The Geography of Joblessness

Two articles on employment and its relationship to urban form and transport investment turned up, rather fittingly, on Labour Day. They offer interesting international perspectives, but before we get to them here is a fascinating chart derived from Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey data that puts the focus on journeys to work into an valuable perspective. Remember the New Zealand census question that generates the gross mode share data much loved by government ministers only asks the very narrow question about travel for work. In Australia at least they ask about travel ‘for work or education’. So here is Auckland’s travel for all purposes:

AK trips by purpose and time 2013 census

In particular look at that am rush hour [and, quaintly, it is pretty much just an hour] 8-9am. Journeys to work only make up just 22% of the trips that cause that morning congestion.Trips to education is the big one then. The afternoon is very different with a full three hours of workers and learners all coming home. A great shame that trips for education are not counted in the gross mode share question as that would help the real role of PT and Active modes in keeping this city moving from being so easily downplayed by politicians and others. I have seen elsewhere that Auckland University, for example, has a private car modeshare for its students somewhere in the rounding: 1-3% [if anyone has a data source for this please add it in the comments]. *Correction 8% is the best info we have, thanks to Thomas S; source.

I can’t top the title used by The Economist so have repeated it above, here’s the link. The article simply asks the question what role might geography have in unemployment? As it is concerned with cities the geography in question is urban form. So has 60 years of subsidising the dispersal and segregation of living and working in cities in the west made it harder to provide, find, keep, or change jobs? It surveys the research and concludes that western cities suffer from ‘spatial mismatch’ and ‘poor accessibility’ and that these conditions do indeed inversely affect employment effectiveness of these places. Basically the more dispersed, the greater the degree of separation of zones, and the less effective its Transit system the less efficiency there is in its employment market.

What’s to be done? Here is the concluding paragraph:

All this has big policy implications. Some suggest that governments should encourage companies to set up shop in areas with high unemployment. That is a tall order: firms that hire unskilled workers often need to be near customers or suppliers. A better approach would be to help workers either to move to areas with lots of jobs, or at least to commute to them. That would involve scrapping zoning laws that discourage cheaper housing, and improving public transport. The typical American city dweller can reach just 30% of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment.

The second article is from the Brookings Institution and is called: Cars Remain King and barrier to Economic Opportunity

This uses a study based on commute data from the US 2013 census to focus on ‘zero-vehicle workers':

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed additional light on their commuting habits, showing how more than 6.3 million workers don’t have a private vehicle at their home. That’s equal to about 4.5 percent of all workers, compared to 4.2 percent in 2007.

Unsurprisingly decades of building and subsidising car amenity in the US has led to widespread structural auto-dependency for employment. This study also concludes that a shift in both urban form and transport infrastructure investment would deliver positive economic outcomes. And in particular that the focus by professionals, institutions, and policy makers needs to be on accessibility and not predominantly on vehicle speed:

To address this inequity, we need to shift how we plan transportation investments and urban development. Planners and engineers need to think less about mobility—how fast we move—and more about access—how many destinations we can reach. Grounded in the daily experience of commuters, this perspective can help meet the needs of workers and employers, better tying together regional economies.

One thing that would help is broadening the specialists in this field away from a focus on the LOS metric, as advocated by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute here.

Clearly a move away from monotonal places of only work [like how the City Centre used to be], or the pure dormitory suburbs of south east Auckland, are part of the solution here. The move to a greater spread of  Mixed-Use suburbs with working and dwelling within easy and pleasant reach, especially by the Active modes or short Transit trips, is desirable. This is after all, along with proximity, one of the features of the inner pre-autodependent sprawl era suburbs that make them so successful and desirable: They were formed pre zoning rules, and can be lived in with minimal travel for work and indeed other needs for most.

Of course committed sprawlists will immediately claim that if only we flatted the centre city and spread all employment out across the city then people would all live right next to their workplace and joy! travel times, congestion, and all human misery would end. Well I’m sorry but the following chart firmly puts paid to that:

Trip Length residential 2013

Above is that chart from 2013 census showing how those in newer further out suburbs have, on average, longer commutes, regardless of their place of work. It is important to underline that these commute lengths are not about just trips to the centre but to the actual real work trips taken by everyone as recorded in the 2013 census. There is just no way around it; the further out you live the longer, on average, your work journey will be. And if we keep extending the city out the worse this will get for these edge-city dwellers and everyone on aggregate. With the concomitant disbenefits that long commutes bring; higher cost, individually and collectively; plus all the negative health, pollution, and happiness outcomes.

And below the same data flipped to show it by destination. Look how inaccessible the employment around the airport is, despite all that road building. The $140m about to be spent on the Kirkbride Rd intersection will do nothing at all to improve this. Look too at Howick on the two charts, the small number of people that work there are mostly local, which is good, but most locals work much further away. Both charts also show the lack of local employment for people in West Auckland.

Trip Length workplace 2013

 

Which all goes to show that Auckland conforms to Bertaud’s ‘Composite’ urban form model below, which is of course the most common city type on the planet, and not the dispersalists’ largely imaginary centre-less model of the ‘Urban Village’ with everyone working adjacent to where they live and none working across town.

After all, even as Auckland gets longer [it can't get wider!] the area most closely placed to everywhere is still the centre. This helps explain why the centre will only continue to grow and thrive despite increasing rents and other barriers, as it remains the most connected and accessible place to be, on average.

Bertaud urban structure graph

Trust you had a relaxing Labour Day.

 

Urban Change: Evolution or Revolution?

“Change is the law of life and those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”

-JFK

Life is nothing but change, and cities being concentrations of human life manifest this fact in their physical fabric: They are constantly changing, always incrementally, sometimes abruptly. Positively and negatively. Investment versus entropy. Governments, local and central, are charged with understanding the forces at work behind this law of life and responding wisely with our taxes to attempt to maximise the potential positive outcomes within this reality for all citizens.

DRESDEN 1945

Dresden 1945: Catastrophic change

There is plenty of evidence that suggests there is a need for substantial change in transport infrastructure investment now in Auckland. This evidence is broad based and essentially adds up to the fact that the conditions that set the policy of the last 60 years no longer hold:

  • It is clear that demand growth is shifting away from driving towards the Transit and Active modes
  • It is clear that spatial arrangements are shifting including a substantial revaluing of the centre
  • It is clear that demographics of the city are changing to smaller households and denser communities
  • It is clear that the city’s growth path is continuing; Auckland now is already city sized and getting bigger
  • It is clear that environmental and geographical constrains are tightening; resource constraints in Transport sector ever more pressing
  • It is clear that the urban motorway programme of the previous era is nearing completion; we are in a new phase
  • It is clear that newer generations just don’t share the older ones’ ideas of what is important in urban form and how to move

It is in this context that we have developed our Congestion Free Network summarised here.

However while there is clear evidence that we live in a period of discontinuity from the previous era this does not mean that what was built up during this era should be abandoned or not maintained. Quite the contrary in fact. One of the primary aims of shifting our capital investments away from the urban highway network is to build up the complementary networks to such an effective and attractive level that will keep the highways functioning well and with more efficiency. And in this our programme is not only low risk and high value but also very different from the late 20th Century revolution that it builds on. If there is one lesson to learn from the last great shift in transport investment in Auckland it is to be sure to keep what you already have and build on it; not to disregard the last system in order to focus totally on the next one.

Let’s have a look back.

The decision last century to invest in a system of urban highways for Auckland became over time a total commitment. We not only invested nearly every penny of new investment into this system starving any alternatives we also actually removed existing alternatives.

Here is a view of the leafy and desirable old suburbs of the Auckland Isthmus:

Old 'tram built' suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

Old ‘tram built’ suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

And here is a map of the system that made this urban form:

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

After the second world war Auckland faced the three interrelated problems. It was growing, there had been little investment in infrastructure for decades, and it lacked financial resources. To that can be added that capital investment was dependent on a suspicious government that faced, as ever, competing demands. One critical area that this came to a head was our electric tram system. While by any measure it was a huge success, carrying huge numbers of people and at around a net operating profit, it was in desperate need of catch up investment both in the machines themselves and extension to new areas.

In the context of the times the car offered a way out of this problem. There were very few of them in the 1950s, and while their uptake was expected to grow this was also expected to remain manageable. It was argued that buses could replace the trams with the advantage of operating without fixed routes and be more easily extended to new areas and at lower capital cost to public finances. All true. But really this was a way to give Auckland’s relatively narrow roads over completely to private vehicles, as no priority was allowed for the tram-replacing buses. Contrast with Melbourne: where they not only kept the more appealing trams but took advantage of wide boulevards allowing separation of trams and traffic on many routes, plus tram priority systems at intersections where they are mixed.

Relying on the car could be rationalised as cheaper too, simply because the machine and fuel costs were privatised, and that petrol taxes were to be the source of road funding. Lost in the reasoning was the fact total reliance on driving is the most expensive way of ordering a city’s movement. So while the car/road system had a good funding mechanism [fuel excise] this does not mean it is the best system economically, and this is still true today . It would require ever more enormous sums and in fact add to the ratepayer burden and not relieve it as road taxes have never covered all road costs. Let alone other burdens of this system like parking and the loss of rateable land etc.

And motorways are subject to the laws of inverse success over time: they are best when they’re new, they never get better as they attract more users. Below, rural Penrose with new motorway 1963- nice flow.

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Part of the world view of Modernism was a faith in the completely fresh start: The Brave New World. This is evident in art movements, new philosophies, individual building projects, but also at the urban planning level. That there was a huge desire for new beginings is not surprising after the experience of the first half of the century with two extremely destructive world wars and a devastating Depression. Auckland, although it didn’t come out of the war with whole areas of the city wiped clear by bombing it did have plenty of proximate bare land, and in the city itself the buildings and structures of the colonial era were now ageing and dated compared to what seemed possible in the new American-style future. It was ripe for this ideology of ‘rip it up and start again’.

We took our lead from the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was all California [well, the Autobahn, actually, but no one was admitting that].

Furthermore the beginning of this new project coincided with a rise in prosperity, price controls being lifted from private car sales, and the price of crude oil fell every year from 1947-1970 in real terms. Driving boomed in New Zealand as it did all across the western world and use of the new bus network declined proportionately. And then fell into a downward cycle of falling investment, declining quality of service, and uptake. The buses were never as accepted as much as the trams and nor could they ever command the control of the road as well either.

So when in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon exploited the divisions in the many local authorities in Auckland to kill Auckland Mayor Robinson’s ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’ Auckland was committed, by central government, to a bold ‘double-down’ on an urban motorway centred road only transport network.

What had began as a just part of the city’s movement systems as advised by North American consultants in the 1960s became an extreme and monotonal driving-only all-in bet. Bold, ambitious, and in terms of the communities and places in its path; pitiless. All directed by central government, with local concerns overruled.

CMJ

Whole areas of the city have never recovered from the burden of hosting this land hungry and severing system; in the most affected areas land value still remain low and land use poor. They have been sacrificed for the convenience of those from other, further out parts of the new city. Around 50 000 people were relocated and 15 000 buildings removed. This was a revolution, with winners and losers.

Newton then and now

Meanwhile investment in complementary systems froze. The bus network was stuck in aspic; even though it began carrying ever more people from the mid 1990s as the city grew and began to exhibit the kind of urban realities that make driving less optimal for more and more citizens. Each time the rail network won hard fought and tiny investments; second hand trains from Perth, Britomart Station, ridership leapt in response. But still no meaningful investment in extending these parts of systems into an actual Rapid Transit Network has been able to be wrestled from successive governments this century. Although important steps towards such a system were undertaken first by the last Labour led government by funding Project Dart, a long overdue upgrade of the rail network, and the construction of the Northern Busway, and the current National led government by enabling electrification to follow through a mixture of grants and loans to Auckland Transport. And, critically, AT and AC’s multi year overhaul of the bus system and introduction of the integrated ticketing.

Yet the future still looks no different, in fact central government’s programme is one of an aggressive return to the ‘revolution’ of the late 20th Century with no new Public Transit infrastructure funding at all, just enough to contribute to operate what’s already there: [chart of spending categories for the whole country 2015-2025]

2015 GPS - Spending graph

Proposed transport spending distribution in millions.

Yet despite the huge sums spent on more lane space the growth in driving has stalled, in contrast to uptake in the underfunded Transit mode: [VKT: Vehicle Kilometres Travelled].

VKT vs PT Trips per Captia 4

 

So it is very hard to understand this policy in terms of evidence, is its based on a nostalgia for the driving boom years of last century?, or perhaps it is simply an inability of our institutions to understand change and adapt to it?, or worse are the huge sums of public money in this sector subject to capture and control by special interests?: Big Trucking, Civil Construction, Consultants and Financiers, and Land Development Interests?

It is time to build balance into our city’s movement options and to do this we need a change in where spending is directed. And properly understood this is not another revolution but rather a return to moderation and balance and away from the current orthodoxy which is lopsided in the extreme. The current policy of investing so disproportionately in the driving mode is a revolutionary policy, but not seen as such because it has become an orthodoxy. We shouldn’t be surprised with its extremity as it is a 20th Century programme, from that age of extremes and extreme ideologies. Which while at times exhilarating, it also meant much was lost, like Auckland’s tram network.

Our position is that this kind of lurch is not what Auckland needs now but instead we should build on what we have by adding to the underdeveloped Active and Transit modes while maintaining and more efficiently utilising the mature driving resource.

Green GPS Funding graph

Above is a comparison of the proposed Green Party and National Party transport policies [for the whole country]. Note that the major difference is about what to build next, and that both plan to maintain current assets. We can change from extremity to balance without losing what we have. And it is long overdue:

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

by Architect, Cartoonist, and National Treasure: Malcolm Walker

To drive or not to drive, that is the question: generation Y research

This is a guest post from Dr Debbie Hopkins, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Otago – she’s currently doing some research for the NZTA on non-drivers. Read on to find out more and see if you might be keen to help out with the research by being interviewed.

Every day we make decisions about how we travel. These decisions include whether to go somewhere, where to go and how to get there. While we have some control over how we travel, there are a whole range of things that we might not have much control over that influence our travel decisions, such as where we live, access to public transport, and family commitments.

And these influences have changed over time.

For the past 100 years or so, the car has been the main way that people travel. Nowadays, our towns are designed to help people drive cars – large shopping centres with parking, direct routes for main roads – but sometimes this means that people without cars are left out. It can also mean that our urban areas might not be nice, safe places for people to walk or cycle. This has meant that for many people, car travel is preferred, so driver licensing, car ownership and distance travelled have all been increasing.

But it seems that things might be changing. In the past decade, there has been increasing evidence that generation Y – people born between 1980 and 2000 – are travelling in different ways and not wanting to travel by car as much as earlier generations. Industrialised countries including the USA, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Japan and Australia have all reported declining licensing amongst the 18-35 age group. Young people are also less likely to own a car and if they do own a car, they are travelling less.

We can make assumptions to explain why young people are travelling differently, but this isn’t very helpful… it is important to actually know for sure what is making this change happen. This could help policymakers and planners to design transport systems which better suit the needs of young people.

The Energy Cultures research project (www.energyculture.org) is conducting research to find out more. Dr Debbie Hopkins is looking for non-drivers from Auckland, who are willing to be interviewed about their travel behaviours. This would include people who might have a licence but don’t need/ want to drive, or people without a licence at all.

Participants need to be:

  • Aged 18-35 years old
  • New Zealand resident
  • Living in Auckland
  • Grown up in Auckland (especially ages 14-18)
  • Non-drivers (either with a licence but not driving, or without a licence)

Participants will be put into a draw to win one NZ$100 supermarket voucher.

If you, or someone you know, fit the criteria please contact: Debbie.hopkins@otago.ac.nz

Flyer

Photo of the Day- Cardboard Cathedral

The Transitional Christchurch Cathedral, or Cardboard Cathedral, designed by this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is a rather wonderful thing.

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1410

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1438

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1762

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1588

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1550 Wiki summaries the structure and its reception thus:

The cathedral rises 70 feet (21 m) above the altar. Materials used in its construction include 2 feet (0.61 m) diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel.[16] The roof is of polycarbon,[11] and is held up by eight shipping containers which form the walls. The foundation is concrete slab. The architect initially wanted the cardboard tubes to be the structural elements, but local manufacturers could not produce tubes thick enough, and importing the cardboard was rejected.[12] The 96 tubes, reinforced with laminated wood beams, are “coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants” leaving two-inch gaps between each so that light can filter into the cathedral. Instead of a replacement rose window, the building contains triangular pieces of stained glass.[17] In addition to serving as a cathedral, the building serves as a conference venue.[4]

The Wizard of New Zealand, one of the strongest critics of the Anglican diocese for wanting to demolish ChristChurch Cathedral and who was previously a daily speaker in Cathedral Square, called the design of the Cardboard Cathedral “kitsch“.[5]

Lonely Planet named Christchurch one of the “top 10 cities to travel to in 2013″ in October 2012, and the construction of the Cardboard Cathedral was cited as one of the reasons that makes the city an exciting place.[18]

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1785

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1779

However, I found its placement unfortunate. Here is the description of the site from the building’s wiki page:

The Cardboard Cathedral is located on the corner of Madras and Hereford Streets on a section allocated to the Anglican church in Christchurch‘s original 1850 survey opposite Latimer Square.[1] It was originally the site of St John the Baptist Church, the first church built in permanent materials by Anglicans in Christchurch, until it was demolished after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.[2] The St John parish gave the land for the site, and in return, can use the Cardboard Cathedral for its own purposes, and will keep the building once the permanent pro-cathedral can be used.[3]

CHRISTCHURCH CITY

 

Or rather I should say that the placement is entirely understandable, but the condition of the streets that both this new building and the lovely Latimer Square are on is appalling. Madras is the north-bound half of a oneway couplet that really ought to be two wayed and calmed. It is little other than a speedway; complete with NZTA motorway signage designed to read at 100kph. The fact that this route does a dogsleg around Latimer Square seems to be a plus for the boyracers who treat it as a race track. It is still a residental street. Frankly I’m amazed I survived crossing back and forth between the Square and the cathedral while shooting it.

Now is a great opportunity to fix this terrible hangover from the bad days of traffic engineering as it is hard to see how much quality of place can develop around this motorway condition. Certainly does precious little for contemplation, either in the church or the Square.

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1803

At the rear of the Cathedral is Peter Majendie’s installation Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighbourhood can be seen. This comprises of 185 found chairs painted white, one for each of the people that were killed in the earthquake. Effective and affecting.

TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL_1405

Photographs by Patrick Reynolds

Happy City Radio

National Radio’s Simon Morton ran a really good interview with Happy City author Charles Montgomery on the This Way UP Programme on Saturday.

If you haven’t read the book I strongly recommend having a listen, and even if you have, Montgomery’s summarises his main points really well here.

Morton gets the best out of his interviewee [21 mins]:

Or listen here

And here’s Charles being interviewed on Streetfilms

 

Happy-City-cover-lrez

 

How can we make road pricing fair?

Talk to a transport economist for more than a couple of minutes (seconds?) and the issue of road pricing will come up. “If only we could introduce road pricing, all our problems would go away,” says your transport economist. Congestion – gone. Greenhouse gas emissions – significantly reduced. Public transport efficiency – dramatically increased. And so on..

So why is implementing road pricing so difficult and so rare? The most common answer is “politics”, but essentially that’s just a proxy for the concept being considered unacceptable by most of the population. And one of the main reasons why road pricing is so unpopular is that it’s seen as unfair, particularly for poorer people.

In a recent Planetizen post, Canadian transport academic Todd Litman looks further into this assumption that road tolls and other means of pricing are unfair and harm the poor.

A major obstacle to efficient pricing is the common, but often inaccurate assumption, that such fees harm poor people. This is generally wrong, and reinforces automobile dependency (an automobile-oriented transportation system which offers inadequate alternatives to driving and therefore forces people to drive more than optimal), which tends to harm physically, economically and socially disadvantaged people overall.

While it is true that a given fee is regressive (each dollar represents a greater portion of income for a poor than a wealthy person), tolls are generally less regressive than other roadway expansion funding options because poor people drive relatively little on such highways: many poor people are retired or unemployed, lower-income workers often have local jobs that do not require highway commutes, and if they do commute on major travel corridors they are more likely to use alternative modes, or travel off-peak because they often have off-peak work schedules.

If the money raised from road pricing or tolls is spent on improving public transport or active transport, then the progressive nature of the funding is enhanced further:

As a result, road tolls are generally less regressive than financing urban highway expansion by increasing fuel taxes (which all motorists pay, not just urban commuters) or general taxes (which everybody pays regardless of how much they drive), and can be progressive overall if a portion of revenues are used to improve alternative modes, such as public transit, so lower-income travellers have better alternatives to driving.

Similarly, poor people often benefit from parking unbundling (paying directly for parking, rather than having it automatically included with building rents) and cash out (being able to choose cash instead of subsidized parking) because they tend to own fewer cars and value the opportunity for financial savings.

There are a couple of ares where Litman’s analysis doesn’t necessarily hold true for Auckland, particularly in relation to how the current debate about road pricing is happening – as an additional revenue raiser, rather than as a replacement of existing funding sources.

  1. Tolling or road pricing is probably only fairer if it replaces other, unfair, methods of funding transport – such as petrol taxes (which unfairly charge those travelling off-peak for infrastructure only required at peak times) or rates. If tolling or road pricing is just another tax on people to pay for a bloated transport programme then chances are they will be unfair because it will be the poor who end up suffering the most from the extra charges (as those charges will be the greatest proportion of their income).
  2. Auckland currently has a very different relationship between income and mode choice compared to US cities. In most US cities it seems that the poorest areas have the highest levels of public transport use – therefore improving PT using money raised from tolls or road charges has the potential to play a wealth distribution role. As illustrated by the map below – which shows car modeshare for journey to work trips in the 2013 census – Auckland seems to have the opposite patters, with poorer areas often being highly car dependent.

car-modeshareOverall, it seems as though road pricing could be introduced in a way that’s considered “fair” by Aucklanders – and therefore may be able to overcome political opposition. However, this would require a couple of pretty big changes to how it’s currently being proposed by the Council. Firstly, the money raised would need to be used instead of existing funding sources, rather than just being another tax. Secondly, some dramatic improvements in the attractiveness and affordability of alternatives to driving appear necessary to reduce car dependency in Auckland’s poorer areas.

The new bus network and the City Rail Link (which vastly benefit the south and west respectively) may meet the second hurdle. A whole pile of unnecessary roading projects need to be killed off to pass the first hurdle, reduce some of the regressive existing transport funding tools, and therefore make road pricing and tolling actually fair.

What is Auto-Dependency

In my post on Wednesday about the impact that garages have on neighbourhoods there ended up being quite a bit of discussion on the term auto-dependency. Many readers might not fully understand what the term means so with this post I thought I would take a look at it, how it can be measured and Auckland compares. Many readers wrote some excellent comments about what meaning however this one from John Smith is superb.

Let’s distinguish the meanings of ‘auto-dependent’ as applying to cities and individuals.

An auto-dependent city is one that has developed in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for most people to access the city’s amenities with reasonable convenience without a car.

In an auto-dependent city, most individuals are auto-dependent. Individuals may be able to reduce their personal auto-dependence – for example, by moving to a more transit rich inner area – but in an auto-dependent city those options are relatively costly and available to only a minority, because the less auto-dependent locations are relatively few.

The things that make a city auto-dependent are overwhelmingly a result of communal decisions made over many years (public planning policies controlling density, landuses, subdivision design, road and public transport investment….) People who live in an auto-dependent city cannot opt out of the effects of that since, even if they try to minimise their personal auto-dependence, they will find the cost higher than it would be in a less auto-dependent city.

Individuals may be able to reduce their auto-dependence fairly quickly, if they can afford to and accept the other lifestyle compromises needed. An auto-dependent city becomes less so (that is, increases the overall opportunities for individuals to choose less auto-dependence) only slowly, as the relevant policies change.

In short, we are talking about population features here. The fact that individuals may be able to choose their level of auto-dependence does not negate the validity of auto-dependent as describing *cities*.

Todd Litman from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (that’s Victoria, British Colombia) has this excellent piece on the causes and implications of auto-dependency.

Automobile dependency (also called automobile oriented transportation and land use patterns) refers to transportation and land use patterns that favor automobile access and provide relatively inferior alternatives. It means that people find it difficult to reach services and activities without using an automobile.

The alternative to Automobile Dependency is not a total lack of private vehicles (called Carfree Planning), rather, it is a multi-modal transport system (often called Transit-Oriented Development), meaning that people have various Transport Options from which to choose, that these options are integrated effectively to provide a high degree of accessibility even for non-drivers. This allows people to use the best mode for each trip: walking and cycling to reach local destinations, public transport for travel on major travel corridors, and automobile when it is truly optimal.

Automobile Dependency is a matter of degree. Table 1 compares various attributes of Automobile Dependency . There are few places in the world that are totally automobile dependent (that is, driving is the only form of transport). Even areas that appear to be highly Automobile Dependent often have a significant amount of walking, cycling and transit travel among certain groups or in certain areas, although use of these modes tends to be undercounted by conventional transportation planning (Measuring Transportation).

Auto-dependency Atributes

Now I’ll come back to how we perform on these indicators shortly.

There’s a lot of information in the VPTI link about just what auto-dependency is and how you can tell if you really are auto-dependant (which primarily means trying to live your normal life without using a car for two weeks and seeing how easy or hard that is). But how has auto-dependency formed both overseas and here in NZ. By in large there is a self-reinforcing cycle that occurs as shown below.

Auto-dependency cycle

In Auckland we saw vehicle ownership rates start to increase at the same time as we were removing travel options by pulling out the trams. We also started building new suburbs with street network patterns that made it difficult to serve effectively by public transport. At some point (and I don’t know when) we created rules that required lots of off street parking though minimum parking requirements which encouraged away from the existing city centre and helped encourage driving further aided by what is now common commercial developments that pushed activity away from the streets with car parking given top priority. Increases in traffic then lead to greater investment in roads to try and address issues but only helped to further encourage driving by making it easier.

So what are some of the downsides auto-dependency? Well there can be quite a few including

  • Infrastructure Costs –  we end up spending more money on infrastructure like bigger roads and more car parking
  • Reduced Land Use Accessibility – land use becomes more dispersed making it even more difficult to get to by alternative methods
  • Reduced Transport Options – it’s harder for people to choose alternative transport options, for example ones that could save them money like walking or cycling.
  • PT System Cost Efficiency – less people using the PT system means that system loses its economies of scale requiring the addition or increases in subsides needed to keep the system working.
  • Increased traffic crashes
  • Health impacts – there are links between vehicle use and obesity, stress and other health problems.
  • Congestion – more people having to drive and more chances of there being congestion.
  • More fuel use and emissions
  • Poorer land use patterns – encourages more dispersed land use (sprawl)
  • Restricting economic development – increased vehicle use is often more expensive than alternatives (even poor ones) and every dollar spent on a car over and above other options is one that can’t be spent at shops or for services etc. Note: that doesn’t man that vehicle use for business activities can’t have positive impacts.

So there are quite a few potential downsides. At the end of the day it’s not about saying that people can’t or shouldn’t drive but that people should have realistic choices in how they get around (and realistic doesn’t mean a bus every hour). Below is a great example of someone who loves cars, owns a lot of them and even is doing a web series partly based inside a car but who isn’t auto-dependant. On reddit Jerry Sienfield was asked:

What, above all other things, is the neatest most fascinating and cool thing you get to do on a daily basis?

To which he replied

WOW. First of all, GREAT question.

That I get to do on a daily basis? Probably walk to work. I think that’s about the coolest thing that there is. Or take my bike. If you can walk to work or take your bike on a daily basis, I think that’s just about the coolest thing that there is. Every morning I listen to the traffic on the radio, and they talk about how they are jammed and I just laugh. I love traffic. I love traffic reports because I’m not in any of them.

Now coming back to the auto-dependant attributes table above. Here’s how Auckland rates.

  • Vehicle Ownership – 622 cars per 1,000 people. I’ve only used light passenger numbers so that doesn’t include  light commercial, motorcycles, heavy trucks or buses.
  • Vehicle Travel – 8,147 km per capita. This is down from a peak of 8,559 km per capita in 2006
  • Vehicle Trips – 79%
  • Automobile commute mode split – 78%. It would be another 11% higher if passengers were counted too.

For all of the other measures my best guess would be that Auckland is either in the high or medium to high category making us a fairly highly auto-dependant city. In coming years I think the new electric trains, new fare structure and new bus network should all combine to really help address the PT alternatives that do exist so at least we’re kind of on the right path.

Summer in the City, and a look ahead.

A view from new Britomart bar and restaurant Ostro that seems to perfectly express the contradictory current phase in Auckland City’s development.

OSTRO_5788

What a great scene:

Sitting here amidst the sophistication of the latest addition to the our reborn downtown with all the perfectly prepared kai moana you could want, reassuringly expensive wines from every viticultured corner of the country, the cruise liners slipping around North Head, and the sculptural forms of the gantry cranes lined up and waiting patiently in the late afternoon sun like a row of giant robotic footmen, it is hard not to marvel at how lovely Auckland can be and at how far it has come recently.

Britomart is surely the best example of a Transport Orientated Development around, showing not just what can be achieved by coordinating land use and Transit investment well, but also just what a great resource there is in our urban centres if only we redevelop them properly. Central Auckland is really beginning to show extraordinary promise for what quite recently was an very dreary place, and it is not difficult to predict that these improvements are only going to accelerate over the years ahead. It’s like we’ve suddenly discovered that the city is by the sea.

With the successes of Britomart, both the train station itself and the redevelopment of the commercial buildings above; the Shared Spaces, which now surely will spread [not least down into the Britomart block itself]; and the first phases of Wynyard Quarter, the quality of Auckland’s City Centre is poised to explode in vitality, desirability, and productivity.

The next phase should be even more dramatic:  The transformation of big city streets into more interesting and specialised uses; Victoria hosting a Linear Park on half its width uniting the two parks on either side of the city, Victoria and Albert; Wellesley a Transit corridor, efficiently bringing thousands of bus riders into the heart of the city: Queen and Quay, downscaling and becoming more pedestrian and place focussed [Quay also an important cycle route], Fanshaw and Customs moving ever more people both in more efficient bus systems and, like Mayoral, focussing of carrying general traffic across town.

Along with the big build at Wynyard, the city will also get new towers at Downtown and on the corner of Victoria and Albert, along with the apartment building boom that is already underway all over the city.

This is no guess about the future but rather the continuation of what has already begun; the latest census revealed that central Auckland’s residential population grew 46.5% between 2006-13 by far the greatest growth in the whole country. Vacant commercial floor space is drying up and demand is rising. Like all over the western world, inner city living and working is not just back, it’s hot. Auckland is already surfing the urbanising zeitgiest well.

Interestingly both the the new towers mentioned above will sit on top of the City Rail Link that in 2015 will begin to be constructed at least for the section below the new Downtown Centre. And as is clear from the growth listed above that the city will urgently need this resource in order to bring, circulate, and disperse back out to the city’s extremities all the people that will work, live, and recreate in this transforming city.

Because if there is one uniting theme to all of this improvement it is the increase in the numbers of people entering the City without a corresponding increase in the numbers of cars- if not their actual decrease. All  the growth in number of those entering the Central City this century has been on the improved Transit systems, especially rail and the buses of the Northern Busway, but also ferries and cycling and walking. This has to continue if not accelerate, because the place quality improvements require a reduction in the domination of place by vehicles, or at least are impossible to achieve while the city is swamped in cars. Essentially there is a very simple equation observable in urban renewal:

More People + Fewer Cars = Better City

So in order to achieve this the city needs to be attractive and accessible to people and efficient and productive for business. How are these aims best achieved at the planning and investment level? It seems very clear all across the world that there are three investments that have proven to consistently achieve these outcomes in urban development, whether it’s London, or, Barcelona, or Shanghai, or Amsterdam, or Portland, or Bilboa, or Sydney or Brisbane, or Wellington or where-ever, these are every city’s best best:

  • repurposed mixed use Waterfronts with
  • dynamic Public Spaces and Activities served by
  • high quality Public Transit + Walking + Cycling amenity

The last to efficiently bring and circulate large numbers of people in ways that do not adversely affect place, in fact ideally enhance it, the second to attract, entertain, and retain residents, workers, and businesses, and the first because the whole new venture is so much more desirable and therefore valuable if it’s by the sea, a lake, or along a river, making the investment much more likely to be viable. But the essential component is that these all have to come together in a centre in order for the attractions and vitality to double up on themselves, for these improvements to agglomerate.*

[*There are three other investments that cities often try to use as springboards for improvement but that all have much more fraught outcomes around the world: Casinos, Stadia, and Convention Centres, and all have a common theme; they usually have the same big blank walled city-blocking form, intermittent use, and internalised programmes- and are often built on an auto-dependent model with vast parking garages and motorway like access routes right up to them; both highly anti-urban place ruining systems.]

So it is clear both that Auckland is largely on the right track and that there are enormous challenges ahead. Wynyard Quarter is not being built in the best order, in the way that Britomart has been: Ideally you built at least the bones of the High Quality Transit system first, Wynyard is going to quickly have to get better and more permanent Transit systems in place as the building sites currently used as car parks start to get built on and these will at least at first have to be bus systems- the only near term way of moving high volumes of people- and surely they will have to get those buses working in a trainlike way, ie with stations more than stops, while working towards upgrading some bus routes to a modern light rail system.

The problem of funding the City Rail Link needs to be addressed in 2014, which on the one hand means either changing the government or changing the government’s mind, as well as working out an efficient way for the Council to fund its share of the capital cost too. Increasingly I think this could be around a PPP for the three new stations as there will be changes in land value to be captured there.

Then there is the related issue of the accommodating hundreds of buses in the city, the CRL will in time limit the need to endlessly grow the numbers of buses on city streets but even once it’s open there will still be a need for a lot of buses in the city, especially from the North Shore. Hopefully the new plans for concentrating these onto specific routes and speeding their passage through the city will be done well and make a huge difference. But also I think it’s vital that the quality of the buses themselves are improved, that they aren’t walled off with blocking advertising and that their exhaust and noise standards are improved radically, ideally that emissions are eliminated all together. Therefore the electrification of all our urban transport systems should be a matter of higher priority. Electricity is, after all, our great local resource and so much better for the increasingly contested city streets for everyone.

All of which brings us back to the image:

OSTRO_5788

Also clearly visible here are hundreds and hundreds of new cars, well at least new to NZ , freshly off-loaded and ready for our streets and roads. So if [leaving aside the issue of whether this is the best use of these warves], as I predict, these vehicles will increasingly be less and less welcome on the streets of the City Centre then where are they headed? Out to the suburbs and the exurbs I suppose; the more dispersed the living the more ideal the car becomes. Auckland is becoming a Mullet City. It is surely getting more and more bi-level like the famous westie haircut: Increasingly urbane, more European in form, more walkable, ridable and lively in the centre. But still largely auto-dependent, low rise, dispersed and spread out, more American-new-city in form, the further out you go.

To some degree this is inevitable, and is in the very nature of cities, but I hope this doesn’t become too extreme, Auckland could develop a number of great and happily more intense metropolitan centres. So I hope it’s more blurred than this, but the latest version of the Draft Unitary Plan doesn’t inspire confidence. Councillors facing reelection and a vocal anti-change lobby greatly reduced the areas that can enjoy the great gift of the city; the ‘power of nearness’, intensity, and if it stays like this then growth and intensity will be concentrated into just a few areas, and in particular the Centre. This will reinforce a contrasting bi-level city. This form is increasingly apparent globally as The Great Inversion unfolds and City Centres and Inner Suburbs become more desirable and therefore expensive, and as this partly reflects differences in transport value of place, or relative inaccessibility, so the provision of affordable transport options throughout the wider city is critical to ameliorating this tendency [the existing reach of the rail network will become increasingly valuable for equalising access; especially after it is more essential to Auckland once the CRL is operational and the New Bus Network is integrated with it with new interchange stations].

But then there are many ways the suburbs can improve. Auckland’s older tram built suburbs are already relatively dense, are pleasantly leafy and walkable [remnant pathways linking through to old tram stops are sign of this], and have enough old shops and mixed commercial parts to give them great bones. Many simply need improvements in Transit service and cycling amenity to become really good; work for the rest of this decade. Then if we can get the Unitary Plan to allow some decent mixed use density in the centres that serve these suburbs many may find their own neighbourhood pretty well has everything they need as well as being well connected to the big City and other Centres. The newer further out sprawl-burbs are more difficult to bring into this century, but simply calming residential streets and serving those missing modes will go along way to repairing those urban form monocultures.

All of this is to say that 2013 has been great for Auckland’s urban quality and I’m confident 2014 will see this accelerate. So thanks for visiting the site and have a wonderful summer: In the City or as far away as you can get [a perfect use for our cars]…

XMAS 2013_01

 

 

Transport is an increasing burden for New Zealanders

One of the fundamental reasons why we think Auckland needs to transform its transport system by focusing on the modes that have missed out so much attention over the last 60 years (public transport, walking and cycling) is because our current car dependency is incredibly expensive. Not only is it a burden on ratepayers and taxpayers in the future – with our crazy $68 billion roading bonanza – but also a transport system where seemingly every household needs to own, maintain and operate two or more cars is actually incredibly expensive for them. And therefore, for the whole country in aggregate.

Statistics New Zealand’s recent release of the 2013 Household Economic Survey contains a lot of information about what people spend their money on each week. At a broad level, transport seems to have had the greatest increase in per household expenditure from 2010 to 2013:

transport-household-expenditure

Digging into the details a bit more and taking the data back to 2007 reveals some interested trends. The biggest increases are in the Private transport and supplies sector of which petrol makes up about 60%. Passenger transport is the only category to consistently increase however that also includes air travel which makes up more than half of the figure so it isn’t all public transport.

Household Economic Survey - Transport

An average of ~$160 per household per week on transport related activities seems like a lot. As a proportion of household income, transport rose from 12.9% to 14.2% between 2010 and 2013:

expenditure-typesTypically cities that are more car dependent have higher transport costs per household – meaning that providing better transport options so households don’t need to own that second car or don’t need to drive so far each week (therefore saving on petrol) can have a huge impact on their household budgets and financial wellbeing.

Unfortunately, none of these effects really seem to be captured by our current cost-benefit analysis process – perhaps because it fundamentally assumes that people are ‘willing’ to pay for these costs because they are the private cost of transport. That kind of misses the point though – which overall is that Auckland’s car dependency means households need to more money on transport than they might otherwise want to. In aggregate this really hurts Auckland’s social and economic wellbeing because it means we can’t afford to spend as much on housing, food and many other more fun areas of expenditure than simply getting around.

Lincoln Rd to be “upgraded”

Auckland Transport is proposing to widen Lincoln Rd – something that in my opinion is probably already Auckland’s most soul destroying street, particularly from a land use perspective. Every time I travel down there (which is frequently as I live not far from it) it always reminds me of the worst aspects of auto-dependency. Even the recently built ASB regional centre promotes auto-dependency by not only having a drive through ATM but also drive through banking.

It’s a road that doesn’t seem to do anything well. It’s a road that is quite wide with a minimum of five lanes (two each way and a full painted median), the major intersections are massive blowing the road out even wider to cater for turning in all directions including slip lanes yet can also get horribly congested, particularly for people heading towards the motorway – which the NZTA are currently upgrading into an absolute monstrosity. On top of that it has poor pedestrian amenity, no cycling amenity and the only bit of bus amenity being a small section northbound at the intersection with Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr to give buses a slight head start.

AT say the road carries about 42,000 vehicles per day and a poor safety record with 446 crashes reported between 2008 and 2012, over a third of which were from drivers exiting driveways or side roads failing to give way. The road has also been listed in various documents over the years as needing to be an RTN in the future as part of the primary route connecting the North Shore to West Auckland. The area surrounding the road is also home to around 8,500 residents, 9,000 jobs, a primary school and the Waitakere Hospital.

It’s the northern section which is the worst and that is the part AT are proposing to upgrade with the plans being to

The upgrade seeks to

  • widen Lincoln Road to provide an additional bus and high occupancy vehicle (transit) lane on each side of the road to increase capacity and improve pasenger travel times.
  • upgrade existing intersections to reduce congestion and improve safety
  • build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety
  • install shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the road
  • implement stormwater treatments to minimise surface flooding
  • relocate and upgrade existing utility services
  • integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s current motorway interchange upgrade.

There are some seriously big cop-outs there, a transit lane (because there aren’t already enough lanes for private vehicles to use) and shared paths that will pit pedestrians against cyclists (although the road is so horrible that very few people walk anyway). Here is what the typical mid-block cross section is meant to look like.

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

However while the mid-block may be 7 lanes wide (including median) the major intersections of Universal Dr and Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr blow out to over 9 lanes in width in a bid to cater for every kind of vehicle movement its own lane

Lincoln Rd - Triangle-Central Park intersection

And here is a video (from which the image above has been taken) showing the works planned

There is some more detail about some of the features on the AT website and they say the that construction isn’t planned to start until 2018. Here is the timeline.

Lincoln Rd Time Line

There will also be two open days about the project next week

Thursday 5 December
3.30pm – 7.30pm
Netball Waitakere Centre
31-35 Te Pai Place

Saturday 7 December,
10am – 2pm
Lincoln Green Conference Centre
159 Lincoln Road (use Te Pai Place entrance)