Making Light Rail fast enough on Dominion Rd

Following on from my post a few days ago on light rail being preferred to the airport – which has been one of the most commented on that we’ve ever had – by far the most common concern is around the speed of light rail, particularly on the section along Dominion Rd.

I’ve taken a look in the past at what other cities who have built similar light rail systems to what AT are proposing and I found that a number of them are capable of the speeds suggested. But of course they aren’t Auckland so I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the things we know that AT are proposing that will help ensure light rail will be quick and reliable along this important corridor.

Fewer stops and more direct route

Buses along Dominion Rd between the Southwestern motorway and the centre town have almost 30 stops to pass along the way. There are of course bus lanes along a lot of the route but they stop short at key intersections which can cause delays. Before light rail came along, AT had planned to lengthen these bus lanes right to the intersection to help speed up buses further. The current timetable shows travel times between Denbigh Ave close to the motorway and the city taking between about 23 minutes and 41 minutes depending on the time of day.

With light rail Auckland Transport plan to significantly reduce the number of stops along the route with just eight on Dominion Rd itself and only 10 to get to the same point in town. Of course one down side to some residents is it means they may have to walk further to get to a stop. For light rail it appears they’ve effectively picked one stop in the main centres along the route with intermediate stops between them.

You can see the difference in the two in the map below. Fewer stops means vehicles can travel faster as they’re not constantly accelerating or braking.

Light Rail Dominion Rd stops vs Bus

Buses can also suffer from dwell time issues from boarding and alighting passengers. It is possible to address some of these, such as restricting cash payments, allowing all door boarding which could speed up buses a bit but off line ticketing and fast boarding are a fairly standard feature of light rail so provided that AT implement it properly that will help compared to the current situation people compare to.

In addition to fewer stops, you can see from the map above that light rail takes a more direct route to the city and so has fewer intersections to negotiate.

Intersections

Buses currently are at the mercy of traffic lights and at the big intersections with long cycle times this can slow them down and cause buses to bunch. When bus frequencies get too high it results in there almost always being buses waiting to get through lights, which is often a leading cause of them bunching and is not good for operations or passengers.

One reasons we heard AT were for looking at light rail on Dominion Rd in the first place was that it allowed fewer but much larger vehicles to run. The advantage of that is it allows for signal priority to be effective and so depending on how it is set up, it could mean the light rail never has to stop at Intersections other than at its stations. Again that could end up being a significant time saving.

On a related note, we know that light rail will be able to skip one major intersection with AT have suggesting that they will tunnel under the K Rd ridgeline as part of building that part of the line. I believe this is mainly for operational reasons – removing a steep part of the hill – but it will also benefit travel times.

K Rd LRT Underpass

Centre running protected route

Running light rail down the centre of Dominion Rd means it won’t get held up by cars turning left into side streets or driveways, parking to run into the shops or drop someone off/pick them up. Cars would only be able to turn right at specific intersections and not when a light rail vehicle is around. It is also common for the light rail corridor to be protected by a raised kerb to prevent cars from accessing the tracks or using them as a median, in much the same way that kerbs are used to stop people driving in cycle lanes. Examples include the Gold Coast as shown below and Seattle.

Light Rail In Gold Coast

A raised kerb can also be seen in some of the concept images AT have released in the past such as this on of Ian McKinnion Dr

Ian McKinnon LRT

 

When you combine all of these elements it means that light rail is able to travel down Dominion Rd pretty much completely unimpeded by other traffic and only needing to stop a few times along the way. The speed limit for light rail would almost certainly still be 50km/h but even if it could average half that, it could travel the 7km between the centre of town and SH20 in just 17 minutes. As a quick comparison, in the same timeframe leaving from Britomart would be at about Ellerslie – although admittedly we expect AT go get that time sped up a bit.

Once the route reaches SH20 the LRT route appears to be almost completely separate from traffic with the exception of a small section in Onehunga and so for most of it could easily travel at up to 100km/h if the vehicles and tracks were designed to do so – and that has been suggested by AT in the documents they’ve produced so far.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport Travel Times

This gives me confidence that for LRT at least, the times AT have suggested are realistic but I’d add that a lot depends on just how well they implement everything.

Bike Both Ways on (some) Shared Spaces

Filed under the banner of small but useful changes, Auckland Transport have allowed people on bikes to ride in any direction on some of the one way shared spaces in the CBD and will be looking to roll it out further. This makes a lot of sense by allowing for increased permeability though the city centre and in some ways it is odd that it wasn’t already allowed. This will add to the growing cycleway network in the city – the next stage of which on Quay St opens officially Friday week.

Two way cycle streets image

Cycling in both directions on some one-way streets in central Auckland is allowed from today. The move will create a useful cycling route on some of the city’s quieter streets, adding to the growing network of routes downtown.

Auckland Transport’s Cycling and Walking Manager, Kathryn King, says these are the first of Auckland’s one-way streets being investigated for two-way cycling.

“We are starting with the shared spaces on Fort Lane, Jean Batten Place and O’Connell Street, but we plan to roll it out on appropriate one-way streets around Auckland,” she says.

“The streets are close to each other creating another safe cycle corridor for the growing number of people cycling in the area. The shared spaces are great places to cycle; the low volume of traffic and low vehicle speeds create a safe environment for cycling.

“We’re trying to make it easier and more attractive to get around our city on foot and by bike. Cities like Paris and London have successfully introduced two-way cycling on their one way streets,” she says.

Signs will advise road users that people may be cycling in both directions.

AT is assessing other one-way streets in the city for traffic volume and vehicle speeds, Kathryn King says this is where the greatest increase in cycling is expected and where other cycle infrastructure is planned.

Two way cycle streets map

Good Work Auckland Transport – of course that map highlights the glaring omission of a shared street that is High St.

Light Rail Preferred to Airport

A big day yesterday with Auckland Transport officially deciding to drop the option of heavy rail to the airport in favour of light rail (LRT) or perhaps even buses as had been foreshadowed in the Herald in the morning but also hinted at for some time from previous information released by AT.

Mangere Light Rail Station

Yesterday afternoon they released the previously confidential paper that was used to justify the decision which has thrown up a few interesting details.

In the end the biggest nail in the coffin for heavy rail has ended up being the cost which is now estimated at $2.6 to $3 billion. Being even more expensive than the CRL and with fewer benefits – after-all the CRL improves the entire rail network – it is always going to be hard sell and in the end AT and the NZTA have said it simply offered “low value for money” with a Benefit Cost Ratio of 0.37-0.64. As a comparison they estimate LRT could have similar or even greater overall benefits – I’ll get to that soon – but come in at less than half the price at an estimated $1.2-1.3 billion giving it a BCR of 1.11-1.72. That figure seems to be an improvement on earlier information such as the video that was released at the beginning of the year.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport Routes and stats

The biggest issue with the LRT option though is it assumes that LRT will already be in place along Dominion Rd and that this is therefore just an extension. The issue with that is so far there is no agreement from the NZTA or the government that the Dominion Rd route will be supported – although the ATAP report last week seems to confirm something more than just more buses will be needed. But even if the cost of LRT along Dominion Rd (estimated at $1 billion) was included in, it still comes in cheaper than heavy rail and would have even higher benefits. The LRT option also benefits from providing new connections on the isthmus to the South West so represents a greater expansion of the rapid transit network. A comparison between the accessibility of the two is below.

Light-Heavy Rail - Light 45min Accessibility to Airport

Light-Heavy Rail - Heavy 45min Accessibility to Airport

The estimated costs and benefits discounted to 2015 $ are shown below.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport BCR

On the costs, one expensive part of heavy rail is the need to also upgrade the Onehunga line and deal with the level crossings. AT say they considered three options for this, a long New Lynn style trench, realignment via Mt Smart and elevated rail with costs ranging from $458-578 million. Later it appears a low cost option of closing two of the level crossings and barriers which would cost $155 million and that was used in the Indicative Business Case but AT are also concerned not grade separating the crossings would cause traffic issues.

Within the airport they also eventually came up with a more direct route shown in blue but that requires bored tunnels ~20-25m deep and adds to the costs listed above and is what pushes the cost to $3 billion. There are other issues too such as with the terminal station under the airport, AT would have to pay for it when the Airport wanted to upgrade the terminal which is likely to be sooner than when AT have LRT scheduled and that would add $100 million to ATs already tight budget requirements.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport - airport alignment options

The paper also addresses many of the issues that have been raised on here and in other places in the past.

Travel Times

One such issue is the travel time and people have in the past questioned suggestions that LRT could be the same or even faster than heavy rail. They say travel times were worked out using several models taking into account issues such as LRT speed down Dominion Rd, the acceleration/deceleration possible, station dwell times, specific track lengths, curves and gradients along with how fast vehicles could travel over them. They say that because of the heavy rail geometries required there is only a few locations where HR can hit top speed.

All of that resulted in the range of times shown below from both Aotea and Britomart with LRT coming out on top from Aotea which is centre of the CBD.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport Travel Times

One particular area where LRT is much faster is in and around Onehunga, presumably the section over the harbour where the line has to be elevated above Neilson St then again over the East-West mega road before dropping under the motorway bridge as shown below.

Mangere Inlet Rail Crossing

The big concern for me with travel times is that it comes down to how well they’re implemented and so far AT haven’t proven themselves good at at that. This is evidenced by how poor AT have seemingly been so far at addressing our slow trains.

Capacity

Another issue that has been raised before is the capacity of LRT. What needs to be remembered is that even before this idea came along, AT aren’t planning on dinky little streetcars running around the suburbs but are large, long and potentially quite fast. As AT have said in the past they could be up to 66m long carrying over 400 passengers each which is on par with our current electric trains.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport capacity

So over a two-hour morning peak with services every five minutes LRT could be moving up to 10,000 people an hour in each direction which is about the same number of people who currently arrive at Britomart each morning and nothing to sneeze at. They say the model estimates that with LRT around 3,500-7,500 people would cross the Manakau Harbour each morning with around 5,300-6,900 using the section from Onehunga to Dominion Rd. The biggest concern would be that if it was too popular it might restrict capacity on Dominion Rd but in many ways that would be a nice problem to have.

Opportunity Costs

One interesting aspect of the paper is a discussion on the opportunity cost of Heavy Rail. While it doesn’t happen in reality, they say the hypothetical situation of taking the money saved by using LRT would be enough to also build a light rail link from the Airport all the way to Botany – whereby it could link with the proposed AMETI busway. I don’t think that this route is a high priority to sink another $1b+ into just yet compared to other PT routes such as the NW-busway but it is interesting to ponder long term as part of a wider LRT network.

Light-Heavy rail to Aiport link to east

Here are the recommendations the board were provided which I assume they accepted. Given the capacity that has been suggested is needed and that we know there are already issues with bus capacity in the city I can’t see a bus option stacking up other than for some short term improvements.

  1. That Management discount heavy rail to the airport from any further option development due to its poor value for money proposition;
  2. Instructs Management to:
    • a) Develop a bus based high capacity mode to the same level of detail as the LRT option to allow a value for money comparison with the LRT option and submit this to ATAP for consideration;
    • b) Refine the LRT option further to address the high risk issues as articulated in this paper;
    • c) Report back to the Board on the findings of the bus based high capacity mode and LRT comparison.
    • d) Progress with route protection for bus / light rail, not heavy rail;
    • e) Align the SMART and CAP business cases to enable the consideration of an integrated public transport system between the city centre and the airport
    • f) Progress the business case development of the RTN route between Botany, Manukau and the airport and align this with NZTA’s business case development for SH20B.

The decision between light and heavy rail will never please everyone but personally I’d rather a light rail connection that actually happened than a heavy rail one that never did. A bit of a case of don’t let perfect be the enemy of good but in this case it’s not clear that heavy rail is perfect. I also don’t think it’s realistic to think that it’s just a political change away from the decision changing like some have suggested. I personally can’t see other political parties agreeing to fund something with such a poor business case given the alternative option that now exists. We’ve been critical of road projects that have poor economic cases so it’s only fair that we do the same with PT projects (although do wish these road projects were subject to greater levels of scrutiny – looking at you East-West).

What is needed though is to simply get on with things. We can’t afford to wait another 15+ years for this to be built, we need to be getting on with it. Compared to some of the motorway projects which now get accelerated rapidly, major PT projects like this seem to languish in the back of the planning departments for years, if not decades. This needs to change if Auckland is to become a much more liveable city.

Central and East New Network Outcome

On Monday, the Auckland Transport Board are expected to rubber stamp the outcome of the final and biggest of the major consultations for the new bus network, Central and East Auckland. The consultation was held at the end of last year and AT say they received over 3,700 pieces of feedback for the Central network and almost 1,200 pieces of feedback for the East Auckland network. For the Central network 60% of people were in support or not opposed to the proposed changes while in East Auckland that number was 64%.

As a result of the feedback AT say they they have made changes to 29 out of the 52 routes in the central area while in the east 10 out of the 15 routes had changes to them and timetable changes for 8 of them. That’s a lot of changes and not all of them appear to be good, in fact some effectively break the principles behind the new network which I think will undermine the success of it. The biggest concern is in the central area where there now appears to be much weaker cross town services thanks to most of them rerouted, downgraded, truncated or removed entirely. In the end it feels much more like an extension of the status quo than the revolutionary connected network we were promised.

Next I’ll step through the central and east networks separately. Perhaps it’s just the way the image looks in the board paper but one immediate observation of both central and east is the maps feel more cluttered and harder to read compared to those used in the consultation. This seems to be in part due to some of the changes that were made.

Central Network

Some of the major changes include:

  • The outer Link has been retained – although on a modified route between Mt Eden and Newmarket.
  • As a result of the Outer Link, the Crosstown 6 route along St Lukes/Balmoral Rd/Greenlane West has been had it’s frequency downgraded and at it’s eastern end, it no longer connects to the Orakei Train Station meaning there is no longer a frequent all day service service there.
  • The Crosstown 5 route which also served Orakei as well as proving a connection between Ponsonby, Kingsland, Valley Rd, Mt Eden and Remuera and Mission Bay town centres has been removed. Both this and the Crosstown 6 are suggested to be in part the result of people from Orakei not wanting to transfer to get to the city centre.
  • There are a number of new peak only services to the city centre
  • The frequent service along Tamaki Dr and a new route through the eastern suburbs will be branded the Blue Link

There are many other many other changes but it is hard to list them all here.

Here’s the final network

New Network Central - Final

As a comparison, here’s the network that was consulted on

Central Proposed New Bus Network

To clarify which roads have at least one frequent service to the city all day, AT have the map below. They also say

The final New Network will mean that the arterial routes listed below will continue to have all-day frequent service to and from the City Centre, with enhanced capacity and levels of service (including in most cases 15 minute or better frequencies in the evenings and on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays), to support the increasing level of economic and social activity in the city centre outside normal business hours. Most of these routes will also operate every 30 or 60 minutes between midnight and 3.00 am on Saturday and Sunday evenings to replace the Nite Rider services. Routes anticipated to utilise double-decker buses within the next 2 – 3 years are underlined:

  • Jervois Rd (Outer Link)
  • Ponsonby Rd (Inner Link)
  • Great North Rd as far as New Lynn
  • New North Rd
  • Sandringham Rd
  • Dominion Rd
  • Mt Eden Rd
  • Manukau Rd
  • Ellerslie Panmure Highway and Ti Rakau Drive
  • Remuera Rd
  • Parnell Rd (Inner and Outer Links)
  • Tamaki Drive

 

New Network Central - Final - frequents to city

 

East Network

As mentioned earlier, there have been a number of changes in the east, the two big ones are:

  • They’ve swapped the frequent service that will go all the way to the city from being the service from Howick (route 55) to the service from Botany (route 53). It will be interesting to see how the latter route performs in the future given that it could make services on the busway AT want to build less reliable.
  • The route down Te Irirangi Dr (35) has been upgraded to a frequent.

Here’s the final network

New Network East - Final

As a comparison, here’s the network that was consulted on

East Auckland Proposed New Bus Network

Infrastructure

As part of the new network networks AT will need to roll out around 100-150 new bus shelters across both central and east. That’s not all that much more than just the South Auckland network which I guess is in part due to many of the main routes on the Isthmus not needing to be changed.

There is also talk of bus priority being added over the next 2-3 financial years. Where bus lanes are or are expected are shown below. AT Also say this which is promising.

bus lanes will be added on Pakuranga Rd and a start will be made on the South-eastern Busway between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany

 

New Network Central - Bus Lanes

 

I know there has been pressure from a number of sources to roll the network out sooner and positively the document says they plan to roll out the networks in two separate stages in the second half of 2017 which is promising as previously they had been saying early 2018.

I hope that AT are able to revisit some of the poor decisions they’ve made around the new network in a couple of years’ time, perhaps when the CRL opens and that they don’t just assume this is complete and doesn’t need changing.

ATAP Interim Report

Yesterday, the second Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) report was released, with the third and final report due in August. ATAP is the council and government working together to come up with an agreed transport plan for Auckland, one that ultimately performs better than what is currently planned.

The first Foundation Report was about agreeing on the assumptions they would use (such as land use, growth rates etc), and looked at how the currently planned transport projects would perform in the future based on these assumptions. There was a lot of interesting information, but ultimately the report found that by 2046 the outcomes weren’t great, and highlighted that we need to improve our plans or face even greater congestion.

Now we have the Interim Report (2.1MB), which explains the outcomes and thinking so far from the work to look at how our transport plans could be better. The work so far includes looking at a range of transport interventions to see how what impact they have.

So far the media have focused on one very specific outcome of this interim report – road pricing – but there are a lot of other important points that needs to be covered. Perhaps more than anything, the important thing from ATAP so far is that it hints at thr old business saying of ‘joined up thinking’. That’s because it doesn’t just take a “build more stuff” approach, but looks at a mix of building stuff and also managing demand. So let’s go through what I thought were some of the key and interesting points found in the Interim Report.

Revenue Assumptions

While the purpose of ATAP is to come up with a better and aligned transport plan, it’s also important to consider how much that might cost. To that end, the ATAP team have taken a stab at how much money might be available to spend in the future. Investment in transport in Auckland has been much higher over the last decade, as the city has gone into catch-up mode, however they’ve projected that level of investment forward based on a couple of options. Continuing the current investment:

  • as a share of Auckland’s projected GDP – currently estimated at over 2.5%
  • on the same per capita basis.

Because productivity is expected to improve over time, the share of GDP measure results in a lot more transport spending and over a 30-year period results in total difference of around $23 billion. The two approaches are shown below, with the current expected spending also shown as far as is currently budgeted (10 years). The lump in current investment is the result of a heap of big projects on the books including CRL, East-West link, Puhoi to Warkworth etc.

ATAP - Interim Report - Revenue

Testing Alternative Packages

ATAP have tested alternative scenarios and condensed these down to two packages as shown below.

ATAP - Interim Report - Test Packages

These have then been modelled, to see how they perform relative to the Auckland Plan Transport Network from the Foundation Report. The outcome isn’t great, and they say that while there can be some improvements made in some areas, they are not to the level that would be needed to make a material difference. The colours on the graphs match the colours above.

ATAP - Interim Report - Package Modelling

The graphs above are at a regional level, but at a sub-regional level, things can be quite different. The Foundation Report highlighted big issues with accessibility from the South and West.

The big improvement in the Northwest for PT is the result of building the Northwest Busway, highlighting once again just how stupid it is that the NZTA aren’t building it right now as part of their motorway widening.

ATAP - Interim Report - Package Modelling - South + west

The report also gives a lot of backing to Auckland Transport’s plans for light rail – although without actually mentioning it. It talks about how a number of bus corridors to the city centre (North Shore, Northwest and Isthmus) will be subject to significant capacity issues unless something is done. The example given is of Symonds St showing that by 2045 it is well over capacity.

ATAP - Interim Report - Symonds St

The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing gets a specific mention too, which is unsurprising because as currently planned, it’s by far the single biggest transport project ever planned in New Zealand. What is surprising, though, is that ATAP seems to pour a bit of cold water on the road-building side, saying that it doesn’t improve congestion and seeming to suggest that perhaps a PT-only crossing might be more appropriate.

Improving access to and from the North Shore

  • The bridge and its approaches are a pinch-point on the transport network, particularly during the evening peak in both directions.
  • An additional crossing significantly improves accessibility to/from the North Shore, but does not appear to substantially improve congestion results.
  • Projected growth in public transport demand appears likely to trigger the need for a new crossing within the next 30 years. There is potential for a shared road/PT crossing, but the costs and benefits of different options require further analysis.

High cost of potential solutions

  • Because any new crossing will be tunnelled, there is a significant opportunity cost arising from this investment. Fully understanding key drivers, alternatives, cost and benefits will be crucial before any investment decisions are made.
  • It makes sense to protect the route for a new harbour crossing in a way that integrates potential future roading and public transport requirements.

The congestion issue is highlighted in these results, showing it is just as bad or actually worse.

ATAP - Interim Report - AWHC

New Opportunities

New opportunities represent some of the potential changes that could be made to the system but which are not currently in plans. It’s possible that they might not all become reality, but they were included in a bid to see what impact they could potentially have.

Part of ATAP’s terms of reference was to look at the impact of road pricing as a demand management tool. While the media have picked this up as “motorway tolling”, the outcome ATAP is talking about is quite a different beast. In essence motorway tolling was about raising as much money as possible and trying to do that efficiently. Road pricing for demand management is primarily about trying to get more efficient use of the road resource we have. ATAP is talking about pricing roads regardless of whether they are motorways or local roads, across the entire region i.e. a network-wide solution.

Their hypothetical solution looked at having varying charges between 3c and 40c per kilometre depending on time of day, location and the type of network the travel occurs within. As a comparison, a rough estimate suggests current fuel taxes are about 6c per kilometre now. An example of how the pricing could differ is shown below.

ATAP - Interim Report - Road Pricing Differences

This would still need some infrastructure investment, particularly on PT to give people options and these were included into a fourth package for modelling. As you can see, this fourth package (in blue below) performs significantly better than the other packages above when it comes to congestion.

ATAP - Interim Report - Manage Demand

This initial work suggests that the package of ‘road pricing plus extra public transport investment’ makes a massive difference, for both congestion and accessibility as shown in the two images above. ATAP says more work is needed to determine the exact impact, but it seems that road pricing is likely to have a major role in Auckland in the future. This has also now been confirmed by Simon Bridges, whose predecessors were very negative about earlier tolling ideas. This is a significant change and a welcome one.

In addition, ATAP also considered the impacts of technology, such as higher occupancy vehicles, most likely through ride-sharing and connected vehicles. They say the results are encouraging but also warn they likely reflect a best case scenario. Furthermore, as they don’t include any potential impact on overall travel demand (which could be significant), those savings could disappear.

ATAP - Interim Report - technology

Emerging strategic approach

ATAP say they asked the question of Should we build more or should we address demand? Ultimately, they suggest the outcome is likely going to be a mix of infrastructure and demand management. They highlight that there are likely diminishing returns on infrastructure, since it is increasingly expensive to provide to the existing urban area, so building our way out isn’t an option. This is an issue being faced all over the world.

All of the work above leads to the high level strategy ATAP will take – which is not all that different to what we’ve seen suggested before in various documents.

ATAP - Interim Report - Emerging Stragetic Approach

Overall, ATAP seems to be on the right track with the approach they’re taking. With the government, the council and all of the relevant agencies working together, it’s likely we’ll end up with a lot more agreement on transport in Auckland than we’ve had in the past. Have you read the document, if so what are your thoughts?

Newmarket Crossing gets green light

Auckland Transport have announced that they’d received consent for the Newmarket Crossing project which should also mean they can start getting on with the Parnell Station.

AT has received approval from independent planning commissioners for the construction of a bridge to replace Sarawia Street level crossing. AT has 30 working days to review and formally accept the recommendation.

AT sought consent for this last year and the bridge that will link Cowie St in Newmarket with Laxon Tce allowing for the Sarawia St level crossing to be closed.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

The crossing needs to be closed as AT/Kiwirail say its proximity to the Newmarket Junction and rail safety procedures limit capacity and flexibility on the line between Newmarket and Britomart. AT have also said in the past that getting the level crossing closed is required before the Parnell Station can be opened.

In a tweet earlier today they suggested that with the consent issued they will start construction on the project later this year.

Of course that would assume there is no environment court appeal and given the attitude of some of the residents so far, I wouldn’t rule that out.

On the Parnell station, the platforms were completed last year but the station is waiting for Kiwirail to move the old Newmarket station building to the site as it was intended to be part of a faux heritage precinct but that’s now been scuttled after the Mainline Steam sheds were demolished to make way for a retirement village – although that’s better than an earlier suggestion for the site of bus parking. It also needs other station features like lights, signs and hopefully some shelter on the side opposite the old building.

Parnell pic June15

Another thing missing and that so far AT have no intention of providing is some way convenient to get across the tracks. If the station gets developed as AT say on their website, the only option will be a minimum 230m detour up to the existing underpass although if you were coming from the proposed access to Nicolas Lane it will be about double that.

Of course pretty everything about the planning for the Parnell station has been wrong. It should have been a few hundred metres further north with access from the end of Heather St which is closer to where more people live or are going for work or education along with an easier walk to Parnell. A few hundred metres can make quite a lot of difference, just look at the impact of Grafton Station compared to its predecessor of Boston Rd.

Parnell Station Alternate Location sketch

Lastly we’re hearing suggestions that only Southern Line trains will stop at Parnell although this hasn’t been confirmed. Based on discussions I’ve had in the past I assume this relates to modelling showing that if all trains stopped there it would have severe impacts on rail capacity and reliability.

The Main Risks of East-West

Last week I wrote about the East West Link Connections and how the cost of the project were ever increasing and how the staging for the project had changed. The post was based on a number of papers I received from the NZTA as a result of an OIA request.

East-West Preferred Option

The preferred East-West option

One aspect I didn’t cover were some of the major risks that have been identified for the project. These are described in the paper from December 2015, I’ve left out the funding risk as not really relevant to this post.

  1. The underlying land use and travel demand assumptions for the project are based on an agreed medium growth scenario associated with the Auckland Plan. Given the preferred option is a long-term response to current and planned future growth, there is a risk that the growth assumptions and associated travel demand may not materialise as planned. This could result in a transport response that is misaligned with the future needs of the network and as such, this will need to be reviewed at each funding stage as the project progresses.
  2. Given the early stage of the project, there is a future cost risk that outturn costs will exceed the expected estimate, based on incomplete knowledge. This has been accounted for by providing additional contingency in the current estimates. The top cost risk items are:
    • Property – the proposed alignment has attempted to minimise impact on industrial zoned property as far as practicable, however there are still a number of properties which will likely be required either in part or whole. Based on the current state of the Auckland property market, any delays to the property acquisition process are likely to result in inflated property costs above and beyond current market rates.
    • Neilson St Interchange – the design of the interchange is a complex task requiring careful balancing of competing priorities and community interests. There are significant consenting challenges both with the presence of natural volcanic features (Hopua tuff ring), but also the close proximity to the town centre and the foreshore, both of which have strong public interest. There is a risk that through the consenting process an alternative proposal is put forward that is significantly more costly (CapEx and/or OpEx) than the currently preferred option.
    • Foreshore – having regard to the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and recent case law, there are significant policy hurdles to pass with the proposed alignment along the foreshore. Conversely, early engagement with key partners has indicated conditional support on the basis that the proposed response could have the greatest opportunity for mitigation, particularly in tidying up historical reclamation and contaminating activities. It is expected that more than just mitigation will need to be considered to enable reclamation to be considered favourably, though the extent of works required and associated costs is unknown at this stage.

Let’s just step through them a bit

Land Use and Travel Demand assumptions – A lot of assumptions seem to be based most of the Onehunga/Penrose area staying industrial. Most of the area to the west of Onehunga Mall is already earmarked for mixed use and with land prices and demand the way they are it’s likely that over the medium to long term all of those will end up residential. It’s also quite likely that over time, a lot of the other commercial land in the area will be converted to residential, most likely through private plan changes. That will fundamentally change the transport demand for the area and likely the whole purpose of this project.

Neilson St Interchange – The NZTA’s predecessor originally planned to build this interchange as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project before revising their consent to not include it. From memory this was due to the significant impact it would have had on the area, especially the Hopua Tuff Ring and the need reclamation to accommodate it. It appears the road builders are emboldened to try again and with what appears to be very similar to what was originally proposed in 2006.

East-West - Neilson St Interchange Recomended Option

It’s also worth noting that Panuku is meant to be redeveloping the Onehunga Port area to be more people friendly just like they’ve done at the Wynyard Quarter. It remains to be seen how they’re going to make that a success when it will be cut off from the rest of the city by what is effectively a motorway and seemingly poor access for PT and active modes.

Foreshore – The impact on the foreshore where the main thing that originally inspired this post. A number of the documents referenced in the post last week made mention of it and in particular mentioned NZ Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS). Looking at it the NZCPS it’s easy to see why they’re concerned as it basically says they shouldn’t do it. Now to be fair I haven’t read all 30 pages of the document but if you have and I’ve got parts of it wrong then please let me know in the comments. For this I’m just going to focus on a couple of sections.

  • Reclamation – As mentioned it basically says that reclamation should be avoided unless there are no other options. But that isn’t the case with the East-West project as we know that other options not only exist but also perform better economically. Here’s what the NZCPS says about reclamation:

Reclamation and de-reclamation

  1. Avoid reclamation of land in the coastal marine area, unless:
    • land outside the coastal marine area is not available for the proposed activity;
    • the activity which requires reclamation can only occur in or adjacent to the coastal marine area;
    • there are no practicable alternative methods of providing the activity; and
    • the reclamation will provide significant regional or national benefit.
  2. Where a reclamation is considered to be a suitable use of the coastal marine area, in considering its form and design have particular regard to:
    • the potential effects on the site of climate change, including sea level rise, over no less than 100 years;
    • the shape of the reclamation and, where appropriate, whether the materials used are visually and aesthetically compatible with the adjoining coast;
    • the use of materials in the reclamation, including avoiding the use of contaminated materials that could significantly adversely affect water quality, aquatic ecosystems and indigenous biodiversity in the coastal marine area;
    • providing public access, including providing access to and along the coastal marine area at high tide where practicable, unless a restriction on public access is appropriate as provided for in Policy 19;
    • the ability to remedy or mitigate adverse effects on the coastal environment;
    • whether the proposed activity will affect cultural landscapes and sites of significance to tangata whenua; and
    • the ability to avoid consequential erosion and accretion, and other natural hazards.
  3. In considering proposed reclamations, have particular regard to the extent to which the reclamation and intended purpose would provide for the efficient operation of infrastructure, including ports, airports, coastal roads, pipelines, electricity transmission, railways and ferry terminals, and of marinas and electricity generation.
  • Walking Access – As mentioned in the quote above, public access should be provided to the coastal area.  The section on walking access expands on this more and none of the reasons given for reasons to restrict public from the foreshore seem to be relevant to this project.

Walking Access

  1. Recognise the public expectation of and need for walking access to and along the coast that is practical, free of charge and safe for pedestrian use.
  2. Maintain and enhance public walking access to, along and adjacent to the coastal marine area, including by:
    1. identifying how information on where the public have walking access will be made publicly available;
    2. avoiding, remedying or mitigating any loss of public walking access resulting from subdivision, use, or development; and
    3. identifying opportunities to enhance or restore public walking access, for example where:
      1. connections between existing public areas can be provided; or
      2. improving access would promote outdoor recreation; or
      3. physical access for people with disabilities is desirable; or
      4. the long-term availability of public access is threatened by erosion or sea level rise; or
      5. access to areas or sites of historic or cultural significance is important; or
      6. subdivision, use, or development of land adjacent to the coastal marine area has reduced public access, or has the potential to do so.
  3. Only impose a restriction on public walking access to, along or adjacent to the coastal marine area where such a restriction is necessary:
    1. to protect threatened indigenous species; or
    2. to protect dunes, estuaries and other sensitive natural areas or habitats; or
    3. to protect sites and activities of cultural value to Māori; or
    4. to protect historic heritage; or
    5. to protect public health or safety; or
    6. to avoid or reduce conflict between public uses of the coastal marine area and its margins; or
    7. for temporary activities or special events; or
    8. for defence purposes in accordance with the Defence Act 1990; or
    9. to ensure a level of security consistent with the purpose of a resource consent; or
    10. in other exceptional circumstances sufficient to justify the restriction.
  4. Before imposing any restriction under (3), consider and where practicable provide for alternative routes that are available to the public free of charge at all times.

Now the reason this is important is so far the NZTA have yet to say whether provision will be made for the public to have access, like they currently – a photo essay of which can be seen here. So far from what I’ve seen the NZTA have only resorted to saying that they haven’t decided yet.

The drawings developed for the detailed business case (46MB) suggest there will be a narrow path along the seaward side of the massive reclamation as well as the existing walking/cycling path but the new path appears a fairly barren and exposed place to be – perhaps a bit like the cycleway on the causeway along SH16. You can also see the intersection for this new road with Captain Springs Rd will also require people on foot or bikes to make up to three crossings to get across this new mega road.

The drawings also highlight the massive extent of the planned reclamation. As a quick estimation, it appears to be at least 50m wide, if not wider in places and even straighter than the current foreshore which doesn’t seem to meet the requirements in the NZCPS.

It’s worth noting for these drawings the comments in the grey box which says that the “alignment is for cost estimation and to establish an indicative footprint” and that “the actual footprint and location is subject to change“. These drawings are also just a selection of what is in the document but for the foreshore are all fairly consistent.

East-West - Technical Drawing - 1

 

East-West - Technical Drawing - 4

East-West - Technical Drawing - 5

East-West - Technical Drawing - 9

The red part is a bridge

If this project does go ahead, it seems like a much better job needs to be done on the on the foreshore. As it stands, it appears the NZTA are going for the cheapest option available – which at $1.8 billion is not cheap.

Cycleway Use continues to rise

Auckland’s long summer appears to have helped boost the number of people on bikes, especially on routes in and around city centre. This is based on data from Auckland Transport’s network of automated cycleway counters around the region but most of which are now in and around the city centre to help monitor the effectiveness of the cycleway programme currently under way.

For the nine sites scattered around the region for which AT now have almost six years of data they say April had a combined increase of 19.3% compared to April-2015 and May was even better seeing a 22.6% increase compared to May-2015. The numbers passing in the morning peak saw an even stronger increase at 24.2% for April and 25.8% for May.

But those are just the results from nine sites and in total there are now 28 across the region but some only from as recently as December so we don’t have a full year’s history yet to compare performance. AT’s data gives a breakdown of each counter and within that there are a couple of noticeable star performers.

The biggest of these is Grafton Gully which has been seeing the highest improvement in usage for six months in a row now. The results for April and May are staggering with usage up a staggering 59% and 54% for each month respectively compared to the same month a year earlier. Not everyone needs to travel all the way down but some of that growth is also seen on the Beach Rd counters which have also been recording strong growth of 39% and 34% for April and May.

As mentioned this is now the 6th month in a row that Grafton Gully has come out as having seen the largest increase in use and six months ago corresponds with the opening of Lightpath.

Monthly bike trips - Grafton Gully

Even if people don’t use it themselves, it does seem to suggest that Lightpath has been crucial in raising the awareness and profile of cycling in Auckland.

Not far behind with an equally whopping 47% increase on last year was the NW Cycleway at Kingsland and that growth comes from a higher base too. This counter has been showing stronger growth since December and as you can see on an annual basis is now starting to see quite a rapid increase.

May-16 - Cycling Monthly - Kingsland - Annual

There are some pretty good results here and in other locations too which are great to see although also some decreases too, such as on the Mangere Bridge.

While we know they are seasonal drops, it’ll be interesting to see how the numbers hold up over the winter months.

Given we already seem to be having a bit of a network effect going on I expect it will only increase further as more projects are completed. The next part to be completed will be along Quay St which is officially due to open in July and some parts of which are already able to be used now. We also know that AT are busy working on sections of the city centre network – and the wider cycle network too which they will hopefully be able to talk about in the near future.

Auckland City Centre Cycle Map - Dec 15

 

PT to miss this years targets

Is Auckland Transport doing enough to improve public transport or is it resting on its laurels basking in the glow of the spectacular increases being seen on the rail network and busway. That’s a question asked by Radio NZ the other day in highlighting that patronage on the bus network outside of the busway has actually fallen recently and will mean that AT misses its PT targets for the year.

The number of trips being taken on Auckland’s public transport network looks set to miss targets this year, and a new survey shows public perception of the services is worsening.

There has been strong growth on trains and the dedicated Northern Busway but fewer people are using the general bus network, which carries 75 percent of the city’s public transport users.

With two months to go, patronage is down slightly – despite population growth – and overall bus trips are expected to fall short of the annual target of 51.5 million, by more than 4 percent.

I’m not quite sure where the 51.5 million comes from as buses already carry well more than that so it might be a year to date target but that doesn’t change the fact that patronage has dipped in recent months. The four graphs below show how we’re performing across each of the modes and the targets are based on information from the Council’s Long Term Plan debate last year. As you can see both trains and ferries have already exceeded targets but bus use has tailed off and that’s dragged the overall total down.

2016-04 - Patronage vs target

So what’s causing this drop. AT attribute to a number of factors such as charging for the City Link which they say has seen the biggest change and resulted of around 700,000 fewer trips, something AT seem fairly nonchalant about. But seeing as they’ve been doing a lot of advertising recently including large ads in Britomart and people walking around with the modern day version of a sandwich board it’s obviously trips they want back on the buses.

“If you’re transferring from another bus or another train using the AT HOP card, the service is still free,” AT Metro general manager Mark Lambert said.

“But I guess some of those people who were using the City Link for relatively short distances would rather walk a few hundred metres than pay a 50 cent fare. That’s completely understandable and that’s probably a good thing.”

Other factors likely include that people are being put off some buses as a result of the bus stop and route changes made to accommodate the construction of the CRL and possibly even lingering effects of people put off by the bus strike and March Madness a few months ago. But I suspect there are additional factors too.

Over the 18 months or so, AT plan to roll out some of the biggest changes we’ve seen for PT in the form of Integrated Fares (next month) the new bus network (South Auckland in October and the rest of Auckland some-time between then and early 2018). Both of these changes will undoubtedly be positive when they arrive and be the result of countless hours and effort put in by AT staff. Yet at the same time I also wonder if they’re hiding a little behind those projects or perhaps that they’ve just got so much resource tied up in getting those projects over the line that other improvements suffer.

AT said the bus network had suffered years of neglect, but new fares and a redesign of routes over the next 18 months were expected to provide a boost.

“As we change the bus network there may be a localised stagnation, as people get used to the changes, but we certainly expect to see strong growth as a result of those service re-designs,” Mr Lambert said.

One such example which is seemingly languishing on AT’s list of projects includes the roll out of bus lanes on which their latest report says they have under spent for this year.

Bus Priorities and Bus Lanes

Whilst we have received a number of requests from AT Metro in the last few weeks, we are still forecasting to underspend by $1.5m as undertaking any physical works this FY related to those requests will not be possible.

Just one example are the proposed transit lanes along Manukau Rd which would cut journey times for bus users and thereby making the buses along the route much more attractive and efficient. Other routes they’re looking at are shown below from their latest report but it seems the roll out of them is going far too slow.

Bus Lane Rollout

What do you think, are AT doing enough to keep patronage on buses growing or should we just hang around till October when the new network starts rolling out? If you were in charge what would you do to get that growth happening again?

Parking Shuttle flop

Back in March, Auckland Transport announced a special shuttle to link a Park n Ride at Lloyd Elsmore Park to the Half Moon Bay Ferry Terminal. At the time it was announced I thought it was a silly idea but said that at least AT were trying things.

Half Moon Bay P&R shuttle route

A  LGOIMA request from reader Felix Lee has discovered just how silly the idea is.

He asked:

  1. For the 5 trips being operated each day, can you tell me the average passenger number for each trip?
  2. Can you tell me the cost to operate this service?

The response from AT is below. It covers the period from 21 March when the service started to 21 May, a total of 42 working days (which is only when the service runs).

Half Moon Bay park n ride shuttle patronage

So a grand total of just 23 trips and it would seem that about 9 people didn’t even make the return journey. That seems like an abysmal failure to me.

But then we also need to consider the cost. AT say:

Half Moon Bay park n ride shuttle Cost

So over the 42 days covered above it cost about $7650 to run services on which just 23 trips were made so just over $330 per trip. Based on a quick search, at $175 for a 12 minute flight, it would have been almost half the cost to helicopter them directly to the city.

As I’ve said a number of times before, I believe that park n rides are often over-rated and clearly this example shows that parking then taking a shuttle to catch another PT service just isn’t attractive.

As I also said when this was announced, I think using the park as a park n ride is not a terrible idea but it should really be linked to bus services along Pakuranga Rd which AT have confirmed needs bus lanes in the recent information released about the Reeves Rd Flyover.

One other thing this episode highlights is the arguments over the bus colours recently. If you recall, those opposing the changes baulked at the suggestion that it might cost $9,000 to paint a bus and claimed that money could be better spent on new services instead. Here we have a service that runs just five times a day over ~2.6km for two months costing almost the same amount. This suggests that any meaningful addition to services on other routes will cost a lot more in a year than painting a few buses, the cost of which can be spread out over multi-year contract.

Coming back to the shuttle, the whole thing seems to have been a thoroughly predictable outcome. I guess the only real question is how much longer will AT keep the service running before they finally pull the plug on it?