This a guest post by Tim Kvingedal, a student at the School of Architecture, University of Auckland. Tim is from Norway.
I´ve been living in central Auckland for 11 months now, and you know what? I’m getting sick of waiting for cars. Every time I step out of my flat I feel like I’m wasting my time and this is why I did this research.
First a little backdrop of the situation in Auckland
Tim K 2
This map shows all parking, which is run by the big companies like Wilson etc., in Auckland CBD. The ones marked with letters are all multi storey car parks and the red dots are “smaller” ones on the ground. You can also add all the parking that belongs to private offices, shops etc. There are so many parking spots but still not enough for the ridiculous amount of cars. So we need more car parks, you say? Well, if you want to dig your own grave, the answer is yes. If you’re more interested in making Auckland work as a well functioning city in the future public transport is the answer, and by public transport I first of all mean train.
Lets do a quick assessment of what kind of work cars and train are doing best. Well, one single railway has about twelve times more capacity than a single motorway lane. This means that you can ship a large amount of people in and out of the city centre ten times more efficient than a car would do.
On average there are 1.2 people in each car going in and out of Auckland CBD. This means that there is a lot of space wasted to get 1.2 people from A to B. The car is also running on fossil fuels and will pollute a whole lot more than an eco friendly electric train. What the train cannot do is to take you to rural places like your bach, which are miles away from the rail lines. So the car is good at transporting you out from urban places whereas the train is good at taking you in and out of the cities.
For my research I decided to see how much time I wasted on a single trip from my apartment in Union Street to Countdown grocery store next to Queen Street. This should be a 10 minute walk with 7 intersections. Lets see what happened:
I only need to walk 20 meters before my first red man. I started the stopwatch. 30 seconds, 1 minute, still no sign of the green man. So what do you do? Call a friend? Well, with all that traffic noise there’s no point in calling anyone. Better do nothing. So finally, after 1 minute 45s I’m allowed to cross.
I walk up Hobson Street and I spot this gap between two buildings. This is not the only one I’ve seen, Auckland is filled with these gaps and most of them are used for ‘temporary’ car parks. In this gap it looks like it´s one lucky car that found this secret little spot with great view.
The thing about these gaps is that people don’t see them, except people that are in a cars looking for a car park. The street life desperately needs these gaps to be filled, because they’re puncturing the whole experience of walking down the street and being activated by the programmes in the surrounding buildings.
This particular spot would be great for a café or what about just putting a big cow there to activate people walking down the street and open their eyes for that gap and what kind of potential it has.
I start walking again and I see people running like crazy to cross the street before the green man disappears. They simply don’t want to waste their time waiting for cars to cross.
So after a couple of red men and one lucky green I’m standing next to Auckland’s biggest wound, the gap next to Elliot Street. Not surprisingly this is used for parking cars, and this is just devastating for the area. Again, why not do something to activate the area before they start building there? There is already one carousel so yeah let’s have a temporary mini amusement park. Think of all the joy this will spread out to the area. Kids laughing, music, the smell of popcorn. I mean anything is better for the city than another car park.
Another thing that fascinates me when I’m walking are all the cars popping out of buildings like Jack in the box.
As a pedestrian I almost constantly have to be aware of that there might be a car coming out of this slot. It’s not that it’s really dangerous but you still have to be aware of it all the time. On my way home I clocked how long time I’d spent on passing these car slots.
This picture sums up the feeling as a pedestrian with all this cars popping out. It’s a battle:
It’s not just the cars crossing the pedestrian lane that is annoying, but also that the pedestrian lane itself sometimes disappear! There is no marking and no lights telling you when you can cross. So I guess if I want to follow the traffic rules I better go back and try another way?
So after crossing 14 intersections in total I’m home again and these are the stats from the walk:
So thanks to the auto-dominant nature of Auckland I will have wasted 91 hours of my time this year just to buy groceries.
And I’m not sure it’s working out so well for all the drivers either…
“Movement and place”: A simple concept that underpins many of the debates on this blog.
For those who have not heard of the “movement and place” concept before, let me briefly re-cap. “Movement” describes how cities need to accommodate flows of people and products. “Place”, on the other hand, describes how cities need to provide locations in which socio-economic activity can thrive.
In my mind, “movement and place” describe extreme ends of a mobility/accessibility spectrum, between which there are many nuanced variations. Train stations, for example, are “places” that facilitate “movement”, as is on-street car-parking. There is of course a need to distinguish between the functions of public and private “places”. Notwithstanding all these nuances, I think “movement and place” is a useful concept because it highlights a key trade-off that emerges within almost every urban transport planning project: How can we enable movement while sustaining place?
Finding an optimal balance is rarely easy. The first reason is that movement and place are often competing for the same physical space. Think of bus lanes on Symonds Street. The second issue is that movement itself tends to generate negative effects, such as noise and air pollution, which undermine the quality of a place. Again, think of Symonds Street.
In this post I wanted to try and provide some historical perspective on “movement and place”. I have been pondering for a while now whether the optimal balance between movement and place is shifting over time and, if so, what the implications of such a shift might be. And when I say “over time” I don’t mean in the last few years. I’m actually talking about experiences of the last hundred years, as examined through the life of my grandmother.
Violet Donovan was born in West Ham, London in 1920 (shown below). Post-WWI Europe was not a particularly happy place, so her family soon migrated from to the U.S. They promptly settled in the booming industrial town of Buffalo. As a child Violet went to sleep listening to the echoes of gun shots resonating across Lake Erie, where the U.S. Navy was engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent bootleggers from spiriting moonshine into the U.S.
They were hard times.
Like many “poor” children my grandmother was sent to summer camp. While there Violet befriended another young girl called Alice. Years later my grandmother discovered that Alice’s father had ended up in jail after he was caught stealing bread to feed his family. She also discovered that at the time social welfare assistance was not extended to the immediate families of criminals and that Alice had died of starvation.
As an adult Violet would later pen this poem about Alice, which was titled “Inside”:
You never met Alice, – I wish you had,
She is a very good friend of mine,
One I have known for a long, long time,
Her skin is black, and mine is white
And yet, I think we look alike
Inside, if you know what I mean.
You never met Alice, – I wish you had,
I called her Lily, – it sounded right,
She called me ‘Tiny’, – I wasn’t quite,
Each read the other like a book
Saw ourselves as we thought we’d look
Inside, if you know what I mean.
You’ll never meet Alice, – that’s too bad,
Alice went away, – she had to go
A ‘Lily’ doesn’t last long, you know
Now, it isn’t that she hides,
But rather that she always bides,
Inside, if you know what I mean.
Eventually the lingering Great Depression caused Violet’s father James – my great grandfather – to lose his job. With limited few opportunities in the U.S., Violet’s family promptly decided to migrate again, this time to New Zealand, where James had landed a job at the Devonport Naval Base. Violet celebrated her 16th birthday on the voyage to New Zealand.
Violet’s family arrived in Wellington after sunset and promptly boarded an overnight train bound for Auckland. Then, upon arriving in Auckland, the entire family finally boarded the ferry to Devonport (like the one shown below) – just as the sun was rising over Rangitoto. Apparently the spring sunlight lit the waters of the Waitemata in sparkling hues of blue that Violet would never forget, even as she grew old.
After the industrial drudgery of Buffalo and London Auckland must have seemed like a verdant oasis. Not that life in Auckland was necessarily easy: Violet would later raise three children on her own, at a time when women were paid approximately half a man’s wage for the same job. At one point she was working three jobs, seven days a week, just to get by. She never had sufficient time or money to learn to drive, let alone buy a vehicle; Violet depended on public transport her entire life.
I suspect that few people today, myself including, can fully comprehend the degree to which my grandmother relied on public transport. For example, as a keen carpenter Violet would transport lengths of timber home from the hardware store by laying them down the aisle of the bus. And when in the 1980s Auckland’s bus services were cut in response to declining demand, the bus stop closest to Violet’s unit was no longer served. She immediately went out and purchased some roller skates, which she used to skate to the bus stop that was now closest to her hours.
Yes that’s correct – at the grand old age of 60 my grandmother invented “roll and ride” (R&R).
Violet so loved Auckland that – once settled here – she rarely left, except perhaps for the occasional day trip to Waiheke or Waiuku to visit her increasingly spoilt and precocious grandchildren.
I think Violet’s life is remarkable not just for what she endured; indeed hardship was not uncommon to the generation born immediately after WWI. The causes of socio-economic troubles were many and varied, such as the global influenza epidemic, the Great Depression, WWII, and finally the Cold War, among a number of other trials and tribulations. Instead I think Violet’s life is remarkable because of the historical perspective it provides on the relative importance of movement and place. The reasons why people really need to be able to move and what they do when they eventually find somewhere that they life.
International travel was a life-raft that enabled Violet’s family to escape first from the U.K. to the U.S. and then again from the U.S. to N.Z. It was the ability to travel that enabled Violet’s family to access a better life in N.Z. While the waves of international migration that dominated our early European history have gradually receded, we are now in the grip of other, more local, migratory trends – such as rural to urban drift. Here the role of push and pull factors, plus transport’s enabling function, seems to be very much the same as it was in Violet’s day. Transport enables people to access opportunities that don’t exist where they currently live.
We now live, however, in a vastly different global environment. From what I can tell much of the world has got its act together. New Zealand, in general, and Auckland, in particular, no longer has the inherent competitive advantages we once had as an affluent safe-haven in a war-ravaged and uncertain world. Global competition for labour is more intense, while the real costs of long-distance travel have declined – making it easy for people to come here, but also making it easier for people to leave – both locals and immigrants – when they don’t find what they are looking for.
I think this post is already long enough so I’m now going to just say what I think, even if I’m the first to admit that the supporting arguments are not fully formed: I think New Zealand’s urban areas need to place a greater emphasis on place. I can understand New Zealand’s historical emphasis on movement, because there were a lot of people moving around. But the benefits of movement seem to be diminishing by the day, whereas the benefits of place, insofar as it provides us with a competitive advantage in the great global competition for skilled talent, seems to be increasing.
New Zealand truly needs, but doesn’t yet have, cities and towns in which people can live, work, and play – all without the need to travel very far. We need to start making places that provide joy and intrigue to our urban areas.
I want to wrap up by listing a few final questions for you good people to chew over:
- As New Zealand’s cities and towns become more settled, would you not expect the relative importance of “place” to increase?
- If so are similar trends emerging in countries overseas? Is there evidence to suggest countries with similar histories, such as Australia, are experiencing a similar shift, i.e. away from movement and towards place?
- If there has been an increased emphasis on place, what are the different ways in which it surfaces ? For example, are we now more willing to pay for quality public spaces?
- Does an increased emphasis on place need to be reflected in our political institutions and governance arrangements? Should we consider:
- Develop a new place-based agency, e.g. the “New Zealand Place-making Agency” (NZPA) to sit within the MfE as a counter-balance to movement-based agencies, such as the MoT and NZTA? Or
- Delegate the place-making function to local councils, albeit empowered with a new mandate to reinvigorate “life between buildings”?
These are the sorts of (complex) questions that arise when one takes a historical perspective on “movement and place”; I’d appreciate your help in answering them!
*** This post is dedicated to the loving memory of Violet Donovan. May your words, cheekiness, and spirit live on. ***
Somehow over the last 60 years it became an orthodoxy that the only way to deal with the problem of too many cars on our roads is to spend ever greater sums of money on more roads for more cars [and more parking, more fuel use, more accidents, more obesity, more pollution]. I have always found this to be a curious idea; there’s too much of something so let’s make more of it possible. Ah but of course, I’m just looking at it all wrong, congestion isn’t ever about there being too many vehicles, no, it’s only ever about there being insufficient road space for whatever number of vehicles can be imagined. Really, is there never a point that we might say; the problem here is that we are trying to squeeze too many vehicles into this place for it to function well, we need to supply this place with alternatives to driving as well?
This odd orthodoxy is behind the latest muddled-headed transport plan for Auckland, quoted here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:
“Even with the fully funded programme,” admit the authors, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.
Clearly business as usual; building more roads everywhere, isn’t going to work even on the terms of those who promote these plans, so it was very interesting to see a new study out of LA on the impact of Transit systems on road congestion. Researchers there were able to use the 2003 shut down of the Transit system by a strike for 35 days to compare the impacts on the city both with a functioning Transit system and without one. From the National Bureau of Economic Research here [USD$5].
Also there’s a summary here on Atlantic Cities which I’ll quote as there’s no paywall:
The intuition is straightforward: Transit is most attractive to commuters who face the worst congestion, so a disproportionate number of transit riders are commuters who would otherwise have to drive on the most congested roads at the most congested times. Since drivers on heavily congested roads have a much higher marginal impact on congestion than drivers on the average road, transit has a large impact on reducing traffic congestion.
Contrary to the conclusions in the existing transportation and urban economics literature, the congestion relief benefits alone may justify transit infrastructure investments.
Of course LA is a big car town, it has massive driving infrastructure, the Transit Systems there are improving, and have improved a great deal since 2003, but there is no way that you could claim that it is like London or Paris and completely dependant on well developed Transit systems built over a century or more. So the figures did vary. For arterials and Interstates that were close to shut down Transit routes the numbers were huge; the morning delay on the 101 was up 123 percent during the strike [90% average for the day], and 56% on freeways that didn’t parallel closed Transit routes.
Proof that even in this most auto-dependant city of the value of investing in quality Transit systems: yes a fully supported Transit network, especially one with its own right of way is the car users’ best friend. Investment in better Transit is almost certainly the best way a city can improve the quality and utility of the driving experience. Can somebody tell the AA?
Remember, when driving and experiencing congestion, you’re not stuck in a traffic jam; you are the traffic jam. Despite all the help those Transit users are trying to give you.
I 405 California
We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.
And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.
It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….
Above is a chart from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].
Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].
Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.
Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.
And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.
There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!
There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.
Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.
Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.
We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand
So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.
Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.
Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.
Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].
Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.
But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?
-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe
-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this
-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.
-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.
I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.
But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.
My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.
And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.
So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.
* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.
In this recent post Matt L considered the Government’s proposal to extend fringe benefit tax (FBT) to employer-provided parking in Auckland and Wellington’s CBDs.
The Government is keen to extend FBT to employer-provided parking because the parking being provided has a fairly high (market) value. Hence, in these locations employer-provided parking constitutes a significant non-cash benefit, or a “perk” in common parlance. In principle, the logic behind the proposed change is sound. Given this logical background, much of the opposition to the tax has been what I would call suspiciously vocal.
Under normal circumstances you would expect a fundamentally logical proposal to attract comments like “it’s a good idea, but issues x, y, and z need to be addressed.” If opponents to the extension of FBT to employer-provided parking were advancing arguments of this type, and the issues they were identifying had merit, then I would not be writing this post. What does not wash, however, is how opponents to the FBT change seem to be 1) failing to acknowledge the issues created by the current tax treatment and 2) advancing highly emotive and apparently spurious arguments in support of their position.
The most emotive arguments are originating from unions. Unite leader Matt McCarten, for example, was quoted in the Herald as saying:
… the tax could see night shift employees lose their work car parks, forcing them to walk to their cars parked away from their workplaces in “at unsafe hours in some of the most unsafe parts of the city, risking assault and rape“.
Which naturally causes you to think OH MY GOD PEOPLE ARE GOING TO GET RAPED OR ASSAULTED IF THE GOVERNMENT EXTENDS FBT TO CAR-PARKS. This is what I call an “FBT WTF” moment.
If people walking to their car after work are at risk of being raped or assaulted, then does it not also stand to reason that people walking to their home after work are at similar if not greater risk? And Matt M should know that many people employed in low-paid shift work in the CBD actually live in the CBD as well. The fact that these people can walk to and from work is possibly, just possibly, what attracts them to working there in the first place. Why does he seem to think that employees who walk to cars after finishing work are at greater risk than employees who walk to other destinations?
It may be that Auckland’s criminals are specifically targeting employees who drive to work. That would be rather clever; drivers certainly are on average less fit than their pedestrian-powered colleagues. In which case, maybe Matt M is right, maybe employees that drive to work should be seen as weak and vulnerable wildebeests limping around the CBD savanah while merciless criminals stalk them like hungry hyenas from the shadows. But putting powerful “Lion King” imagery to one side, one does have to wonder whether the risk of being raped or assaulted while you walk to your vehicle after work is quite as high as Matt M makes out.
To provide you with an anecdotal (but real) example, I have been walking home from the CBD late at night on many occasions in the last decade (usually alone, mwahhh mwahhh) and I’ve never had any of these hungry hyena criminals chase me. Now I do understand that I’m not the most attractive (or feminine) social-democratic watermelon in the fruit bin, but I do ride a girl’s bike. I mean goodness gracious, if the risk of being raped or assaulted was as high as Matt makes out then maybe we should require CBD employers fly their employees home in helicopters? Unfortunately not all of us proletariat have rich friends who own helicopters …
Which brings me nicely onto Banksie – who had this to say about the FBT changes:
“I think it is very damaging for small business, particularly in CBD Wellington or Auckland … CBD Auckland is struggling. Small business in the Queen St and precincts are really hurting. It is not easy.”
Oh really? A tax on car-parks is going to hurt small businesses on Queen Street? The same Queen Street that has, like, zero car-parks? Hmmm … can’t fault your logic there John. The other thing to note is the use of the word “small” in front of business. Is he right? Will the costs of the FBT change be borne disproportionately by small businesses? I think not.
Let’s put our thinking caps on for a second and answer this question: Consider two companies; company A which employs 1,000 people and company B which employs 10. Of these two companies, which do you think is more likely to provide free parking for employees? I think you’d have to be a deranged hyena to answer Company B. It seems obvious to me that large companies go for bigger, newer buildings that are far, far more likely to have car-parking attached to them. They also tend to be sucky employers who use taxpayer funded perks as a way of coaxing employees to stick around.
Here’s a real world case study, which demonstrates the (supposed) parking requirements for a NZ-based global dairy giant (who shall remain nameless), which is currently looking for a new corporate HQ in Auckland’s CBD:
This suggests F%&$#@~a want a total of 200 car-parks for their employees. In comparison, the company I manage employs about 10 people. And how many car-parks do we have? Zero, zilch, nada. There you have it: Another undeniable personal anecdote that is slightly less emotive than the arguments advanced by the opponents to the FBT change. More seriously, my gut feeling is that while SMEs do account for 80% of the commercial sector (i.e. they are a large proportion of all businesses), they probably do not provide an equivalent proportion of free car-parking for employees – hence they will be impacted disproportionately less by this change than big business.
Once one gets past the emotional hyperbole about rapists and small business, there is one somewhat substantive argument advanced by opponents of the FBT change in support of their position, namely the issue of “compliance costs”. High compliance costs are usually a valid reason to oppose a tax: After all most taxes are designed to collect revenue, so it would be pointless if the costs of complying with said tax outweighed the revenue that it generated. In such cases the Government would be better off taxing businesses through existing broad-based taxes, such as corporate tax.
But in this situation the compliance cost issue is, I think, a big fat red herring (BFRH). The reason it’s a BFRH relates to the very essence of FBT, namely that the tax is designed to stop employers from providing non-cash benefits, such as free parking, to their employees. And if employers stop providing free parking to their employees, then they won’t get hit with FBT and, by extension, they will avoid the dreaded “compliance costs”.
Stated differently, the opponents to this change are trying to portray FBT as a tax meteorite they cannot dodge.
In reality, employers do have a choice. And quite frankly they’d be stupid to keep doing what they’re currently doing, because in doing so they would incur a tax rate of 50%. Thus the whole idea of FBT is to stop employers from paying their employees non-cash benefits. The best way to avoid taxes on cigarettes is, you guessed it, to stop smoking. Or buy all your ciggies at the airport …
Anyway, my key point is that the compliance costs of extending FBT to employer-provided parking will, for most rational small businesses like mine (hah!), be close to zero – because they will stop doing it. Similarly, the revenue the Government earns from extending FBT to parking will be close to zero. But this does not mean the tax change is pointless from a revenue perspective, because the value of employer-provided parking will now flow through normal (broader) taxes, such as PAYE and – to a lesser extent – corporate tax. Both of which have lower compliance costs than FBT FYI.
Interestingly, it seems David Farrar over at KiwiBlog came to a similar position. Social-democratic watermelons of a feather flock together huh?
Ultimately, the suspiciously vocal opposition to the extension of FBT to employer-provided car-parking seems likely to originate with organisations that are guilty of putting their hand in the tax cookie jar – and now they are squealing like little piggies about the lid possibly being slammed shut. When you look at the issue in a relatively objective light then changes to the tax treatment of employer-provided parking seems to be something that obviously needs to happen at some point (NB: Opponents would do well to start every sentence on this topic with a statement to that effect, lest they wish to undermine their credibility even further).
I’m sure there’s a worthwhile debate to be had about whether FBT is the best way to slam shut the car-parking cookie jar – and that’s a debate I’d like to have. Without the hyperbole.
Transport infrastructure is just one of small group of vital core systems that the entire edifice of the city depends upon. This group; the water, wastewater, electricity, telecommunications, and transport structures of a city are critical to its wellbeing and success. These allow all the other social systems of a city; commerce, education, health, social and living processes to function at all. Such is the success of the city model that we have become able to expect these services to be operating all the time and without interruption more or less invisibly: To always be able to drink the water, to have electricity at the flick of a switch, to be able to physically access all of the city efficiently.
Cities are so dependent on these networks that they may even face existential crisis if one or more of them fail for any length of time. But of course they all require expensive physical infrastructure and ongoing organisation to maintain them. And because of the enormous economies of scale in the whole city solving these practical problems together some sort of central planning structure and mechanism for funding their construction and operation is also need. There are always debates around the need or otherwise for investment in these systems. In particular there always seem to be those who never want to invest in anything at all, or at least resist changing the current way of doing things.
“New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” — Sir Arthur C. Clark
For a city of its size and wealth Auckland has a relatively poor record in a number these areas recently. It seems we are in the habit of skimping on vital spending in some areas, building a bare minimum and just hoping for the best. We got badly found out with our electricity supply systems in 1998 with a major outage caused by the failure of equipment for which we had no backup or alternative route.
And until recently almost every summer we ran into water supply problems as we gambled with the weather to cooperate with the growing demands of an expanding city. But not this year, despite a record lack of rain and a record population. And there’s a good reason why as outlined in this article from Fairfax:
The Waikato pipeline has saved Auckland from a full-blown water shortage, mayor Len Brown says.
The pipeline, developed in the mid-1990s, now provides 20 per cent of the city’s water supply.
“The lakes are presently sitting at 70 per cent. That’s really only because we’re able to tap into the Waikato supply,” Mr Brown says.
“We’ve had basically drought conditions for the last six weeks.”
A $48 million upgrade completed last year increased the amount of water the pipeline is able to be supply from 75 million litres to 125 million litres .
“Aucklanders’ reliance on other supplies is being hugely tested.
“But those people in urban Auckland wouldn’t know that at all. It’s an endless beautiful summer and they’re lapping it up.”
Mr Brown describes the pipeline as a “massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission.
A further pipeline upgrade would be possible in the future as demand increases with population growth.
Sixty per cent of Auckland’s water comes from dams in the Hunua Ranges, 17 per cent from dams in the Waitakere Ranges, 20 per cent from the pipeline and 3 per cent from a freshwater spring in Onehunga.
So Auckland is only able to still function because of this ‘“massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission’. And it is expandable for future ‘demand increases with population growth.’
It is worth noting that the pipeline achieves this by only supplying 20% of our water needs. So it has been able to stabilise our existing water demand by meeting one fifth of the need. It has smoothed the peaks in the demand across the year.
But of course like all really successful infrastructure investments we tend to forget about it now it is working smoothly and just expect it to be there doing its job. What a great luxury. It’s only when things break down or show that they are becoming inadequate that we start to get really interested in them. In Auckland now there is really only one of these vital functions that is attracting that much interest: our transport systems. That the city comes to a total halt when there are problems on the motorway network shows that we are overly reliant on this one system, as we were when we only had local dams suppling our water.
Margritte, This is not a Pipe
It is not hard to see a metaphor here. It is very odd that some still claim that the best way to improve the quality of our transport systems in Auckland is to keep putting more eggs into one basket: To keep building more motorways. Yet as we had the wisdom to diversify our water supply it is clearly time to do the same in the transport sector. To be successful this diversification does not at all mean abandoning or downgrading our current assets, it is just a question of adding the option of a much more viable alternative to compliment them. And in the City Rail Link and associated work on the rail and bus networks we have a project that is analogous to the Waikato pipeline: it is the project to keep our current dominant asset running better.
And this is a matter of some urgency because of the time it will take construct this new high capacity ‘pipeline’ it is unwise to delay unless we are prepared to put up with increasingly frequent gridlock events. Not that any alternative to driving will ‘solve’ congestion or prevent accidents or all delays but a really high quality complimentary network will certainly provide that critical core percentage of movement that will remain untroubled by events elsewhere. And the CRL is the very core of the new bus/rail RTN backbone of that complimentary system.
But this is a new idea for Auckland [see Arthur C Clark above], and most people here have become used to the idea that you have to drive to get anywhere, so can it work, will people use it?
Well at every turn this century as we have improved the RTN network; Rail and the Northern Busway, these investments have been met with higher than projected patronage. And as the CRL and associated works will allow a frequency, capacity, and convenience that will make the entire network so much more attractive for so many people on so many occasions there is no reason to believe that this trend won’t just continue but accelerate. To contend otherwise cannot be supported by evidence. Or at least I have never seen any argument more advanced than simply the stating of an opinion as to why we shouldn’t confidently expect rapid growth in ridership after these investments.
We can also reasonably also look to the single most relevant example for a guide. Below is the Perth patronage data. Perth began a series of improvements to its rail network when its system was carrying around the same number as ours is now. The improvements are remarkably similar, electrification, an underground inner city connecting line, bus integration. Perth has a similar culture and population to Auckland, it is in fact a more spread out city, with fewer geographic constraints and a higher average income than Auckland. These facts make it an almost ideal, if conservative, model for Auckland’s plans.
Electrification with its every 10 minutes turn-up-and-go frequencies will certainly address our current capacity problems. But then once you add the more attractive and reliable trains, extension of services through the day and into weekends, coordination with the new bus network through fare integration as well as station and stop linking, it will also clearly grow demand beyond the constraints of the network. And, it is important to note, all of that at a considerably lower cost per service and per user.
So it is clear that well before the end of this decade the all-terminating-at-Britomart system is going to be groaning at the seams and a sorry waste of the potential carrying capacity of the wider network. While the coming improvements will wring more use out of what is the biggest waste of existing capacity in Auckland it will still be only lifting a fraction of the load it could be. What it could be with the CRL.
Auckland needs that new pipe!
Ceci n’est pas un Autoportrait!
Something to reflect on.
[thanks to Veronica]
One of the arguments commonly used against demands for more balance in transport investment between motorways and Transit or Active networks is that it would do nothing to change demand. Those with this position point to the current mode spilt in transport use and basically claim it is permanent, implying it is the result of perfect choice. In essence this is the government’s position, claiming that most people drive therefore we need more roads. This view contains two unexamined assumptions; one, that driving is always best served by adding more roads, and two, any change in driving demand, even if desired, is not possible to any meaningful degree. The people have chosen and even were there good alternatives, say a wonderfully efficient and appealing Transit network or safe and complete cycling system in Auckland, few would use them. Because driving is always, for everyone, in all situations, the ideal mode.
This is known as a Status Quo bias. And it is a position that you will also find held by many professionals in the transport planning and provision industry. It has a perfectly rational basis in experience for many as it is true that for about half a century leading up to about the middle of the last decade some key statistics such as growth in driving demand and electricity use were constantly rising across OCED countries. So much so that the main role of those in these industries pretty much consisted of working to predict the quantum of the rise and then trying to best provide for it. And for some years it was hard to keep up with the rise in demand, an exciting and busy ride for those at the heart of it no doubt. Many whole careers have been formed through this period and many at the top of their fields have little or no experience in any other condition.
That we have now had a good eight or so years since this state was the case in either driving volume rises or in electricity demand should enable us to expect a change in attitude both by professionals and politicians in these fields. However it is not clear that this is happening much at all, or at least if it is it’s uneven at best.
We can speculate why this might be; fear of change, inertia, innate conservatism of the fields, or vested interests [many a fine and well paid job in the auto-highway complex]…? But that isn’t what interests me here.
In this post it is my intention to show with a fascinating example in a related field why it is evident that we are indeed living in an age of disruption of these assumptions and discontinuity from these certainties from the previous century. And that it is really incumbent on any intelligent individual in these industries to ask a whole lot of more open-ended and interesting questions about how best to serve the future in their field.
Consider the fascinating example described here at the The Conversation site, an analysis of electricity demand this summer in Australia by Mike Sandiford from the University of Melbourne that shows the impact that the uptake of distributed solar power [PV] generation is having on the demand profile there. With a series of very clear charts Sandiford describes the extent of the disruption to the previously consistent growth pattern in electricity demand caused by individuals and small organisations installing PV on their buildings across Australia. Around 2 gigawatts in the last few years have been added in this way and here’s the result:
Note it is well worth looking at the original site for fuller information on this data:
For me the especially interesting and relevant charts are the ones below. Because in summer in a hot country electricity demand peaks in the afternoon [particularly because of the huge jump in aircon use] just when PV generation also is most productive. So this uptake in PV has the brilliant effect of smoothing the peak. In other words taking the pressure off the demand at exactly the best time, saving the nation a fortune in investment in capacity that is unneeded most of the time anyway. Here’s the metaphor: the baseload generators in Australia are just like our motorways; they easily supply heaps of capacity outside of the peaks, but it would be wasteful and inefficient to build extra capacity for the period of highest demand only to have them idle for the rest of the day. Especially when an alternative is easily within reach.
Average summer demand profile by time of day for South Australia. Left panel shows absolute demand for the last four summers. Right panel shows the percentage change relative to summer 2010. Data from AEMO, charts by Mike Sandiford.
This is exactly the way that investment now in Transit systems in Auckland is likely to be more cost effective and efficient than trying to build out the vastly dominant motorways systems with sufficient capacity for the peak of the peaks. There certainly is plenty of evidence that alternatives to driving can and will if provided smooth demand at the peaks in a way analogous to the way PV has smoothed the demand peaks in the Australian electricity market. We know from experience this century that improvement in Transit service is rewarded with big lifts in uptake. Two examples: Train use rising exponentially since the opening of Britomart [despite the frequent shutdowns for works and breakdowns by tatty old trains and the incomplete and disjointed network] correlating to a drop in the number of cars entering the city centre in the morning peak. And the result of the only new Transit Right Of Way for decades, the Northern Busway, having a hugely positive impact on the efficient performance of the motorway over the Harbour Bridge by substantially affecting demand [despite being less than half complete].
There are two separate but related points here:
1. The expectations of continual rises in driving demand are far from certain, especially as they have not been observed for quite some time [discontinuity] and are subject to the rise of alternatives [disruption].
2. We can choose to benefit from the advantages to society from these changes by investing and encouraging them.
Auckland already has an impressively extensive and well constructed motorway system that will offer a substantially complete network once current works are finished and that it is likely that the best way to get the highest value for money out of it and to ensure its continued efficient use is to invest away from it. Looking at the boxes below shows that serious consideration should be given to making the bulk of our next investments in transport from the right hand one. Especially as we certainly need to find the best and most effective ways to best utilise the sunk costs in existing investments. Want to keep the current dominant system functioning then invest in the complimentary alternatives to smooth that peak demand down to a manageable level.
At first look the analogy between Transit and PV uptake may seem imperfect because we cannot as individuals choose to have a better Transit system, but we can of course choose to use Transit if it is available at a good price, which really is all that has happened to the electricity market in Australia. The technology of PV is now available at a quality and a price that makes it an obvious choice by enough people to materially disrupt the need for many billions of dollars worth of new generation investment by society. And while this is upsetting the established power industry it is a great result for the financial burden on ordinary Australians, including those who have not bought PV. Exactly the same choice in the transport sector could be ours if we invest in it. And these advantages would accrue especially to those who never catch a bus or a train or ride a bike. Advantages in lower costs and a freer existing road system.
We live in an age of disruptions and discontinuities.
We need to be open to new opportunities and put less energy into fighting to try to keep things as they are:
Prepare To Stop!
Auto dominance and land use summed in one image:
BANKSY Los Angeles 2010
The genius of Banksy unleashed on LA; if we predominantly invest in driving as a means of urban movement we are going to have sacrifice more land for parking cars than building parks.
Which city is this?:
“Like most cities, X once had an extensive streetcar system, but as in most of them, this was essentially destroyed after World War II. From the 1950s to the 1980s, as X was ringing the entire metropolitan area with freeways, public transport was limited to an inadequate and generally unreliable bus network.”
Well it is Auckland almost exactly [although we're still building the freeways] but the quote is about Houston, Texas. Yes the big oil capital of America, one of the those southwest ‘air-con and auto’ sprawl cities and is just one example of how similar forces shape very different and distant places in similar ways through time.
There was, of course, a demographic shift that accompanied this big transport technology change [as both cause and effect] the famous ‘flight to the suburbs’. And what is especially interesting about the book that this quote is from is that it clearly lays out how the 21st century has witnessed the reversal of that post-war phenomenon across the entire range of cities in US. Instead of the significant aspirational movement heading out to the edges we are seeing what the author, Alan Ehrenhalt, is calling The Great Inversion; a return to the centre.
The Great Inversion
His thesis is best summed here:
Just a couple of decades ago, we took it for granted that inner cities were the preserve of immigrants and the poor, and that suburbs were the chosen destination of those who could afford them. Today, a demographic inversion is taking place: Central cities increasingly are where the affluent want to live, while suburbs are becoming home to poorer people and those who come to America from other parts of the world. Highly educated members of the emerging millennial generation are showing a decided preference for urban life and are being joined in many places by a new class of affluent retirees.
Ehrenhalt is a very careful student of place, this is not a work of speculation but of fine grained analysis and observation. He is also no old city urban snob, he does start his list of case studies in Chicago and New York but the bulk of the book is spent looking at the changes going on in places that are hardly on anyones list of urban successes; Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Cleveland, even ex-urban Atlanta. And in fact while some attention goes to the surprising case of Manhattan’s Wall St district being invaded by baby strollers [something even Jane Jacobs dismissed as impossible] the examples in Chicago and NY are both suburban.
His description of the changes in property value and demographics in Sheffield an inner suburb of Chicago pretty much describes similar changes we can see in say Grey Lynn in Auckland. The upgrade of ‘workingmen’s cottages’ to highly sought after homes by exactly the same cohort of affluent younger singles, couples, and, increasingly families, displacing poorer students and working class families. There are even all the same issues; complaints around gentrification, building heritage, fear of higher density. It is striking just how similar these movements and issues are.
Of course Sheffield’s change grew around the L stations that Chicago didn’t abandon and that are now being invested in and attracting increased ridership. Like the other NY example the very grim Brooklyn suburb of Bushwick, a post industrial wasteland of poverty, dependency, and drug crime on the ‘wrong’ side of that borough, ie unlike fashionable Williamsburg it is facing away from Manhattan. But it is on the subway and therefore directly linked to the centre:
“The train is the entire reason this is happening,” says loft entrepreneur Kevin Lindamood, echoing the flat pronouncement of real estate agent Ted McLauhglin that “these days, convenience trumps aestetics.”
He is very clear about the role of Transit and driving amenity in demographic movements and opportunity but this isn’t a transport book, interestingly, his main conclusion is that it is really all about choice. Enough people just want to have more intense urban living, working, and playing opportunities, not everyone, but there is plenty of suburbia and exurbia for those who don’t :
“I would go so far as to say that choice is what urbanism of the next generation is all about.”
Or this quote from Architecture professor Tom Diehl about the changes in Houston, in particular the tentative and fiercely contested new Light Rail investment:
‘The people who want to live close in are finally getting something now. The people who want to live on the freeway already have what they want.”
And he is very clear that he is not seeing an abandonment of suburbia, that demographic inversion is not the same as mass migration. But that, interestingly, a sizeable proportion of both the kids of the suburban era and their now downsizing parents are shifting in. The suburbs they are leaving are often being occupied by new immigrants and by the less affluent families who used to occupy the rundown inner suburbs.
For someone who grew up in a totally monocultural and suburban Howick and first came [escaped] to Ponsonby when it was a multicultural and undervalued inner suburb, the relevance of this book to Auckland is more than obvious; it’s biographical [my parents, ahead of their time, downsized to an inner city apartment too]. Perversely Howick is now multicultural and Ponsonby more monocultural than it has been since the Edwardian era. And Ehrenhalt has described how: immigration in Auckland largely [but not only] has a suburban locus and many ex-suburbanites have upscaled inwardly.
Exactly what we can see in Auckland: A big enough proportion of the Millenial cohort and their baby boomer empty-nester parents leaving the outer ‘burbs for the inner ones to drive up prices there. And new New Zealanders filling in the old boom-burbs of the previous era along with displaced working class populations from older Victorian and Edwardian inner Auckland. Having until recently not been a city of apartments Auckland is getting those again too.
Because of the way he has structured the book around very close analysis of parts of very different US cities it is a really good way to understand how vitally important the specifics of physical geography, climate, historic patterns, previous infrastructure investments, local institutions, local leadership, and employment changes are to the forms of each city. Yes he shows a very clear collective theme, a zeitgeist, that is undeniably occurring, but how it plays out, and what should or could be done in each city is strikingly different. This, in many ways, makes it a very powerful tool for local understanding wherever you are.
My favourite observation in the book is one that I’ve expressed here before. We are heading back to the future: Even sprawl cities and smaller suburban centres are aspiring to a condition closer to the city streets of the early 20th and 19th Centuries than the totally auto-dependent ones of more recent times. But of course with contemporary technology. Ehrenhalt quotes the urban historian David Olsen who perceptively wrote in 1986:
“If we are to achieve an urban renaissance, it is the nineteenth century city that will be reborn.”
Not of course the crushing social inequality nor environmental carelessness of that age but a return to urban vitality; the city as “centre of commerce and sociability, of nonstop human drama,of endless surprise and stimulation. One might call it, as many did at the time, a theatre of living”. Ehrenhalt also makes the point that those old city streets were way beyond “mixed use” in the modern sense: “This was essentially “all use” urbanism.”
This is, after all, how progress works, change is never linear; all those predictions from the 50s of flying cars and jet packs really express the obsessions of their age, not only a dated technophilia [nuclear everything] but also a horror of social intensity that many now crave. Really it is those still fantasising about driverless pods that are the old fashioned ones. The future ain’t what it used to be.
There’s a brief interview here that expands a little on his themes, including a polite reposte to Joel Kotkin’s standard inability to imagine change. But most of all I strongly recommend anyone interested in what the future holds for cities everywhere should read this book. Especially in Auckland because it is happening here and although like all change there will be some good things that are lost, it describes a mostly exciting and optimistic future for this increasingly urban century.
There have been so many excellent books about transport and planning come out in recent times: perhaps with Straphanger and Human Transit the two most exciting books for 2012 in that respect (at least in my opinion). But the book I’ve been reading recently is a little older, first published in 2000 – called “How Cities Work: suburbs, sprawl and the roads not taken” by Alex Marshall.
I’m rubbish at doing book reviews, so I’m not going to try. Instead there are a few really good passages in this book which give us a hint of its flavour – a flavour that I like. One of the really interesting elements of the book is the author’s distaste for “New Urbanism“, which is interesting because generally I’m quite a fan of New Urbanism though I found myself agreeing with many of the points made against it – such as below:
As it stands now, New Urbanism is more destructive than not in its effect on city planning and design. It often represents the worst of America in its hucksterism, in its promise of avoiding difficult choices, in its proffered option of buying one’s way out of problems, in its delivery of image over substance.
Many New Urbanists resist recognising that the communities they admire and copy were produced by transportation systems that no longer exist. One cannot copy the design of such communities – Charleston, Annapolis etc. – without copying the transportation system that produced them, or building some modern facsimile of it. A neighbourhood of place lives within the transportation system that spawns it, and can no more escape this dynamic than a creek can escape the watershed it is part of.
These two paragraphs encapsulate, I think, why it seems we seem to end up with bad urban outcomes no matter how hard we try to avoid them. Just look around the recently built (and still being constructed) parts of Auckland and you can see these points at work:
- Stonefields has a nice internal street grid and many other “new urbanist” design elements but it’s still horribly disconnected from the city around it and therefore feels isolated and somewhat claustrophobic.
- Flat Bush will also have a great grid street pattern in the future, clever use of open space, a town centre that’s designed down to every last little detail but this can’t hide the fact that it’s in the most car dependent part of Auckland and therefore ends up with massively wide roads and exceptionally poor options for those without a car.
- Addison near Takanini has every good design detail you could hope for from a recent subdivision but hardly has a single thing within walking distance so you still need your car for every single trip.
I do find myself ascribing to the general belief that transport drives land-use outcomes far more than the opposite. This is a really major theme of How Cities Workand comes through perhaps most clearly towards the end of the book:
The layout of a region’s internal transportation will determine how people get to work, how they shop, how they recreate, how they live. The standard choice today of lacing a metropolitan area with big freeways for purely internal travel means we will have a sprawling, formless environment. Simply getting rid of freeways – forget mass transit – would establish a more neighbourhood-centred economy and dynamic. But we don’t have to forget mass transit. Laying out train lines, streetcar tracks, bus lanes, bike paths, and sidewalks – and foregoing freeways and big roads – will mean a more place-oriented form of living. Both the drawbacks and benefits of such a style dwell in its more communal, group-oriented form of living. You will have the option of not using a car. But to get this option, you have to accept that using a car will be more difficult.
That last two sentences capture the crux of the issue perfectly and lays bare something that I think we are often too afraid to confront. If we want a city with a better range of transport options, where people have a genuine choice of not driving everywhere, it is inevitable that driving will be a bit less pleasant. While the intelligence of public discussion on transport issues seems like it has come a long way over the past few years, the trade-offs are something that we still shy away from – but I wonder at what cost (both financial and in terms of damage to the kind of city it seems most people want Auckland to be) this unwillingness to confront tough issues comes at.