The CRL Design Showcase

Today Auckland Transport start a five day long CRL design showcase which is showing what the new stations and public spaces will look like. It’s taking place in QEII Square from 10am to 4pm so if you’re going to the Open Streets event tomorrow then consider popping along.

AT have kindly provided me with the images they’ll be showing and I can now share them with you. Not only are they exciting, making the project much more real but they provide a lot of new information about how the city centre will work in the future.

First up here’s a high level view of what Queen St and lower Albert St will look like after the works have finished. There are some more detailed views of a few aspects below but the unique parts are the precinct developments and the Lower Albert St bus interchange. On the Precinct development I quite like that the north/south lanes are offset which should make the area more interesting.

Lower Queen St and Albert St public realm

A closer view of the area around Britomart is below and you can see that Gaunt and Tyler St will still be in use for buses which seems a shame however given the number of buses that need to be accommodated it is likely inevitably. The good news is the rest of lower Queen St will be turned into a public space. That will be much better for those exiting Britomart compared to what we have now with thousands dodging buses (note: the current underpass is being removed as part of these works).

Britomart public realm

One of the intentions is that the space in front of Britomart will be used as space for events

Lower Queen St Event Space

And here’s Albert St after the CRL. I’m not too convinced that Kauri make good city street trees

Albert St Streetscape

One thing I do like is the suggestion of giving the bus lanes more definition. The image below looks like it could mean tiles which seems like overkill for a buslane but it could also just be concrete, either way the extra definition is welcome. It will also be good getting some decently upgraded footpaths on the street.

Albert St post CRL

Remaining on the surface AT are also showing how buses will operate in this part of town after the CRL is complete. This is shown below

Downtown Bus Routes post CRL

Moving on to the stations and AT say they want each station to have a unique personality which flows through from the entrances through to the platforms.

At Britomart it appears there will be a few changes. This includes moving the fare gates up to the ground level as well as removing that odd podium in the middle of the ground floor that helps to restrict pedestrian movement.

Britomart Axonometric views

It also appears that a better customer service/ticketing area will be provided.

Britomart Interior views

At Aotea we get to the first of the new stations. It appears that the focus here will be on the entrances at least some of them designed for development to occur above.  It even seems like they’re planning an apple store here – but more likely just a lot of artistic licence.

Aotea Station Concept

We’ve seen this image before but here’s a cut away of the inside of the station. It appears that there’ll be light wells to provide natural light on the platform. Presumably this will take us more space on Albert St and given it’s already tight through there I hope that doesn’t mean loss of the bus lanes on this section.

Aotea Station box cutaway

At Karangahape Rd there are two entrances, one in Beresford Square and one on Mercury Lane. The Beresford Square entrance is meant to be the main one and I really like that roof over the entrance which is meant to reference the mana whenua narrative of Hape and his arrival to Auckland by stingray. They say that below ground horizontal banding of modular cladding is meant to mimic its local geology of sandstone, siltstone and mudstone.

K Rd station Beresford Entrance

And it seems that the designers want light far down into the station here too. This also highlights how bug the station is. That’s a lot of earth that will need to be dug out.

K Rd station Beresford Daylighting

Below shows another angle of the Beresford Square entrance

K Rd station Beresford Underground

The Mercury Lane entrance seems like it will be similar to the Wellesley St Aotea Entrance where the entrance is eventually just part of another building.

K Rd station Mercury Lane Entrance

We’re starting to have a number of really good stations and I think that the K Rd station could end up the most impressive of all of them. It seems that it will almost definitely be so from an engineering perspective.

It’s fantastic to see more detail emerging. I suspect as we continue to learn more about the details of the project and as we get closer to the start of construction that we’re only going to see support for the project increase (it’s high already). It would be good for AT to take some of this info as well as much more about how the project benefits the entire region on showcase around the region.

CRL contracts awarded

Some great news today from Auckland Transport, that they’ve now awarded the contracts for the first two stages of the City Rail Link.

CRL Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

The City Rail Link (CRL) takes another significant step forward with the announcement today of the appointment of two construction consortia to commence the first phase of the CRL construction in the Downtown area.

Project director Chris Meale says there was wide interest from the New Zealand construction industry and Auckland Transport has appointed two Joint Venture contractors for the work; Downer NZ and Soletanche Bachy JV and Connectus (McConnell Dowell and Hawkins JV) for the first phase of design at a cost of about $3 million. The next phase will provide for a negotiated contract to construct the City Rail Link.

The Downer lead joint venture has been chosen to progress the CRL work through and under Britomart Station and Queen Street to the Downtown Shopping Centre site with construction likely to start in early 2016.

The contract includes establishing temporary accommodation for Britomart Station’s ticketing and customer service operations, underpinning the historic former Chief Post Office building, to allow the construction of the rail tunnels beneath and reinstating Britomart Station and upgrading urban space and surrounding roads.

“We are excited to have won a contract for what will be the most significant improvement to Auckland’s transport network since the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge,” says Chris Moloney of Downer.

The Connectus Consortium will construct the cut and cover tunnels under and along Albert St from Customs St to Wyndham St. The work is likely to start in October with the relocation of a major stormwater line in Albert Street between Swanson and Wellesley Streets.

“McConnell Dowell and Hawkins have a combined history of over 100 years in infrastructure construction in New Zealand. It’s enormously satisfying to be working together on a transport project that is helping to shape the future,” says Roger McRae, managing director, McConnell Dowell.
“Auckland’s population is set to grow rapidly over the next 20 years, reaching close to two million with nearly four out of every 10 New Zealanders calling the city home.”

Auckland Transport’s Chris Meale says: “We are now definitely on the way to building a key missing link in our city’s public transport network. Once completed, the CRL will turn a one way cul-de-sac rail system at Britomart, into a two way through system that will be able to carry 30,000 people an hour, providing an efficient and reliable transport choice for Aucklanders.”

In another positive I also like how they’re talking about the project in that last paragraph.

EMU Faults and CRL Properties

There have been a couple of articles in the Herald in the last few days that are worth talking about.

Double EMU Orakei Basin

Photo by Alex Burgess http://nzrailphotos.co.nz/

 

On Friday there was the issue of faults with the new electric trains.

Auckland’s new electric trains are still being bugged by computer software and braking problems, which have brought engineers out from Spain in search of remedies.

The city’s transport authority disclosed this week it is trying to bring forward from August the completion of its rollout of its $400 million fleet of electric trains, after continuing disruptions from diesel breakdowns.

But it is not just the old trains that are causing trouble, leading to a reduction in punctuality on all the city’s railway lines except for the Onehunga branch.

Rail workers are concerned some of the new trains are having to be shut down for their on-board computers to be reset, and that a sophisticated new control system designed to prevent collisions “has a tendency to randomly apply” emergency brakes when passing certain signals.

One industry source said in a message received indirectly by the Herald this morning there had been breakdowns on the rail network causing disruption “every day” for the past three weeks.

The emergency braking problem caused chaotic scenes at Britomart and Newmarket stations in the morning commuter rush in December, when a driver’s unfamiliarity with the new system prompted him to disable several other systems on board his train, disrupting 15 other services.

Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton told his board this week, in his monthly business report, that Siemens Spain had undertaken a two-week investigation in New Zealand and was “working to improve ETCS [European Train Control System] reliability.”

It seems there has been a number of issues that have arisen with the trains, as the also herald notes in the article there were issues with how restrictive the new signalling system was when the trains were first introduced and it seems further improvements are due. I’m aware there have also been issues with the power supply and with the doors, both of which have been fixed. The latest issues seems to include some gremlins in the traction systems – something I’m sure will be ironed out.

I guess for me the thing is that while this is very concerning and annoying, this isn’t uncommon when brand new systems are installed. Even in mature networks new machines or parts of the network will tend to have issues. As an example the new trains in Wellington had to be pulled from service a number of times over a few years due to issues that arose.

While the outcome for passengers tends to be the same – delays and frustration – that’s quite different from the issues with the aging diesel trains. As I understand it, for them there’s often a difficult decision between temporarily patching up issues and properly fixing them – which could be quite costly – when the trains will likely only be used for another month or two.

In effect we seem to have both fleets of trains (electric and diesel) at opposite sides of a bell curve. The electrics have a lot of faults but they are getting better and more reliable and it is likely that soon faults will become much rarer while on the other side the diesels are getting more and more unreliable and that in part is also be accelerated by their pending replacement. Unfortunately what isn’t changing is the poor communication when things go wrong. Perhaps what AT and Transdev need is some more transparency in the matter and to explain to the pubic exactly what is going wrong. If the public were more aware of what the issues being faced are then they might be more accepting of the situation. In lieu of that that faults are leaving people with bad experiences and driving people away from using trains.

The second piece was related to the property purchases for the City Rail Link.

Plans for Auckland Transport’s ambitious $2.4 billion City Rail Link project are gathering speed, as it secures more real estate along the route.

An AT spokeswoman said the council-controlled authority had now bought 58 of the 70 surface properties it needs, spending $85 million securing the route – a critical part of Auckland’s biggest transport project.

That means AT now controls 83 per cent of the properties it needs and the full-steam-ahead approach has seen big progress since last year.

The update indicated 23 new property purchases were concluded in the past nine months, as owners agree to sell their land and buildings for the rail route’s progress.

AT’s relatively rapid pace is a big advance from the middle of last year when it had only concluded 35 surface purchases and spent $35 million.

Some politicians have questioned why all the pricey real estate is being bought well before Government funding as AT closes deals on the properties along its 3.4km Britomart to Mt Eden route.

AT’s biggest sticking point appears to remain the valuable Mt Eden Life Church, a property which it has been negotiating on for some time: the spokeswoman said the purchase of that big property near the Mt Eden Station, between the bottom of Flower St and Mt Eden Rd, was yet to be concluded.

Part of that issue is finding the Christians a new property. The spokeswoman said that was very much part of the deal and that no sale would be concluded until it was resolved.

“The issue is finding an alternative site. Negotiations are under way,” she said of 95 Mt Eden Rd.

The church has a number of businesses and owns several properties to the north and south but that property is the heart of its church operation.

That seems like good progress and given the rise in land values Auckland has been seeing – especially in and around the city centre – it is probably a good thing that they are buying the property now and not waiting until the government commit funding by which time the costs would have likely increased dramatically. The biggest risk is that it’s quite possible that when the government do help fund the project they will ignore the property purchases and enabling works (cut and cover tunnel to Wyndham St) and only fund 50% of the remaining costs.

I’m not an expert on the Public Works Act but is it normal for a public organisation to have to find alternative sites for current occupants? I guess that’s likely the easiest thing instead of forcing a sale but seems like it could end up quite costly.

CRL Design Showcase

Auckland Transport have announced a “Design Showcase” for the three new or improved stations that will be delivered as part of the CRL as well as the public areas surrounding them.

CRL Design Showcase poster

A design showcase for the City Rail Link’s three new stations and their adjacent public spaces will give Aucklanders a peek into the future.

The CRL, which starts construction late this year, will re‐shape the city by bringing Britomart, Aotea and Karangahape Road within three to six minutes of each other and Mt Eden within nine.

Each station, new ones at Aotea and Karangahape and a redeveloped Mt Eden, has been designed in partnership with Mana whenua, who shared their considerable knowledge of the local areas to provide a unique look and feel.

“We think people will be excited when they see these new spaces and what they’ll do for the city,” says Chris Meale, CRL Project Director. “Together they represent the city’s most significant place shaping opportunity in the next decade.”

“Visitors to the design showcase in mid‐April will also find out how the first stage of construction will roll out later this year.”

Auckland’s population is expected to grow by 700,000 in the next 30 years with the CRL considered vital to meet the city’s traffic needs by 2040.

It will double the number of people within 30 minutes of the city, reducing the time and increasing the frequency of most trips, while allowing for more connections between rail, ferry, bus services.

“Auckland’s CBD is the heart of the city’s economy with up to 16,000 employees per square kilometer, accounting for 34 percent of jobs in New Zealand and 37 percent of the country’s GDP,” says Meale.

“Improved access to the city centre is the key to Auckland’s economic growth.” The design showcase is being held in an AT Bus by the No.1 Café in QE11 Square, 10am to 4pm daily from Sat 11 to Wed 15 April.

For more information on the CRL visit: www.cityraillink.co.nz and www.facebook.com/cityraillink

It should be interesting to see what they have planned, however seeing it’s on a bus I also hope they’ll roll it out to show other parts of the region. This is because one of the major issues I continue to have is the reoccurring focus on what the project does for the central city and not the massive benefits it also provides to other parts of the region.

Metamorphosis: The Return of the City

The Auckland City Centre is entering a phase of profound change. The rest of this decade it’ll be undergoing a more extensive and disruptive renovation than your average Ponsonby villa. The designers and financiers are at work and the men and machines are are about to start. The caterpillar is entering that difficult and mysterious chrysalis phase; what kind of butterfly will emerge?

Some of the probable additions to AKL’s skyline [image: Luke Elliot]

If even half of what is proposed gets underway almost every aspect of the centre city will be different.

The Skyline

Precinct Property’s 500 million dollar total rebuild of the Downtown centre and a new 36 storey commercial tower is confrmed to start next year. The 39 storey St James apartment tower is also all go [with the re-opening of the ground floor to the public soon]. An apartment tower on Albert and Swanson has begun. There are a huge number of residential towers seriously close to launching some of which are 50+ floors. These are on Victoria St, Customs St, Commerce St, Greys Ave and more. The biggest of them all Elliot Towers is rumoured to underway next year. Mansons have bought the current herald site and said to looking at residential there. On the same block 125 Queen St is finally getting refurbished bringing much needed new commercial space in the city [+ about 1000 new inner city workers]. Of course the Convention Centre and its associated hotel will start too. Waterfront Auckland have announced new mid rise apartment developments and a new hotel beginning as well. This list is not by any means exhaustive. Auckland is now a builders’ boom town. And it will resemble nothing other than an enormous sand pit for the next few years.

The Street

Regardless of the forms of these buildings they are going to have profound impacts at street level; flooding the footpaths with people, stimulating more and more retail and especially hospitality services. Add to this the disruption of the works themselves, for example later this year the first stage of the CRL is going to start. Digging up everything from Britomart through Downtown, up Albert St to Wyndam St. If the proposed Light Rail system goes ahead that will mean the [no doubt staged] digging up of the whole length of Queen St and other places, Dominion Rd, Wynyard Quarter. Street space is becoming more and more contested. Driving in the city is going to get increasingly pointless, most will avoid it. But unlike last century that won’t mean people won’t come to the city. One, because it’s become so attractive with unique retail offers, unrivalled entertainment attractions, and a fat concentration of jobs. Two, because people are discovering how good the improving Transit options are becoming, so why bother driving. And three, because increasing numbers are already there; it’s where they live anyway.

And that Transit boom is going to continue, or even accelerate. Britomart throughput is now running at 35 000 people daily, when planned it wasn’t even expected to reach 20 000 until 2021 [see below; the blue line is still growing at that angle; it is now literally off the chart]:

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

Why is this happening? A lot of people in wider Auckland still think the city is unappealing or unimportant. Aren’t we spreading new housing out at the edges? Aren’t new businesses building near the suburbs in those business parks? Well ironically one of the reasons so much growth and investment is happening in City Centre is because those same people, the ones that prefer their suburban neighbourhoods to the city, don’t want any change near them. The City Centre is one of the few places that it is possible to add new dwellings or offices at scale, and because it is a very constrained area with high land value this can only be done with tall buildings. The more suburban people refuse to have growth near them the more, in a growing city, investment has to concentrate where it can, and in Auckland that means downtown.

Auckland's first electric  tram 1902

Auckland’s first electric tram 1902

Auckland is still spreading outwards and businesses are growing in suburban centres, but these areas are not appealing or appropriate for all people and all businesses, and nor are they sufficient; the City Centre is growing by both these metrics too, and at a greater pace. The 2013 census showed that AKL city is the fastest accelerating place to live in the entire country, growing at over 48% between 2006-2013, and currently the city is experiencing a new shortage of office space and an interesting reshaping of the retail market. The education sector is also still strong there, with Auckland Uni consolidating to its now three Central City sites and building more inner city student accommodation. City growth is strong and broadly based: residential, commercial, retail, and institutional.

There are risks and opportunities in this but what is certain, outside of a sudden economic collapse, is that the City Centre will be a completely different place in a few years, in form, and in terms of how it will operate. And the signs are promising that what we are heading to is an almost unrecognisably better city at street level than it has been in living memory.

What is happening is simply that it is returning to being a city of people. Ten of thousands of new inner city residents, thousands of new visitors in thousands of additional hotel beds each night, hundreds of thousands of workers and learners arriving daily from all over the wider city each day too. All shopping, eating, drinking, and playing within the ring of the motorway collar. Auckland is moving from being one of the dullest and most lifeless conurbations in the world to offering a new level of intensity and activity. Well that is certainly the possibility in front of us now.

Auckland has had boom times before, and each of these leave a near permanent mark on the built fabric of the city [the Timespanner blog has examples in great detail].  So it matters profoundly what we add to the city this time. We are at the beginning of the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the postwar outward boom that came with such a high cost for the older parts of the city. By forcing the parts of the city built on an earlier infrastructure model to adapt to a car only system we rendered them unappealing and underperforming, and the old city very nearly did not survive this era. Only the persistence of some institutions, particularly the Universities, enabled it to hang on as well as it did. The car as an organising device is ideal for social patterns with a high degree of distance and dispersal. It is essentially anti-urban in its ability to eat distance but at the price of its inefficient use of space; it constantly fights against the logic of human concentration that cities rely on to thrive. It not only thrives on dispersal, it also enforces it.

Queen St 1960s

Queen St 1960s

But now the wheel has turned and cities everywhere are booming on the back a of model much more like the earlier one [see here for example: Seven cities going car-free]. This old-new model is built on the understanding that people in numbers both already present in the city and arriving on spatially efficient Transit systems providing the economic and social concentration necessary for urban vitality and success.

This seems likely to lead to a situation more or less observable in many cities world-wide where there is an intense and highly walkable and Transit served centre surrounded by largely auto-dependent suburbs. Melbourne, for example, is increasingly taking this form. And, interestingly the abrupt physical severance of Auckland’s motorway collar might just make ours one of the more starkly contrasting places to develop along these lines. A real mullet city: one made up of two distinct patterns.

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Frankly I think this is fine, it could make for the best of both worlds. Those who want to live with the space and green of the suburbs can continue to do so but are also able to dip into a vibrant city for work, education, or especially entertainment, on efficient electric Transit, ferries, and buses when that suits. A vibrant core of vital commercial and cultural intensity sustained by those who choose to live in the middle of it 24/7. The intensity of this core plus any other growing Metro Centres [will Albany really become intense? Manukau City?] meaning the sprawl isn’t limitless and the countryside not pushed so far away that it is inaccessible. Auckland as Goldilocks; not all one thing or the other; neither all suburb nor all city. People will use or ignore which ever parts they want, and soon members of the same households will be able to indulge their different tastes without some having to leave the country.

What are the threats to this vision? Well we do actually have to build the Transit, this means completing the CRL soon as is possible, and ideally replacing a good chunk of the buses with higher capacity and more appealing Light Rail. To connect these two halves; the success of both the centre and the region it serves depend on it. But also we have deliver a much better public realm on the streets and especially at the water’s edge. We have to retain and enhance the smaller scale older street systems to contrast with the coming towers, like we have at Britomart and O’Connell St. All these moves require leadership and commitment and an acceptance that the process of getting there will be contested and difficult.

I have no fear that people in the wider city won’t be happy to choose to leave their cars at home for some journeys, especially into the city, then jump back into them for others across the wider city or out of town. After all it’s happening already. This is not then a bold prediction, merely the extrapolation of current trends. And it is the trend that tells us more about the future than the status quo. More of this:

CBD Transport Change

than this

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s

or this

AKL m'ways 70s

AKL Grafton Gully 70s

The disruption that the CRL will cause

In another sign the City Rail Link is getting ever closer, Auckland Transport have also produced this information highlighting the impacts the construction will have on the surrounding area for users. There are a couple of significant impacts with the two biggest being:

  • Rail users understandably won’t be able to use the front entrance to Britomart while it is being dug up. Instead they’ll need to use the back entrance (eastern side) or the one under the EY/Westpac buildings.
  • Bus operations will have to move off Albert St meaning one of the busiest bus corridors will have to be moved to other streets.
CRL Early Works

click to enlarge

 

Construction of this first stage is really starting to feel close and once that starts happening I think it will help in addressing some of those who have been fighting the project for so long.

In some other good news, at the Auckland Conversations event on Monday discussing transport, Mayor Len Brown announced that we’ve passed 13 million trips on the rail network over the last year. That is up one million trips in just 5 months. Unfortunately we don’t know the exact figures or when that 13 million was passed but it suggests patronage in February was massive and likely the highest individual month we’ve ever seen which also bodes well for the March figures. It means we’re on track to reach the governments CRL patronage target by 2017.

However unfortunately what doesn’t seem to have been disrupted is the Ministry of Transports view of the CRL as can be seen in their latest update report to the minister about it.

CBD employment

The best measure of CBD employment growth is provided by the Statistics New Zealand Business Demographics Database. The Database, which covers all of New Zealand, is published annually in early November and provides estimates of employment over the month of February in the same year.

At the time of the Prime Minister’s announcement, there were estimated to be 98,030 employees in the five Census Area Units comprising the Auckland CBD. The estimate of 98,030 employees therefore becomes the baseline for measuring the growth of the CBD and the threshold for an early consideration of the City Rail Link is 122,528 employees.

In the year to February 2014, CBD employment grew by 570 employees, a 0.6 percent increase. Since the February 2012 estimate (the baseline), CBD employment has grown by 2,720 employees or 2.8 percent.

Rail patronage

Auckland Transport’s rail patronage data for the year to December 2014 shows patronage of 12,515,329 trips. This compares to 10,610,956 trips for the previous year. This is an increase of 1,904,373 trips or 17.9 percent.

We expect to see continued strong rail patronage growth until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. From 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow.

Assessment

CBD employment is currently 100,750 employees, compared to the 25 percent growth threshold of 122,528 employees.

Rail patronage for the year to December 2014 was 12,515,329 trips compared to the threshold of 20,000,000 trips well before 2020. CBD employment levels and rail patronage are some way from reaching the thresholds set by the Government for considering an earlier business case and construction start date for the City Rail Link.

When it comes to rail patronage they have dropped the words from their August 14 update that they don’t think we’ll meet the target but they also have ignored that not only is patronage growing but that the growth rate is accelerating which I think is a pretty key fact. By the end of June – which they’ll use for the next update in August – we will probably be around 13.7 million trips, over 1 million more than in February. I wonder if they’ll still be saying we won’t reach 20 million trips early.

Comicially wrong op-ed about the CRL

Brian Leyland has written an op-ed in the herald that is so comically wrong it’s hard not to ignore. Every single one of the 13 paragraphs contains (often basic) factual errors or opinion masquerading as fact. So I thought I’d highlight some of them.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Mayor Len Brown is determined to commit Auckland to building a hugely expensive railway tunnel even though no comprehensive independent and objective economic analysis has been made on the merits of the tunnel and whether or not letting the city spread and developing satellite centres would be better.

More than 70% of Auckland’s population are already within 3km – an easy 10 minute bike ride if we built some safe infrastructure to support it – of a train station. The major urban areas not near the rail network are the North Shore, North West, Hibiscus Coast, parts of the central isthmus, the airport and East Auckland. The latter of those would feed into the rail network via AMETI and the Panmure Station.

Independently reviewed economic analysis has occurred and the project has had more scrutiny than probably any other transport project in this country. If the governments RoNS were subjected to even half of what the CRL has been they would have been canned years ago. More on the spawl comment later in the post.

Auckland Council has neglected its obligation to investigate and evaluate all options. Given the enormous amount of expenditure involved, this amounts to a serious dereliction of duty.

The City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) did just this and involved the NZTA and Ministry of Transport with the MoT even noting that the modelling has probably undercooked the patronage projections.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

Overseas research on 44 urban rail systems revealed that the average cost overrun was 45 per cent and the number of passengers was half the predicted number. Have the economics of the Auckland tunnel been tested against 45 per cent higher costs and half the passengers? If not, why not?

Cost over runs aren’t limited to rail as the graph below shows – although it seems our recent rail upgrades have been ok. In saying that we seem to have been much better with managing costs on larger projects – many of which are claimed to have come in on time and under budget which is likely due to the additional detailed work that occurs beforehand which is happening right now with the CRL.

Road cost overrun chart

As for patronage, we can look at local examples to see how well our projections have fared. For Britomart we passed the 2021 prediction for the number of people passing through the station in 2011 and given the growth we’ve seen since that time that will only be larger now.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

We’re also on track to exceed the 2016 target set in the Rail Development Plan of 2006 of 15.7 million trips in 2016 despite a later start to electrification than envisioned.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Right now, ratepayers subsidise 80 per cent of the cost of every train fare. If the tunnel costs blow out by 50 per cent it will need to recover at least $450 million in fares every year for capital repayment and operating expenses. If, as hoped, there are 20 million rail trips every year, they will need to recover $22.50 per rail trip. Most of this will be imposed on the ratepayers.

Train fares currently cover around 26% however that figure has been improving this year and will likely continue to do so as the new electric trains roll out and patronage continues to improve so dramatically. I also expect we might see some improvement from the middle of next year (from reduced costs) as a result of AT re-tendering the rail contract – which I understand there are a number of interested groups. I expect Auckland will move closer to Wellington in this result which achieves 56% farebox recovery on its trains.

Importantly one of the benefits of the CRL is that while it will cost to run the stations and more trains, the farebox recovery ratio should further improve – potentially as high as 80%.

I’m not sure where Bryan has his 20 million rail trips per year from – I presume he’s confusing the governments target with a patronage projection. We haven’t seen total patronage results of any recent modelling and the CCFAS only showed the impacts at peak times however some older estimates put total patronage eventually up around 50 million trips per year.

The council planners seem to be totally unaware of the imminent revolution in personal transport that will be brought about by self-guided cars, modern taxi systems, ride sharing and buses. By the time the tunnel is in operation self-guided cars that will allow twice the traffic density on roads and reduce accidents by 50 per cent or more will be available. Not long after it will be possible to call up a driverless taxi or minibus by cellphone to take you where you want to go. For those who think that this is the stuff of dreams, it is now possible to buy a car that, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead and every major car manufacturer is developing self-guided cars.

These technological advances, combined with telecommuting (working from home and using the internet to communicate) and smartphone-assisted car pooling will have a huge effect on commuting and the shape of future cities. The council should take its head out of the sand and get up to speed with this revolution.

We’ve talked about driverless cars quite a bit recently so won’t go into that too much other than to say the uptake of new vehicle technology has so far been incredibly slow. As for telecommuting – the percentage of people doing just that hasn’t really changed in well over a decade despite it being easier than ever to do so. In fact many large companies – especially tech companies have done the opposite as they have recognised the benefits of working closer together.

Unitary Plan Rant that could probably have a post of its own:

The Unitary Plan is based on a blind belief that it is wrong to let the city spread and intensification is the only option

The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus, which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place.

Most of the isthmus has well-established high-density suburbs with good houses, trees, gardens and lawns that are environmentally friendly and support large populations of birds and bees. The Unitary Plan will demolish these suburbs and substitute blocks of flats that will increase demand for parking, roads, schools, power, water supply, drainage and the like. There will be serious environmental and social impacts. Expanding infrastructure in an established suburb is far more expensive and environmentally damaging than building new low-cost houses on greenfield developments.

The council’s objective is to ration land and artificially inflate land values so as to force people to demolish good houses and force them to build apartment buildings to spread the rates burden.

Perhaps Bryan would like to point out where in the unitary plan it forces people to bowl their houses and build apartments. For most of the isthmus such an activity is actually prohibited due to heritage, zoning, density and height restrictions. In fact the central isthmus is almost locked in amber by the Unitary Plan as it stands now, especially compared to somewhere like West Auckland.

Notified UP - Isthmus-West-North

Auckland can pour vast amounts of money into city centre development in the hope of getting enough passengers to justify a railway tunnel, or it can allow the city to spread and develop satellite centres so that people can live in affordable houses and work in the same area.

Before any action is taken on the Unitary Plan and the tunnel, ratepayers should demand that an independent and objective study is done on the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing the city to spread, compared with intensification. Nothing is more important.

Again perhaps Bryan should look at what work has already happened, such as this report from 2010 on the social, environmental and economic benefits of different development options and for which the large sprawl based one came out worse on the vast majority of measures. Perhaps one of the funniest things I’ve heard is that the modelling on the CRL shows that the more sprawl that’s enabled – particularly in south Auckland – the higher the need for the CRL is as it means there are even more people trying to avoid long lines of congestion from the hinterland.

Overall given his history and given the inaccuracy of his piece I’m surprised the herald even ran it.

Auckland Transport Flattery

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we were extremely flattered to see Auckland Transport today start using the images below to advertise some of the benefits of the City Rail Link.

CRL - Western Line saving

CRL - Southern Line saving

CRL - Eastern Line saving

CRL - Onehunga Line saving

I guess my biggest criticism is I think the colours are too washed out and dull, they could do with being brighter. I’d also like to see a version showing the whole network in one image and versions showing some of the new trips more easily possible with the CRL e.g. Glen Innes to Newmarket. In showing some of those new options it would be good to include the NEX too to show some of the ways the project benefits the North Shore.

At the start I mentioned thatn this was an imitation of what we’ve done before. Below is the version we and Generation Zero created last year. We had planned to do the other lines too but haven’t for lack of time.

CRL Times Western Line

Overall well done AT and let’s hope they start putting more information out about how it benefits the whole region.

Urban Math

So many things to say about what can be seen in this shot.

Downtown

Downtown

Clearly another glass clad tower will not be out of place here.

Also won’t it be great to get rid of that cacophany of steel and glass that is the rain shelters opposite, and the blank walled box of the dreary Downtown Centre.

But in particular look at the number of people standing on that one corner versus the likely number in those two cars [and you can’t count the taxi driver, he’s part of the machine, in fact he’s about to be replaced by the machine].

Barnes Dance

Barnes Dance

Here they are in motion. This is not rush hour either, it is 11:19am on a Thursday in fact [ahhh, metadata]. These things, these carbon based life forms, with hopes, dreams, desires and wallets, are what the development coming to that site in the background is all about. And it matters enormously that they are on foot. People driving by are of no consequence to the businesses on that block. The people delivered by the 200-300 carparks to built under it are also of little consequence to the retail part of the development. They’ll mostly arrive in the morning with one person in them for the towers above, and stay all day. No the economics of the millions being spent on the purchase and redevelopment here entirely depend on the people who arrive by Transit. Bus, Train, and Ferry.

Like the Britomart development, what is pretty and successful above ground there is only so because of what we the city built under ground first. The ever increasing numbers of people arriving on all modes in the City Centre and at this intersection of Transit services in particular is the foundation of this upgrade. It is also important to add to this the ever increasing numbers now living in the city and those walking or riding there too. This is a virtuous circle at work.

CBD Transport Change

It’s simple; more humans, fewer cars = successful city.

Downtown Agreement sorted

The council and Precinct Properties have announced that they’ve come to an agreement for the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square and the costs for the City Rail Link to go through the site.

An agreement between Auckland Council and Precinct Properties announced this morning will enable the construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) to get underway through the company’s Downtown Development project at the bottom of Queen Street.

Mayor Len Brown is heralding the milestone as an historic moment for Auckland: “This is the first step towards the construction of the CRL. It will lead to an exciting transformation of the public spaces around the Britomart train station area. And it’s an example of how a partnership with the private sector can deliver economic transformation and more jobs in Auckland.”

The alignment of the CRL requires new rail tunnels to be constructed through the site presently occupied by the Downtown Shopping Centre, which is owned by Precinct Properties along with two adjacent commercial office towers, HSBC Tower at 1 Queen Street and Zurich House at 21 Queen Street.

The deal between the two parties enables the rail tunnels to be built as part of the Downtown Development Project.

Elements include:

  • The sale to Precinct of Queen Elizabeth Square for $27.2 million
  • Payment to Precinct of $9 million for provision of an East-West pedestrian laneway between Queen Street and Albert Street and compensation for tunnels volume
  • Payment of $10.7 million for additional costs of office tower construction due to CRL tunnels
  • Creation of a new downtown civic space between the project and Britomart

The sale of Queen Elizabeth Square was approved by Auckland Council’s Development Committee on 11 September 2014 after a report to council by staff pointed out the proceeds of this underutilised and poorly performing city space would enable the creation of new public spaces that better meet the needs of the area.

Len Brown says: “The agreement demonstrates the council’s positive business-friendly approach to city centre development while securing a great result for the ratepayer as it means cost savings for both parties.

“It ensures a coordinated approach to the construction work – with Auckland Transport building the CRL tunnels either side of the Precinct downtown shopping centre site from Britomart to Wyndham Street and Precinct Properties building the tunnels below its site.

“The Downtown Development Project will help create jobs giving the potential for 12,000 more people to be working close to public transport at Britomart.

“It is also the key to a number of projects that will kick-off the creation of a world-class downtown area including improvements to public space, transport facilities and urban design.”

Those improvements include:

  • The replacement of an aging 40 year old shopping centre with the Downtown Development Project enhancing retail in the area with a three-level retail laneway development while the commercial office tower will deliver much-needed office space
  • The creation of a pedestrian laneway, which re-instates a north-south link from Customs Street to Quay Street once existing as Little Queen Street. This link was lost during the large-scale demolition in the area in the 1970s
  • Moving towards the establishment of a Lower Albert Street bus interchange which would enable a pedestrianised civic space to be created in front of Britomart presently existing as a road occupied by buses
  • The protection of key views to important adjacent heritage buildings including the ferry building, Customhouse and the Dilworth building

The Mayor says: “Aucklanders have made it clear the CRL is their number one transport priority and this brings us closer to enabling a start to construction in about a year’s time.”

Construction of the Downtown section of the CRL is due to begin mid-year with completion by 2019. Tenders are due to go out later this year.

It’s great that we’re seeing some progress on the CRL and $19.7 million for it through this section is probably quite cheap compared to what it would have been had Auckland Transport been forced to buy the site had Precinct not been willing to work out a deal. That we’ll also get North-South and East-West lanes is good (more on that soon).

The issue that might cause some people concern is bound to be the sale of QE Square. Months ago when the suggestion came up we were told it could be worth up to $60 million so the council selling it for $27 million is obviously quite a bit less than that. One thing worth pointing out though is that based on the surrounding land values which are up over 9,500 per m2 this doesn’t seem such a low price.

Also this morning Precinct Properties have released a few images of what the development on the downtown site will look like. The main feature will be a 36 storey office tower which will have quite an impact on the skyline.

Precinct Tower 1

Precinct Tower 2

They’ve also released this image of the East-West laneway which will be surrounded by three storeys of retail. The big concern I have with this is that it appears to be enclosed with a roof giving it more of a mall feel than an open air lane.

Downtown Lane

Overall it’s great to see progress being made and I’m definitely looking forward to the first stages of the CRL starting in the middle of the year.