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:
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.
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:
Typically 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.
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.
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
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.
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)
Over on dezeen there is a really interesting post by Dan Hill called “Self-driving cars are the answer- what is the question?”
Basically you should all read the whole thing there rather than me sum it up but here’s taste:
Here we see such companies are not actually interested in genuine change, for all their bluster about “radical disruption”. Self-driving cars are a sticking plaster over existing conditions. They actually reinforce the ‘Californian Ideology‘ that underpins today’s mobility problems: suburban sprawl, based around the possibility of lengthy car-based commutes, in turn predicated on a highly individualistic view of society. It is an entirely conservative move. Self-driving cars provide a way of changing the veneer of this system, as no-one is brave enough to suggest changing the system itself. They replace who, or what, is holding the steering wheel, but not the underlying culture that contributes to mass depression, obesity epidemics, climate change and economic crises.
And this gem:
To them, technology enables them avoid talking about changing an unsustainable lifestyle. They want to have their cake and eat it. And then get fat.
I’ve long held the view that the enthusiasm for self driving cars as any kind of answer is for the problems of our cities is wrong-headed, especially for people emotionally attached to their cars and driving. This later group seem to me to like fighter pilots advocating for more drones: you love driving; hand it over to a risk adverse computer then.
And of course if we want more city with the quality of Elliott St then technology that reduces the numbers of cars rather than sets out to maintain auto-dependency is what is required:
Anyway Hill cuts nicely to the chase on the disconnect we have around cars and their apparent delivery of ‘Freedom’ to our lives:
For all the emotional appeal that cars are associated with, most tasks do not involve an Audi TT gliding around a bend in the Dolomites, sadly, but glum, mildly desperate, slogs through dreary clogged arteries. The FT reports that “the average American spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. Cars spend more than 90 percent of their lives idle.”
He also has a better solution, one not as sexy and futuristic sounding as the robot car, but one much more likey to deliver real change and improvement to people’s lives this century:
The allure of cars, albeit a fantasy most of the time, is significant though. They are wonderful machines, after all. So why not reframe them as “something for the weekend”? Around freedom, excitement, identity, at your leisure.
Software-enabled sharing is far more radical than simply software-enabled driving. We have seen how bike-sharing schemes are beginning to redraw our urban fabric. We can see the growth in the community garden movements. We can see how shared space systems creates a safer, more engaged way of moving around. Self-driving cars have none of these dynamics, simply using software to reinforce what are actually pre-internet ideologies.
*submissions open till September 16th* Online form here, plan here, previous post here.
Ponsonby Rd, the heart of my neighbourhood, isn’t bad, but I find it pretty difficult to argue that it is as good as it could be. Local retailers, cafe and restaurant operators, and building owners work hard on what they offer, including the physical qualities of their businesses, but the strip itself is pretty ordinary. The area as a whole is in fact fairy one dimensional, lacking much beyond shopping and dinning, and suffers from a few tricky structural problems. And surely the challenge is to improve the appeal of the area in order to not only compete with other local centres in Auckland but also to put it on the map in the Pacific region as a flagship attractor for the whole city. All of urban Auckland needs to look hard at itself and get more ambitious about what is unique and attractive about each area and work on improvments. How we structure the public realm basically defines the stage on which the performance of commercial and social exchange takes place and therefore has a huge role in forming the quality and tone of the whole city.
Happily, motivated locals and the Waitemata Local Board have developed a pretty good plan for the way forward, with some fairly gentle ways to build on the good bones of this important ridge and carry them forward to enhance what we know works well for these sorts of places this century. But they need your support. As we have seen with the Unitary Plan fearful voices seem to be the ones that dominate these feedback programmes. And it in particular it appears we can rely on one group; retailers, and especially fashion retailers, to forcefully express a ‘never change anything near my store ever‘ view.
Perhaps being so used to controlling every detail of their businesses gives this group a tendency to demand that the public space beyond their stores be entirely shaped to their interests too. I guess this is understandable in the sense that retail is a place dependent business model so they can feel vulnerable to forces beyond their control that they fear may threaten their income, but of course no single group whether church goers, cyclists, bus users, art lovers, car drivers, or shop owners has the right to control the public realm for their own purposes. And I’m sure even the most panicked shop owner accepts that really. We all pay rates. But even that isn’t the most important issue here.
More interesting is the fact that what retailers often express as being most important in the public realm around their businesses, the things they argue so forcefully for and against, so often just isn’t supported by the evidence. Let’s have a look.
No doubt that the chief area of dispute will be, as ever, around car parking and car privilege on the roads. Ponsonby Rd does serve various important and conflicting purposes around transport that need looking at from all angles, here is the conclusion from an NZTA study to bear in mind as we look at the street as a whole:
The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.
Ponsonby Road towards Mackelvie St
Ponsonby Rd is a through route, it’s a destination retail, dining, and socialising area, it’s a residential community, and the main spine for serving the surrounding residential streets, and it’s a locus for cultural activities and events. It has a couple of notable but underused churches. It carries drivers heading somewhere else with no interest in stopping as well as local traffic, it has important bus routes, especially linking it to the City, K’rd, Newmarket, and the North Shore. And, being both destination rich and on a ridge, it is an ideal cycle route. It again has some London Planes that partially replace the full set that both Jervois and Ponsonby Roads had but that were felled when the tram tracks were removed to make even more room for vehicles.
Ponsonby Road in Spring
It is also worth noting what it doesn’t have: no public art galleries, very little public sculpture [except John Radford's 'Tip' in Western Park] no theatres or cinemas, no major music venue [any more], no sports facilities, no rapid transit stations or service. So it has a reputation for cultural vitality that it doesn’t really support in it’s institutions or amenities. It has scattered bits of Victorian and Edwardian building, no visible remnants of Maori occupation, and it faces the edge of one park. Its form is linear, it is very much a street; a spine not a centre. It skirts along parallel to the City Centre as if wary of its gravitational pull. The rhythm of its built occupation is stuttering, there are handsome buildings old and new, some more or less charming shacks [old], and some crimes against place and beauty that never should have been built, largely from the late 20th Century. There are sections where the buildings are regrettably set back from the pavement in order to satisfy stupid parking requirements that give the street face a missing tooth effect.
It is my view that there is space on Ponsonby Rd for all types of users, but that the quality of the experience there for those out of their cars and participating in the commercial and cultural transactions on the street does need enhancing. In particular that the current auto-dominace needs to be wound back a little. Driving will still remain by far the most dominant force on the street and shaper of place, but by just pulling back a little of its total power Ponsonby Rd can grow into a much better and more attractive place for people. You know, people, those things that shop, eat, drink, and socialise.
The options in the Plan aren’t very extreme in this regard but some of it should make a real difference. Things like:
- raised pedestrian tables at the tops of the side streets to make a unified pedestrian place and to slow and calm turning traffic.
- better pedestrian crossing privilege; Barnes Dances on major intersections.
- bus buildouts so the buses move more efficiently and there become a more attractive option for more users and are less in conflict with other traffic.
- shared spaces at St Mary’s Bay Rd, Pollen St, Mackelvie St. Shared Spaces have been a huge success for retailers in the city where they have been built [Mr Crane is wrong].
- I would add selected restriction on right hand turns from and into some streets, especially Mackelvie St, which causes huge conflict with Richmond Rd intersection traffic and the bus stop on Ponsonby Rd. And this would enhance the top of the unusually wide Mackelvie as an urban space.
- cycle lanes are an absolute must for this ridge route, evidence shows that providing real cycling routes along shopping streets boosts business better than car parking.
Here is the first paragraph of an article based on a Seattle study called, somewhat unambitiously, ‘No, bike lanes don’t hurt retail business‘:
City retailers tend to overestimate the importance of parking to their business. They fail to see the many downsides of free parking (congestion and low shopper turnover, among them). They believe more people arrive at the store by car than actually do. They may not even realize that while driving customers spend more per visit, non-drivers spend as much or more in the long term.
And it concludes with this after looking at yet another study this time in New York:
At best, retailers in a corridor seem to benefit from the change. At worst, they can still count on business as usual.
Still not convinced? Here’s another, this time from LA:
Despite the traditional opposition of local businesses when diets are proposed in front of their stores, McCormick’s case study finds there was little difference in the hyper local economies after a portion of York Boulevard underwent a road diet in 2006.
Those crazy Americans, they don’t love their cars as much as we do, we’re different in NZ, aren’t we? so what does this study from our own very car focused NZTA conclude:
The data indicates the pedestrians and cyclists contribute a higher economic spend proportionately to the modal share and are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas.
The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.
Perhaps it’s just that retailers tend to misunderstand what parking supply actually does to an area. One thing it does is increase driving, and the greater the amount of driving through your shopping area the lower the chances are that it will be a high-quality pedestrian and urban design place. We know what total driving privileged shopping precincts look like because we have been building them for decades. Below is Botany Town Centre, a world made by Traffic Engineers, see if you can find a human in this picture and ask yourself is Botany a celebrated urban place mentioned in all the guide books as a must visit, does it attract visitors to Auckland? Are there high value retail and speciality cafes and restaurants there?
Surely everybody wants to help make Ponsonby Rd as different as possible from places like this, for the sake of the whole city.
The new Vinegar Lane development is delivering 680 new carparks to Ponsonby so removing a few so that cycling can be encouraged will still result in a net gain of over 600 new parking space. There is an argument that taking even more out than is proposed in any of the options in the draft plans should be considered as more parking means more driving and the resultant loss of place quality that vehicles en mass always deliver. And of course removing some parking while building amenity for the other modes is the best way to improve place quality but maintain access and vitality.
There are more interesting opportunities on the strip but in the interests of getting this up before submissions close I’ll deal with them in another post.
*submissions open till September 16th* Online form here, plan here, previous post here.
Ponsonby Rd in Spring
This is a guest post by Peter Nunns, an economist working in Auckland with an interest in transport past, present, and future. (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are his personal views and do not reflect upon the position of any organisation with which he is associated or constitute professional advice.)
Readers of this blog will be familiar with the notion of the benefit cost ratio (BCR), a figure that compares the forecasted benefits of a project with the financial cost of building it. It’s often used as a shorthand for the quality of a project: If the BCR is high (i.e. substantially above 1) it is seen as a good use of public money; if not, it can be criticised as a boondoggle.
Everyone plays this game. Opposition politicians often criticise motorway projects such as Puhoi-Wellsford and the Kapiti Expressway on the basis of BCRs that fall below 1, while the Minister of Transport has in the past expressed scepticism about the City Rail Link on the same grounds.
However, there is relatively little public discussion of the hows and whys of these seemingly consequential numbers. How, exactly, does one calculate a BCR?
The procedures for conducting an economic evaluation of a transport project are set out in excruciating detail in the Economic Evaluation Manual (EEM) published by the New Zealand Transport Agency. This manual defines the exact procedures that need to be followed when evaluating any transport project and specifies the values that should be used in the evaluation.
Read it at your leisure (or peril). Here’s the summary version.
The traditional method of estimating the economic benefits of a transport project involves three main steps.
First, you need to define the project carefully – that is, you need to figure out what you are planning to build, when you will build it, and the new service patterns that you’ll introduce as a result. Take, for example, the case of the Avondale-Southdown rail line, which is in the Auckland Plan but hasn’t been defined carefully enough to enable us to figure out what it will do. We can’t evaluate that until we know exactly what we’re building and when.
Second, you need to forecast the effects that the project will have on travel behaviour. Let’s stick with the example of Avondale-Southdown. In the short term, we might expect adding a new rail line to encourage some people to switch from buses or cars, thereby reducing congestion, and to encourage some people to take trips when they wouldn’t otherwise have travelled. In the longer term, it might change the patterns of population and employment location, by making it easier for people to live and work in certain places.
This forecasting is typically done by regional transport models, which estimate (on the basis of existing travel patterns and forecast changes to land use in a region) how people will get around in the future and how much time it will take them.
Third, you need to quantify the benefits of changes to travel behaviour. This is where the EEM comes in. It summarises the types of benefits that you should expect from transport projects, and defines values that allow you to monetise those benefits. Broadly speaking, the benefits considered in the EEM fall into four main categories:
· Reduced travel time
· Reduced vehicle operating costs
· Reductions in accidents and health costs
· Reduced vehicle emissions.
(There are obviously a whole bunch of important things that are not assigned any value under this framework. We might, for example, want a transport system that provides us with a choice of multiple modes, or increases our resilience to shocks such as tectonic plate activity or sudden oil price increases. These benefits are often considered in other stages of the evaluation but not quantified.)
NZTA considers travel time savings to be the most consequential economic benefit. Forecast travel time savings make up the largest share of quantified benefits from most large transport projects in and around Auckland. This is based on the idea that the time we spent in transit could be spent more productively on other activities. If we weren’t stuck on congested road and PT networks, we would be working more, or doing things that we found at least as satisfying or remunerative as work. For many projects, the time savings on an individual trip might be small – but they can add up quite rapidly over large numbers of trips.
Take the case of the CRL. Removing the Britomart bottleneck is expected to increase capacity and hence frequency across the whole network. This will make it quicker for PT riders to get into the city centre. The effects are larger on the Western Line but still significant from the South and East, as this table released by Auckland Transport indicates:
CRL time savings
In short, reductions in travel time are an important topic! So how, exactly, do we place a monetary value on them?
The answer is buried in the appendices to the EEM – Tables A4.1 and A4.2 to be exact. I’ve summarised some of the key features in two handy charts. Unfortunately, the figures themselves present some logical conundrums.
The first chart compares the value of time assigned to trips on urban arterial routes and in rural areas. Urban travel during the weekend is considered to be less valuable than weekday travel – which is fair enough, as most people work during the week. But – perplexingly – urban commuter travel is considered much less valuable than rural travel of any type.
In plain English, the EEM places a much higher value on the average JAFA’s time when s/he is on holiday in the Bay of Islands than commuting across the Harbour Bridge to get to work.
Is this logical? It’s hard to say, because the EEM contains no attribution or explanation for these figures. They are apparently derived from willingness-to-pay surveys , in which people are asked what value they place on their own time. But they don’t seem to bear any relation to differences in productivity, which is another important measure of the value of time.
The econometric research suggests that urban areas in New Zealand, and in particular the Auckland city centre, have a large productivity premium over other areas. Take, for example, the findings of a 2008 paper by David Mare (“Labour productivity in Auckland firms” ). Based on this, one would expect Aucklander’s time to be counted as relatively more valuable, not less:
So far, so strange. Now look at the second chart, which compares the additional value of time assigned to commuter trips on different modes. The EEM places a much lower value on trips that aren’t taken in single-occupant cars. If you’re walking or cycling rather than driving, your time is worth $1 an hour less; if you’re taking the bus or train, it’s worth $3 an hour less.
Once again, it’s impossible to say whether or not these values make any sense, because no source or attribution is provided. In theory, there might be some logic to these differences. For example, time spent in a bus might be less onerous as it enables one to multitask while travelling. And people might not object to time spent walking or cycling due to the health benefits. But counter-arguments could also be raised – many people enjoy driving cars and don’t mind spending a bit more time on the road.
What can be said is that the values of time defined in the EEM have consequences. They allow the transport outcomes from different projects to be quantified and compared with each other. Decisions about what to build and not to build are then based on those comparisons. So it’s tremendously important to know that we are evaluating projects using a method that undervalues the time of urban travellers relative to rural travellers, and undervalues the time of PT users, cyclists, and car-poolers relative to drivers.
One chart for all you Sprawlistas out there that keep arguing that Houston is some kind of role model for Auckland’s growth:
From Wiki, here. I figure this is self-explanatory. The dispersed spatial pattern of Houston is the single most expensive and inefficient type of urban form possible, but it can function there because of a set of specific local factors, including that Houston is at the centre of a largely flat plain without geographical constraints like, you know, two harbours. But especially because of economic conditions that are pretty unique to Houston compared to other cities in the OECD.
Houston is at the centre of a petro-state. It is energy rich, especially in hydrocarbons; oil and gas, for all that driving. But also, and this may surprise some, Texas is home to the largest concentrations of wind turbines in the US. Something’s got to keep all that aircon running. Solar is growing very fast too, it being both sunny and windy there, and large areas of land are available throughout the state with few other competing uses, especially as increasing droughts threaten the large agriculture business. Texas is energy rich and Houston is the capital of the US energy industry.
From the Houston Wiki page:
Houston is recognized worldwide for its energy industry—particularly for oil and natural gas—as well as for biomedical research and aeronautics. Renewable energy sources—wind and solar—are also growing economic bases in Houston. The ship channel is also a large part of Houston’s economic base. Because of these strengths, Houston is designated as a global city by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network and by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.
The Houston area is a leading center for building oilfield equipment. Much of Houston’s success as a petrochemical complex is due to its busy ship channel, the Port of Houston. The port ranks first in the United States in international commerce, and is the tenth-largest port in the world. Unlike most places, high oil and gasoline prices are beneficial for Houston’s economy as many of its residents are employed in the energy industry. [my emphasis]
The predominant form of transportation in Houston is the automobile with 71.7 percent of residents driving alone to work This is facilitated through Houston’s freewaysystem, comprising 739.3 miles (1,189.8 km) of freeways and expressways in a ten-county metropolitan area. However, the Texas Transportation Institute‘s annual Urban Mobility Report found that Houston had the fourth-worst congestion in the country with commuters spending an average of 58 hours in traffic in 2009.[my emphasis]
But perhaps there’s some hope because:
Houston has the largest number of bike commuters in Texas with over 160 miles of dedicated bikeways. The city is currently in the process of expanding its on and off street bikeway network. A newBicycle sharing system known as Houston B-Cycle currently operates 11 different stations in the downtown area and 7 in other parts of Houston.
But really, Houston’s conditions are so distant from Auckland’s that it is not realistic to point to its urban form as an answer to our situation. Even if we were agreed that Houston’s pattern is is even desirable:
Houston HW3 During the evacuation from Hurricane Katrina
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.