Rail and congestion relief

A conference by the Traffic Institute – a group primarily made up of councillors and officers from a number of local authorities around the country to represent views on road safety and traffic management – held its annual conference earlier this week. There have been a few articles emerge from the conference and the one I’m going to focus on today is one titled Metro Rail won’t fix congestion which relates to a talk at the conference by Dr Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

Metro rail systems such as Auckland’s proposed $2.4 billion link from Britomart to Mt Eden do nothing to reduce congestion in the long run, says a visiting international transport expert.

“With metro, all you do is create extra capacity,” Dr Dinesh Mohan told the Traffic Institute at its annual conference in Auckland today.

“Then, after two years, all the roads are congested again – and the metro is full.

“You just increase transport, you don’t reduce congestion.”

More total travel with the same amount of congestion/car use is exactly the point and primary purpose of the City Rail Link. The CRL network will move a lot more people around the region regardless of traffic. It’s also why we need greater investment in bus infrastructure both in the city centre and across the region as it allows us to get more use out of our road networks. The table below shows this, it comes from the City Centre Future Access Study released at the end of 2012. Regardless of the solution investigated (the integrated CRL and surface bus option was chosen as the best) vehicle traffic didn’t decline – although I think this is in part due to poor transport modelling.

CCFAS - City Centre Access
Of course it also means that if projects that don’t reduce congestion long term are not worth building then you can say goodbye to any future road widening programmes. Instead we’d look at getting a better outcome from the existing road resource, which leads us to this point.

“The only way to reduce carbon dioxide is to reduce road area, there is no other way.”

One way to do that was to allocate a lane along every road for buses, and another for cyclists and pedestrians.

Great we agree again, so when do we start? I look forward to a network of bus and cycle lanes made from reclaimed traffic lanes. Projects like painting new bus and cycle lanes often have very high economic returns due to being comparatively cheap to construct (often just some paint is needed) and benefiting a lot of passengers.

He also addresses climate change

Only 25 per cent of the “life-cycle” energy costs of underground passenger trains went on running them, but that left the production of concrete, steel and other infrastructure components contributing the remaining 75 per cent.

“Putting anything underground increases carbon dioxide,” he said.

I guess it’s a good thing then that the vast majority of the other ~90km of the Auckland Rail network ins’t underground.  As mentioned the point of the CRL is to unlock the latent capacity in the existing network so we can use it better. If we were building a full underground metro from scratch then he might have a point. But the City Rail Link is a mere 3km of tunnel turns that whole 90km legacy rail network into a highly efficient regional rapid transit system. To achieve the equivalent outcome with buses would similarly require a bus tunnel of some 3km, given that all the surface corridors are  busy carrying hundreds of buses already. But that’s not the end of it, a bus solution would also require the construction of three or four new busways, in addition to those already planned, to do the same job as the rail network with the CRL.

I’m pretty sure that a bus tunnel and three brand new suburban busways will result in a lot more emissions that a rail tunnel alone.

Also from this article he talks about his figures for carbon emissions being based on coal fired power plants which is something we have very little of.

So, he reasons, if you have a transport system that operates underground or is elevated there are huge amounts in investments in tunnels, bridges and so on. Much more cement, concrete, electricity (for air-conditioning, lighting and so on) gets used, all of which is related to life-cycle costs in which “anything that uses more infrastructure comes off worse”.

Therefore, since most of energy in India is from coal, the carbon emission and energy consumption per passenger in the metro is higher than a bus

He then suggests that deep down everyone wants to drive.

“You must have congestion for the public to use public transport – if you don’t have congestion, you would be very stupid to use public transport, because you could get there faster by car.”

I guess someone better tell the thousands of people who catch PT off peak when the roads are flowing that they are stupid.  The reality is that many people will happily use PT if it’s fast, frequent and reliable (not necessarily in that order). Increasingly people are just fed up of driving, parking and congestion, whatever the time of day. Classic examples of this are on the Northern Busway where there are often queues to get on even after hours as this tweet from the other day highlights:

And lastly

Told about Auckland Transport’s goal of making trains circulate through the central business district rather than having to back out of Britomart, he wondered whether the planners had considered running buses in a circuit instead.

Asked where London would be without its Underground, he said that was an unfair question as the system was built in the 19th Century when there were no buses, which did not become efficient people-carriers until the 1950s.

Well yes buses have been considered in depth, in fact buses featured strongly in the 46 different options considered as part of the CCFAS and enhanced bus operations are part of the preferred option together with the CRL. Bus options included the options below and multiple variations of each one:

  • Best use of existing infrastructure
  • Enhanced Bus operation – this builds on the previous options with additional bus priority through things like double bus lanes, bus priority at intersections etc.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – both surface BRT options and ones elevated through the city.
  • Underground Bus – various tunnel alignments and operating patterns.

Overall it seems like his quoted comments are a case of him making a judgement about solutions for Auckland without having looked at any of the details. On the positive side it seems the Herald are finally calling the CRL a Metro Rail system rather than a just a rail loop.

Where is the Heart? Critical Public Space in the City Centre

Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.

Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canalis still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without  building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.

These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.

And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.

The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.

Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.

Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.

It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.

This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.

So the plan is a good one:

1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances

2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]

3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square

4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.

Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.

This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.

Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:

Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre

Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could  ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.

 

Is the baseline transport programme actually OK?

In the Mayor’s proposal for council’s 10 year budget, there is discussion around how two transport programmes will be consulted on early next year once a draft budget has been fully formulated:

  1. A programme which is based on the funding envelope possible with a 2.5-3.5% rates increase. This is referred to as the ‘baseline proposal’ in the document
  2. A larger programme that relies on additional funding, either from higher rates increases or from alternative funding options (like a network charge or congestion charge)

The paper highlights that what falls within the baseline proposal will be the subject of ongoing discussion between the Council and Auckland Transport, based around a system of ranking projects. However, a number of key projects that can be funded within this programme are listed:

  • City Rail Link
  • North Western Growth Area Projects (presumably this means new roads in Westgate and Hobsonville)
  • Warkworth SH1 intersection improvements (an odd one to include as I thought this was an NZTA project)
  • East West Connections (the new name for the East West Link)
  • Lincoln, Te Atatu and Dominion Road upgrades

Later in the document, when each of the transformational shifts in the Auckland Plan are discussed, there’s some further information on key projects which are included in both scenarios:

Whichever transport programme we eventually include in this LTP, there is no doubt that it will reflect the ongoing shift to public transport that this council has been committed to since its inception, with $700 million spent on public transport in the four years of Auckland Council.

The City Rail Link is fundamental in both scenarios. The baseline programme in addition, incorporates significant investment in bus lanes and bus infrastructure to support the new public transport network. Projects such as AMETI include walking and cycling provision. The city centre transport budgets include funding for Wellesley Street bus infrastructure and the Wynyard bus interchange.

One thing that’s really important to note here is that the CRL is no longer dependent upon finding alternative funding sources. It’s in both scenarios, which makes complete sense as the project is listed in the Auckland Plan as the number one priority. Even if the alternative funding options go nowhere, CRL is still budgeted to happen (when it happens is mainly down to central government).

Projects essential to the success of the new bus network’s rollout are also included in both programmes – a big programe of bus lanes, the Wellesley Street bus infrastructure, Wynyard bus interchange, the Dominion Road project and AMETI are all mentioned above, while Te Atatu bus interchange is listed (along with some rail grade separations) as a project that’s come out of some work on spatial prioritisation.

So a lot of the really good stuff we need council to focus on building – both to kick start implementation of the Congestion Free Network (i.e. CRL and the AMETI busway) and to ensure the new bus network is implemented successfully – appear possible in the baseline programme.

If we turn to what’s highlighted as being excluded from the baseline programme – but could be funded if extra money was available from network charges or some other funding source – there’s a rather strange mix of projects listed:

  • A majority of local and arterial roading projects across the region
  • Almost all of the park and ride projects currently programmed
  • The North-Western busway
  • Strategic projects such as Penlink and rail electrification to Pukekohe

Looking back in the project list from the Integrated Transport Programme, most of the arterial roading projects seemed like a huge waste of money, so I doubt we’d miss them. We had things like:

  • Mill Road – $239 million
  • Albany Highway upgrade – $665 million (likely a typo)
  • Lake Road Upgrade – $120 million
  • Great South Road (Otahuhu-Manukau) – $820 million (another possible typo

There was also another $2.5 billion budgeted for “other arterial road upgrades” over 30 years, excluding anything in the new greenfield areas as they were a further budget line item. So while we may miss having some of the arterial roading programme cut back, it seems like there was an enormous amount of waste in it. In terms of Penlink, well I think that was covered off last week in quite a bit of detail – in short, it won’t be missed too much.

In terms of park and rides, we’ve highlighted on many occasions in the past that these are not a panacea for improving public transport and in many cases may be both poor value for money and could undermine other goals such as cost-effective feeder buses or development opportunities around train stations. A small park and ride development programme is probably appropriate, focusing on stations that serve areas where feeder buses just aren’t viable (i.e. rural areas). Beyond that, however it’s hard to see a major programme being fundamentally essential.

That leaves the Northwest Busway and Pukekohe electrification. While these are both critical projects – particularly if Auckland is going to sprawl to the northwest and south over the next 10 years – it’s debatable whether they are projects that should be mainly funded by the Council. It is central government which owns both the rail network that would be electrified between Papakura and Pukekohe as well as State Highway 16, which the Northwest Busway would be built alongside. Sure there may be some costs to the Council in relation to stations, new trains and bus interchanges, but I would have thought the bulk of both projects should be paid by government.

In summary, it seems like it may well be possible for the council to proceed with a pretty good transport programme in the near future without relying on additional funding sources – including making significant effort towards implementing the Congestion Free Network. This is essentially what we’ve been saying since the CFN came out over a year ago, so it’s nice to finally see. Of course the devil will be in the detail of what projects are and are not in this “baseline programme”, but at the very least it’s great to see CRL’s in – and therefore no longer requires alternative funding options to be approved before it can proceed.

Send a message to Len Brown about Auckland’s Long Term Plan

This Thursday the mayor is releasing his first proposal for Auckland’s Long Term Plan, the 10 year budget for the city. Last week I blogged about the budgetary pressures the council is facing, and the risk of large cuts in public transport investment. However there is still potential for Auckland to progress the Congestion Free Network and important cycling investments in a rates constrained environment if we prioritise those projects and push back some of the very expensive roading projects with limited benefits like Penlink.

Generation Zero are running a mini campaign this week to encourage people send Len Brown a message that the budget needs to invest in public transport and cycling. Their email ask is at down below, and you can send an email to Len Brown using a simple online tool here: generationzero.org.nz/long_term_plan

10553850_891511567530175_8530981711979994326_o

 

Hey, all the work we’ve done together to push for separated bike lanes, the Congestion Free Network, and the frequent bus network all hinges on one big decision this Thursday.

Mayor Len Brown is right this moment making up his mind about what projects get prioritised in Auckland’s 10 year budget known as the Long Term Plan.

Tell him now to: make the CRL the number one priority; prioritise the city wide rapid transport network; triple the cycling budget; and not proceed with expensive projects with little regional benefit.

There’s real pressure on the Mayor to hold rate increases in his budget to between 2.5% to 3.5%. Transport infrastructure represents nearly 50% of the budget so this funding is the most at risk. This means as a city we need to make some serious decisions about what we prioritise to fund over the next 10 years.

The choice has been made simple for him by his advisors. He’s been advised that he can not deliver all the projects in the Auckland Plan, therefore he needs to find a middle ground.1

That middle ground is the Congestion Free Network.

The Mayor therefore needs to do four things with the Long Term Plan:

  • Make funding for the City Rail Link his number one priority.
  • Prioritise the construction of the city wide rapid transport network including new busways and rail links as seen in the Congestion Free Network.
  • Ensure there is a tripling in the funding for cycling to $30 million a year so Auckland Transport can complete the City Cycling Network.
  • Make sure only road projects with large regional benefits proceed by excluding expensive projects such as Penlink and Mill Road.

Click here to send a message to Mayor Len Brown right now urging him to follow our four recommendations.

The long term effects of a lack of investment would lead to ever increasing congestion and ineffective public transport, exacerbating the many problems our city already faces with transport.

Truly transforming our public transport network over the next 10 years means moving forward with the City Rail Link, North Western, Upper Harbour and South-Eastern Busways and Rail to Roskill, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

On the other hand low value roading projects like Penlink2 have nothing to do with an outstanding public transport network.

Excluding these low value roading projects and prioritising an outstanding public transport network would help us get the right outcomes.

The choice is simple. The Council has already put in writing that their objectives over the next 10 years are to move to outstanding public transport within one network, and to radically improve the quality of urban living.

If Auckland wants to truly transform itself into a liveable low-carbon city it needs to prioritise high value projects that deliver on the Council’s own objectives.

Send a message now to tell the council to deliver on it’s own objectives: generationzero.org.nz/long_term_plan

The future of our city is in our hands.

 

Postcard from Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg

This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson

Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg

What do these three cities have in common?

  1. In my view a real “sense of place”.
  2. Very efficient public transport systems
  3. They all had my wife and me as visitors in the month of July. We spent roughly a week reacquainting ourselves with each of these cities during our recent journey to the Baltic countries and northern Germany. For the record, not once in the six weeks we were away and touching eight northern European countries, did we travel in a private motor car. This was independent travel and our modes were bus, train, boat, river ferry boat, light rail, taxi (twice) and lots of walking.

Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.

Gothenburg

Gotenburg_winter

This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.

One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.

Göteborg-Tram-Map

Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.

Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.

Gothenburg tram

I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.

Goteborg Nil Ericson Station

Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.

Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.

Goteborg Station Interior

Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.

It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.

Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.

 Hanover

Hanover Square and Regent Street aerial view, London

As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.

Hannover_-_Hauptbahnhof_Eingangsportal_1

They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.

Toshiba Exif JPEG

If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!

I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.

Hamburg

Hamburg Hafen City

I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.

Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.

hamburg-ubahn-sbahn-map_big

What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:

‘GREEN, INCLUSIVE, GROWING CITY BY THE WATER – PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN HAMBURG’.

It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development.  This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.

What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;

  • More City in the City
  • Internal Development Before Expansion
  • Good Quality Open Space Even As The City Becomes More Compact
  • People Are Already Increasing Their Use Of Street Space And Public Squares
  • Hamburg Will Not Become A City Of High Rises – The Ideal Height For Urban Density Is Six To Seven Floors
  • When The Port Operations Were Moved To Their New Location Hamburg Is Accepting The Challenge To Create New Residential Areas, Work Places And Attractive Places
  • Improving Urban Quality Including – Constructing a new S4 Train Line to the East of Hamburg.                      
  • Roofing Over A7 Motorway Cuttings to Reconnect Severed Parts of the City in the West.

A7-cover-Hamburg

Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:

  • The car is losing its importance as a status symbol
  • Various modes of transport are to converge and link up at mobility service points in order to make private travel superfluous
  • Hamburg must not be allowed to lag behind comparable big cities which are considerably expending their Metro systems

And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –

“ The core conflict in the town planning debate of the last century – the battle between car friendliness and urban life in the city – is now drawing to a close. The city of the future will be liveable and allow mobility also.”

This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.

Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.

The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.

For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.

Precinct Properties update

Precinct Properties have just released their annual results, and there are some interesting updates on the Downtown Shopping Centre and other projects.

Downtown Shopping Centre

According to Precinct, they’ve completed the master plan for the development, although this hasn’t been publicly released as far as I’m aware. They say:

The completion of the Downtown Shopping Centre masterplan was a milestone for the project and the company alike… Precinct now has a more comprehensive understanding of this unrivalled opportunity and has been able to better ascertain the scale, scope and overall cost of realising its potential.
As a result it has also revised its expectation for development spend estimates to between $400 and $500 million, reflecting a scheme that will maximise the opportunities offered by the site. This revised guidance compares with $300 to $350 million provided last year and comes after increasing the potential area to be developed.

That’s an encouraging sign, and Precinct now think they’ll end up with around 20,000 square metres of retail NLA (net leasable area), and 35,000 square metres of office NLA. The total gross floor area of the building will be around 71,000 square metres.

Additionally, Precinct’s negotiations with the council to enable CRL tunnels through the site are “significantly advanced”. They go on to say that “while a final agreement has not yet been signed, both parties are committed in principle to a solution whereby construction of the tunnels for Auckland Council will occur as part of the Downtown Shopping Centre redevelopment”.

As for the next steps:

Following masterplanning Precinct has entered the concept design phase. A select group of leading global architects was invited to submit proposals for this phase. Following a series of workshops and presentations NH Architecture from Melbourne was appointed as the retail architect and Woods Bagot based out of San Francisco was appointed as the commercial architect. Local New Zealand architecture firm Warren and Mahoney will ensure the integration of these schemes.

In their actual annual results presentation, which is a bit bullet pointy, they add:

  • Intention to restore Downtown and lower Queen Street as the heart of Auckland City
  • Leverage public transport as the site is bordered by rail, ferry and bus services
  • Precinct will have 5 office towers with around 12,000 workers amongst 130,000sqm of office space
  • Retail will knit the precinct together and provide;
    • Amenity for office users
    • Major city centre retail for Auckland
    • Access for public transport

In regards to the “5 office towers” bit, note that Precinct also owns  Zurich House and HSBC House, essentially the entire block that the Downtown Shopping Centre sits on, except for the council-owned Queen Elizabeth II Square. Across the road, they also own the AMP Centre and the PwC building. No doubt this will allow for some more wide-ranging master planning.

Precinct landholdings

Source: Precinct Properties 2013 annual results
Precinct have also given an indicative timeframe for the development. They aim to lodge their resource consent in December this year, and from then on it’s:

  • Project commitment Q4 2015
  • Commencement Q1 2016
  • Retail completion Q4 2018
  • Office completion Q2 2019

Wynyard Central

Precinct also talked a bit about their involvement in the Wynyard Quarter, although we’ve covered most of this previously.

In the period Precinct entered into a development agreement with Waterfront Auckland. This provides the opportunity to develop the commercial office property within Wynyard Central at Wynyard Quarter in Auckland. The 46,000 sqm of gross floor area is expected to be built over 5 stages and several years.
Precinct is making good progress on the design and commercials for the first stage of Wynyard Central. This site provides Precinct with the last remaining commercial waterfront development site and complements the Downtown Shopping Centre opportunity.

They do mention, though, that the first stage will involve around $50 million of spending, with the project getting underway in the second quarter of 2015 and wrapping up in the third quarter of 2016.

Wynyard Quarter - Precinct impression 1

CEO Interview

Lastly, Anne Gibson, the Property Editor at the Herald, recently did a video interview with the CEO of Precinct Properties, Scott Pritchard. Here are a couple of interesting quotes from the interview:

“We think that the way Auckland is going… there’s a significant growth in the number of CBD-based employees… we’ve seen vacancy levels reduce quite radically”

“Getting density into cities is what makes cities so great”

“We’ve seen 10,000 new workers come into Auckland’s CBD in the last three years, which is an enormous amount of people, that need desks. And so… the vacant space of a few years ago has truly been absorbed, and I think if it continues, we’re going to be short on space”

These are a lot of the things we discuss on the blog, and it’s great to hear them coming from the CEO of a major property company.

City Rail Link is key to Auckland’s future

A few weeks ago I wrote a brief post talking about how the CBD employment targets the government has set for the City Rail Link and how they will be basically impossible to achieve due to a shortage of office space. I’ve also talked about both the office target and patronage targets a number of time in the past.

Last week Jason Krupp from the NZ Initiative wrote an opinion piece for Stuff talking about us and how the targets are justified and questioning the need for the CRL.

Recently, Transportblog.co.nz bemoaned the fact that Auckland CBD was running out of office space.

The pro-transit and compact city advocacy group is concerned because central government is insisting that certain rail usage and CBD employment targets be met before it co-funds the $2.9 billion City Rail Project.

These targets include the doubling of rail patronage to 20 million trips a year, and lifting the number of people employed in the CBD by 25 per cent (or 22,000 jobs) if the city wants the project to start in 2020.

The problem is that while the first target might just be achievable (there were 11.4 million rail passenger trips for the year ending June 2014, up from 10 million in the previous year), the second is more doubtful.

Transportblog.co.nz (and Auckland Council) seem to be suggesting the employment target is unreachable without the City Rail Link. After all, who would want to construct an office building if you can’t fill it with productive workers?

It is a persuasive argument, but it doesn’t quite stack up when you look at the complexities of transit investments and the track record of transit projects.

It goes on discuss some of these points and a few others in more detail. Seeing as he was specifically addressing us with his op-ed piece we felt we deserved a right of reply which Stuff have published. The piece was put together by our three musketeers economists John, Peter and Stu. Due to word limits on Stuff it’s difficult to even get half of what we want to say in an op-ed but what we did say is below.

At TransportBlog, we want Auckland to be a more connected, vibrant, and prosperous city.

So it came as a surprise when Jason Krupp of the New Zealand Initiative authored an opinion piece criticising our analysis of the need for the City Rail Link (CRL).

Mr Krupp suggests that Auckland should delay or perhaps even cancel the CRL. We disagree: the CRL is critical infrastructure which has already been subjected to considerable scrutiny, especially when compared to most other major transport projects in New Zealand’s history.

Construction on the CRL needs to get underway in 2016 lest Auckland’s growth is stifled.

Auckland’s transport future will be rather different to its past.

Auckland is competing for human and monetary capital with cities that benefit from efficient public transport networks.

The four largest cities across the ditch – Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane – all built CRL equivalents decades ago.

Because those cities unlocked more capacity from their rail networks, they can move more passengers free of congestion.

Rail networks in Perth and Brisbane – cities less dense and not much larger than Auckland – each carry more than 50 million passengers a year.

We should take a lead from what’s worked in Australian cities, which benefit from better mobility and easier access to jobs and services.

Mr Krupp incorrectly suggests that there is a debate over whether the CRL should happen at all. Fortunately, all major parties now agree that the CRL is necessary – but they disagree on the start date. Auckland Council and the major opposition parties have publicly committed to a 2016 start for construction.

A National-led government, on the other hand, would fund the CRL no earlier than 2020 unless two targets are achieved first.

The Government proposes to delay the CRL unless rail patronage reaches 20 million trips a year by 2018 and employment in Auckland’s city centre grows by 25 per cent by 2017.

We are concerned about the arbitrary nature of these targets. The employment target, for example, ignores the role the city centre plays in meeting growth in residents, tertiary students, and visitors.

It’s also unclear why targets have been set for the CRL but not for other major transport projects.

The Government’s criteria also seem to avoid more obvious “value-for-money” targets, such as the benefit-cost ratio.

Nonetheless, we believe that Auckland is capable of achieving the Government’s patronage target, although it’s a stretch.

Since the development of Britomart, Auckland’s rail patronage has grown at double-digit rates, rising from around 2 million annual trips to almost 12 million in a little over a decade.

There’s no reason we can’t meet or exceed that performance over the next decade given the ongoing introduction of electric trains; a better, more frequent bus network; and integrated ticketing.

Auckland’s revitalisation of public transport has been one of its major success stories over the last decade.

Investments in new infrastructure and services have paid off: Britomart, the Northern Busway, the Onehunga Line, and the new Panmure station have all outstripped initial projections. Britomart surpassed its forecasts more than a decade early.

The CRL is a sensible response to proven demand for rail services.

Without completing the “missing link” between Britomart and the Western Line, we will soon hit a capacity constraint – full trains, too many buses in the city centre, increasingly congested roads and reduced economic development.

On the other hand, the Government’s employment target for the CRL is unrealistic to the point of being nonsensical. Simply put, a 25 per cent increase in city centre employment by 2017 is physically impossible.

A recent independent report by PwC found that the central city won’t have enough office space to house these extra employees, given current low office vacancy rates and the time lag in developing new offices.

Moreover, much of the development required to get close to this target is contingent on the CRL. The redevelopment of the Downtown Mall, for example, won’t proceed without it.

Which begs the question: is this target reasonable, or is it simply a delaying tactic?

The Government’s targets and much of the media coverage on the CRL give the impression that the project will only benefit the central city. That’s patently not the case.

Auckland has 120 kilometres of rail lines that move people to and from Manukau, Newmarket, New Lynn, Middlemore, and many other stations as well as to Britomart.

Building the CRL will enable Auckland Transport to increase the speed and frequency of services across the entire network, and possibly expand rail to the North Shore and the Airport.

Carrying on without the CRL would be like building the motorway network without the Central Motorway Junction. It just wouldn’t make sense.

As firm believers in evidence-based policy, we welcome the degree of scrutiny on the CRL. The evidence compiled by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and central government is not only comprehensive, but also unprecedented when compared with other transport projects such as the expensive Roads of National Significance programme.

But now, the facts are in: it’s time to build the City Rail Link.

I know Jason has some more thoughts in reply to our piece and I’ve encouraged him make those thoughts known in the comments on this post so everyone can see them and join in the discussion.

Post CRL Train Operations

Auckland Transport’s decision to not build Newton Station as part of the CRL project, instead upgrading Mt Eden, potentially has some impacts on future train operating patterns that are worth analysing and discussing further. Our preference for operating patterns, prior to the change, is shown in the Congestion Free Network map for 2020 – the immediate post-CRL period:

CFN-map-core

There are numerous small variations you could make to which lines link with other lines – should the western join with the southern instead of the eastern? Should the Onehunga Line go via Parnell instead of Grafton? Should Mt Roskill to Panmure be the “short runner”?

However, there are some pretty basic concepts here – most importantly that this is a Metro style operating pattern with our assumption being all trains stop at all stations and that we’ve tried to keep the patterns as simple as possible. For example, all trains on the inner part of the western line go straight into the CRL tunnel with journeys to Newmarket either being provided for by staying on the red line right around the city centre, or transferring services at Newton.

After seeing the response to the CRL changes on Friday we gave AT a bit of a push to publish just what their thinking was around how they would run trains after the CRL was built. To their credit they published it that afternoon.

At first glance the plan looks fairly simply however as I’ve looked at it more it’s raised a number of questions for me. These include

  • Do we really need a west-south service?
  • Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
  • Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
  • Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?
  • How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?
  • Does Manukau have enough service?
  • Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
  • Does the Eastern Line have enough service?

Do we really need a west-south service?

So of course, not having Newton any longer – and having Mt Eden station removed from the “Grafton to K Road” direct rail connection, means that west to Newmarket trips which AT say currently make up about one third of western line trips would need to be provided for in one of four ways.

  1. Staying on the train right through the CRL and Parnell to Newmarket
  2. Changing trains at Karangahape Road from an inbound western line train to an outbound train travelling from the city to Grafton and Newmarket
  3. Providing a direct rail service from the west to Newmarket
  4. Running a shuttle between Mt Eden and Newmarket

Auckland Transport has seemingly chosen option 3 of the above, with their preferred train operating pattern showing a direct service between the west and Newmarket – then onto Otahuhu. This is the purple line on the map. At first glance the purple service seems potentially quite useful – providing that one seat ride from the west to Grafton and Newmarket, as well as recognising “not everyone wants to go to the city centre”. The question is though, “will the level of demand for the purple line be high enough to justify reasonable frequencies?”. And if not, for example if it is only run at three trains per hour, then it’s not good enough to expect people to just turn up and go and therefore won’t it be faster to just transfer at K Road?

It’s also worth remembering that just because 1/3rd of trips on the line are currently to Grafton/Newmarket, it’s not a massive number overall and won’t grow as much as trips to the city centre. I’d also point out that it doesn’t serve all West-Newmarket trips, my wife for example is now travelling to Grafton but as we catch the train from Sturges Rd it would still mean a transfer for her.

Other considerations include:

  • How many additional trains are necessary to operate the purple line and is there value for money from purchasing those trains solely for this line?
  • Are additional turnaround facilities required at Henderson and Otahuhu for these services, and how much will they cost?
  • How much will it actually cost to operate the purple line and how might that compare to say changing the New North Road buses so they directly serve Newmarket?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but they are ones that AT really need to answer.

I think my preference is to serve the west to Newmarket trips through a combination of transfers at K Road (which isn’t that much further out of the way than Newton would have been) and perhaps a Mt Eden to Newmarket shuttle. It still means a transfer but without the time penalty of going all the way to K Rd first.

The next three questions are all interconnected.

Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?

It’s not clear from the announcement whether the Onehunga line is being duplicated. Based on discussions I’ve had I’m going to assume that because it’s not core to the CRL so it probably isn’t being done. We currently only run two trains per hour on the line however I understand that with a little work it’s likely we could run three trains per hour on it. Unless AT are planning worse frequencies than now it would mean some of the blue western line trains would have to terminate somewhere and the most likely place for that is at Newmarket. With both the red and purple lines travelling through the station would there really be enough capacity for that to happen. This is exasperated by the fact that a terminating train would have a period of layover longer than what Western Line trains currently do for the driver end change. It seems that if you do terminate trains at Newmarket you get capacity problems at the station but if you send them on down the line to terminate elsewhere the line south of Newmarket may have their own capacity constraints and you end up with the situation of it seeming like stations between Penrose and Newmarket would be serviced by many more trains than the stations on the CRL. With the exception of Ellerslie most of those stations don’t do that well for patronage despite the level of service they have.

How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?

I realise we already kind of have this issue so perhaps it’s nothing to worry about but it just seems to me that having a line double back on it’s like this one does risks creating confusion, especially for those trying the system for the first time. Going by the current way we label services – which lists the final destination – it means a person at a station between Westfield and Puhinui wanting to go to the city would actually have to catch a train destined for Manukau or Papakura which seems a bit counter-intuitive.

On a slightly related note AT talking of closing Westfield and Te Mahia. I assume they’re on the map because the final decision hasn’t been made rather than because they’re necessarily staying.

Again another similar set of questions.

Does Manukau have enough service?
Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
Does the Eastern Line have enough service?

While some lines have double ups that significantly boost capacity it seems that Manukau, the Eastern Line and the Outer Western Line miss out. Does this plan deliver enough capacity for those stations? Because we are now sticking with the same number of trains we will have by the end of next year/early 2016 that suggests they might not get more than the six trains per hour they will have post electrification. Bringing it back to the west-south service what if we provided those trips by one of the other methods suggested. Could we use them to boost frequencies on the lines mentioned that at this stage don’t seem to get any frequency benefit from the CRL. This situation would change when we order an additional batch of new trains – now scheduled for around 2025.

All up the plan does answer a number of questions but also creates a lot of questions.

AT drops Newton Station for cheaper CRL

Auckland Transport have announced they are cutting the Newton Station from the City Rail link in favour of an upgraded station at Mt Eden.

A significant design change to the City Rail Link (CRL), will save over $150 million, improve the reliability and journey time of train services, minimise construction disruption in Symonds Street and reduce property purchase requirements.

Auckland Transport (AT) has decided to redevelop the existing Mt Eden Station and connect it to the CRL rather than build a new underground station at Newton.

AT chairman Lester Levy says that since the City Rail Link’s concept design was developed two years ago, there has been concerted effort to optimise the design and drive value for money.

“The change that has resulted from this focus will reduce cost by removing the very deep Newton station, which will also reduce construction disruption in upper Symonds St by 12 to 18 months.

“The improved design will connect passengers at Mt Eden Station to the CRL which previously bypassed them and improve operation reliability through the provision of a separated east-west junction so train lines won’t need to cross over each other.”

Dr Levy says the changes also will result in an improved customer experience with the CRL platform at Mt Eden now to be built in a trench similar to the New Lynn station, and be open to the sky, rather than deep underground as was the case for the proposed Newton station location. This open air location and the separated train junction will also lower operating costs.

“This is all good news, at a time when patronage is increasing and people are really seeing rail as a travel choice*. We are definitely moving in the right direction to meet government targets for CRL funding,” he says.

In addition, fewer surface properties will be required. Owners affected by the new design have been contacted directly by Auckland Transport about the change.

As well as these significant community, cost and service benefits, the development potential associated with Mt Eden Station will not be limited by volcanic cone view shafts and heritage buildings which constrained the Newton location.

Changes in the rail track alignment will also reduce vibration and noise effects on surrounding properties and improve travel times.

Dr Levy says AT’s on-going design improvement focus included a comprehensive review of all project elements by an international “challenge team” of experts.

He says information on the design changes and upcoming milestones for the CRL will be explained to the community at open days in the project area in late August/early September.

*The year to June 30 saw a 13.9% increase in rail patronage in Auckland, to 11.4 million trips.

Here’s a plan of how the Mt Eden station will work. You can see the tracks for the CRL come in underneath the ones for accessing Newmarket which lead to the station in the trench. You can also see a new road will be built that will connect the station to Mt Eden Rd. Sometimes it seems like we can’t get a PT project without having to add a new road somewhere to appease the transport gods.

Mt Eden Station Plan

And here’s an artistic impression of it.

Mt Eden Station Artistic Impression

From this information I can see two major differences between the old Newton plan and the new Mt Eden design:

Firstly, while Newton station would have been located deep under the main street of the Newton town centre area, Mt Eden station is located about 500m further south by the existing rail line. This shifts the focus of the station, and subsequent redevelopment, to the Eden Terrace area instead of Newton. This no doubt means revisiting various area plans and growth strategies, and probably requires changes to pedestrian and cycle networks and bus connections.

Secondly, Mt Eden will be located on the west side of the the new junction, which means trains running from the south to the city via Grafton and Newmarket physically can’t stop there. This is unlike Newton which would have been on the north side of the junction and a stop for all trains using the CRL. So relative to Newton, Mt Eden loses connectivity to the south and gets less frequency to the remaining city stations.

Effectively this ‘downgrades’ Mt Eden to being the first suburban station on the Western line, while Newton would have been a proper City Rail Link stations with the same service and connectivity as Britomart, Aotea and Karangahape. The design does however include a second set of platforms at Mt Eden to allow trains to run between the west and south without going to the CRL. It looks like AT plan to make up for the loss of service and connectivity by running extra crosstown trains over the top of the regular lines, more on this below.

I have quite mixed feelings about this as there appear to be some good and bad aspects to the decision.

The Good

First and foremost it’s good that AT have managed to find ways to save money on the project – although it’s not to a level that the government are suddenly going to agree to funding it starting in 2016 like the council plan. The savings which total about $166 million are made up of $152 million in reduced construction costs and $14 million in property purchases. On the latter it means AT will no longer need to buy sites around the station entrance and that the tracks can be moved slightly closer together saving on sub-surface purchases. When I spoke to them they were initially a bit hesitant to say exactly how much the project will cost but they eventually said the non-inflation adjusted price was $2.069 billion which equates to an inflated price of ~$2.7 billion (compared to the $2.86 often quoted in the media). AT are also not to buy extra trains quite as early as planned saving an extra $330 million from the upfront budget.

The change allows for a grade separated junction at Mt Eden which can help in reducing delays from trains. The one downside to this is that there will still be five other flat junctions across the network which could cause issues for trains so it doesn’t mean there still won’t be issues.

There are other benefits the engineers have managed to get out of the design including:

  • Previously all of the proposed stations were planned to be on a slight grade but now they will be able to be level.
  • They’ve improved the track alignment allowing for slightly faster trips (up to 30 seconds faster per trip from the west)
  • They’ve managed to squeeze slightly more width out of the Aotea station island platform. It will now have a slight curve on it and at it’s widest will be about 9.5m wide.
The Bad

In my view shifting the station back to Mt Eden significantly weakens the potential catchment and development potential of the station. It means that most of the land immediately south and within 800m of the station will be the existing standalone houses that are not able to be developed due to the zoning and heritage rules. It also means that the potential developments north of the original proposed station are not as likely to happen as they won’t be in as close proximity to the station. In saying this it also made me think that if we could improve access across the CMJ then it is possible some of that potential growth might be able to be served by the K Rd station which is likely to have a station entrance on Mercury Lane.

For their part AT say they think the change in station will allow for development to happen quicker on the large site that will be left after the CRL is completed. What’s more the land in the area bounded by the railway line, New North Rd and Mt Eden Rd doesn’t have the volcanic view shaft requirements on it allowing for taller buildings than in other areas around Newton. All up they say the construction will leave about 2.7ha of developable land almost right next to the station. Further as the council will own that, it’s the one who will get significant improvements in property values from the presence of the station. That fits in nicely with Michael Barnett’s correct suggestion of developing council land near stations to help pay for the councils share of the project.

Perhaps the biggest concern I have with this suggestion is that it may lock us in to having to always run West to Newmarket/South trains for perpetuity. With a Newton station it would have allowed us to run a simple network at high frequency with those going to Grafton, Newmarket or other points south doing a quick transfer across a platform. Because there is no platform on the eastern side of the Mt Eden Junction it means people transferring either have to go in to Karangahape Rd – adding at least 5 minutes to their journey – or we run direct west-south services. The problem with the latter there’s not likely to be enough demand to run them at anything other than every 20 minutes which is not turn up and go frequencies. It thumbs it’s nose at the New PT network being implemented by AT which focuses on concentrating service on core routes and encouraging transfers expand the reach of the system.

Here is what Newton may have looked like, because of it’s depth it was planned to be accessed by a series of high capacity lifts.

Newton station image

So what do you think of the change?

Update: here’s a video showing the change

The CRL and City Centre Office Shortages

When the government finally announced they would support the CRL – but starting in 2020 – they listed two targets that would need to be on track to being met to bring construction forward.

  1. Rail Patronage to double to 20 million
  2. CBD employment to increase by 25%

We’ve written about both of these a number of times before. I personally think it’s quite possible that we will reach the 20 million patronage target early, especially if we can continue the current growth of over 12% per annum. The harder target – and dodgier one – is to increase CBD employment by 25%. It’s more dodgy as it appears to be being used as an indicator of travel demand but there are many other factors that might increase demand for rail e.g. increases in parking prices and the number of students.

An article in the Herald on Tuesday highlights just how hard the employment growth number will be.

Auckland businesses are squeezed for office space, and the central city is experiencing its most critical shortages of commercial real estate on record.

So rents could be about to shoot up fast.

Chris Dibble, Colliers International’s national research manager, said latest analysis of vacancy rates surprised him because it showed that an area less than the size of a soccer field was available to lease.

“We knew it was going to be low, but not this low. The prime sector for premium and A-grade vacancy rates in Auckland CBD is just 1.4 per cent, beating our expectations of 2 per cent. It was 4.7 per cent six months ago and the 20-year average is 8.2 per cent,” he found.

“The vacant space aggregates to just 6116sq m, less than a soccer field and unprecedented in our records which began 20 years ago,” Dibble said.

“Auckland CBD property houses some of the most productive businesses in New Zealand and with little space available for expansion, we are stalling the potential growth of the country at a critical time in the cycle.

“In a market that needs to attract quality staff through quality environments, the lack of available space and developments nearing completion means we will stumble just as we were making headwinds in what has been a tough slog for many. There are only 11 prime buildings with vacant space available. Only eight buildings can accommodate more than 20 staff (currently 11 per cent of the overall CBD market).

“Only seven are able to accommodate less than 20 staff. Tenants who haven’t found suitable accommodation will have to forgo quality or wait until early 2016 for a slight reprieve from spec builds such as Mansons TCLM’s development or Goodman Group.

In effect CBD job growth – which has been strong in the last few years – is going to dry up simply because there’s not much office space left and there’s not a huge amount to come on stream any time soon. Office space will get a bit of a bump from the Precinct Properties redevelopment of the Downtown Mall site but that won’t come on stream till 2019. That development though will see at least the first part of the CRL constructed as it absolutely has to happen at the same time as the redevelopment seeing as it passes through the basement.