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How can we make road pricing fair?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Auto-Dependency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auto-dependency Atributes

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

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

Auto-dependency cycle

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

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

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

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

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

To which he replied

WOW. First of all, GREAT question.

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

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

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

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

Summer in the City, and a look ahead.

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

OSTRO_5788

What a great scene:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More People + Fewer Cars = Better City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of which brings us back to the image:

OSTRO_5788

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

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

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

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

XMAS 2013_01

 

 

Transport is an increasing burden for New Zealanders

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

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

transport-household-expenditure

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

Household Economic Survey - Transport

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

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

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

Lincoln Rd to be “upgraded”

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

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

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

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

The upgrade seeks to

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

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

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

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

Lincoln Rd - Triangle-Central Park intersection

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

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

Lincoln Rd Time Line

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

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

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

On Self-Driving Cars

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:

ELLIOTT ST

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.

Nice work.

 

Ponsonby Rd Masterplan Feedback Extended

*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.

P Rd

P Rd

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 RD_7162

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.

MACKELVIE ST_9009

Ponsonby Rd

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.

And:

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?

BOTANY

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

Ponsonby Rd in Spring

Guest Post: The Value of Time

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

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.

EEM chart 1

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:

Ak relative productivity

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.

EEM chart 2

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.

 

Houston: We Have A Problem

One chart for all you Sprawlistas out there that keep arguing that Houston is some kind of role model for Auckland’s growth:

Revised_petrol_use_urban_density

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.[79][80] 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.[11]

The Houston area is a leading center for building oilfield equipment.[81] Much of Houston’s success as a petrochemical complex is due to its busy ship channel, the Port of Houston.[82] The port ranks first in the United States in international commerce, and is the tenth-largest port in the world.[12][83] 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.[84] [my emphasis]

And also:

The predominant form of transportation in Houston is the automobile with 71.7 percent of residents driving alone to work[157] 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.[158] 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.[159][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.[163][164] The city is currently in the process of expanding its on and off street bikeway network.[165] 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.[166]

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:

West Houston

West Houston

Suburban Houston

Suburban Houston

Houston-HW_600

Houston HW3 During the evacuation from Hurricane Katrina

Houston

Houston

Auckland You Drive Me Crazy!

This a guest post by Tim Kvingedal, a student at the School of Architecture, University of Auckland. Tim is from Norway.

Tim K 1

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

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.

 

Tim K 3On 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.

Tim K 4

The Walk

Tim K 5

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:

Tim K 6

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.

Tim K 7

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.

Tim K 8

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.

Tim K 10

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.

Tim K 11

Tim K 12

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.

Tim K 13

Another thing that fascinates me when I’m walking are all the cars popping out of buildings like Jack in the box.

Tim K 15

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.

Tim K 17

This picture sums up the feeling as a pedestrian with all this cars popping out. It’s a battle:

Kim K 18

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?

Tim K 19

So after crossing 14 intersections in total I’m home again and these are the stats from the walk:

Tim K 20

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…

Tim K 21