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Route optimisation in the CBD

In recent weeks we’ve started to see a number of small but important changes to in the CBD in the aim of improving the pedestrian experience. This has included installing a Barnes dance on the intersection of Quay St and Hobson St and closing the slip lane from Albert St through to Quay St. These changes are just the tip of the iceberg though according an item going to the Waitamata Local Board today. All the changes come under a route optimisation programme which Auckland Transport is undertaking. They say:

  • A Stage One pre-optimisation report was prepared by the Joint Traffic Operations Centre (JTOC) that captures the investigation strategy, current performance and optimisation recommendations. Recommendations include signal timings changes and physical works changes.
  • This project applies the Network Operating Plan approach which incorporates Auckland Transport’s strategic objectives. Priority in the CBD has been placed predominantly for pedestrians and public transport, but also an onus to maintain flow in peak periods for traffic. Through collaboration, Auckland Transport has incorporated other operational issues raised by parties such as Auckland Council and Waterfront Auckland.
  • Some benefits are already being experienced particularly for pedestrians through intelligent phasing to ease movements for pedestrian through the city centre during the inter and off peak periods whilst retaining and improving bus movements.

For the programme the CBD has been split up in five zones which are shown below.

CBD Route Optimisation Zones

For each zone almost every intersection appears to have been reviewed. The tables below show what is proposed although some of the outcomes are investigations rather than final solutions but still promising that this is being finally looked at.

CBD Route Optimisation Zone A

CBD Route Optimisation Zone B

CBD Route Optimisation Zone C

CBD Route Optimisation Zone D

CBD Route Optimisation Zone E

That’s quite a list and covers a lot of the issues that we’ve raised over the years so it’s pleasing to see some will be happening finally.

New carpark for the CBD

Another of Auckland’s long standing empty holes is going to be developed after resource consent was issued by a council commissioner. But unlike the massive tower planned for Elliott/Victoria/Albert Streets this one will be a lot smaller and dedicated to one thing, parking. The site is 28 Shortland St which is the former home to the Auckland Start building and also backs on to Fort St where the access to the current at grade carpark is located.

28 Shortland St

You can read the resource consent decision here. The proposal is listed as:

Land use consent to construct a new three level car parking building that will include both non-ancillary commuter parking and short-term visitor parking. There will be a café/coffee shop constructed within the site’s south-eastern corner fronting onto Shortland Street, while the ground level units along Fort Street will be utilised for retail purposes and provide vehicular access to the parking building. A walkway will run through the middle of the site and will provide a pedestrian link between Shortland Street and Fort Street.

I’m not sure what’s planned for the Fort St retail side but my understanding is the café/coffee shop in the south-eastern corner is basically the coffee shack that is already on the site. The rest of the Shortland St side will basically be a blank façade which will likely block off any views of the harbour. From memory with previous proposals the council was keen on retaining a view shaft through the site

At three storeys it’s definitely not on the scale of other carparks and is only expected to have 147 spaces (by comparison the Downtown carpark has 1,890). Of the 147 spaces the consent only allows 18 to be used for commuter parking. The remaining 129 are required to be short term parking only. This is one of the reasons it was approved with the commissioner saying

The intensity and scale of the car parking operation is considered appropriate given the location of the site with frontages to collector roads and the clear sightlines that are evident to the east and west as vehicles leave the site. The car park is designed primarily for short-term visitor parking, where high demand will be outside the morning and evening peak hours. As a result, the parking arrangement will have a reduced impact on traffic congestion in the central city and the surrounding road network.

Perhaps there is a small silver lining though, those short term parks are obviously intended as a way for people to be able to drive to the city in the middle of the day for the likes of shopping so the creation of those carparks could allow the council to be bolder in simultaneously removing them from High St. In fact it would probably be worthwhile the council looking at other areas where on street parking in the area could be scaled back as a result in return for better pedestrian amenity.

It’s surprising that the owners of the site haven’t been able to (or don’t want to) justify a commercial tower on the site. My understanding is that high quality office space is in short supply in Auckland at the moment and the site is big enough to be able to provide a building on similar scale to the likes of the Vero Centre or even the recent Deloitte building.

The Auckland Star building was demolished in May 1989. Here’s what it used to look like from Shortland St in 1910

Auckland Star building, Shortland Street, Auckland. Auckland Star :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-002917-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23200225

Photo of the day – Waiheke/Auckland

Auckland City as seen from Waiheke

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne (aka Sydney)

Do we need a port in downtown Auckland?

The Port of Auckland is back with another expansion plan after the last scheme to reclaim land proved to be very unpopular with locals.

The latest proposal is something of a Hobson’s choice. Option 1 involves a fairly modest extension Bledisloe Wharf and retaining Captain Cook Wharf for offloading imported cars. Option 2 is a slightly larger extension of Bledisloe which allows Captain Cook to be handed over to public uses.

I personally prefer Option 2, this consolidates all port functions at the east end and opens up all the downtown waterfront for civic uses. WhiIe both are actually pretty low impact I can’t see either of those being particularly satisfactory to the public, simply because they involve more port and less water. There is a real spatial tension here, the port can only expand at the expense of one thing Aucklanders universally love: the harbour.

Options for expanding the Bledisloe Container Terminal, courtesy of The Herald.

Options for expanding the Bledisloe Container Terminal, courtesy of The Herald.

So is there any alternative to expanding the port, assuming we have expanding demands for imports and exports?

Well I think there are two alternatives, the first is simply to not have a port at all. This seems like an aberration, Auckland is a port city, founded on a port and dependent on a port, right? Having a well functioning port is essential to our economic well being and productivity. Or is it?

I would argue that having a port in Auckland isn’t so critical, rather it is good access to a port that we really need.  Maybe we don’t need a port actually located in Auckland for Auckland to benefit from a port, as long as we can efficiently get our goods and materials to or from a port somewhere else. This is the case already to an extent. The port of Tauranga operates an inland port in South Auckland, and tranships an appreciable amount of cargo between Bay of Plenty and Auckland by rail.

Could we not just extend this pattern entirely, say get rid of our port on the Waitemata, and leave the freight task to Tauranga and Marsden Point instead? That would probably require the Marsden rail link and an upgrade of the North Auckland Line, but those are both relatively cheap projects. Likewise Marsden and Tauranga would need to be expanded, but that is presumably much cheaper and easier than expanding a port in downtown Auckland. So would that be so bad? Assuming we can just as cheaply ship our goods in and out of Northland and the Bay of Plenty the only real loss to the local economy would be the 419 full time jobs at Ports of Auckland. One assumes most of those could relocate to the other ports in sunnier climes anyway.

But on the flipside Auckland is New Zealands largest import market, and it’s only going to get busier as the city grows. There is a simple logic of having you main port in your main city next to your main market. So the second alternative: move the port to somewhere else in Auckland.

It’s a hard task, a port needs a good supply of waterside land, good deepwater access under all weather conditions, and excellent transport links. There isn’t anywhere in Auckland that immediately jumps out as the ideal location. Personally I would like to see the port shifted to the Manukau harbour, at Puhinui Reserve immediately east of the airport. This site has land available on the waters edge and is very close to the main trunk railway and both SH20 and SH1 motorways. It’s also close to the centre of industry and manufacturing in south Auckland, next to an existing logistics hub at the airport, and perhaps most importantly it is located in the airport flight path so it’s unlikely to upset anyone as nobody currently lives or works there. There isn’t much else you can do with that piece of land except industrial uses like a port. The major downside I can see is the fact it’s on the shallow tidal Manukau harbour. That would require major dredging to maintain an all-weather deep water shipping channel, although to be fair the Waitemata harbour does require as similar channel so it might not be much different in the long run.

There are many other possible locations I’m sure, I leave that up to you to propose better alternatives in the comments section.

So what would a move cost? In the article cited above the port CEO suggests it would cost four billion dollars to move the port, a huge chunk of change, although many cities have done the same. Sydney is perhaps the best local example. They shifted their downtown port to Botany Bay and have had a series of waterfront redevelopments ever since, culminating in the ambitious Barangaroo scheme.

That partially answers the next question: what benefit is there of moving or closing the port? The short answer is land and access. Lots of very valuable premium downtown waterfront land would be freed up for other uses, other uses that don’t require ongoing expansion and don’t seal off half the waterfront from public access.

Waterfront land, and lots of it!

Let’s put some numbers on that. The container port and its two main wharves occupy some 70 hectares (700,000m2) of flat downtown waterfront land. That’s five times the size of the viaduct harbour and almost twice the size of the Wynyard Quarter.

So if we assume 20% of the land for streets and public open spaces, that leaves 560,000m2 of land for development.  What is that worth? Well using council rates valuations we can make some comparisons. At the lower end the land the new ASB building is on in Wynyard is worth about $2,500 per square metre, as are the new developments around Quay Park. These prices probably reflect their locations in new and partially undeveloped parts of the city centre. On the upper end the new BNZ building on lower Queen is worth about $10,400 per m2.

Using this as a guide, the port land is probably worth somewhere between $1.4 and $5.8 billion dollars. A wide spread I know, but I’m tempted to think that it would be towards the upper limit because of the sheer amount of harbour frontage afforded by the projections of the various wharves, about 5km of water edge in all, and because the site runs east to west most of the land has a north facing aspect for lots of sun along with the water views. Also given the position of the port relative to the city and far from residential and view shafts, a large portion along Quay St could support skyscrapers without blocking any views or shading any properties (Wynyard is limited to low and mid rise development for urban design reasons). Quay St could end up an amazing boulevard, perhaps something like Melbourne’s St Kilda Rd which is a row of high rises nestled between a lakefront park and their Domain.

Transport is another consideration. The port places a large freight demand by truck and train squarely in the centre of Auckland, exactly the same place that sees the greatest demand for commuter and general transport in the region.  Trucks have to battle it out with commuter gridlock for hours every day, while the demand for suburban train services is squeezing the ability to run freight on the same tracks. Moving the port moves that transport demand and the conflict with other transport users. I could also mean there is no need for the rail yards along Tamaki Drive, allowing them to be put to better uses also. In fact it might even make sense to divert the eastern line into the port land to provide a station there on the way to Britomart, and naturally bus links, ferry stops and waterfront trams could all be put into place.

So… even if it does cost four billion to move the port, it might still be a very profitable venture for the city in financial terms. Once you factor in the transport and land use change, agglomeration benefits and centralisation it could be very worthwhile. Part of the site, say the Fergusson Terminal to the far east, could be a primarily residential location. You might get fifty thousand people living there alone in a mix of luxury waterfront and affordable streetfront properties. What would that mean for housing affordability, the CBD economy, the average journey  to work?

A massive undertaking for sure, I guess the question is when would or could we need such land. We have the Wynyard Quarter to develop and fill up, plus the likes of Aotea, K Rd and Newton around the CRL stations once those are build. There is plenty of scope for our city centre just yet, but maybe a second or third decade plan to relocate the port should be on the agenda?

Urbanism dividend: return on rates

The continuing weight of major centers, is in a way countersensical..dispersal would seem to be a good option given the high cost – Saskia Sassen, Global Networks, Linked Cities

I’m still fascinated with the results from earlier posts looking at land value in relation to cbd location. I figured there would be a premium to centrally located land, but I didn’t imagine it would be so extreme. If the three factors of production are land, labour and capital than it seems logical that many businesses would disperse to cheaper land outside of the cbd. But of course this is not happening since there remains a demand for highly connected and central land in the cbd.

Cross section of land values across Auckland’s city centre

Here’s a related look at land value but in this case it’s how much money is returned to the City in the form of rates (tax). This exercise has been inspired by the work of Peter Katz and Joseph Minicozzi as documented in this article in Better Cities Best bet for tax revenue: mixed-use downtown development. In their study they looked at various forms of development and concluded that there is a tax-revenue premium associated with high density, high floor area coverage, centrally located developments.

The studies, by Public Interest Projects, show that on a per-acre basis, sprawling single-use developments such as big-box stores do a poor job of providing governments with needed tax revenue. Dense, mixed-use development, usually downtown or adjacent to transit, is financially much more beneficial.

What is so interesting about the study is that it runs counter to many city’s development ambitions of attracting large stores for their sales tax generation ability. While we have a different property tax structure, in particular in regards to sales tax, I thought it would be worth sampling some areas around Auckland to determine the revenues for various types of development. Auckland’s rates are calculated by combining land value and improvement value into a ‘capital value’ for rates assessment. Below is a look at the various rate levels on a hectare basis.

Annual rates per hectare: Auckland, New Zealand

Besides the value of the CBD being off the chart, there are some other interesting revelations that I will explore later such as the role urban form, walkable neighbourhoods, land value taxes, and yes, even parking has on sustainable development patterns. For now, I’ll leave you with another quote from the earlier mentioned article:

The findings from the two studies, Katz says, “reinforce a concept advanced in the mid- to late 1800s by Henry George: the idea that land is our most precious shared resource. Since land is the raw material from which government derives most of its working capital in the form of property taxes, it makes sense to evaluate different forms of development in terms of their potential for revenue return.