AT’s Albert St preliminary design

On Friday, Auckland Transport released some new images and a jerky video of their preliminary design for Albert St after the City Rail Link is completed.

Improving Albert Street for pedestrians and public transport reliability are the top considerations in a newly-released concept plan for the busy central Auckland route.

The preliminary designs show the potential of a reinstated Albert Street, once the City Rail Link (CRL) project’s underground tunnels and stations are completed.

The tree-lined Albert Street of the future has a vastly improved pedestrian environment, with broad footpaths, improved footpath (and road) surfaces, better bus stop facilities and attractive street furniture.

The design also provides for a reliable frequent bus service along the route, with dedicated bus lanes down both sides, as part of this city busway corridor.

Sustainability measures have also been considered in the design, including the potential to add a “green” wall of vertical plantings to one Albert St building, where space constraints prevent trees being planted in the footpath. Tree pits will be used to filter and cleanse road surface run-off before it goes out to sea. Materials and detailing have also been carefully chosen to make maintenance and operations more cost-effective.

The preliminary designs sound like there’s quite a bit of effort that’s gone in however despite that, there are no actual plans or cross sections that have been released, only some images out of some 3D modelling program. The first shows many mature trees combining to form a lush, desirable street.

But those trees disappear outside the district court.

Same too in Lower Albert St which will be a key downtown bus interchange after the completion of the CRL and Commercial Bay development.

 

The images come from this video AT have also released on the design. Here are a couple of things I picked up from it:

  • The area outside of the Crowne Plaza appears much improved on what exists now. But the same can’t be said for the proposed NDG building on the currently empty site boardering Albert, Victoria St and Elliot St with its deep porte cochere and entrance to the lower level service lane (that exits by Wellersley St).
  • There’s also a noticeable amount of space taken up in the middle of the road for skylights for the Aotea Station.
  • Despite being right next to what will be one of the busiest pedestrian fountain in the city, the Victoria St entrance to the CRL, there seems to be a distinct lack of space for pedestrians on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St, especially on the eastern side.
  • Speaking of Victoria St, while I appreciate it isn’t the focus of this video, there is definitely four lanes of traffic crammed in there and no Linear Park, in direct contradiction to the City Centre Master Plan. There also doesn’t appear to be any bike lanes despite that being a requirement as part of the government’s Urban Cycleways Programme.
  • The Albert St access to Durham Lane looks a lot better without the bridges to the carparks – which are being removed as part of the CRL project. It’s also great to see what appears to be more space for pedestrians on top of the wall as well as bus lanes southbound in this section. There is a distinct lack of trees here though and I wonder if more could be done to incorporate them.
  • Perhaps it’s the video by Wyndham St looks to be a more appropriately scaled width compared to what it is now.
  • The section from Swanson to Customs St with a dense urban canopy looks a lot better – although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time for any trees planted to get that mature. They haven’t said what species are being considered.
  • While I realise they’ll still be working through the details, there seems to be a distinct lack of details and amenity around the bus stops at Lower Albert St

While what’s shown is interesting, it’s also worth noting what’s not shown. As mentioned earlier there is no linear park or bike facilities on Victoria St. There are also no bike facilities on Albert St either – AT’s intention is for cyclists to use Federal St.

One aspect that caught our attention the last time Albert St designs were discussed was the issue of indented bus bays (stops). The video doesn’t appear to show any so I asked the CRL team if they were still part of the plan. Here’s what they said.

there are indented bus bays in the design with provision for their future removal if PT reliability can be maintained without them.

I’ve looked through the video multiple times and haven’t once been able to see indented bus bays -. More importantly, AT’s stance on this issue is at odds with their own design standards and international evidence – and even ignoring all that, at the very least they have the ordering the wrong way around and they should only be added if reliability is an issue. Here’s what some of their Code of Practice says about indented bus bays.

Historically, in Auckland and many other cities around the world, bus bays were often the preferred layout for bus stops as the priority was to maintain the general flow of traffic. Consequently, there are many full or half-indented bus bays within the Auckland region.

Bus bays, however, present inherent operational problems for buses and passengers. The disadvantages of this type of layout are:

  • bus drivers often find it difficult to merge back into the mainstream of traffic causing delays of approximately 2 – 4 seconds at each stop13. This can be much longer in heavy traffic. This problem is particularly felt in Auckland as drivers are not legally required to give way to buses (as they are in many other countries) and consequently often do not. The variability of this hold up leads to unreliable and bunched services as well as general bus delay;
  • bus bays require a significant area to ensure buses are able to pull in flush with the kerb. A ‘standard’ bus requires a full bus bay area to be 46.5m long from the start of the approach taper to the end of the exit lane. The impact on the surrounding landuse means that there is less area available for wider footpaths, streetscape, berms, landscaping, or on-street parking;
  • the design of many existing bus bays is unsatisfactory, particularly where their geometry prevents buses from reaching the kerb effectively (ideal gap is generally within 50-75mm, maximum gap is 200mm), resulting in poor accessibility for passengers. Some drivers may also choose not to pull in close to the kerb to ensure that the bus is at a better angle to re-enter the mainstream of traffic;
  • bus bays are also prone to attract inconsiderate parking or unloading, especially at high activity areas e.g. town centres, shop frontages etc. This again prevents the bus from reaching the kerbside, forcing passengers to board or alight from the road, causing difficulties for some passengers;
  • bus bays widen the carriageway area creating the opposite effect of traffic calming measures, including encouraging speeding, increased difficulty for pedestrians to cross and an unattractive street environment.

Current thinking has shifted towards giving greater priority to buses as more ‘efficient people movers’, even if this is achieved at the expense of slowing down general traffic. In view of the above reasons, bus bays should only be provided where justified by compelling safety or operational reasons.

In fact, several cities (London, Portland for example) have a policy to infill or remove bus bays altogether from major arterial roads (or where the posted speed limit is 50km/hr or lower)

To highlight just how inefficient they can be, the Code of Practice example shows that 70m of kerb space is needed for just two bus stops. At that length, space would be taken from pedestrians for most of any block they were put on.

Given all of this, it’s absurd that AT are even considering putting them on Albert St. Perhaps before signing off on indented bus stops, AT could trial not having them after the tunnels are complete but before making the changes permanent as part of the end result?

Overall, I think it’s hard to judge just what’s planned given the lack of AT releasing any actual plans, cross-sections and seeming lack of disregard for not only their own standards but also council strategies too. The CRL is a massive opportunity to make Albert St and many other parts of the city centre considerably better but at this stage it appears they could do better.

Sunday Reading 12 February 2017

Welcome back to Sunday reading.

From the Devonport Ferry. If your commute has tourists taking selfies on it then I’d say it’s probably pretty good:

Devonport Ferry ©Patrick Reynolds 2017

Here is a clipping from yesterday’s Herald Commercial Property section. It neatly encapsulates the value of sorting out planning restrictions [Unitary Plan] and making high quality Transit investments [City Rail Link], naturally, given the context, through a property value lens:

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the salesman’s boosterism in the second paragraph, as the main point is that the only way for tatty low value (in the broadest sense) parts of the city, like the current low rise commercial city fringe, to attract investment and therefore improvement is through value uplift. Outside of large scale direct public investment, that is, which is no straight forward business in these kinds of areas. This is happening in other parts of the city, Tamaki etc, but it is very hard to do everywhere, and anyway is probably not desirable as the only means of development anyway. There is a good role for the private sector in city building. The city and its citizens are winners through either this process, after all no one can live in an apartment that doesn’t get built, nor use or work in a retail or commercial property that isn’t there, so more is certainly more in a thriving city.

All transport infrastructure investments provide opportunities for different groups, and after 65 years of only rewarding ex-urban land bankers and detached house volume builders with tax funded transport investments (motorways) it is good to see a better and more efficient urban form being incentivised here.

And particularly good to see both levers, planning code and Transit investment, being pulled at once, and in the same direction. This is absolutely something that Auckland is getting right. Those interested in these city shaping issues globally will know that it is surprisingly difficult to achieve such obvious coordination. The main barriers to this are fractured governance in cities, so we can put this success down to the amalgamation of Auckland’s previously hopelessly squabbling and disunited political organisation, and subsequent weakness in the city’s dealings with the much more powerful central government.

April sees the Waterview tunnels open. Print media is starting to look forward to the project. I see NZTA are already trying to play down expectations of congestion reduction. As well they might:

It is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world,” Gliddon [NZTA] said.

Perhaps we should be expecting them to spend our money in smarter ways, like on actual alternatives to everyone always driving for example, then?

Plus some thoughts from this fellow:

Here’s a ripper from the ‘surprising things that generate big efficiencies’ department, here:

UPS drivers don’t turn left—and it saves them 10 million gallons of gas a year

If there is one thing I do like about American traffic management in cities is their enthusiasm to restrict cross traffic turning. Left in their case, right in ours. Our agencies seem obsessed with making horrible oversized intersections with individual lanes and light phases for every possible turn, including the most lethal and disruptive of them all; cross traffic ones. I have long called for the removal of right hand turns into and out of most Queen St intersections for both safety and efficiency reasons. And we all know that AT are just plain wrong on this issue in Mt Albert. Note to traffic engineers; heritage isn’t a thing in your profession; just cos you’ve always done it one way it doesn’t you should keep forcing it on us (actually almost certainly the reverse is true).

UPS have moved away from trying to find the shortest route and now look at other criteria to optimize the journey. One of their methods is to try and avoid turning through oncoming traffic at a junction. Although this might be going in the opposite direction of the final destination, it reduces the chances of an accident and cuts delays caused by waiting for a gap in the traffic, which would also waste fuel.

So now there’s evidence that Traffic Engineering has been wrong all along anyway, as the standard argument for keeping dangerous and delaying right hand turns is that to remove any decreases vehicle efficiency. Busted again Traffic Engineering: I sometimes wonder if there is a discipline with less intellectual curiosity about its habits than this branch of engineering?

Note to AT: MacKelvie St/Ponsonby Rd. So often there is broken glass here, being so close to the Richmond Rd intersection right turning both into and out of this street are seriously disruptive, dangerous, especially with the volume of other road users in this busy retail area (and the bus stop). Stop the right -hand turns and the very wide MacKelvie could be narrowed with widened footpaths and street trees on the southern, sunny side, and the road space on Ponsonby currently as a wide painted median for this manoeuvre used more productively.

This is undeniably true: Decisions about transport investments are really about what kind of future city we desire. For a quick overview, with lots of links, of this claim head to this CityMetric article.

The article questions reliance on cost benefit analysis, where as I think that they are an important part of the evaluation process. I guess the issue really is one of balance. For example we have for many decades had far too much priority given to the results of traffic modelling, whereas these outputs should be of a secondary value in city design, not primary. Because if we build for traffic first, all we get is traffic, and much less city.

Thinking City has a nice post up on cultural representations of cities.

Breaking Bad is amazingly powerful drama, but who thought it would also turn out to be positive for Albuquerque? Not the local authorities, for one. But there were wrong:

The funny thing is, even when a place is portrayed in a negative light, it can actually end up having a positive impact on that area. Take the US city of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest metropolis, home to roughly half a million people. It is also home to the fictional characters in the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, about a teacher with cancer who turns to drug dealing. Following the success of the show, tourism to the New Mexico city was massively boosted – turning around struggling businesses, generating new ones and contributing hugely to the local and state economy.

From the ‘the whole world is an integrated economy’ file, Bloomberg has the fascinating tale of one tiny widget in a nice interactive, click though to the the link for the full experience:

 

Related:

I have always like the line: ‘California must exist for even America needs an America’.

Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future?

So it’s interesting to read an article calling California as showing the direction the rest of the US will follow. Is California just America’s dream of its own future? After all in the long run everything follows demographics; economics, politics…

Thank’s for reading, see you next week…

More jobs in the city centre

However you define Auckland’s “city centre”, it’s been adding jobs rapidly in the last couple of years. Based on a narrow definition – roughly, the area bounded by the motorways – the city centre has hit a new milestone of 100,000 jobs, actually reaching almost 102,000 as at February 2016.

Using a slightly wider definition, you could call it 111,200 jobs. This is the definition used by the Ministry of Transport when they were monitoring employment growth in the city centre. More on that below.

Once you get beyond the motorways, which are pretty major barriers, there’s also plenty of employment close to the city centre even if you don’t consider it to be part of the city centre. That includes Parnell, Newmarket, Grafton, Newton, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Freemans Bay. Many of these have rapid transit (rail) connections – even if they don’t, they have good bus frequencies. You can think of this area as the “city centre and surrounds”, and that takes you to 178,000 jobs – a quarter of all the jobs in the entire Auckland region.

Depending on what definition you use, the city centre has added around 5,000 jobs in each of the last two years.

That might not sound like that much, but this is regionally, even nationally, significant growth. Auckland as a whole added 18,000-28,000 jobs a year in the last three years (averaging 23,500). New Zealand added 40,000-50,000 jobs a year over this time. Prior to the last three years, jobs growth was weaker or even negative, as the country struggled with a post-GFC recession.

Overall, Auckland’s city centre is one of the major growth engines for employment in New Zealand. This is set to continue for at least the next few years, with plenty of job-creating developments underway (offices, hotels, the International Convention Centre, the City Rail Link etc).

You might recall that back in 2013, the government was giving very guarded support to the City Rail Link (CRL). They said they’d fund an early start if two very tough targets were met:

  1. Auckland CBD employment increases by 25 percent over current levels; and
  2. Annual rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020.

We were critical of these targets at the time. They didn’t relate that well to the goals of the CRL, and were just arbitrary hoops to jump through, the kind of thing which road projects have never had to face. Plus, they reinforced the false perception that the CRL was all about the city centre, whereas it actually delivers benefits across Auckland.

Fortunately, these targets have now been dispensed with. After hemming and hawing for a few years, the government came fully on board with the CRL in 2016. The former targets are now irrelevant, so what follows is really just for interest.

Matt still covers our progress towards the patronage target from time to time. Auckland is surging towards 20 million rail trips a year, hitting 18 million in 2016. We’re on track to hit 20 million by the end of 2017, although it might end up being 2018.

The employment target was much trickier, partly because it was so badly defined. The government’s initial announcement of the targets didn’t define the CBD, or the timeframe over which employment was meant to grow by 25%. See this post, which links to two earlier ones, for details.

For what it’s worth, I think the fairest interpretation of the government’s target – based on the City Centre Future Access Study which they based it on – was to use 2006 as a base year, and the  “narrow definition” of the city centre I’ve used above. That wasn’t the interpretation they went with – they took a much tougher line – but it would have been the fairest one.

Anyway, city centre employment was 81,200 in 2006, and 101,900 in 2016. So we’ve actually grown by 25% already based on that, and there’s a strong growth trend continuing. The government eventually decided on a tougher (and I think less fair) interpretation of their target, but even then we would probably be on track to hit it. They used 2012 as the base year, and the city centre has grown by 13% in the four years since. Keeping up that rate of growth, we’d hit 25% by 2020.

So, for what it’s worth, even though the government targets were arbitrary, and incredibly hard to hit, it looks like we’d be hitting them anyway.

All in all, it’s a bloody good thing the CRL is now under construction, even if we’re still going to have to wait another 5 or 6 years before it opens – it’s the only thing that will let the city centre jobs engine keep purring.

Missed news wrapup

Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.

Recently Auckland Transport announced they had put the first tender out for the rest of the CRL project (after the early works currently underway). This week they announced they’ve put up the tender for the construction of the tunnels and two new stations.

Largest City Rail Link tender process starts

The largest component of the City Rail Link (CRL) project – the construction of the tunnels and new stations – took a major step forward today with the release of its first tender documents to the industry.

The project is picking up speed with Expressions of Interest sought only a fortnight ago for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of all tunnel track work and rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden.

There will be two new stations as part of the build of the underground rail line linking Britomart with the existing western line near Mt Eden. The new stations will be near Aotea Square with entrances at Wellesley and Victoria Streets and a station in Mercury Lane, just off Karangahape Road. The present Mount Eden train station will be extended and redeveloped.

Tender documents sent out today are for the tunnel and station works that involve:

  • Aotea Station:  Cut and cover construction of a 15m-deep, 300m-long underground station and plant room box, including platforms, lifts and escalators to street level, plant rooms housing station and tunnel equipment, full station fit-out and entrances at either end at Victoria and Wellesley Streets.
  • Karangahape Road Station:  Mined construction of a 32m-deep underground station, including platform tubes and 150m-long platforms, lifts and inclined escalator to street level, plant rooms housing station and tunnel equipment within two shafts, full station fit-out, entrance at Mercury Lane and provision for a future entrance at Beresford Square.
  • Tunnels:  Twin-bored tunnel construction (circa 7m diameter) between the Mt Eden station and the southern end of Aotea Station.
  • The provision of maintenance services for the new stations.

CRL Project Director Chris Meale says today’s development shows the considerable progress being made.

He says that as well as the tenders rolling out for future construction, current works are well underway. The 2m-wide tunnel boring machine simultaneously excavating and installing a new stormwater pipe under Albert Street has finished the first leg of its journey.

The nine-storey-high piling rig working in Albert Street has already dug more than 140 of the 376 piles required.

“What will be a highly efficient and reliable transport choice for Auckland is now visibly taking shape.”

The tunnels and stations contract being sent out today will be procured using a Design and Construct model with a lump sum price based on a bespoke contract.

They also put out a few new high quality images of the stations.

Aotea Station – Wellesley St

Karangahape Rd – Mercury Lane

Mt Eden

Hot on the heels of Auckland Transport announcing it was going to trial two electric buses in Auckland, operator NZ Bus announced they were trialling some BYD electric buses in Auckland and Wellington

BYD’s all electric battery bus, with fast re-charging

NZ Bus to begin trial of BYD electric bus

NZ Bus to begin trial of BYD electric bus in Auckland and Wellington

NZ Bus will this week begin trialling its new BYD eBus in Auckland and then in Wellington, as another part of its strategy to lead the transition to electric-powered public transport in New Zealand.

NZ Bus Chief Executive Officer, Zane Fulljames, said that the trial will enable NZ Bus to assess whether this fully electric bus, which is proven in other markets across the world, can meet the challenges of New Zealand’s unique topographical landscape and the specific requirements of bus networks in Auckland and Wellington.

“As a business we are committed to leading the industry towards an electric-powered bus fleet, as was reflected in our announcement last year to invest NZ$43m in Wrightspeed electric powertrain technology to be retrofitted to buses in our existing fleet.

“Trialling BYD eBus technology is about looking at options for the future in terms of our ongoing fleet replacement programme,” said Mr Fulljames.

The makers of the eBus, BYD Company Limited, operate across 6 continents, 48 countries and regions, and 200 cities. They are the suppliers of the largest electric bus fleet in Europe and are in fleets across Canada, USA, Chile, China, Singapore and Australia.

NZ Bus’ trial of its BYD eBus is expected to last up to three months. The BYD eBus may not attract attention as it travels Auckland and Wellington bus routes, given that it looks much like a conventional diesel or diesel-hybrid bus, but people might notice that it is significantly quieter.

In parallel with the BYD eBus trial, NZ Bus is also well underway with the process of retrofitting Wrightspeed electric powertrains to its existing bus fleet at its workshop in Wellington.

“As a major transport operator, NZ Bus has the scale for investment of the kind these initiatives represent. We are committed to continuing to lead the industry and contribute to reducing New Zealand’s carbon footprint through innovation,” said Mr Fulljames.

And finally, Mayor Phil Goff has kicked off The Auckland Bike Challenge

Mayor Phil Goff challenges Aucklanders to get on their bikes.

The Auckland Bike Challenge kicks off today and Mayor Phil Goff is encouraging Aucklanders to join the 2,500 people who have already registered for the free month-long event.

Bigger and better than last year, the Auckland Bike Challenge run by Auckland Transport is now part of NZ Transport Agency’s nationwide Aotearoa Bike Challenge.

The Auckland Mayoral Office has two electric bikes and Mayor Phil Goff is looking forward to getting on his bike during the challenge.

“Living out in Clevedon means cycling to work’s a bit tough for me, but I enjoy getting to meetings and events in the city on my bike, and use it when I can,” he says.

“Cycling’s a great way to get around our city. It’s a joy being out of a car in the fresh air, getting fit and reducing our carbon footprint.”

The Mayor says Auckland Council is committed to helping more people get out of their cars and on to bikes, and is investing in new world class facilities to make cycling safer and more accessible.

“The Quay Street Cycleway, the first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki shared path, the Mt Roskill Safe route and the award-winning pink Lightpath on Nelson Street are very popular,” says Mayor Goff. “We will continue to invest in safe cycleways across the city to reduce congestion and pollution and make Auckland an even better place to live.

“The 2017 Bike Challenge is your opportunity to explore our beautiful city and to see it in a new way. I look forward to seeing you out and about and on your bike this summer.”

The Auckland Bike Challenge is a fun, free workplace competition that encourages people to give cycling a go during the month of February 2017.

More than 270 Auckland organisations have signed up and will compete against similar-sized businesses within the Auckland region and nationwide.

Run by Auckland Transport and supported by the Sustainable Business Network, Healthy Auckland Together and Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the event supports workplaces encouraging staff to ride for at least ten minutes during the month of February.

Rides are recorded online, and there are prizes up for grabs for both businesses and individuals.

There’s still time to register for the Auckland Bike Challenge at www.lovetoride.net/auckland. The website includes a live leader board to track results, information on prizes and easy ways to encourage others to participate.

50 Years of waiting for an Auckland Rapid Transit system.

Ian Reynolds 1946 by Brian Brake

My father, Ian Reynolds 1922-2005, was an architect (as was my mother). He was also a what was then called a Town and Country Planner. After returning from working in England after the war he spent the rest of his career as partner in a big multidisciplinary practice in Auckland (missing the city of his youth: Wellington. Office in Wakefield St, where the AUT business school is now). There he was responsible for a chunk of our post-war modernist heritage, as well as a lot of planning work. Especially at the University of Auckland, master-planning the campuses and involved in the campaign to retain the city one, which thankfully won out. Notable design work includes the School of Engineering and the Thomas Building both on Princess St, his practice also designed the School of Architecture while he was head of the architectural division.

In 1967, which is of course now 50 years ago, he was interviewed by the Herald about transport in Auckland (in full below). And it makes for a pretty interesting read, surprisingly relevant still, perhaps alarmingly so. I’m pretty sure his 1967 self would be very surprised that we are only now getting round to building the Rapid Transit Network he describes from the De Leuw Cather report. Although later of course he witnessed the defeat of Robbie’s Rail, and much else that should have given life to the 1960s plans for balanced transport networks. The interview shows a clear vision of that possibility, and how that would have led to a different more urban pattern of development for Auckland than we currently have:

Readers will no doubt feel that indeed; some apples don’t fall very far from the tree, yet re-reading this I am amazed now at how little I ever discussed these issues with Ian. I think on his side that was because of a sorrow felt by the idealistic modernists of his generation about the development of Auckland in the later part of the last century. Interestingly for many there was a move into environmentalism from urbanism (not that either phrase were current at the time) as centrally directed motorways and private land speculation took over completely from state planning and housing investment. Perhaps that is where this generation’s lasting legacy can be seen. Especially evident in the careers of two of Ian’s colleagues; captured perfectly in this obituary of planner FWO Jones (known even to us kids as ‘Fwo’) and the just recently deceased KRTA partner Dave Thom, who was very active in the national parks programme, and in making the theoretical case for environmentalism as a core practice of engineering internationally.

But it must be remembered that the denser city was always considered the necessary corollary to the protected wilderness, as this keeps the city from spreading so much into the country. The term sprawl is after all the shortened version of urban sprawl. His generation did achieve much in protecting key wild places, but I think Ian keenly felt that on urban form they suffered a life long defeat. So it would be good to show him Auckland now, the last ten years since his death have seen a profound change. I think he would be gratified by many of the trends; the full return of the university to the city, the strong revival of inner city living (though not so much the design of many of the buildings), the rail revival (he was a dedicated train user; taking the overnight train to Wellington regularly instead of flying, which he loathed, he was also an equally dedicated pipe smoker; which got him in the end).

There is so much that is still accurate in the document, both happily and otherwise, I think he is right both about our relative lack of corruption and waste, but also the dominance of political expediency over good policy in transport and urban form:

Here he refers to the ‘Morningside Deviation’ the 1940s version of the CRL suffering the same fate (see here for earlier schemes):

It is important to remember that at the time of the interview the population of Auckland was around half a million, so the arguments then are even more pressing now there’s another million souls living here. And some concerns have disappeared completely, such ‘inner city decline’. Of course had the described bus/rail system been developed alongside the motorways the pattern of the city’s development would be different; less sprawl, more complexity, not radically different just less monotone. A city of greater variety and one less entirely dominated by traffic. One that pushes less aggressively into the surrounding countryside… Instead we have built one network entirely, the motorway system, and largely one developmental typology, low density dispersal, and the city is poorer for it. And now we must urgently add the missing complementary Rapid Transit Network, as those 1960s planners quite correctly foresaw would be required to prevent a road only system choking to death on its own overuse. At least as the city is three times the size it is so the cost is now affordable; if only we would stop so expensively adding to the one now complete system….

Sketching in Kendal 1950

Tendering to start for rest of CRL

The first section of the City Rail Link, from Britomart to Wyndham St, is now well under construction. Yesterday Auckland Transport announced the first contract documents for the rest of the project have now gone out to the industry. This is for the all the rail related infrastructure that will eventually go in the tunnels, the filling to the CRL sandwich if you will. The tunnels themselves will go out to tender later as they need the winner of this contract to help finalise the documents for the tunnels to make sure they’ll all work together.

Expressions of Interest are being sought for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of all tunnel track work and rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden. The work involves the provisioning of track slab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, tunnel ventilation, fire strategy and communications system.

The successful contractor will be responsible for the integration of the systems with the existing operations at Britomart and Mt Eden and the new tunnels and stations being built for the CRL.

The documents, the first to be released to build the project past its current Britomart and Albert street sites, have been prepared as a result of the agreement between the Government and Auckland Council to jointly fund the project.

The C7 systems package will be procured using an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) model followed by a Design and Construct contract.

Other packages to be released this year include one for the construction of the CRL tunnels and new city, Karangahape and Mt Eden stations and a further package for a stormwater diversion in Mt Eden.

The various contracts as part of the project are shown below

It’s good that we’ve reached a milestone, and will obviously be even better once these contracts are signed. The graphic below gives an indication of when that will be.

But the purpose of this post isn’t just about some PR fluff. The announcement prompted me to look and see if there was any new information about the project, and I was in luck, finding a number of new presentations on AT’s CRL Procurement page that came from an industry briefing at the end of November.

Below are some of the items that caught my attention from the documents.

One of the first things to strike me was this new map showing the rail network with and without the CRL and it raises some concerning questions. These include

  • I count seven different service patterns for a what is a fairly basic four track network. This seems focused on running trains rather than making things easier for customers and so all this will do is make things more confusing for passengers when all that is needed is a simple two line network.
  • Related to above, why are services shown as terminating still at Britomart and not through routing – which is the entire point of the CRL.
  • The map shows most of the Western Line, west of Mt Albert, stuck with no additional frequency to get to the city whilst sending the same number of trains to completely avoid the city centre. The demand to the city will be many many times larger than those wanting to go west-south so what’s the point in investing $billions in infrastructure if we’re not going to use it to improve service for a large section of the rail network.
  • The map shows another new service pattern running from Mt Albert to Otahuhu. How’s that going to work, are AT planning on building new platforms at Mt Albert?
  • There is also an orange label for extra trains from the south but no line to match it.

You can see a larger version of just the post CRL map here.

Another perhaps clearer version of what is planned is shown in this operations diagram – note to AT: if your operations diagram is easier to understand than a more customer centric map then you’re doing it wrong.

An aspect of both maps that really annoys me personally is that there is no planned change to services past Henderson meaning what exists today is as good as it gets.

A document also contains the outcomes of some of the passenger modelling. The concerning thing here is that they suggest Aotea will only see 6,750 people exiting the station in an AM peak hour and 6,500 at Britomart. We know Britomart already sees over 10k exit over a two hour peak (of which most would be in a single hour) so these numbers seem way too low. I’m guessing this could be another victim of our transport models which like to think no one wants to use trains in Auckland and continually underestimates usage.

One quite concerning slide is this, suggesting the project now won’t be completed till 2024. It would be extremely disappointing if it slipped to then.

Part of the C7 contract will see changes made to the platform layout, making Britomart a four-track station (from five) so bigger platforms can be provided for the CRL though routed lines. As part of the C9 contract (Britomart East), changes will also be made to the station to improve access from the eastern end. I’m sure the design will be refined over time. This isn’t planned to start construction till after the CRL is operational.

Around Mt Eden, two new pedestrian bridges are being built across the network, one at the current level crossing next to the station linking into to Ngahura St (top) and one which will replace the Porters Rd level crossing (which is to be closed).

Speaking of Mt Eden, the project needs a chunk of land near the station to build the project but which can be later developed. This image shows the potential development for that land, adding thousands of new dwellings. It’s also worth noting that the value of this is something not captured in the formal economic case.

Also on development, the Wellesley St (Aotea) and Mercury Lane (K Rd) entrances are being designed to be built over. At the Wellesley St, they have allowed for a 17-24 storey building above and beside the station entrance while at Mercury Lane a 7-8 storey building is possible. I’m sure this image of Aotea is just to show the scale of what’s possible rather than any proposal.

At Aotea, the documents indicate some neighbouring land owners might want direct connections to the station. This includes to the NDG tower proposal (the current vacant site on Elliott St) and a potential link to Skycity. They’re also say this on future proofing for a potential North Shore Line.

The design also provides for future-proofing for the assumed alignment of a North Shore Line in Wellesley Street. It includes an adjustment of the size and location of piles that form part of the station box

There’s also this new image of the entrance on Victoria St. If you look closely you can see they’ve squeezed four lanes of traffic in but one thing that’s notable that’s missing is any cycleway – which is listed as an Urban Cycleway Fund project. See here for more information on why the AT design is poor.

In addition to the CRL itself, some of the wider network works associated with the project include

  • adding the connection from west to platform 4 as Newmarket
  • provisioning the additional platform at Otahuhu (the platform itself was built as part of the station works).
  • additional platforms at Henderson to deal with services terminating there – this is shown below.

 

Have you had a look at the documents, is there anything else from them that stands out to you?

Britomart’s new temporary entrance is open

The new temporary entrance at Britomart, which I’ll refer to as ‘the shed’ and is needed while the City Rail Link is built under the old Chief Post Office (CPO), is now able to be used by the public. From next week the CPO will close making the shed the main entry to the station and the only way to access it at the western end – the entrance under the EY building is unaffected.

I haven’t been though Britomart yet this year but Cam Pitches kindly grabbed some photos for us.

And here it is a little closer up

This looks quite different from the renderings Auckland Transport produced earlier showing it looking more transparent

and

The material is translucent though letting a lot of light in as shown in this image from AT when iwi blessed the entrance last week. I wonder the choice of material was to stop the place suffering from becoming a glasshouse effect during the heat of the day.

One can see above is the new train display that’s been installed. Here’s a better look at it from Cam and to me, it looks a considerably better than the old red LED displays in the CPO (above the HOP machines and ticket counters)

With most people arriving at Britomart heading south towards Customs St, the most heavily used entrance will see passengers pouring out onto Galway St. Here’s what that entrance looks like as finishing touches are put on.

For some time now, the footpaths on Galway St have frequently been parked over by delivery vehicles, tradies and taxi’s. With thousands of people daily now about to use it, it will be imperative that Auckland Transport step up enforcement and keep it clear

Here are also some photos by Luke

One thing to note is that there are no escalators from the ground level down to the lower concourse, only stairs or the elevators.

The entrance certainly looks temporary from the outside but as Luke mentions, and what I felt looking at it during construction, it does feel light and spacious. It will also be fascinating to see how long it lasts after the CRL is complete. Temporary structures tend to have history of sticking around a lot longer than intended with a great example being the slug on Queens Wharf.

 

Update: the CRL team have sent me this

The CPO Queen St doors will close after the last train on Monday night (for three years) and the new entrance will be in operation from first thing this Tuesday.

2016 – A Year in Review Part 1 – PT

As the year rapidly draws to a close it’s a good time to look back at all the important events that have occurred. Because there’s so much to cover, I’ll be splitting this up over multiple posts, starting with public transport.

It’s been a huge year for public transport. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught in the day to day details which makes it easy to forget that a lot of really positive things happened in 2016. So, here’s my summary.

City Rail Link

We started the year with the great news that the government had come to their senses, agreeing the main part of the project should start as soon as possible, not be delayed till sometime after 2020 like they had previously said. This was primarily due to two things, we were continuing to see stellar ridership growth following electrification, well ahead of what was projected and with Auckland in a building boom with $billions planned to be spent, developers wanted certainty around the project.

While some of the earliest signs the project was underway began at the end of 2015, in June the project officially exploded into action in a ceremony outside Britomart.

In September the government and council signed an agreement that would see them share the costs of the project equally.

The project is now hard to miss in the city centre with works in full swing from Britomart through to Wellesley St. One of the first big pieces of work is to move a water main out of the way along Albert St and that has involved digging some deep shafts to enable a small tunnel boring machine to dig and install a new pipe. Auckland Transport kindly gave us a tour of the sites in October. On Albert St the project is now hard to miss with large parts of it closed to traffic and a huge piling machine busy at work.

In just a few weeks another milestone will be reached as passengers will start using the new, temporary entrance that has been built at the back of the CPO building to enable the CRL tunnels to be dug under the CPO.

 

Not everything has been great though. From what we’ve seen so far, Auckland Transport’s plans for the streets being re-instated after the CRL is completed have been a disappointment, especially so on Victoria St. In fact more than that they appear to be trying to actively undermine the Council’s publicly consulted City Centre Master Plan by removing key pedestrian space so a few more car lanes can be squeezed in. This is obviously something we’ll be following very closely in 2017.

Simplified Fares

August finally saw the introduction of Simplified Fares, another of the key steps in bringing public transport in Auckland up to a more modern standard. It introduced fare zones instead of stages and meaning people can transfer between multiple buses and trains and only pay one fare for their journey rather than how many buses or trains they used. This also had the advantage of reducing fares for many trips.

AT have also started work to integrate ferries into the system.

New Network and Otahuhu Station

The new bus network in South Auckland was another of the big puzzle pieces to slot into place, finally rolling out at the end of October

At the same time as the new bus network, the impressive new Otahuhu Station opened which is a key interchange on the network.

Also tied to the new network, the bus station at Manukau got underway in 2016

Progress on rolling out the new network to other parts of Auckland has progressed too. West Auckland is confirmed to roll out in the middle of next year while AT are currently assessing tenders for Central, East and North.

Double Decker rollout

A big feature of this year has been the roll out of double deckers on many routes. They are now almost exclusively used on Northern Express services and have rolled out to other routes too, such as Mt Eden Rd and the 881 from Albany to Newmarket. In 2017 we should see at least Onewa Rd added to this list.

Government agreement on Strategic PT network

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was a big feature of the year, especially after the final report was released in September. I’ll talk about that more in a separate post but one particularly good point in relation to PT was that we now have agreement between the government and council on a future rapid transit network. While there are still finer details to be resolved such as exact modes and routes, it’s good to finally have the need for this agreed at a high level.

Ridership

Use of the PT network has seen solid growth over the year and the big star of that has been the Rapid Transit Network (busway and Rail) which has primarily driven that growth. Usage on the RTN in the 12 months to the end of November grew by a staggering 22.2% over the 12 months to November 2015.

As mentioned at the start of the post, the stellar growth on the rail network was one of the reasons the government had to change their position to support the CRL. That growth has continued this year and as of now there will have been over 18 million trips during the last 12 months. This is well ahead of where it needed to be for the silly target the government set in 2013 and that the Ministry of Transport once said it was unlikely we would achieve.

Conclusion

These are of course only some of the big changes and discussions we’ve had over the year and many of them are likely to continue to be discussed over 2017 but on the whole, I think it’s been a pretty good year for PT in Auckland. We’ve definitely made many more steps forward than we have back.

Are there any key changes I’ve missed?

Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus on walking and cycling

Traffic’s fine, free the streets for people

Auckland’s city centre is currently undergoing change on scale possibly never seen before and nowhere more so than around Albert St with the construction of the City Rail Link underway. Streets have been narrowed or in some places cut off completely. As I’ve talked about before, it has felt that the massive reduction in vehicle capacity hasn’t had any negative impact times for vehicles with roads still seeming to flow about as well as they did before the CRL works started. Although it feels that this has come at the expense of pedestrians who now have to wait longer at lights, something I’ll talk about later in this post.

One of the best examples of just how much road capacity has been taken out of the city centre is from the corner of Albert and Customs streets. The layout is being changed regularly and so what you see below from early November is not how it is now, but the level of capacity available is the same. There’s just one each way lane east-west on Customs, one lane southbound only on Albert south of Customs and only northbound lanes on Albert north of customs.

Looking south to the Albert/Customs intersection – via emergingauckland.org.nz

Despite official predictions of chaos for drivers, anecdotal observations from many us suggested this was simply not happening. Now AT have created a report called the ‘City Centre Network Operations Monthly Report’ showing just what the impact has been and it seems our observations were correct. This report is for October 2016 but I also understand this report may become published monthly in the future too.

You can often tell an organisations priorities based on what areas they focus their reporting on, and in this case, the first and biggest section focuses on vehicle speeds and volumes. As you can see below, vehicle volumes into the CBD over the course of the day remain almost identical to what they were in October 2015 which was before the works started, just slightly down in the morning peak. Yet despite the massive loss of road capacity, speeds on the road network have actually gone up. The series of speedo graphs on the right hand side show in more detail the results for a number of major roads. Essentially if the dial is in the blue the route is faster than it was last year and the numbers show that only Customs St was slower.

cbd-monitoring-report-2016-10-speeds-and-volume-dashboard

One aspect I wasn’t aware of is that there is resource consent condition around vehicle delays being no more than 10 minutes compared to what they were before construction. It’s crazy that one mode has conditions like this put on it while the other modes don’t. Especially so to put it on the mode that is the least efficient way of moving people and that is less than half of all AM peak trips. These are metrics looked at on second page of the report. As a note, the report talks about people movement rather than just vehicles so it means with vehicles counting the number of passengers too.

This next page is frankly a jumbled mess, even putting aside the silly clip-art image. We’ve got a graph showing that a breakdown of trips to the CBD in the AM peak by mode. This also shows that the numbers are growing slightly. But by focusing on the people arriving in the city, there is a major omission of the number of people who live in the CBD already and so aren’t counted in these numbers. With the CBD population now over 40,000 and growing rapidly this is an important segment to include as will likely made a big difference on the in discussions on projects like the Victoria St Linear Park that AT want to squeeze up to fit more cars.

cbd-monitoring-report-2016-10-mode-splits

Speaking of pedestrians, one of the reasons for why travel speeds have improved is that in many intersections it appears that the signals have been adjusted to give greater priority to vehicles. We know that the double phasing on Queen St was removed and it appears that pedestrians are now having to wait longer at other intersections too. We need to get this changed and have more priority for people. This is even more important as pedestrian volumes are increasing according to the automated counters that Heart of The City have. As you can see below those counters are showing an 11% increase for the quarter to 30 September over the same time the year prior.

hotc-ped-report-2016-10

Also thinking long term, these results show that AT and the council can afford to be bolder on the future design of our streets in the city. After the CRL works finish, is there really a need to rush roads like Albert St back to unabated vehicle priority. The current construction works, and those in the future, present us huge opportunities to allow us to change the space allocation in the city.

Cities are ultimately about people and so it’s important we build our cities to support people.

New Amsterdam

The current cycleway revolution in Auckland has a serendipitous feature for one of Auckland’s most cherished but badly treated areas: All routes lead to Karangahape Rd. Both the recent city by-passes: Grafton Gully and the Pink Path, have one end in the K Rd precinct, our only current cycling ‘superhighway’, the NorthWestern, is about to get its city termination moved forward from Newton Rd to the K, and the coming real on-road separated cycle lanes on Great North Rd also lead straight to the K. Oh and the cycle friendly ridge level link of our very own Pont Neuf, Grafton Bridge, leads bike riders there from the other end.

Yes Karangahape Rd is the ground zero of Auckland’s bike riding revival which surely offers a real opportunity for the area to at last both thrive and remain true to its very specific identity. It would be a shame for K Rd to either slide back into decline or to try to keep up with its glossier rivals by seeking to become something its not. And as Ponsonby Rd becomes ever more upmarket and seemingly determined to drown itself in more and more parking and therefore driving, this offers K Rd a great opportunity to brand itself as a street and people place and not a car place. This happy confluence of street culture and improving bike infrastructure is already having an effect on the numbers that access businesses on the street by bike, as can be seen below:

k-rd_3357

And in the data:

k-rd-enhancement-consultation-oct-16-travel-survey

But this is despite the lack of any safe cycle routes on K Rd itself, nor clearly enough parking places. But happily our Transport Agency is on it:

k-rd-enhancement-consultation-oct-16-pitt-to-queen-visualisation-1

The plan is to add cycle lanes each side with temporary barriers, or at least without expensive excavations of the existing curb line and stormwater systems. And improved bus priority which is already clearly vital to the area. It is wise to start with a changeable pattern as there is a longer term opportunity to further tune down through traffic once the CRL station opens way off in 2023. Then this important section, between Pitt and Queen Sts should become one lane each way for buses (and emergency) and otherwise be for people on foot and bikes only. For more on the plan and links to make a submission go here.

To this end I think the K Rd business association should push for a regular traffic closure of this short section between Pitt and Queen every Sunday. This won’t be particularly disruptive, except to through traffic, and that should be the desired outcome; an assertion over place through movement. And of course a way to brand the area as street not arterial, and uniquely street.

So the whole upgrade is clearly a great opportunity for the businesses in the area to market themselves as being at the leading edge of the new city with the bike as the symbol of all the current new urban changes underway: The rise in city centre living, the ongoing revolution in Rapid Transit ridership, in short the return of the City.

The wider point is that the driving era destroyed this place and the walking/biking/transit age we are now in is its best chance at redemption. Go the K.