yet to be explored.

If it goes ahead the biggest risk is what kind of culture comes through and that will likely be determined by how the merger occurs. In my view it would be better to put the property acquisition and management experience into the Waterfront Auckland structure rather than to put the urban design, planning and development experience into the ACPL structure.

Overall a well run urban redevelopment agency would be a huge asset to the council that would enable some of the visions highlighted in the Auckland Plan to become a reality.

Wynyard Quarter Residential 1

 

A Tamaki TOD?

Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:

Town centre could rise around new rail station

Tamaki Site

Colin Taylor writes:

One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.

The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.

Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.

The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.

This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.

Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.

“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.

“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.

“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”

Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.

“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”

However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.

“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”

This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].

But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.

So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.

  • A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
  • A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
  • A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
  • A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.

With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.

Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.

However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.

Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].

And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.

Orakei Bay Village – To P&R or not to P&R?

Some of you who have been living in Auckland over the last decade might recall the long-running saga that is the Orakei Bay Village.

When the project was first mooted around a decade ago, it was met with furious local opposition. Thankfully the proposal has now progressed to a “point” where new houses may actually be delivered. Stage 1 is illustrated below (sourced from here); as you can see it’s a reasonably pleasant spot to develop some houses, shops, and some new recreational facilities.

Orakei_Hero_with_no_labels

Not only is the development situated on the edge of Hobson Bay, it is also accessible to Orakei Station in the Eastern Line, which is barely 8 minutes by train to Britomart, something the developers are keen to point out. The merits of the development itself, however, are not the topic of this post.

Instead, in this post I want to explore the merits of providing park and ride at Orakei Station. Some of you may also know that Orakei Station currently provides about 178 park and ride spaces. In the above photo you can see the park and ride spaces shown in the bottom right hand corner. Their presence in close proximity to medium to high density housing looked to me to be somewhat anomalous.

In this previous post I explored some of the merits of P&R and discussed the conditions where P&R might work well. Since that post was written AT has released a draft parking discussion document, which provides more specific criteria to guide future investment in park and ride. The key section is illustrated below (p. 44).

Capture

Below I’ve undertaken a brief evaluation of Orakei Point’s suitability for park and ride compared to the most pertinent policy points outlined in AT’s parking discussion document:

  • Wider PT accessibility. This location will be well-served by all-day bus connections. The all-day network released with AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan shows how both Orakei and the adjacent Meadowbank station will be accessible from local bus services. Indeed, to access Orakei you have to drive past these bus stops. For this reason, providing park and ride at Orakei is likely to undermine local bus services.
  • Local congestion around the station. Traffic congestion was frequently put forward by local residents as a reason to decline the proposed plan change for Orakei Point. Their opposition suggests the local area does experience traffic congestion, which is of course likely to be exacerbated by the provision of park and ride.
  • Congestion upstream of the station. While there is congestion upstream of the station, the city centre is so close that the resulting congestion relief provided by a park and ride at Orakei would appear to be fairly small, at least compared to other potential park and ride locations located further away from the city centre (where land is also cheaper).
  • Land use controls of the area surrounding the station. The recent plan change means that this location is now suitable for high-density development, as evident from the above image. This suggests that park and ride might not be the highest and best use of this land.
  • Public transport fare zones. Orakei is only one stage to Britomart. This in turn means that providing park and ride in this location may encourage people drive to the train at Orakei as a way of avoiding paying a higher fare for travelling from further out. In this way, park and ride at Orakei might undermine revenue (although of course the zone structure may change in the future).

When evaluated against AT’s five main park and ride investment criteria, Orakei Point does not appear to be a suitable location for park and ride. Perhaps the only criteria where there is doubt relates to the potential congestion relief benefits of the P&R. We can, however, do some quick calculations to quantify whether this argument has any merit.

Auckland Council’s GIS viewer suggests land at Orakei Point is valued at approximately $900 per sqm. If we use this land value and assume 30 sqm per car-park, then we get $25,000 per car-park. Let’s round that up to $30k per car-park to allow for some capital depreciation/operating costs. Using this figure within a standard discounted cash-flow model (i.e. 8% discount rate; 30 year lifetime) then we can calculate that a benefit stream of approximately $2,500 per car-park p.a. is required to yield a benefit cost ratio of 1, i.e. to reach economic break-even point.

Now we need to asses the congestion reduction that might follow from providing park and ride in this location.

If we assume vehicles using the Orakei park and ride would otherwise travel to the city centre (i.e. somewhere in the vicinity of Britomart) via Kepa Road and Orakei Drive, then each avoided vehicle trip will save about 5km of driving, or 10km per return trip. If we then annualise this distance by assuming 220 days p.a., then we find that each vehicle diverted to using the park and ride as opposed to driving to the city centre would save about 2,200 vehicle km p.a.

This previous post, however, presented evidence on some of the diversion effects of park and ride. Research in the Netherlands found that only 25% of park and ride users would otherwise drive for their entire journey in the in the absence of park and ride. Instead, many park and ride users were “diverted” from alternative options, such that park and rides caused a net increase in driving in many locations. Post-opening surveys of the Northern Express also found large diversion rates, with only 50% of park and ride users responding that they previously drove to the city centre.

This diversion effect can be incorporated into our calculations by factoring down the vehicle kilometre savings down, by say 50%. This suggests that 1,100 vehicle kilometres p.a. are removed from the road network for every park and ride space provided. If we divide the annual cost ($2,500) by the annual benefit (1,100km), then we find that the cost of removing this travel from the road network is $2.26 per vehicle kilometre. This means that each kilometre removed from the road network by providing park and ride at Orakei has to generate $2.26 in congestion reduction benefits to make the investment worthwhile.

Personally, this seems like an implausibly high congestion reduction benefit to attribute to removing vehicle travel from the road network.

To put it in context, the average journey to work trip by car in Auckland is approximately 10km. Using this per kilometre rate, removing the average journey to work trip by car would generate approximately $23 in congestion savings. And even this relatively high congestion reduction benefit would result in a benefit-cost ratio of only 1.0, i.e. an extremely marginal investment from NZTA’s perspective.

Of course, there may be other benefits from providing park and ride. However, there’s also additional costs.

Remember that some of the people diverted to using the P&R would have otherwise used park and ride elsewhere and/or used a connecting bus. Providing park and ride at Orakei therefore might be expected to increase the congestion generated by these journeys compared to an alternative scenario in which park and ride was not provided at Orakei Point.

Finally, there’s also the longer term land use displacement effect. This reflects how choosing to provide park and ride in this location would tend to reduce the intensity of residential development that could be accommodated at the site. Some of the residents displaced by providing park and ride will likely choose to live further out from the city, in locations where they are even more likely to drive.

In conclusion, based on this back of the envelope assessment Orakei Point does not seem to be a suitable location for park and ride.

That’s not to say, however, that park and ride in other locations might not be worthwhile. Indeed, if we consider our simple benefit-cost analysis then investment in park and ride would seem to make the most sense where: 1) land values are low; 2) vehicle trip distances and long; and 3) it does not compete with non-car access modes.

Public continue to want better PT

This week the council released the results of a survey into the public’s priorities for the region and once again transport came out on top.

The majority of Aucklanders say better public transport, less traffic congestion, and more affordable and quality housing are the top priorities for the region.

The results are part of an annual survey measuring what Aucklanders want from their council and how they feel Auckland Council is performing.

The annual survey is a valuable tool to help the council gauge the concerns and priorities of its residents, and to identify where the council needs to improve its services, activities and communication.

The latest council-Colmar Brunton survey was concluded in September 2013 and measures a range of factors, including perception and attitudes towards council’s performance, and what Aucklanders want from their council.

When asked what Auckland needed to focus on to become the world’s most liveable city, 61 per cent of respondents said improved public transport, 54 per cent said reduced traffic congestion, and 44 per cent said more affordable and quality housing.

You can find the full results of the survey here. It took place last year and in total over 3000 people took part with a margin of error of 1.8%. One thing I’m not sure of is why the results took so long to be released.

Here’s the full list of responses that gave the answers above.

AKL council priorities 2013 - Key Priority areas

The top two answers are extremely similar which highlights the desire with which people want to see transport improved. Of course one of the advantages of investing in PT is that while it won’t reduce congestion directly (due to induced demand) it can reduce the number of people exposed to congestion as there are options to avoid it.

The results are also similar to a lot of other polls. A few months ago a poll from Stuff saw huge support for investing in PT

Stuff Poll - Govt Focus

A NZ Herald poll last year showed 54.6% of respondents think PT is the best way to improve Auckland’s traffic problems

Also earlier last year a UMR poll showed large support nationwide for better PT.

UMR Road vs PT poll

 

Of course what we’re getting in funding is quite different with a huge amount of funding being poured into roading projects while PT projects struggle.

On a separate note, also from the survey there was a number of questions related to the council’s sub brands. What surprised me was not so much the results but just how many sub brands the council has.

AKL council priorities 2013 - Council Brands

Where to now for transport in Auckland?

In some respects Saturday night’s election result changes nothing from a transport perspective. It seems as though the government that will be formed over the next three years will be remarkably similar to that we’ve had for the past three years and there’s certainly no indication of a change in direction for transport policy from what we’ve had over the past six years. However, this has some important implications:

  • It’s almost certain that Puhoi-Warkworth will be built, with construction likely to start before the 2017 election and the project built/funded as a PPP.
  • There will continue to be a lot of discussion around the timing of City Rail Link and whether the Council or Government budges from their preferred start date.
  • Progress on any alternative funding mechanisms to close the so called “funding gap” for transport seems pretty unlikely. This is despite the fact some government departments have also being doing their own investigations on alternative funding sources due to lower than expected revenues into the National Land Transport Fund.
  • There is likely to be more money for cycling projects thanks to the $100 million for urban cycleways around the country over four years

Cam discussed Puhoi-Warkworth in his post yesterday, so in this post I’m going to focus on the CRL and alternative funding, particularly what the election results means for these two key (although not necessarily connected) issues.

Starting with the CRL, a start on the project as a whole anytime in the next three years now seems fairly unlikely. This means hopes of completing the project by 2021 are probably slim unless the Council can talk government into a very big change of position. The Council is keen to progress talks with government about the timing and funding of CRL, but it seems likely that these talks will focus on funding of the section underneath the downtown shopping centre:

Although the council wants to start CRL by 2016, the previous Government indicated no funding before 2020 unless certain rail patronage and employment targets were met. But [Penny] Hulse remains confident of middle ground.

“We’ve been working well with the Government over the last three years and we don’t expect that to change. The start time and funding are things we need to talk to the Government about,” she said.

This section is particularly important as it is key to delivering not just the redevelopment of the downtown shopping centre site but also a whole raft of projects that are part of the Downtown Framework including making things better for buses on Customs St.

I’m still confident the rail patronage targets set by the government – that patronage will track towards hitting 20 million journeys per year by 2020 – will be met or even exceeded, plus of course there’s still another election in 2017 between now and the government’s current preferred start date. But it seems prudent, for now at least, for the Council to just get on with building the section under the downtown shopping mall – like I said in this previous post. Once CRL is started, it will be much easier to “complete” and the section underneath the downtown shopping centre will make constructing the rest of the project much easier – especially if they can get the bit under Customs Street built as part of this first stage:

So I don’t really think Saturday’s election results change things much for the CRL. I would imagine that the main focus to negotiations over CRL between government and the Council is likely to be around whether the government stumps up with half the cost of the first stage of the project or whether they force Council to fund the whole thing – like has happened so far. I think it would be quite a good look for the government to provide CRL with some financial support for the first stage, to show that it’s serious about believing in the CRL project and to show that it values redevelopment of the city centre.

In relation to alternative transport funding, this might be a bigger hurdle to resolve as the government has been pretty clear on its position previously – no congestion charging and no additional tolls on existing motorways. To some extent this may not be an issue, as I highlighted a few weeks back the “baseline transport programme” (what can be afforded without additional funding with 2.5-3.5% rates increases over the next decade) doesn’t actually look too bad, at least in terms of what big projects are in (CRL, AMETI, new bus network stuff etc.) and out (Penlink). The devil may come in the details of what projects can be afforded when and how much additional walking and cycling funding is available, but at least for now it doesn’t seem like the end of the world if there’s no progress on alternative funding schemes in the next three years. Unless you’re a Penlink supporter, of course!

In saying that it also seems government agencies are becoming increasingly interesting in the issue of alternative funding as a way to provide certainty to the revenues flowing into the National Land Transport Fund (the account that collects all of the transport taxes). It may be a few years away yet but I get the feeling the noise surrounding alternative funding sources is just going to get louder and louder so we’re likely on a course to needing a nationwide discussion about them. When this happens the work put in by the council on the matter is likely to come in quite handy.

The last main issue relates to cycling improvements. From a transport point of view this was one of the highlights of election campaign as every major party (and most of the minor ones) all agreed on the need to spend considerably more on walking and cycling than currently happens. For their part National promised to spend $100 million over four years on urban cycleways. Based on Auckland’s share of the urban population that could see it receiving over $40 million over the four years which would represent an approximate doubling in spending. In saying that a lot will hinge on just how much the council agree to in the Long Term Plan. With the government now seemingly on board with cycling there is a risk the council will try to use the enlarged cycling pot as a chance to cut back on some of the council’s spend. Instead the opposite needs to happen and they need to at least double funding to go on top of whatever the government plan to provide.

So overall, aside from the fact we’re near certain to waste three-quarters of the billion dollars plus whatever the PPP costs on Puhoi to Warkworth, I don’t think the election results is too much of an issue for advancing key transport issues in the next few years. It does mean the slower delivery of CRL, but that’s not unexpected and may help ensure key bus infrastructure for the new network can be completed in time. There’s a certain irony that the government’s dislike for alternative transport funding options probably means a delay to Penlink, a project I understand the local National MP has pushed strongly for, but that project’s a waste of money anyway.

Lastly it was disappointing that despite many requests the first time we got to meet transport minister Gerry Brownlee was at the election debate night. I will also be keeping an eye out to see if we get a new transport minister and whoever it is, I hope they become open to meeting with us this term.

O’Connell St officially opened, time to close it again?

On Friday evening the new O’Connell St shared space was officially opened. The street is by far the best shared space created in Auckland to date, thanks in large part to the historic buildings in the area which feel like they’ve been brought to life after peeling back the layers of vehicle dominated neglect. This has also been helped by the council having included lighting of the buildings as part of the project – a first for our shared space projects.

The street was closed to vehicles for the opening but what was particularly fantastic was seeing so many people out and enjoying the food and drink being put on by the local businesses. The people (along with the light cubes and band) took the space to another level that also sucked in passers-by eager to join in and enjoy the space, even if they were just making their way home. It did make me wonder if this is the most people the street has had in it – at least in the last 50-60 years.

O'Connell Opening

And here are the light cubes which provided colour and placemaking. Later in the evening, after many of the people attending the opening had left, people out in the city also made use of them.

O'Connell Opening Cubes

It really feels like an intimate people space and it’s one I think we’ll see evolve over the coming years, as I’m predicting a lot more restaurants and bars will open out to the street. While I realise the street has only just opened up again, what the experience from the opening really highlighted to me was the need for us to close the street down to traffic often (arguably it shouldn’t have reopened at all but that’s a discussion for another day). Perhaps the council/AT could start by closing it from around 11am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays which allows time for deliveries in the mornings but then hands the street over to people and the retailers.

One of the fantastic things about O’Connell St, compared to many others, is how easy it would be to shut it down for vehicles. There is only one entrance to the street and even for this event just a single “road closed” sign and a few road cones was all that was needed. On top of that there’s not a single vehicle entrance for the entire length of the street – a rarity in Auckland – which means that other that other than deliveries there’s not a single need for any vehicles to even be in the street.

O'Connell Opening CRoad Closed sign

While on the subject of O’Connell St there are a few other things that spring to mind.

  • It really highlights how much High St is dominated by cars. It makes me wonder if the majority of retailers and building owners who gave in to the cadre of parking obsessed neighbours are ruing the decision.
  • One of the great things about O’Connell St is the view down the street to Commerce St and the harbour. It highlights how important it is that when the old Auckland Star site is eventually developed – hopefully not as just a carpark – that it retains some elements of this.
  • We need to remember that we almost got this street very very wrong. The original plan was to retain a kerb defined carriageway and a handful of the parking spots with just slightly wider and nicer paving. Without many parked cars it would have been a racetrack and the upgrade a disaster. We were amongst many who pushed back on this and urged the council to reconsider. It’s also worth noting that the council originally said the street was too narrow to develop a shared space. With the outcome that’s been achieved I don’t think anyone would say the original plan was the right one.
  • In my opinion the Nikaus in Queen St are often dwarfed by the size of the road, however in O’Connell St I think they work fantastically and add beautifully to the buildings.

In other news it appears the issues of lots of cars continuing to park in the street could be over:

All up despite being one of the oldest streets in Auckland, O’Connell St feels like a new fantastic addition to the city which perhaps highlights just how sad and forgotten it had become. Well done to all involved in the upgrade and thanks to the retailers who put up with the disruption while construction occurred.