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

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.


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.


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.


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.

Protesters create Pedestrian Paradise

Unless you’ve avoided either the city or the news for the last day you’ll know that yesterday thousands of people descended on the CBD to protest the signing of the TPP. This post isn’t about the TPP – there are plenty of other places for you to discuss it – but rather about the impact the protests had on the city which I think highlighted a number of key issues we frequently advocate for. I wasn’t there so these are based on observations from others and images on social media.

Protesters walking down Queen St are nothing new but what was very interesting this time is that a number of groups went and blocked major intersections all around the city. This included blocking roads such as Albert St, Fanshawe St, Hobson St, Nelson St and Wellesley St. Given that Hobson and Nelson in particular are one way, it leaves them completely empty downstream of where they were blocked off. This had the effect in instantly turning many roads within the city over to people.

From these and many other comments I saw it made many parts of the city that are often quite hostile to those on foot actually very pleasant, pedestrian paradises if you will. There is obviously a lot going on in the city right now with the CRL getting under way and a number of large commercial building projects on the go but at the same time plans like the City Centre Master Plan call for making the city centre more people friendly – among other things. For example, it lists this as one of its outcomes and targets


A walkable and pedestrian-friendly city centre – well connected to its urban villages.

Target 1: More kilometres of pedestrian footpaths/walkways
Target 2: More kilometres of cycleways
Target 3: Reduction in pedestrian waiting times at intersections
Target 4: Reduction in use of left-turn slip lanes
Target 5: New mid-block pedestrian crossings

Over the last few years we’ve had numerous international guest speakers visit Auckland talking about how we can do many of these things, do them quickly and do them cheaply. This includes people such as Janette Sadik-Kahn and Mike Lydon and many others.

It all begs the question of whether we’re moving fast enough to reach the city’s goals. Now obviously there’s a need for cars to be in some parts of the city but we do need to get the balance right. What the protests showed us yesterday is that almost completely shutting many roads in the city didn’t cause the sky to suddenly fall in. Perhaps the lesson we can take from it all is for the council and Auckland Transport to be bolder about making changes, throw some cones or planter boxes out on the street and block off a lane or two. It would allow quick changes to be made in response to the impacts generated and would probably end up with a faster, cheaper and superior result to the current process of modelling every change to the nth degree first.

To me the protest also helped highlight just how valuable the CRL is going to be once complete. Protests might not be that regular an event but disruption caused by traffic certainly is. Trains using the CRL are able to completely bypass any issues on the surface. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that in a protest situation that those protesting don’t try to shut the rail network too. Further, as it stands right now, for many of projects to make the CBD more people friendly the CRL happens to be a key lynch pin. For example, key parts of the proposed Victoria St Linear Park can’t happen till the CRL is built as two of the entrances sit within that future linear park.

Aotea Station Design North


I also thought of this in the terms of the impact to light rail should we have protests in the future. Obviously a line down Queen St would have been blocked by the protesters so in a situation like yesterday. One advantage it has is that it’s relatively easy to turn them around needing only a crossover track rather than circling a block. Designing light rail to ensure this is a possibility will be important for Auckland.

Lastly a little bouquet to Auckland Transport. Not only were the TPP protests going on but NZ Bus drivers were having a union meeting disrupting or cancelling services. Given they only had one day’s notice about the bus drivers I thought they did well to get some services on some key routes covered by buses and drivers from other bus companies. In hindsight having both the TPP and bus drivers meeting on the same day might have been a good situation as the buses would have been equally held up by the protesters. At least it meant only one day of disruption.

The Wellesley St Busway

One of the most exciting projects in the City East West Transport Study (CEWT) is the addition of a busway through the central section of Wellesley St – which is defined as between Kitchener St and Albert St.

The central section of Wellesley Street near the Queen Street core contains a number of key cultural facilities including the Civic and St James Theatres, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Central City Library and also intersects with the Elliot Street shared space and connections through to Aotea Square. The importance of providing a quality environment for pedestrians and place making within the area cannot be overstated.

While the study has confirmed that the linear park project is best located on Victoria Street and there is a need for a bus corridor along Wellesley Street, there remain considerable opportunities to also obtain the desired improvements to pedestrian and amenity provisions within Wellesley Street central.

In particular, there may be an opportunity to close the central section of Wellesley Street (between Kitchener and Albert Streets) to general traffic, which would be rerouted for example around Mayoral Drive. This would enable the carriageway width to be reduced and reallocated to the pedestrian realm and also reduce the feeling of vehicle dominance within this area. This traffic closure would have additional benefits in allowing greater signal optimisation for buses and pedestrians at the Wellesley Street / Queen Street intersection, and may also unlock opportunities for improvements on adjacent blocks of Queen Street through reduced traffic and the reduction of bus stops.

For that central section the busway would be a full four lanes wide, two lanes for movement and two lanes for buses stopping. When you include the bus stops, parking and loading zones the carriageway is actually about six lanes wide so this proposal actually represents it being narrowed down.  That in turn allows for the footpaths to be extended which is something likely to be needed considering the number of people that will be moving through the area thanks to the people fountains the buses will be.

CEWT Wellesley St Busway

The image below highlights the benefits to pedestrians showing that they go from having 30% of the space in the corridor now to 48% with a bus only road in place.

CEWT Wellesley St Central

And here’s the proposed layout vs what we have now. While the diagrams are just listed as indicative, I suspect that in reality the vehicle lanes would be closer to the northern side which would allow much more space on the south which gets more sun and out the front of the Civic Theatre.

Wellesley St Layout

In addition to the extra space on Wellesley St, the changes to the bus routes and the inability of cars to turn off Queen St would mean the carriageway on that wide section of Queen St could also be narrowed. In effect it could leave us with quite a large footpath build out of the Civic corner.

But why is a busway even needed?

Currently around 24,000 people enter the CBD by bus during the morning peak however by 2041 it’s expected that number could be up to 45,000 people while vehicle volumes are at best flat. Like we’ve seen over the last decade, all the transport growth that will occur in the CBD will happen through public transport or active modes. Even with higher capacity buses it still means we’ll need a lot more of them on the roads delivering people to and through the city centre. It’s this reason that the City Centre Future Access Study determined that a mix of both the City Rail Link and improvements to surface buses would be the best solution.

Currently buses to the CBD use a wide variety of routes with the main corridors being Fanshawe St, Albert St and Symonds St. There are a number of buses that also terminate or travel through the Civic area.

CBD Bus Routes Current


The New Bus Network is seeing routes overhauled and while we won’t see the official plans for the City Centre till the central are consultation (which is expected next year), one of the features of the network is that routes will be concentrated on to a few key routes. The current proposal below sees two North-South routes (Albert St and Symonds St) and two East-West routes (Fanshawe/Customs and Wellesley St. The Wellesley St corridor is home to a number of all-day frequent routes including but not limited to buses from:

  • Dominion Rd
  • Sandringham Rd
  • New North Rd
  • Remuera Rd
  • Manukau Rd
  • Pt Chev via Westmere and Herne Bay
  • Grey Lynn and Ponsonby

A quick calculation suggests that could represent over 100 buses an hour before taking into account the non frequent routes and the peak only routes that would also pass through the corridor. That would likely to be too much for single bus lanes to handle without getting horribly clogged up with a wall of buses.

CBD Bus Routes Future

So why not use either Victoria St or Mayoral Dr for the buses

As many people will know and as the first map shows, buses currently use both Wellesley and Victoria St for East-West movements and some may ask why we shouldn’t just keep doing that. There are a number of reasons but a couple of key ones are that it enables customers to transfer much easier between services but it also enable other city centre improvements to happen. In particular the plan is to have a linear park on Victoria St connecting Albert Park with Victoria Park.

Victoria St Linear Park

As the report notes a number of people have questioned whether the Linear park should be on Wellesley instead (with presumably buses on Victoria St). The report (page 234) highlights the results of some of the significant analysis that is said to have gone in to confirming that Victoria St is the best location. The other east-west street in the middle of the CBD is Mayoral Dr. Again it would require bus routes to be longer and therefore higher operational costs but it would also move the buses (which will be moving many more people to the city than cars will) further away from the centre of town where the majority of people will be living or working. The table below shows the expected CBD population and employment densities in 2041 showing the concentration north of Wellesley St.

2041 Forecast CBD population and employment density

In my view the Wellesley St busway would be a welcome addition to the city centre and along with the other improvements to the area represent a huge step forward for the CBD.

The City East West Transport Study

Anyone keeping track will know there’s a heap of projects planned to happen in the CBD in the coming years, projects like the CRL, the Victoria St Linear Park on Victoria St and City Centre Bus improvements to support the new bus network to name a few. As Cameron Brewer would say – where are the vehicles on Quay St going to go?

It’s a valid question and while some might say “who cares”, it is an issue we have to deal with. Wisely Auckland Transport realised the importance of dealing with the east-west streets in the CBD as whole and that’s where the City East West Transport Study (CEWT) comes in. As the name suggests the study looks at the key east-west roads in the CBD. I first heard about the study some time ago and now have the study thanks to a LGOIMA request. The full report is here (44MB)

The overarching purpose of the CEWT Study is to develop a strategy for the effective management and direction of the city centre’s key east-west corridors over the short to long term horizons, in a manner that supports the City Centre Masterplan and other key strategic initiatives.

The way I see it is that while the City Centre Master Plan and other strategies lay out the the vision for the future, the CEWT study looks at how everything in would work in reality. It’s a non-statutory supporting document that sits beneath the Auckland Plan and Integrated Transport Programme and feeds though to the Regional Land Transport Programme and associated investigation, design and implementation work streams. It is also influenced by other strategic plans, such as the City Centre Masterplan and Waterfront Plan.

The core focus of the study was the following east-west corridors:

CEWT Roads

Most importantly the study has looked at how the corridors are used and that currently they are each required to support all modes of transport. One of the key outcomes is that in the future each route will have a different focus. In effect this means the east-west streets in the CBD will be specialised around different modes.

The preferred direction will see a different emphasis placed on each of the east-west corridors in terms of their key functions and mode requirements. This strategy of having variation in mode emphasis across the corridors is a marked departure from the existing situation, where each of the corridors is providing a generally consistent function and form.

The proposed network strategy will in some instances require changes to the form of these  corridors. In terms of kerb-to-kerb width, the greatest changes will be on Quay Street and Victoria Street which will be reformed to facilitate important place-based transformation shifts as previously envisaged by the City Centre Masterplan.

To deliver the preferred overall strategy, a vision and direction have been developed for each of the east-west corridors.

The overall preferred strategy is below (click to enlarge).

CEWT Preferred Option

There is a constant focus on pedestrians across all streets but other than that each one is different. Quay St has a public space focus, Customs/Fanshawe a movement focus with buses and cars, Victoria a people focus, Wellesley a Bus focus and Mayoral/Cook retaining a car focus.

A key consideration in coming up with the solutions is the need to create a resilient transport network. The authors note that even if streets were wider that it wouldn’t help move more traffic as the constraints are generally at the intersections. Further they say that when something happens that e.g. an accident, that currently all vehicle based transport networks are affected. By providing dedicated bus and cycle lanes it means that the non-car transport networks can continue to function which is important as they are likely to be responsible for moving up to 70% of the mode share.

The reallocation of road space is bound to be a hot button issue for some however the authors have also looked at how each corridor is being used. The graph below looks at a few of the roads and shows how much space within the carriageway (so not including the footpaths) is currently dedicated to general traffic or buses vs how many people are expected to be using each mode. As you can see on all but Fanshawe St 100% of the road space is dedicated to general traffic meaning buses get caught in congestion. Yet by 2021 it’s expected that on Wellesley St 89% of people will be on a bus. As such the plan is to drastically increase the allocation of road space on Wellesley St to buses.

CEWT Road space allocation

This is great to see and moves towards that great quote from Enrique Peñalosa that “a bus with 80 passengers has 80 times more right to roads space than a car with one

However while the overall direction has largely been decided the study notes there are still some fairly specific and meaty issues that need to be addressed. These are:

CEWT Areas of Clarification

For each corridor the study lays out the strategic direction, corridor space allocation, how it performs against the overarching goals and future work required to achieve the preferred direction. Here’s each of the streets.

Quay St

The strategic direction for Quay Street is to become a multi-modal harbour edge boulevard with a predominant emphasis on public space and pedestrian movement within the city centre core in the west and balancing pedestrian and cycle provision with a continued emphasis on freight movement for the Ports of Auckland in the east.

Quay Street Central will be transformed as a landmark harbour edge street between Lower Hobson Street and Britomart Place that unites the CBD Engine Room with the waterfront, as envisaged by the City Centre Masterplan and Waterfront Plan.

Quay Street East will also enhance pedestrian and cycle connections but will see an increased multi-modal emphasis, with maintaining appropriate freight access to the Ports of Auckland a key consideration.


CEWT Quay St Central 1


CEWT Quay St East 1

Fanshawe St

The strategic direction for Fanshawe Street is to strengthen its public transport functions by becoming an urban busway corridor, providing for frequent, fast and efficient bus connections between the North Shore Busway and the City Centre, including Wynyard Quarter.

The urban busway will need to be designed appropriately to reflect its city centre context and to provide much improved north-south pedestrian connections across the street, facilitating its role as part of the Harbour Edge Stitch Transformational Move envisaged by the City Centre Masterplan and Waterfront Plan.

In addition to these key public transport and pedestrian functions, it is intended that sufficient general traffic capacity be retained, reflective of its position as a key gateway into the city centre from the Northern Motorway

CEWT Fanshawe St

Customs St

The strategic direction for Customs Street is to maintain a multi-modal corridor that provides access, both for buses and general traffic, into and across the downtown core of the CBD Engine Room, while also maximising pedestrian capacity and quality.

Improving provision for the north-south pedestrian desire lines across the street is seen as particularly important, to support adjacent land uses and strengthen walking connections between the city centre engine room and the harbour edge.

CEWT Customs St

Beach Rd

The strategic direction for Beach Road is to strengthen its role as a multi-modal corridor providing access for buses, general traffic and pedestrians between the city centre and the eastern fringe.

It will also provide a high quality dedicated cycling connection between the Grafton Gully Cycleway and Quay Street Harbour Edge Boulevard, as a key link in the proposed Auckland-wide cycle highway network.

CEWT Beach Rd

Victoria St

The strategic direction for Victoria Street is to become a broad tree-lined linear park between Albert and Victoria Parks, as envisaged by the City Centre Masterplan.

The linear park will be the city centre’s urban green link and principal east-west walking route across the midtown area. The linear park will provide a significant place-making function, with a series of green
public spaces for rest, play and social activity for residents, workers and visitors to the City Centre. It will be integrated with and enhance the main entrance to the future Aotea Station planned for Victoria
Street, delivering a landmark public space outside what is planned to be Auckland’s busiest rail station.

As a slow street Victoria Street has the potential to support an east-west cycling function as part of a midtown cycle route linking to regional cycle routes (such as the Grafton Gully Cycleway) to the east and west of the city centre core.

The Victoria Street linear park will become a key asset and attractor for people working, living and visiting the dense midtown core of the city centre, and strengthen the identity and legibility of the city centre
as a whole.

CEWT Victoria St

Wellesley St

The strategic direction for Wellesley Street is to become the primary east-west public transport spine across the midtown area of the city centre, providing a high capacity and quality bus route while enhancing the capacity and quality of footpaths for pedestrians and to support adjacent land uses, especially in the core to either side of Queen Street.

It is expected that dedicated bus lanes will be provided along the full length of Wellesley Street, which will enable separate allocations for bus movement and stopping.

Within the central core full implementation of this vision will require the removal of general traffic between Albert and Kitchener Streets / Mayoral Drive and a reduction in carriageway width to facilitate increased provisions for pedestrians and place making.


CEWT Wellesley St Central


CEWT Wellesley St East-West

Mayoral Dr/Cook St

The strategic direction for Mayoral Drive and Cook Street is to become the principal east-west route for general traffic across the midtown area of the city centre, complementing the public transport role of Wellesley Street and walking, cycling and place-making emphasis along the linear park on Victoria Street.

CEWT Mayoral Dr -Cook St

Overall the City East West Study is fantastic and shows progress is starting to be made on how we structure our and think about streets in our main urban area. It recognises that in the city centre pedestrians are the priority followed by cyclists and buses. There is obviously a long way to go before we see all of this realised but it is a good start and AT should be commended for this. There’s a lot more in the study to go through yet so there will be more posts on this in the future.

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.

Photo of the day – Waiheke/Auckland

Auckland City as seen from Waiheke

Photo is credited to (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.