We have been extremely critical of Auckland Transport for how they have undersold the City Rail Link to the general public through vague statements that suggest things like that services will actually be worse than they are now or will be with electrification. So it’s good to see them starting to take some of that feedback on-board in their latest video to explain the project. A couple of points I really like:
- That the CRL is described as the heart of the transport system.
- That it is explained that Britomart is a dead end.
- That the CRL doubles the number of trains and that we will get really good frequencies as a result.
- That the CRL greatly increases capacity, especially compared to a motorway lane.
- That the CRL enables the rail network to be expanded in the future.
While there are probably a few minor points, all up it is a much improved effort from AT so well done.
The Herald today has a large amount of op-eds on what is being called Project Auckland which is looking at how Auckland is going to develop and as you would expect, housing and transport features very heavily. Op-eds include
Now I’m not going to comment on every single article but rather some of the general themes within them, although I will pick out a few individual comments that have annoyed me (as I seem to be in a grumpy mood today which is quite unusual).
The really positive thing about all of the pieces is that in general people think the city is heading in the right direction and considering how much has had to be done by the council over the last few years to merge all of the various council plans and policies together. Things could have easily gone quite wrong and so the council staff (from all organisations) and the politicians need to be congratulated for that.
Of course not everything has been plain sailing and there have been (and still are) a number of issues that haven’t been handled ideally. The Unitary Plan is one of those where the lack of clear enough information about what was proposed led to the development of groups like Auckland 2040 that used misinformation and scare tactics to oppose the plan. In the article about the Unitary Plan I wanted to highlight some of the positive comments in relation to it. First from Penny Hulse
“It’s not about cramming in another one million people but having timely infrastructure, so people moving here are not shocked by bad planning. If people don’t arrive as we thought, then the houses won’t get built as fast. That’s life.
“But we can’t let Auckland languish with a housing crisis, and we can’t let shoddy design continue and building take place in the wrong places,” she says. “I’m comfortable where we have got to in the Unitary Plan process, and we can keep building trust about the whole concept of intensification.
“There are huge benefits about being able to walk to the shops and work, and live in a vibrant community. Some people see intensification as frightening but if it’s done well then it can be transformative.”
And from Chief Planning Officer, Roger Blakely
So the traffic problem is resolved within 30 years?
“Yes,” says Blakeley.
“We will have high quality, high frequency rail and bus services. We will have lots of dedicated cycling and walkways. They are more cost- effective than building more roads, and cars are an inefficient way of moving people around the city.
“The city rail link will be finished, and there will be rail to the airport and North Shore (via the second harbour crossing). Bus services will feed into the rail, and the Skypath on the existing harbour bridge will link up the cycling and walking network.
“The 1960s saw cars take over cities around the world with large freeways and parking lots. But the cities lost their human scale,” says Blakeley.
The residential plans are designed to bring a new face to Auckland. “We have to have a flexibility of choice in housing that meets different needs and different budgets. This need is with us now,” Blakeley says.
“Soon there will be more one or two person households than three persons plus – our present housing stock is not geared to meet that need. We need a mix of terraced and town houses, apartments and single houses on a section.”
Hear hear but how we get our transport agencies and the government to understand this is a different story. And this:
“What we noticed in the debate was the generational gap,” Blakeley says. “The older people who went to the meetings organised by Auckland 2040 objected loudly to the intensification.
“But the younger people who were active on social media wanted to live in a more intensified city – they wanted to experience the extra vibrancy that comes with that, including cultural, retail and recreational activity.
“We are talking about international best practice, here,” he says. “Vancouver has done it, and Copenhagen and Vienna are also following the quality, compact city strategy. As the Danish architect Jan Gehl (he’s an adviser to Auckland) said in his book Cities for People, ‘you can’t keep sprawling outwards’.”
Blakeley says “we saw a lot of Nimby (Not In My Backyard) during the Unitary Plan debate. I’m convinced that when more and more people see examples of housing development that embodies flexibility of choice, quality and affordability, they will become comfortable with the idea of intensification.”
He names developments by Hobsonville Land Company at Hobsonville Point and Ockham Investments at Kingsland, Ellerslie and Grey Lynn as examples of future living in Auckland. He says they have a range of sizes and types of housing, ensuring it’s quality at a price people can afford.
“We didn’t get all the intensification we hoped for in the proposed Unitary Plan this time, but it will be reviewed perhaps every five to 10 years, and there will be the opportunity to change the zoning of some areas.”
The generational issue is a serious one. Most of the older people who are objecting to the plan aren’t the ones who will be around in 30 years-time having to live with the outcomes of scaling back the Unitary Plan. We’ve also talked before about how the plan will need to be revisited in the future due to the downscaling that occurred. Once again Auckland 2040 has been allowed to spout a pile of rubbish in the article.
During the Unitary Plan debate, Takapuna neighbours Guy Haddleton and planner Richard Burton formed Auckland 2040 which finished up in an alliance with more than 70 residents’ associations and other groups, including Character Coalition.
Auckland 2040 was opposed to intensification in the suburbs.
Burton says Auckland 2040 “got 70 per cent of what we were after. The rest is detail in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone – that is still very intensive.
“Originally, the draft plan allowed unrestricted apartment building of three or four storeys over 56 per cent of the residential land in Auckland. That has come down to 15 per cent, and from that point of view there’s a degree of rational thinking in the council.
“Their desire is to focus higher intensity development around the town centres and along arterial routes, and I think that’s appropriate.”
Burton is concerned that rules for height to boundary, coverage and yards have been relaxed too much, particularly when they are applied to existing built-in neighbourhoods.
“They will have quite a significant impact – for instance, adjoining rear yards will be one metre each rather than 6 metres and there will be no room for plantings.
A couple of glaring errors in here, first 56% of the residential land in Auckland wasn’t allowed three or four storey apartment buildings, that figure was the amount of land covered by the centres, terraced house and apartment (THAB) zone and the Mixed Housing Zone (MHZ). The MHZ made up the vast majority of that and had a height limit of 8m which is roughly two storeys. Developers would only have been able to go above that with resource consent and even then only to 10m. As a result of the feedback the MHZ was split into two zones Urban (MHU) and Suburban (MHS).
The second major issue is the comment that backyards will be one metre from each other. While the rules for each of the Mixed Housing Zones have a 1m minimum setback on the sides and rear of a house, they also have a requirement for an outdoor living space off the main living area with set conditions i.e. if the living area is on the ground floor there has to be an area with a minimum of 20m² and no dimension less than 4m in length. So while there is technically a minimum of 1m other requirements also need to be taken into account to understand the full picture of what is proposed.
As mentioned the other major theme is transport and as we have come to expect from transport discussion in the city, most of the talk is about how we need to rapidly invest in infrastructure to “catch up”. However as Lester Levy notes, AT also need to improve the way it deals with it’s customer – us the general public.
The other half of the “walnut” essential to making Auckland’s transport system world-class is what I describe as the “software”. This is the mindset and culture within which Auckland Transport needs to deliver a customer-sensitive transport service, which means providing services that are characterised by precision (reliability and punctuality) and responsive service – we and our partners (the providers of our bus, ferry and train services) have much work to do in this area and I have made it my highest priority to finally get this fixed.
The HOP rollout has been dealt with shows we still have a long long way to go on this.
On the infrastructure side though there is a very clear push through quite a number of the pieces about the East-West Link. The project is one that came from obscurity to be ranked one of the most important in the region in The Auckland Plan a few years ago and there has been a strong indication that the council’s support of it was the price to pay for the business community supporting the CRL. It is now being moved well ahead of the CRL in the overall timeline and the government is expected to agree to a funding package for it next year despite there not having even been a business case completed for it yet, let alone a confirmed route – although I’m also hearing that option 4, the route that is the most destructive, most expensive and that has the least benefit for freight is the one that is now the front runner. It makes me wonder if all these mentions of it is part of a concerted effort to soften up the public on the need for it.
I also want to once again highlight one of my biggest bugbears of Auckland Transport underselling the benefits of the CRL.
CRL will mean Britomart becomes a through station, opening the way for 10-minute train services in peak times to Panmure, which in turn will be able to connect with more frequent feeder bus services to suburbs further to the east such as Pakuranga, Howick, Ti Rakau and Botany.
How many times to we have to remind AT that the frequency being talked about in the article is possible in the next year or two and that the CRL allows for double that i.e. 5 minute train services at peak times. It might not sound like that big of a deal but the way people perceive the difference between even 5 and 10 minute services can be quite substantial. The reason AT keep underselling it is they are afraid to promise anything in case they aren’t able to deliver it but they fail to realise that if they keep underselling the project then it risks losing public support.
As I said at the start, the good thing is that we are generally heading in the right direction but we do need some tweaks to get the best outcome.
Wow who is this and what have they done with the real Herald. The editorial this morning nails the issues surrounding Maurice Williamson’s statements following the early release of the census data.
According to a phrase usually attributed to Mark Twain, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics”. It was his way of saying we should be wary of figures that are used to boost weak arguments. Perhaps, most particularly, we should be cautious about statistics given so dogmatically there is no apparent room for debate. Pronouncements like, for example, that of Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson, who declared the first Census data in seven years contained a surprise “bigger than Ben Hur”.
The finding that so enraptured the minister was that New Zealand’s population growth had halved since the last Census. The population had increased by 31,000 a year, or 0.75 per cent, over the past seven years, compared to 58,000 a year in the previous 2001-2006 period. This, trumpeted Mr Williamson, should prompt a revision of Auckland’s infrastructure plans, such as an increase in high-rise apartments and the construction of an inner-city rail loop.
The growth rate is, indeed, surprisingly slow. But what that means for Auckland must be subject to a couple of important caveats. First, the data so far released – annoyingly, the Census findings are being drip-fed – does not reveal the extent of Auckland’s long-term growth.
It then goes on to talk about some of the likely reasons why the population figures are lower than expected including the large amount of migration that has occurred in recent years. But the key point is below
This doesn’t mean no notice should be taken of the Census data. The council’s planning for the next 30 years, as outlined in its Unitary Plan, is based on the prediction that the number of Auckland residents will grow by one million, or 2.2 per cent a year. The plan is hugely important because of the impact on Auckland of constraining most of the city’s growth within existing urban limits and encouraging higher-density development close to public transport. The prospect of intensified housing is by no means universally applauded, and the Census findings for Auckland, when they are finally released, warrant close attention in terms of the population assumption.
Contrary to Mr Williamson’s view, however, the same cannot be said of the inner-city rail loop. Its construction is not predicated on population growth. Rather, it is about the shape of Auckland, the number of people who live and work in the central city, and creating an essential and efficient public transport artery. Debate over it should revolve primarily around issues such as potential patronage and funding options, not projected population.
This distinction has never been appreciated by the Government. While endorsing the rail loop in principle in June, it scheduled it for 2020, five years later than the council wants. The Government said a start could be made earlier if Auckland’s population growth led to increased inner-city employment. It needs to understand that a start on the project should not depend on such a link.
Clearly, much of Mr Williamson’s gusto doesn’t withstand too much scrutiny. Nonetheless, he has ensured that attention will be paid to Census regional growth findings when they are released next week. If there are genuine reasons to question the assumptions underpinning the Unitary Plan, they will be found there.
Spot on, the business case for the CRL isn’t based on high growth projections and more important than population growth is just how many people might use it. As the post this morning on Calgary shows, you don’t have to have a high population to get high patronage or CBD employment, what you need is a strong, connected network that works together and that provides real options and on that front the CRL is crucial to the future development of the network. To be honest I’m even sceptical of the patronage projections and suspect they are way under estimated and we have seen with past investments – like with Britomart – that we way underestimated the demand
They also make a valid point that the shape of the city is also important in the discussion on the need for the CRL. We have seen from the Unitary Plan that a huge amount of growth has been allowed for out west along the rail line, and even if only a small amount of it every fully happens, it will add huge demand for travel which the CRL can greatly assist with. Further the greenfields developments in the South have a similar effect and I have heard in the past that ironically the more sprawl that happens down that way, the greater the demand for the CRL becomes.
It’s so nice and refreshing to see this stance from the Herald for a change, even if they still refer to the project as a loop.
“At the margin” is one of my favourite economic expressions.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how the City Rail Link (CRL) affects the financial performance of Auckland’s rail network “at the margin”.
- What is the impact of the CRL on patronage?
- What is the impact of the CRL on fare revenue?
- What is the impact of the CRL on rail operating costs?
- What is the impact of the CRL on cost recovery?
Now I don’t want to send the wrong message: Financial performance is not as important as economic performance.
But financial performance is important to some degree; as it defines how a given project impacts on the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF). And where a project’s operating costs exceed its revenues, then it will require on-going operating subsidies.
By extension investing in projects now that require on-going subsidies will reduce our ability to fund future projects. So if we invest in transport projects that require large on-going operating subsidies, then we are effectively making a decision to reduce the funding that is available to fund other projects in the future.
That’s why I think financial impacts are important.
It’s interesting how quickly political biases enter the discussion as soon as one mentions the words “financial performance”.
Many people on the right presume that roads are associated with good financial performance, whereas public transport – especially rail – is not. On the other hand, many people on the left presume that anyone who is concerned with financial performance is guilty of short-term “roads first” thinking. Both are presumptuous.
And I think the CRL provides a good example to challenge some of these biases. First let’s quickly make some guess-estimates in response to the questions posed earlier:
- Patronage impacts = The CRL is ultimately expected to generate ~20 million additional rail boardings p.a. (possibly more)
- Revenue impacts = 20 million x $4 per boarding = $80 million p.a. in additional rail fare revenue,
- Rail operating costs = let’s say we double service levels for circa $70 million p.a. in additional rail operating costs
- Cost recovery = Revenues / Operating costs = 114% (in a marginal sense).
Now I’m the first to admit that the numbers are a bit rubbery. While we won’t gain 20m boardings overnight, the same holds for the operating costs: We’re not going to need to double rail frequencies straight away either. We’re also ignoring capital costs of course, but that’s a different question.
Hidden in the numbers above is an interesting assumption that I’d like to discuss in more detail: That is the average fare of $4 per boarding. Why is that interesting? Well according to NZTA documents Matt has received in the past, the average fare on the rail network is currently around $2.70 per trip. So why have I assumed $4 per boarding?
This is a situation where I think it’s important to think “at the margin”. Or to put it another way, the CRL is not your “average” rail project.
Simply put, the CRL opens up vast swathes of the city centre. It seems fairly clear that the marginal passenger attracted to the rail network by the CRL is more likely to be paying a higher fare than the current network average, which is essentially dragged down by a relatively high proportion of concessionary travellers, which in turn is a function of the rail network’s extremely limited coverage of the city centre.
In contrast, trips to the city centre are far more likely to pay an adult fare. One way to get an idea of how much higher the marginal fare might be would be analyse average fares for people boarding/alighting rail services at Britomart. But I’ll leave that to AT …
Figures obtained in the past from Auckland Transport says that the average journey length on the rail network in excess of 15km. That means on average most people are travelling from outside of isthmus and based on the current fare structure would equate to a 3 or 4 stage fare depending on the line. Current adult HOP fares $4.05 for a three stages or $5.04 for a four stages. As such an average fare of $4 for passengers attracted to the network by the CRL seems about right.
On the operating cost side, it currently costs something like $90 million a year to run the rail network. A decent proportion of those cost are somewhat fixed or at least exhibit some economies of scale. One of the big advantages of electrification is that it should reduce the cost of running individual services and that means Auckland Transport will be able to run more of them than they do now for little incremental cost.
As such a doubling of future services due to the CRL should not result in a doubling of the total operating costs (please correct me if I am wrong on this).
For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to assume that the future electrified rail network costs $100 million a year to run and that adding services as part of the CRL will increase costs by $70 million per year.
Assumptions about average fare and operating costs aside, it seems the CRL actually performs relatively well from a financial perspective. In the long run it may even pay its way operationally, especially if AT can generate additional revenue from leasing space within/around the stations.
If this is the case then not only would we have significantly boosted rail patronage and accessibility across the city, but we would have done so while also improving the relative operational performance of the overall rail network.
The table below summarises these assumption in the context of the overall rail network, where farebox recovery improves by ~25% to what is a relatively high 79%.
To provide a point of comparison I have also crunched some numbers on cost recovery for Puhoi-Wellsford. These suggest that “cost recovery” for Puhoi to Wellsford is circa 50% (NB: This number is even more rubbery – I might do a separate post on this if people are interested in how the concept of cost recovery might be applied to roads).
Not that this is a post about the issues with that project, but it’s worth keeping in mind whenever anyone tries to convince you that new highways “pay for themselves” more so than new railways. While that may be true “on average” the story could be quite different “at the margin”. And it’s the performance at the margin that matters most.
The general message, however, is that the financial performance of the CRL is not too bad. To cut a long story long .
Gerry Brownlee was asked in Parliament today about the City Rail Link and the costs of delaying it.
The fact that Brownlee claims it the project isn’t being delayed is staggering. The council and Auckland Transport have for a long time being planning for construction to start in 2015 and to be completed with trains running in 2020/21. The government’s announcement in June that they would support it was that they won’t even start a new business case until 2017 and won’t start construction till 2020. That represents a 5 year delay and as Julie Anne pointed out, adds a cost of $100 million per year to the total of the project for a total additional cost of $500 million.
The figure comes from this presentation to the Transport Committee at the beginning of the month. It also points out that many of the benefits that make the CRL look better in the longer term are due to the travel times and congestion getting worse. That would leave us with the situation where we have to sit waiting for conditions to get worse before we can start working to make them better. That’s sounds like ambulance at the bottom of the cliff thinking to me.
We and the Congestion Free Network also got a mention from Labour Transport Spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway (I wonder who will be the new transport person in the shake-up they will be having?). Gerry has refused to meet with us or the Campaign for Better Transport multiple times now with the response being that he is too busy each time we ask. I wonder how many times he has met with the AA, NZCID or other road lobby groups? Might be time for an OIA on that.
A couple of months ago the government finally announced that they would support the City Rail Link, albeit with a later start date than the council are pushing for. A few days later they then went on to announce a massive road building binge including upgrades/additions to the areas around the interchange of SH1 and SH18, the Southern motorway south of Manukau and SH20A to the airport. Along with this they also agreed on major support for the AMETI project and the East West Link while pushing ahead with designation for an additional harbour crossing.
In each of the roading projects – perhaps with the exception of another harbour crossing – we feel that there are probably some key parts that are worthwhile while other bits that seem over the top. What we definitely don’t agree on is the suggestion that these projects will be moved ahead of the CRL which gives the package the definite feel of an asphaltaholic statement of ”just one more road project then we can quit and build the PT”. Of course for these asphalt junkies there is always just one more road that needs to be built first.
One area where the government have been light on details is what the actual costs and benefits of each project are. Well looking through the parliaments questions for written answer section I found the questions from Julie Anne Genter asking about the costs and benefits of the various projects. The answers from Gerry Brownlee are help to shed a bit more light, and concern on the projects.
First the costs.
I have been advised that the most recent cost estimates for the named projects are as follows.
- Auckland City Rail Link – $2.86 billion. This figure is the revised number Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are now using for the project, and includes the additional rolling stock and track upgrades on the wider rail network needed to implement the project.
- Second Waitemata Harbour crossing – $4.7 billion for a tunnel crossing.
- Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) – $1.5 billion.
- East-West Link – indicative cost of $1 billion.
- Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive - $400 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
- Upgrading State Highway 18 (Upper Harbour Highway) to motorway standard
- Motorway-to-motorway connections between State Highway 1 and State Highway 18 (both directions)
- South-facing ramps between State Highway 1 and State Highway 17 (Albany Expressway/Greville Road)
- Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura – the estimated cost of widening State Highway 1 between Manukau and Papakura, including a new interchange at Takanini, is $250 million.
- Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard - $110 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
- Upgrading and widening of State Highway 20A
- Grade separation of Kirkbride Road.
There are a couple of interesting points in here.
- Auckland City Rail Link – It’s good to see them finally acknowledging that this isn’t just about a tunnel in the CBD but that the costs include a wider network upgrade
- East-West Link – This is much more than what was budget for in the Auckland Plan and the Integrated Transport Programme which suggested $600m. Does this suggest the thinking is for a more expensive motorway type solution like has been pushed by groups like the NZCID?
- Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive - No mention of extending the busway through this section like we thought may have been included making this piece of work appear to just be a roadfest
- Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura - The ITP projected this as $500m so this is half the price, still expensive though and I imagine most of it is in the Takanini interchange.
- Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard – Again this is cheaper than in the ITP which suggests $235m. I can understand the desire to grade separate Kirkbride Rd but not sure what the point of widening the road is.
Another key point is we don’t know if there are any particular details about the costs, for example we know that the CRL has had its costs inflated to the predicted year of spend but we don’t know if that has happened with the other projects. We also don’t know if the other projects have been though much more detailed costing’s like the CRL has, we know they certainly haven’t had the same level of scrutiny.
Moving on to the benefits the point above becomes even more relevant as the benefits are all listed in Net Present Value terms and that will have happened after taking into account issues like the assessment period and discount rate. This means we can’t do a straight calculation to work out the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). It’s worth noting that Julie Anne did ask for the BCR for the projects but was just referred to this table.
The thing that is really striking on here is the East-West link has been effectively been given a green light when its benefits have yet to be assessed. Even just last month Gerry Brownlee was suggesting a funding package for the project will being signed off soon. The whole thing has the stench of the RoNS approach all over it – agree to a project before actually working out if it is worthwhile.
Lastly regardless of what way you look at the numbers, the additional Waitemata harbour crossing project really does look like a dog. If it wasn’t being pushed by politicians (of almost all colours and ideology) then I suspect we wouldn’t even be hearing about it as the economic assessment would have buried it long ago.
Another day and another story about the City Rail Link notice of requirement hearings from the Herald. This focus of this article is the heritage buildings on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St.
Auckland Transport consultants are divided over whether a block of inner-city heritage buildings more than 140 years old will survive excavations for the city’s underground railway.
Heritage consultant Bruce Petry told planning commissioners yesterday at a route designation hearing for the 3.4km project from Britomart to Mt Eden that he supported the “adaptive reuse” of the Martha’s Corner buildings at the intersection of Albert and Victoria Sts, which include nine small shops and restaurants.
“It’s a challenge, but I am pretty sure we can get a realistic solution for that site,” he said.
The transport organisation supports a proposed condition of a designation that an appropriate level of reuse of the buildings, which will be at an entrance to the $2.86 billion project’s largest underground station, could include retaining their facades on all street frontages.
Fellow consultant John Fellows, who is advising Auckland Transport on the design of the future Aotea Station below the full block of Albert St between Victoria and Wellesley Sts, has cast doubt at the hearing on chances of saving even the facades.
“If the current concept design is implemented it is unlikely that the retention of facades, interior fabric and interior floor of these buildings with a view to adaptive reuse will be possible,” he said in earlier written evidence.
If your not sure exactly what buildings they are referring to, they are these ones.
And here is the designation that Auckland Transport are seeking for the project
It is this part of the article which is interesting
Mr Petry acknowledged that Auckland Transport was proposing the potential demolition of Martha’s Corner “as a worst-case scenario”.
“From my investigations, and taking into account its values, I consider demolition of these buildings is not an unacceptable outcome from a heritage perspective, if there is no other realistic option.”
Now I’ll make it clear, I’m not a fan of keeping stuff just because it is old but I do wonder how much other options have really been considered. In particular I think there is an option that should be considered on the diagonally opposite corner.
In the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) that was adopted last year, one of the key projects was to create a Green Link connecting up the Domain, Albert Park, Victoria Park and the Waterfront. Through the core of the CBD that would be in the form of linear park along Victoria St. Here is what the CCMP has to say about it:
Victoria Street Linear Park will become the city centre’s urban green link, allowing Victoria and Albert parks to merge. It will act as a breakout space for those visiting and working in the Engine Room and has the potential to become one of the postcard images of Auckland, with a wave of green vegetation down Victoria St from Albert Park.
A linear park on Victoria St will require fewer lanes for vehicles, wider footpaths, more green amenity and slower traffic movement. This will deliver a sequence of attractive, safe and engaging spaces or rooms that strongly integrate with the surrounding built form and land uses, and celebrate the public life of the city centre. The street’s traffic function can be maintained for the most part with a reduced number of buses continuing to operate along its length, and an improved cycling environment
And here is an artist’s impression of what it could look like.
But what does all of this have to do with the CRL? Well that much wider pedestrian area that is created by the linear park could be the perfect location to put a station entrance. Hell perhaps it might allow two entrances, one of the western side of Albert St and one on the Eastern Side. Combine that with the fact Victoria St is expected to be narrowed down and the CCMP also suggests that every major intersection along the route should have Barnes dance crossings and combined it would be very easy to get from either entrance across Victoria St to get to the areas north of the station. An addition benefit is the two entrances should also help to spread the load of passengers out.
Further to this it avoids Auckland Transport getting into fights with the noisy heritage groups and it means that there is less land that Auckland Transport need to purchase, slightly reducing the overall costs of the project. Lastly it also provides some impetus to get the linear park in place so it can actually become a reality rather than just a nice idea and a pretty drawing.
The notice of requirement hearing for the City Rail Link project began yesterday – marking an important phase in securing the necessary resource consents to both protect the route and then enable the project’s construction. Compared to other major transport projects in recent times (Waterview Connection comes to mind as the best example) the consenting process for CRL seems to have been fairly low-key and almost slipping by without much notice. I think this reflects that the vast bulk of the project is in a tunnel (thus minimising its effects) and that the public strongly supports the project generally.
This is of course not to say that the project doesn’t have any effects which will need careful management. This was picked up in an article in yesterday’s NZ Herald:
Neighbours of Auckland’s underground rail project fear digging up Albert St and closing its key east-west intersections will spread traffic chaos through the inner city.
New World supermarket operator Foodstuffs wants Auckland Transport to withdraw a route protection application unless it tunnels under Albert St instead of spending two years digging up most of the road for a covered trench for two railway lines.
The council organisation, which says the tracks will be too shallow and the ground too riddled with service lines to tunnel below Albert St, will today open its case to designate a 3.4km route from Britomart to Mt Eden.
There is an amusing irony that the transport projects which will do more than anything else ever to improve transport in the CBD will potentially have quite significant impacts on traffic during construction. To an extent I think the phrase “short term pain for long term gain” applies here. Plus the traffic impacts will be limited to the section of Albert Street where cut and cover tunnelling is necessary – as well as around the stations.
Tunnelling consultant Bill Newns says in evidence prepared for the designation hearing – which is expected to take about two weeks – he expects a complete closure of the Victoria St intersection for up to 18 months and of Wellesley St for 12 months, followed by a full or partial closure of Customs-Albert Sts for up to nine months.
Auckland Transport traffic consultant Ian Clark recommends the full closure of just one intersection at a time, while maintaining east-west movements elsewhere across Albert St.
I think the impacts on Albert Street can be managed through better utilisation of those giant semi-motorways Hobson/Nelson and also ensuring that buses going along Albert Street retain their bus lanes. What is potentially a bigger problem is the closing of the key intersections along Albert Street: Customs, Victoria and Wellesley:
The dark blue section of the route above is to be built as a cut and cover tunnel (requiring Albert Street to be dug up) while the orange section will be dug out using a tunnel boring machine and avoid impacting on the road above. The three red arrows indicate the key east-west streets.
One way of reducing the impact of the project on Albert Street and on the key east-west streets is to take advantage of the recent announcements relating to the downtown shopping mall site redevelopment – which will see the very first section of the CRL begin construction within the next three years – and push that section of tunnel a little further to go under Customs Street. Something like this:
Building the tunnel to the south of Customs Street as part of this first phase would mean that one of the three key intersections wouldn’t need to be touched at all during the main construction phase of the project – potentially significantly reducing impact on traffic in the city centre. Furthermore, a tunnel with reasonable length could be useful as a train storage area during the peak times removing some of the conflicting train movements and potentially opening up another couple of train slots or at least providing for more flexibility in operations.
Of course there are always cost inefficiencies from building projects like this bit by bit. But we should at least weigh up the operational benefits it could provide as well as the traffic mitigation benefits of not having to dig up Customs Street during the main construction phase.
Today there was more coverage of the hearings and in particular the issues at the other end of the project.
Auckland Council officers fear noise from blasting rock from the Mt Eden end of the city’s underground rail project may seriously damage fragile buildings.
Council body Auckland Transport wants hearing commissioners to allow up to 150 decibels of noise around unoccupied buildings to blast away extensive basalt deposits near where it intends joining a pair of rail tunnels to the western line. That is similar to the noise of a jet on takeoff, which can rupture unprotected ear-drums.
A report by council principal planner Ross Cooper quoted a consultant’s opinion that 150 decibels would create an unacceptably high risk “of windows and other fragile building elements being damaged or destroyed”.
It will be very interesting to hear how the hearing progresses over the next two weeks.
The announcement a few weeks ago that the government would support the CRL has had a major political impact but one that perhaps hasn’t been noticed by many in the general public. With high public support along with both central and the current council supporting the project, it has meant that it is now politically difficult for any major candidate to outright oppose the project. Sure there will be some candidates or organisations out on the extremes who will oppose the project outright but I don’t think we will see that stance from anyone going for the majority of the vote.
As a result the angle of attack for those opposing the project is changing. Instead of fighting the project head on they will seek to undermine it in other ways by trying to raise questions about specific aspects, about the timing or funding. Mayoral candidate John Palino did just that earlier this month in a press release about the project. However this post isn’t so much about John but about addressing the issues he raises as I’m expecting them to come up from a number of candidates, for not just the mayoralty but also for councillors and even local boards. We will probably see some similar arguments come up next year for national elections too. Here is the first part of the release
What’s the real cost of the CRL?
The Government’s announcement last week that it would contribute to the extension of the rail line through Britomart, caught some off guard – not least of all me!
The Government resisted the City Rail Link for so long because the transport benefits used to understand whether an investment is good value for money consistently showed very low returns. Forty cents return for each dollar invested, to be exact.
The Council has always argued, correctly, that this project is much more than just a transport solution and is an urban redevelopment and form solution. But that left the government in a tricky position: if the transport benefits are low, how can you justify spending transport funds on it?
The Government got around this by not committing money from the National Transport Fund, which is absolutely appropriate. Instead it will use money from asset sales and general taxes.
Now this is all very good for Aucklanders who will now benefit from a huge investment by central and local government. But it does raise a few interesting questions: why doesn’t the CRL deliver good transport benefits and if the beneficiaries of the CRL aren’t commuters, who are they and why aren’t they paying?
Firstly, the CRL doesn’t deliver strong relative transport benefits in essence because the project is so big and expensive and large projects like this, such as the harbour bridge, tend to create a lot of opportunities that aren’t possible to measure in advance.
As explained earlier a few weeks ago in the excellent guest post by Peter Nunns, part of the reason transport benefits are low are due to the different values of time that are used for different modes. We also know that even the MoT think the modelling done for the CCFAS is underestimating rail trips, all of which means that the transport benefits are likely to be much higher than what has been quoted. In saying this it is good that Palino is recognising that there are more to projects like the CRL than just the transport benefits. But it is the next section that I really want to address.
So to a degree, the CRL suffers because of what we know and can measure and because of what we can’t possibly know. The CRL also misses key growth areas in the CBD such as Wynyard quarter and the universities which would help increase demand and improve transport benefits.
To resolve this problem, the Mayor is relying on rail to the North Shore. The problem with this solution is that funding for rail to the Shore is not even in the Council’s long term planning horizons. There is no money to fund the $6 billion needed for rail to the Shore in the 30 year Auckland Plan. In other words, rail is coming to Wynyard, but not forty or more years, while the Council’s emphasis on Wynyard growth is focused on the next 20 years.
To fill the Wynyard gap, Auckland Transport now has to investigate a new rail or bus solution to Wynyard quarter. That’s more cost. And for the universities, the idea is to rely on the existing busway. But the most recent report on its capacity showed that Symonds St would resemble a bus car park within a decade, so there will have to be a new solution there too. Who’ll pay for that?
The talk of changing the CRL route to include both the Wynyard and University areas is something that has being pushed by a few of the prominent business groups including the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development and the Chamber of Commerce. I suggest that it is from those organisations that John has got the idea from. The issue with it is that on the surface the idea sounds like an ok idea but it isn’t until you look at it a bit further that you see it doesn’t stack up. Firstly to get the CRL close to those two locations means making it do an extremely circuitous route that ends up looking a bit like a funny shaped S. This is shown below (the shaded areas represent roughly a 500m walking catchment).
Note that the route is similar to one that was looked at as part of the initial business case a few years ago and it didn’t make the short list.
While such a route would connect both Wynyard and the University, once you compare it to the existing CRL route you can see one of the major issues. It loses some substantial coverage around Karangahape Rd as well the western side of the CBD.
Even more of an issue is that the route becomes super long as it is roughly an extra 2km in length. That of course would have some fairly serious implications including that it would result in slower journey times and therefore wipe out a lot of the transport benefits that do exist making the project less viable. I suspect that the changes in catchment and slowing down in travel times would also mean less people overall would want to use the system harming the amount of transport benefits even further. The big impact though would of course be on the cost as adding an additional 2km to the project won’t come cheap, especially seeing as much of it would likely need to be cut and cover. I don’t even want to guess just how much it would add but it certainly wouldn’t be pretty.
So of course the question still remains about how to improve access for both the universities and the Wynyard Quarter. As John himself mentions the long term solution we talk about is a rail connection through both of these areas then across to the shore and we have that as a fairly core part of our Congestion Free Network.
But even we list this as being perhaps 12-17 years away so the question is if we can do something sooner than that. Firstly both Wynyard and the Universities will be served by very high frequency bus services as well as likely much stronger bus priority. Combine that with integrated fares and someone getting off a train at either Britomart or Aotea would have a very quick trip to either destination. We can also further improve the walking connections to reduce the amount of time it would take to walk for those that want to and lastly for Wynyard at least we could extend the existing tram system across the Viaduct – as is currently meant to happen at some point – and passengers could transfer to that. The Tram has been suggested to cost $8m to extend but even if it was 3 times that amount, it is still a hell of a lot cheaper than extending the CRL route.
I would say that this alternate route suggestion is secretly about adding huge costs while simultaneously removing a large proportion of the benefits the project delivers is part of an overarching attempt to kill the project off entirely. It is definitely an issue that we are going to have to keep a close eye on for the next few years until construction gets underway.
John then moves on to talking about how to pay for the project which is something I don’t feel needs to be addressed in this post but he did have this gem.
The current answer to not only the Wynyard and Universities access questions, but also the $1-2 billion council share of the CRL is ratepayers. People in Wellsford, Howick, Mangere, Titirangi, Mt Albert and other locations not benefitting heavily from rail will see rates increase by around 10 per cent before a single train leaves the station.
That’s not fair, but it does highlight the question of who in fact should pay. If the CRL is a good project, and I certainly believe it can be, then some people must be benefitting. Who are they and why aren’t they paying?
I must say, I was unaware that Mt Albert was not benefiting heavily from rail, perhaps the station below has stolen Mt Albert’s name.
This is a guest post from Albert Eden Local Board Member and CBT committee member Graeme Easte
I have serious doubts that we can literally reach the PMs target of 20 million trips (more or less double the current level) before we build the CRL. Surely a key driver of the CRL is that the Britomart bottleneck will prevent us increasing frequencies much beyond present settings. So if that number is taken too literally we have a major problem – unless government can be persuaded that we have increased patronage as far as possible within the constraints.
However, I would argue that there is a “work around” solution that will get us through the next decade if that is how long we have to wait for CRL and which would allow the required major increase in passenger numbers. Six years ago, when the Newmarket interchange was being designed, CBT raised the possibility of Western and Southern services connecting directly, even though this would require those going to and from Britomart to change trains.
Although the main driver for this proposal is the ability to increase frequencies beyond six per hour on all lines, there are other advantages. As 85% of all stations are on the Western and Southern lines there is a significant constituency who would be advantaged by the change. And the “Newmarket Shuffle” would no longer be required.
However, given that there are more people from the West whose final destination is in the CBD than those who want to go to the South, perhaps there could be some services (say a couple of express runs each hour) which would continue to connect to Britomart.
The quid pro quo for those of us who live along the Western Line would be that the connection between western services and the link to Britomart would have to be as painless as possible. There should be zero waiting time for the connecting service. The top priority of the whole rail schedule would be ensuring that connecting services at Newmarket did actually mesh – allowing direct cross platform boarding. And to ensure that the scheduled connection was still realized the outgoing train would be required to pause if necessary to synchronize with the incoming service.
Western line passengers should also have the option of changing to buses at Grafton or Mount Eden Stations (a really attractive option for those with destinations more than a 5 minute walk south of Britomart). Again, if the train was delayed, the connecting bus would pause. In fact, I would advocate a new bus route more or less following the CRL designation – connecting Mount Eden Station with Upper Symmonds Street, Karangahape Road, Albert Street and Downtown.
There are of course variations on this proposal, but the basic idea is to allow us to increase frequencies, and hence capacity, before the CRL is completed and opened.