Get out the Yellow Paint

I’ve been getting thoroughly fed up of inconsiderate drivers parking cars on footpaths and readers may remember a post I wrote about this less than a month ago. In the last few days the issue has become front page news at the herald who are encouraging outrage that some people were ticketed for the practice. I wish the media would show the same outrage when a person in a wheelchair or pushing a pram can’t get past a car parked on a kerb

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is backing furious residents of the two Orakei streets after the Weekend Herald revealed that Auckland Council parking wardens fined 27 residents in the early morning sting on cars with two wheels on the kerb.

Residents on Orakei’s Apihai and Tautari streets woke on Thursday to find $40 fines on their windscreens.

“The trouble with Auckland Council is its choice to apply blanket rules rather than common sense,” said Carmel Claridge, a spokesperson for the Ratepayers’ Alliance.

“Here a community have done the right thing by parking on the kerb to allow unimpeded access and reduce the hazard. Rather than let them be, the Council swans in with its ‘we know best’ attitude.”

Claridge said her son lives on the affected Tautari Street and believed if residents followed the rules the space left would make it impossible for emergency service vehicles to pass.

Auckland Transport is sticking by the decision, saying the road is not considered narrow and road markings are not needed to prescribe correct parking.

And you can listen to Carmel on Radio live talking about it here.

I can imagine in other situations where a ratepayers group would be furious if council/AT employed people who then didn’t do their job, a ‘what are we paying them for’ type argument. There can also be an issue – particularly in older suburbs – that vehicles can damage infrastructure just below the service, in particular water pipes. When that happens that can result in significant costs to ratepayers to fix.

Interestingly even on Google Streetview you can see the practice is pretty common.

Kerb Parking Herald

Although a quick check of streetview shows it’s not just cars blocking footpaths. For example there’s this on Apihai St showing little regard for those using the footpath

Kerb Parking Herald 2

The article contains a number of other comments blended in with what appears to be a healthy dose of entitlement.

“The people who live on this street, no one complains about it because everyone has to do it and has done it for years.”

One resident who received a ticket, Lyzadie Renault, said it was safer and more courteous to park half on the footpath.

Her home has no driveway and the family’s Range Rover does not fit inside their old, small garage that sits at street level.

“It’s common sense, it just means that people can get through easily and the whole street does it for that exact reason – nobody is trying to break the rules or is fully blocking the sidewalk, it’s being considerate for people using the road.

“When two cars are parked fully on the road, even if you have a normal-sized car, you have to go really slow, let alone for emergency vehicles or all the construction trucks and vans in this neighbourhood, plus rubbish trucks on Thursdays.”

So we’ve got ‘we’ve always parked illegally so why should we stop now’, ‘I brought a vehicle too big for my garage so should be able to park illegally’ and ‘if people didn’t do this I might have to slow down a little’.

And as you might expect, certain people/groups are jumping in to support the parkers.

Cameron Brewer thinks residents should be able to do what they want because they live in expensive houses.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer condemned the blitz as ridiculous. “These people pay huge rates and mean no malice but are being picked on because they’re most likely to stump up the cash to help fill Auckland Transport’s coffers.

“It’s completely unfair and uncalled for. These tickets should be waived forthwith.”

Local board chair Desley Simpson is oddly blaming intensification on something the residents say they’ve done for years

Orakei Local Board chairwoman Desley Simpson said Auckland Transport needed to address the growing issues associated with narrow streets.

“Intensification and narrow streets are causing problems in our older inner-city suburbs,” she said. “Sadly, AT haven’t stepped up to look at options to address this.”

And the AA says people should be able to break rules.

But AA’s senior policy analyst, Mark Stockdale, backs the residents and said the agency should be looking for solutions.

“The public have been ticketed out of the blue for trying to do the right thing by leaving the road clear and not blocking the footpath,” he said.

“It’s the stick instead of the carrot. Yes, the rules are the rules but sometimes the rules don’t make sense – just fining people is not a solution.”

If fining people isn’t the solution and the residents continue to claim that the road is too narrow then it seems there is a quick, cheap and simple solution for Auckland Transport. They should get out the yellow paint and put some dashed lines down at least one side of the road. That’ll solve the problem but somehow I don’t think the residents like the outcome.

How might the RMA amendments and the Auckland Plan impact on the Unitary Plan?

The advertisement below is from the last local government elections. Here Councillor Denise Krum rallies against the draft Unitary Plan, especially the degree to which it enables “intensification”. Denise’s advertisement claims the draft Unitary Plan is “too intense” and will “change our streets forever”. Instead, Denise advocates for greater restrictions on the degree to which property owners can develop their property in the urban area, and more expansion of the city. Denise was subsequently elected.

Denise Krum

Denise is particularly critical of 3 storey height limits, and goes to the trouble of hoisting herself up (some might say by her own petard) in a scissor-lift so as to highlight differences in building heights.

From this advertisement it seems clear Denise does not support the draft Unitary Plan and instead considers restrictions on intensification as being necessary to preserve community well-being. It is notable the advertisement does not contain any references to any research or surveys which support the positions Denise adopts on these issues. Is it too much for me to expect political advertising to include references to evidence supporting the positions being advanced? Perhaps.

When it comes to planning, however, evidence matters. Recent 2013 amendments to the RMA increased the burden of proof with regards to S32 reports, especially in terms of the economic analysis that should be undertaken to support proposed policy provisions. For those who are not familiar with planning jargon, a “S32 report” attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in comparison to potential alternatives. The 2013 RMA amendments requires S32 analysis to identify, and where practicable quantify, the economic benefits and costs of proposed policies. Some smarty-pants lawyers had this to say about the RMA amendments at last year’s NZPI conference (source):

“Arguably the most significant and material change is an expansion and detailed elucidation of the reference to “benefits and costs”, in the context of assessing efficiency and effectiveness … Post 2013s 32(2) requires, in much more detail, the following:

An assessment under subsection (1)(b)(ii) must—

(a) identify and assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects that are anticipated from the implementation of the provisions, including the opportunities for—

(i) economic growth that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and

(ii) employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and

(b) if practicable, quantity the benefits and costs referred to in paragraph (a).

The task of complying with these requirements is not insignificant. A systematic approach will need to be taken in preparing s32 reports to ensure that they are compliant and address environmental, economic, social and cultural effects, including opportunities for economic growth and employment.”

Ever since the RMA amendments came into force I have pondered how they might impact on the proposed Unitary Plan, especially with regards to density controls? I have also been wondering how the strategic direction established in the Auckland Plan, which I think was developed under the auspices of the LGAAA, would be relevant to the Unitary Plan?

My interest was further piqued when councillors, such as Denise, dramatically reduced the level of intensification that could occur in metropolitan Auckland, since which time house prices have soared. The differences between the draft and the proposed Unitary Plans is highlighted in the map below. Areas of red show areas where down-zoning occurred, which includes most of the isthmus. These are the areas where property prices are high (and increasing), i.e. where market-driven intensification seems most likely to occur.

Down zoning

From this it seems fair to say that proposed Unitary Plan imposes tighter density controls. The question is whether these controls are supported by economic evidence that meets the requirements of the (amended) RMA? And, moreover, how apparent tensions between the strategic direction of the Auckland Plan and the approach adopted in the proposed Unitary Plan would play out in a hearing context?

The economic costs of density controls are relatively intuitive: They forgo and/or displace land use development. This means we get less of it, especially in higher In terms of the economic benefits of density controls, those who are opposing intensification, such as Denise, will need to present evidence to show that levels of density which are common-place elsewhere, e.g. cities in Australia and Europe, will cause significant harm to communities should they be replicated in Auckland.

I’m skeptical as to whether this evidence exists. Most of the research I’ve read, such as this review by UNSW for Queensland Health, finds no conclusive evidence that higher density development has negative impacts on well-being. In fact, there’s evidence it’s beneficial to many outcomes, such as childrens levels of physical activity and obesity rates. So much for the meme that children need a big backyard to stay fit and healthy!

In my experience living in Auckland and overseas, buildings of approximately 6 storeys seem to have relatively negligible negative impacts on well-being and/or amenity. The photos below illustrate two buildings from Amsterdam and Auckland, but I could have easily added many more photos of multi-storey buildings from Brisbane, Sydney, and Stockholm. While there are large differences in style, I find both buildings quite attractive (the first photo is used under license from myself; the second photo belongs to Ockham).

Amsterdam nightmare

_CM15340 crop-600-600-450-450-crop

For these reasons, I have been somewhat heartened to read the interim guidance on view shafts that was issued by the Commissioners who are overseeing the Unitary Plan hearings process. In this guidance the Commissioners note “the objectives, policies and rules in relation to viewshafts do not meet the s32 requirements of the Act” for several reasons, most notably “amendments were made to s32 in 2013 to require employment and economic growth opportunities (including lost opportunities) to be taken into account and these post-date many if not all of the legacy plans.” The Commissioners go on to note the “PAUP is the first substantive planning process to propose increased levels of intensification to achieve a quality compact city so it is appropriate that the viewshafts are now re-evaluated within that strategic context” and more importantly “… if it is possible to quantify those costs of the viewshaft provisions, then that would assist in decision …

I want to emphasise from the outset that I don’t have a strong view on the relative merits of view shafts. This post is less concerned with the nitty-gritty of viewshafts than it is with understanding how the 2013 RMA amendments and the Auckland Plan may impact on the Unitary Plan, most notably:

  • First, the presence of planning provisions in legacy plans is not strong evidence (in of itself) that those provisions should be retained in the Unitary Plan, mainly because the legacy plans pre-date both the 2013 amendments and the Auckland Plan. Hence, they have not been tested under the current legislative and strategic context.
  • Second, the Commissioners appear to consider that the strategic context provided by the (non-statutory) Auckland Plan, in addition to the Regional Policy Statement, is relevant to the provisions of the Unitary Plan, especially with regards to the development of a quality compact urban form.
  • Third, in light of the 2013 RMA amendments the Commissioners appear to place a higher expectation on economic analysis, especially where proposed provisions do not appear to align with the aforementioned strategic direction of the Auckland Plan.

The Commissioners thus seem to be attempting to strike a balance between strategic outcomes and economic analysis, and do not seem to be placing too much weight on legacy plans. This is heartening because, frankly, the legacy district plans contained many provisions that are of dubious value. Moreover, where provisions proposed in the Unitary Plan run contrary to the Council’s stated strategic direction, then there seems to be an expectation from the Commissioners that this misalignment is supported by robust economic analysis.

Of course, whether this preliminary guidance on view shafts is indicative of the Commissioners’ ultimate position and/or whether it apples to other topics, e.g. minimum parking requirements, is something that will only become clear in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Professional and personal disclaimer: The views expressed in this post represent the theoretical and philosophical musings of a not quite defunct economist. This economist is not a planner nor is he a lawyer (so don’t expect to be able to sue me for much money). The views expressed herein should not be construed to represent the views of my colleagues, clients, friends, or pets. They do represent the views of my Mum, whom I love very much. Nor do they necessarily represent my own views in the future – at which point my views may have changed in response to further evidence and information. 

“Holiday Highway” likely to have consent fast-tracked

The NZ Herald reported yesterday that the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the Puhoi-Wellsford Road of National Significance is likely to have its consent fast-tracked through the same Board of Inquiry process to that used by NZTA for the Waterview Connection project. This is of course no surprise as all the Roads of National Significance are going through the same process. Of particular note is that it seems the primary reason why Puhoi-Warkworth justifies being considered as a project of ‘national significance’ (the statutory test for whether something can be sent to a Board of Inquiry or must go through the normal consenting process) is the level of environmental effect generated. The article details these effects:

Massive earthworks carving through difficult country for Auckland’s next highway will dwarf excavations for the Waterview motorway tunnels.

A report for Auckland Council consideration today says the $760 million first stage of the Puhoi to Wellsford tolled highway – one of the Government’s seven “roads of national significance”- will need more than nine million cubic metres of ground moved from its 18km path to Warkworth.

That is almost seven times what is being dug for the Waterview motorway, and the report warns significant and irreversible environmental changes are likely.

The project will also pass through some pretty sensitive environmental areas:

Despite the council report’s warning of environmental challenges such as to the ecologically important Puhoi Scenic Reserve, it recommends the project go under fast-track consenting provisions, for the Government’s Environmental Protection Authority to hold hearings through a board of inquiry and issue a decision within nine months of notifying applications.

Looking at the plans for this project, I don’t think that it will be a straight forward “rubber stamping” exercise for Puhoi-Warkworth to get consent. The sheer environmental impact of the proposal is massive and it will fundamentally alter the environment in a pretty sensitive and previously fairly untouched area – due to the rugged terrain a motorway standard route will be slammed through.

For some reason, Cameron Brewer seems to think that agreement by the Council that the project meets the legislative definition of being of “national significance” (which as I noted earlier more relates to its level of environmental effect rather than its scale of supposed benefit) justifies Labour and the Greens withdrawing their opposition to this project. As we’ve noted many times before on this blog, something needs to be done to State Highway 1 north of Auckland – but this proposal is just complete overkill with most of the benefits likely to occur if we do a few key parts of it (Warkworth bypass and a Schedewys Hill deviation) plus quickly get onto safety upgrades.

That’s a sensible way to move forward. I thought Cameron Brewer supported being careful when public money gets spent? I guess, like so often happens, that principle goes out the window when it comes to flash new motorways.

How genuine are the supposed “bus fans”?

Rodney Hide’s opinion piece in the Herald on Sunday highlighted an issue that’s been bugging me for some time – whether those opposing the City Rail Link on the grounds that “buses can do the job fine” are really interested in improving Auckland’s bus system or not. Here’s what he says about his preference for buses:

It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.

Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.

Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.

John Roughan made a similar cry in favour of buses in the Saturday Herald:

The crossing would have to be under water and probably it would be connected to the northern busway that one day conceivably could be converted to a railway, but that, too, is a solution looking for a problem.

The busway, like the bridge, is fine.

The problem lies in roads closer to home. By car it can take as long to get on to the motorway as it takes for the rest of the journey. By bus it takes too long to get to a busway station. Once on the busway, you can be in the city in eight minutes.

In fact, the North Shore is probably better served by the busway than the rest of Auckland is by its railways, which also have to be reached by bus or car from most people’s homes.

The only reason the mayor invokes rail for the Shore is to answer its ratepayers when they ask why they should help pay for a project that isn’t coming their way. It’s a silly answer to a silly question but this is election year.

Russell Brown from Public Address notes the great irony of John Roughan now being a huge fan of the busway when he absolutely hated the idea back in 2007. I guess we chalk that up as someone won over – or should we?

The simple fact is that all these supposed bus fans have done diddly squat to actually encourage the improvement of Auckland’s bus system. I can’t exactly remember Rodney Hide out there campaigning to save the Remuera Road bus lane from turning back into a T3 lane. Or John Roughan supporting the implementation of the HOP Card – he pumped for Snapper back in 2009 and didn’t that end well?

As for the cabal of local councillors, Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. They frequently like to grandstand against the CRL claiming it is sucking up all of the money for PT, like in this article from 6 months ago.

Mr Quax said the rail project made little sense because it would gobble up 80 per cent of the public transport capital budget over the next 10 years when much-needed bus lanes and ferry terminals received a “paltry” 20 per cent.

They use this line quite frequently these days, despite their numbers actually being wrong – the PT capex budget for the next decade is ~$4b and the inflated CRL price is $2.86b, or 72% of the budget. Despite this, I haven’t exactly seen George Wood talking much about the stalled progress of extending the Northern Busway to Albany, or Dick Quax wanting to see the AMETI busway’s construction schedule sped up. In fact I don’t think I have seen any one of them suggest where a single metre of bus lane should be added or where they think new ferry services should operate from. Yesterday in response to the alternative funding proposals, they once again made vague comments without giving any detail.

I have a nasty feeling that when rail opponents say they support buses they’re actually not quite telling the truth. They realise  it’s not viable for them politically (or practically) to dismiss public transport out of hand anymore – so they pretend to support buses on the spurious grounds of “buses need roads too” – when in actual fact they’re just mainly interested in spending as little as possible on public transport so all the money can go back into roads.

So next time someone plays the “buses are better than trains” card, I suggest asking them “so what have YOU specifically done to try and improve Auckland’s bus system recently?” Or “I look forward to your support for introducing bus lanes along desperately needed routes like Great North Road in Waterview, Manukau Road, Pakuranga Road, Onewa Road (uphill) and in many other places”. Then let’s see how deep their love affair with the bus really is.

Avoiding “gridlock”

There’s been a lot of discussion after Auckland’s roading network completely collapsed on Thursday due to a crash on the Newmarket viaduct, which caused huge delays.

More than two hours later, traffic on almost all of the city’s arterial routes was gridlocked, with buses backed up in city streets and motorists reporting speeds of less than 10km/h.

Journeys that normally took 15 minutes were taking more than an hour.

Automobile Association traffic spokesman Phil Allen said he had never seen traffic so bad in central Auckland.

The association launched traffic-mapping technology on its site 18 months ago. Routes marked in black show where traffic is moving at under 25 per cent of the speed limit. “I have never seen so much black in the CBD. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Having the Newmarket viaduct blocked off just before rush hour during the busiest week of the year for traffic (March madness) is pretty much a “perfect storm” in terms of things that can go wrong. Interestingly the train system ran just fine throughout the event because of its fundamental separation from the roading network – whereas most bus route in the area got completely nailed by the delays as they spread from the motorway network onto the local roads.

Len Brown’s comments in the Herald highlighted that while events such as what happened on Thursday are incredibly difficult to plan around, the ‘fragility’ of Auckland’s transport network to events like this is a really big issue and something improved public transport would help reduce:

Mayor Len Brown said the gridlock showed “why we need to invest in an integrated transport system including trains, ferries and buses”.

“Only through initiatives such as integrated ticketing, our new electric train fleet and the City Rail Link, can we unclog our roads and unlock the potential of Auckland.”

Cameron Brewer’s comments are, unsurprisingly, less sensible:

Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer said he had to miss the Orakei Local Board meeting because of the traffic. He left the Town Hall at 5pm, spent 40 minutes on Hobson St, opted to take the Northwestern Motorway, got off at St Lukes and made his way across town to his home in Ellerslie, arriving an hour and 45 minutes later.

“When the airport western ring road to Waterview is complete that will take some pressure off SH1, but what that one accident shows is just how reliant almost all of us are on cars, and that’s not going to change much in the foreseeable future.

“It should be a real wake-up call to the mayor as to where the real problems and frustrations lie for most Aucklanders – that is in traffic jams.”

Mr Brewer said he’d like more improvements to the motorway network and more bus lanes, ferry terminals and cycle and walkways, rather than the CBD rail tunnel.

While the Waterview Connection is a project that would help a lot in situations like this – by providing that much needed “alternative route” – unless Mr Brewer is advocating for a return of the Eastern Motorway project I can’t quite see how further motorway improvements would change what happened on Thursday. And he should have just taken the train to the Local Board meeting as it was held not too far from the Meadowbank train station.

And it seems like the chaos has continued today – not helped by Auckland Transport’s stupidity in not running anything better than hourly trains across much of the rail network even though there are a huge number of events on in Auckland.

Making ferries make sense

Sunday’s launch of the Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry seems to have got some, such as the perennial mischief-maker Cameron Brewer, excited about ferries and thinking that they can fix all of Auckland’s Transport problems. On the plus side, he also seems to have become a fan of bus lanes which is something to store away in the memory banks:

“Yesterday’s opening of the new ferry terminals for Beach Haven and Hobsonville Point was a great day for Auckland, but the claim that ferries would play a much greater role in Auckland’s transport future was a bit disingenuous. The rhetoric simply does not match the reality of what’s being planned and budgeted.”…

…”These two new ferry terminals are great but the sad reality is the council won’t be able to pour a heap into new or improved ferry infrastructure simply because of the Mayor’s central city rail obsession which is set to soak up most of the public transport capital expenditure budget this coming decade.

“Spending approximately 80 percent of the 10-year budget on the City Rail Link is not a balanced approach, and will not deliver a strong and mixed integrated transport system.

“This is not good news for ferry and bus users who want serious investment in their infrastructure and services. The Mayor tells everyone he’s going to do everything, but the budget clearly points to one CBD project soaking up most of the money”

“In 2013/14 alone we’re set to spend $180m on the City Rail Link. That’s a lot of ferry terminals or tarmac for new bus-lanes,” says Cameron Brewer.

While the support for bus lanes is great (a pity it comes too late to save the Remuera Road bus lanes from being turned back into T3 tractor lanes) I think Brewer, along with a lot of other people, often miss the point when they state that ferries should do much more of the transport task by building a whole pile of new terminals and opening up a whole pile of new routes. Put simply, the point is that while ferries have an important role to play in Auckland’s PT system, they only work in certain situations.

So what are those situations? Obviously for a start they need to be on the coast – which has the somewhat unfortunate outcome of half a ferry terminal’s walking catchment being water (much more than that if a long wharf is required). The prime waterfront location of ferry terminals also makes park and ride facilities either incredibly expensive to provide in terms of land acquisition or incredibly ugly. Or both. So there’s quite a reliance on good feeder buses, or having the ferry route offer such a significant time savings that it’s worth going out of your way to make the ferry work.

And on that last point there are some situations in Auckland where ferries really do offer a compelling advantage over anything else. Waiheke is the obvious example because there really isn’t an alternative, while Devonport comes to mind as the other immediately obvious location where ferries will always make sense – simply because of this:

These two locations really dominate ferry patronage, as shown in the screenline survey for trips to the CBD in the AM peak period, making up nearly half of trips:ferry-patronage

The relatively slow growth since 2006 seems to indicate that we’ve probably squeezed close to as much out of those two routes as possible.

So how can we make the most out of the potential of the ferry system? I guess there are a few different options:

  • Add more routes from new locations – Te Atatu, Mission Bay, Browns Bay, Howick, Takapuna and various other points around the harbour (including a cross Manukau service) are often mentioned.
  • Build more park and ride spots so that more people can drive to ferry terminals.
  • Continue to invest in current services by offering better frequencies and bringing ferries into the proposed zone based ticketing system so that fares (at least for regular users are cheaper).
  • Improve bus/ferry integration (fares being a critical part of this) so that ferries are used in a similar way to trains and the busway: as a fairly rapid part of the PT network which avoids congestion on the road system completely.

There are possibly other ways in which we can improve ferries, but generally I think the last two bullet points above are what we should focus on – particularly ahead of continuing to look for new routes – no matter how attractive that seems to local politicians.

Let’s take the new Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry for example – while there’s much excitement about this at the end of the day the service provided is pretty rubbish: barely a handful of sailings and only on weekdays. No off-peak service, no weekend service, eye-wateringly high fares. Too bad if you want to use the ferry to check out Hobsonville on a sunny Saturday – the ferries don’t run. Too bad if you’re a university student living in Hobsonville and want to stay late – the ferries don’t run after a 6:10pm sailing. Too bad if you don’t want to live your life around a timetable: even at peak times it’s over an hour between sailings and 8.05am is the last sailing from Hobsonville to get you into the city in the morning.

Many other ferry timetables are similar. The Gulf Harbour Ferry also only runs a couple of trips a day – though at least it also has a middle of the day service for day-trippers up to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Tickets are only again pretty steep at $27 return for an adult. The Half Moon Bay ferry, which I think has huge potential as it bypasses a hugely congested stretch of Auckland’s transport network, similarly has rubbish frequencies with one service every two hour outside the peak (I guess at least there are off-peak services?)

In terms of improving access to the ferries, I think we’d do well to think of them as being somewhat similar to the rapid transit network. A fairly sparse (in terms of walk up catchment) but pleasant and (theoretically) fast and reliable service because it avoids traffic congestion on the roading network. So bus integration, including free transfers between buses and ferries, becomes absolutely critical here in opening up the catchment of the ferries far wider than otherwise possible. If Half Moon Bay ferries were far more frequent we could have most buses from Bucklands Beach and that northern portion of “southeast Auckland” feeding into the ferry network as much as it feeds into Panmure station and the rail network or Botany town centre and the future busway along Ti Rakau Drive. Park and ride will always be difficult to provide for at ferry terminals – due to their inherent location in high amenity waterfront areas.

So perhaps next time someone comes up with a “we should add this ferry route” argument we might also think about whether that’s really the best use of funds or whether we should focus on improving what we already have – because it seems like there’s a lot of untapped potential in the routes that already exist. But I guess that’s just not quite as sexy as pushing for new routes – regardless of the quality of service which ends up being provided and the rather high capital cost in providing for just a handful of trips every weekday.

Belittling the City Centre

The results of leaked release of the Horizon survey and the CCFAS last week has clearly started to cause concern amongst the anti rail councillors with the number of comments from them, and George Wood in particular increasing quite a bit. With this post I want to focus on just one aspect that gets trotted out quite a bit, in this case by Mr Negative himself, Cameron Brewer (because I can’t think of a positive thing he has said for 2 years).

Mr Brewer said he had yet to be convinced about the cost and benefits of the project, including the benefits to nearly 90 per cent of Aucklanders who do not work or live in the CBD

As Nick showed in this post a few months ago, the CBD has traditionally been defined as the area within the moat that is the motorway system however really the central city area that would be impacted by the CRL is actually larger than that and encompasses some of the surrounding suburbs like Newton and Parnell. But even that doesn’t tell the full story as while it puts the central city employment percentage at over 20% it still implies that the are is insignificant regionally . But in reality, even at that level, the central city is head and shoulders above anywhere else in the region so I thought with this post I would try to show that. The map below shows the key employment areas in the regions and how many thousands of jobs are in them.

As you can see the central city with 134,000 jobs (of which 80-90k are within the moat) is far larger than any where else in the region. What’s more here are a couple of other interesting points:

  • There are more jobs in the central city than both the North Shore and West Auckland combined
  • The only group of areas where the number of jobs comes close to the central city is the group of areas from Onehunga to East Tamaki but that covers a massive area and is part of the reason why AMETI is so important.
  • 50% of all jobs in the region are located close to the rail network and so could benefit from increased frequencies that would be able to be justified due to the number of jobs in the central city.
  • Not included in the 134k figure for the city centre are ~60,000 students who attend the universities.

More people working close to jobs in the central city is well and truly much higher than anywhere else, do we really need to be focusing so much on growing that number even more. In a single word, Yes. The reason for that is due to agglomeration benefits which occur when you have a lot of people working close to each together means more economic activity can happen which in turn benefits not only Auckland but the whole country. Of course this applies not just to employment but also to residential density and this post yesterday on The Atlantic Cities looked cities across the US and found that generally cities with more dense urban cores performed better not only economically but across a wide range of factors.

Ever since Jane Jacobs, urban thinkers and economists have argued that clusters of talented and ambitious people increase one another’s productivity and the productivity of the broader community, spurring economic growth. So, what about economic growth: Is it higher in metros where density is more concentrated? The short answer is yes.

Economic growth and development, according to several key measures, is higher in metros that are not just dense, but where density is more concentrated. This is true for productivity, measured as economic output per person, as well as both income and wages.

The CRL allows for a lot more people to access the city centre which in turn will make it more attractive and encourage more jobs and residents in the area. Those additional jobs and residents will most likely provide considerably more economic impact than if they were spread out across the city, or even worse if they were out on the far flung edges. So at the end of the day, by arguing against the CRL on the basis on the current percentages of jobs and people in the CBD, these councillors are actually arguing against one of the best opportunities for economic growth we have.

Give us our Waterfront

Most people who visit the Wynyard quarter love the development that has occurred there so far. It is very different to how we have developed things in the past and a lot more emphasis has been put on pedestrians and how it ties in to the water. It has quickly become one of stars in Auckland and that is only set to continue as the redevelopment of the area carries on. The development isn’t just a favourite with the locals as it has now won numerous awards with the latest just the other day beating out a host of other international cities to claim a top waterfront development award.

Now if you are winning awards like this it is probably a good indication that you are on the right track and also suggests that extending the development as far as possible is probably a good idea. Well even before this award, Waterfront Auckland and the council were quick to realise the success and smartly decided to try and emulate it further down the waterfront and so in the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) called for Quay St to be turned into a boulevard. It was also mentioned in the Waterfront Plan.The CCMP and Waterfront Plan went out for consultation at the same time as the Auckland Plan allowing anyone who wanted to to give feedback.

I think that turning Quay St from a 6 lane almost de facto motorway into a more pedestrian friendly zone while still retaining some space for cars is a pretty good compromise. Of course now, months after the consultation finished various elected officials of the eastern suburbs are now up in arms about the plan. Their key issue seems to be just how unfair it will be that they can no longer drive to the ferry terminal. The Herald today reports:

Anger has erupted over plans to turn Quay St into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard within three years – and the greatest upset has been caused by what critics say was lack of public consultation.

But Waterfront Auckland says it kept the community well informed about the “exciting project” and it “couldn’t have done more” consultation.

Waterfront Auckland’s plans, revealed in the Herald on Friday, could result in more crossing points, a wider footpath taking in a lane of traffic or two and opening up parts of the red fence to improve to the water’s edge.

The first stage – from the Viaduct to Britomart – is due to be finished by 2016.

But critics of the project say the Tamaki Drive Master Plan hasn’t been taken into account, the traffic plan is “just nuts” and the local board most negatively affected by the proposal was not consulted.

Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor said he was disappointed by the plan, which he said would take cars off the street in the name of beautification.

“This is a surprising development that does not appear to have been thought out …

It seems to be motived more by ideology than practicality.”

Mr O’Connor said Waterfront Auckland was pinning its hopes on the “unfunded, yet to be built rail loop and a new ferry service”.

Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer said the suggestion that Quay St was not a busy road outside rush hour was “just pie in the sky”.

“This is a critical piece of transport infrastructure that carries over 30,000 cars a day. Taking out lanes and directing more traffic down the likes of Customs St is just nuts.”

This is an absolutely stupid argument. For starters 30,000 vehicles a day don’t need 6 lanes of traffic and there are many two lane roads that handle much more than that. Hell Dominion Rd carries about that same number of vehicles with only two lanes, one of which is a bus lane for a large part of the day. What’s more there are a number of other routes that these vehicles could use and very few places you can actually drive to that you can’t get to by other routes. There are still heaps of trucks going to and from the port using Quay St even though less than a decade ago we spent hundreds of millions upgrading Grafton Gully and providing direct connections from there to the North Shore specifically to get them off Quay St. There are also a number of improvements that could be made to other city streets that could be used to help spread that traffic out.

At the end of the day despite claiming the opposite, the arguments from Simon O’Connor and Cameron Brewer seem to be the ones based on ideolgy, they seem to be beholden to the notion that we must put cars ahead of people. It is people that make places interesting and lively and attractive. It is people that spend money and it is people that we should be building this city for. The recent improvements from things like Wynyard and the shared spaces have been outstanding successes and the best thing we can do is to continue these kinds of developments. The waterfront is to valuable for us cut off, all in the name of saving 5 seconds when driving and I suspect the economic benefits of improving it would vastly outweigh the impact to any vehicle movements. Its about time that these idiots go out of their cars and had a look at is happening in the city as even international press are starting to acknowledge the cities improving urban style.

Why Cameron Brewer is wrong

NB: Upon reflection I have modified my original post in response to critical feedback, which you can read about in the comment thread below. Most of this feedback suggested that the message of the post was obscured by my personal frustration with Cameron Brewer, which I have accepted. Hopefully the revised post better reflects the issues that are important, rather than my opinion on the personalities driving the issues.

Let’s start with a question: Should property owners on Queen Street be allowed to use their properties for the highest and best use (as defined by their customers), provided that in doing so they don’t cause much (if any) harm to other people?

Most Aucklanders would say “yes” when confronted with such a question. Some of my ACT Party friends would nod sagely before launching into a spiel about how property rights are the yarn that knits successful societies together; bless their capitalist socks. National Party people would say yes and then try to shut down anything remotely fun. Labour Party people would say yes and then tax all activities to within an inch of their life. But I expect the predominant answer would be “yes”.

Cameron Brewer, however, seems to be saying “no” when it comes to respecting the rights of property owners on Queen Street. At least, that’s what I have concluded in the wake of his recent crusade against small shops. Things kicked off in somewhat Animal Farmish fashion back in April with this NZHerald article, in which Mr Brewer criticised “little shoebox shops selling absolute rubbish.” It appears that all shops are created equal, but certain ethnic small shops are less equal than others.

Brewer’s comments were quickly rebutted from a number of angles. Auckland Council’s Ludo Campell Reid was first out of the blocks in this Herald article, where he was quoted as saying:

Smallness is not necessarily a bad thing. Executed well this can be a great way for independent operators to enter the market,” he said. “They can create a sense of vibrancy and uniqueness and can play a positive role in developing an authentic and bespoke offer – a point of difference. I am assuming that this trend is market-led following an increased demand from smaller tenants. The owners of these properties are therefore merely seeking to meet market demand.

A wonderfully enlightened NZHerald editorial (maybe John Roughan was sick?) followed up the next day:

… there is a limit to the ability of a council to influence the quality of shops. A regulated minimum size such as Mr Brewer suggests would run the risk of leaving much more space standing empty. It is better to leave the shops to find their own scale and character. The high rents being charged are a good sign. It seems unlikely immigrants are paying those rates just to prove they are setting up a business here. They could easily find cheaper leases for that purpose.

More likely, Mr Brewer is witnessing a development long common in “world-class city centres”. New arrivals colonise central areas that have lost commerce and population to suburban centres. The inner city becomes a new place of language schools, apartments, ethnic restaurants and grocery stores, nightlife and entertainment.

Queen St reflects the times. It always did, always will and still it holds a central place in Auckland’s identity.

At this point I thought that the “Sanity ” versus “Brewer” boxing match had finished with the latter being cleanly knocked out 2o seconds into the first round. But now it seems that Brewer has somewhat unfortunately hauled himself up off the canvas and thrown himself back into the ring for more punishment. Cue small-shop article #2.

This second NZHerald article manages to highlight, again, all the reasons why Brewer was wrong in the first place. If I was to try to spell it out clearly: Small shops are a natural market response to a) high land values that encourage people to economize on space and b) consumer demand for the sorts of things that small shops can sell efficiently. And when one travels around a bit (I mean further afield than Remuera) then you see that small shops are at the heart of successful, vibrant cities worldwide.

What annoys me most about the whole episode, however, is that Brewer’s is not just wrong: He’s apparently hypocritical. For those who don’t know, Brewer purports to represent Auckland’s “Residents and Ratepayers”. Last time I checked, those very small shops on Queen Street paid a shed-load of rates. Not only that, but the small shops are trying to meet the needs of inner-city residents. Yes that’s right, small shops and their customers are ratepayers and residents too, not rubbish peddlers.

But why, you might reasonably ask, is Brewer on a crusade against small shops? Why is he advocating for regulations on minimum shops sizes? Regulations that would ultimately serve to de-value the affected properties and prevent them from meeting the needs of local residents?

The only rational reason I can see for why Brewer would assume such a position was because he’s what I call an “opportunistic dictator”. He’s opportunistic because he’s trying to suggest (somewhat bizarrely) that small-shops demonstrate that Len Brown has failed as Mayor, thereby undermining the latter’s political support. But he’s also a dictator because he’s wandering around imposing his values on other people. He’s saying that the sorts of shops that we like are not the sorts of shops that he likes. And his response is to regulate small-shops out of existence.

To sum up:

Small shops are good for Auckland’s economy and society. They are a natural market response to high rents and consumer demand. Small shops support businesses and jobs and ultimately make many people happy. Just because you prefer to shop elsewhere does not mean that there is no place for small shops in Auckland.

And with that off my chest I’m now going to go spend some of my not-insignificant disposable income at the smallest shop I can squeeze my not-so slender Anglo-Saxon frame into.