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A Letter from a Reader

A letter from a reader to Auckland Transport that I was copied in on. It’s an all too familiar tale.

I am a central city dweller and I really, really want to support public transport – but you’re trying my patience and commitment. I’ve lived and worked in London and Sydney and owned a car in neither city. Back in Auckland I work reasonably close to where I live – so close that a car ride will take maybe 10 minutes. But I was trying not to own a car. A bus journey to work should take under 15 minutes – but that assumes the BUS SHOWS UP ON TIME.

This past week, I have wasted an accumulated estimate of close to two* hours of my life waiting for delayed buses. At a micro level, I’ve been personally frustrated, late for meetings and, on one night, cold and damp. At a macro level, the productivity loss of my time, multiplied by the number of people similarly impacted, is staggering.

*That 2 hours is only across 4 days; I walked to and from on the other day – and it was still faster than the previous day’s bus commute.

I’ve been experiencing erratic timetables for awhile on the 267/258 routes travelling from/to Queen St, along Symonds St to/from Dominion Road. (I get on in the mornings either on Queen St or the Symonds St overbridge). So, this week I decided to be more methodical about tracking just how little relevance the timetable has to reality:

On Monday, April 28th the week began in a manner prescient for the days to follow …
Arrive at Queen St stop at 08:44. 08:50 #258 listed as 7 mins away – on time then.

  • 0849: 3 mins away…
  • 08:53: The 08:50 #258 simply disappeared off the board. No “C” for cancelled appeared – it was as if the 10 people waiting had somehow missed the bus without noticing. I can assure you, we hadn’t.
  • A #258 bus did pull up after that – but became “out of service”. As an aside, it would be nice if drivers, when approached by people who (reasonably enough) assume it’s their bus arriving, simply say “I’m sorry, I’m not in service”, rather than pointing and snarling “look at the front! Look at the sign”… that they’ve just changed.

Return trip from Dominion Road.

  • Arrive at bus stop at 6:10pm for 6:12pm #258. No sign of it as the clock edges to 6:19, by which time a #267 should be arriving …
  • At 6:35pm, a #258 scheduled for 6:30pm arrives.

Total delay in today’s commute: 33 minutes.

And Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, it’s much the same. Hoorah for the 08:53 from Symonds St on Thursday morning being only 2 minutes behind schedule.

I can only speak for my experience and, indirectly, those people waiting at bus-stops with me – sighing as they check the electronic board showing increasing discrepancies between scheduled and actual arrivals. But extrapolated across the city, how many thousands of residents arrive at work stressed because they’re late, or waste time every day getting to a stop extra early just to compensate for the unreliability of the service? If my experience is reflective of a common one, Auckland has a long way to go to be “the world’s most liveable city”, or its most productive.

Public transport is vital to the functioning of any city. When done well, it’s awesome. In the central city, I love the Link Bus; I’ll likely never drive within the CBD given this awesome (free with HOP card service). For those living further out of the city, I am sure that even if your bus is delayed, motorway bus lanes are still much faster than peak-hour car travel. It’s environmentally preferable. And reduces the need to waste precious land on car-parking.

But, for those of us moving around the city fringes, what can be done to improve services? I know a number of residents who also philosophically would prefer to take the bus (or train, when it’s expanded), but they’ve given up. Are my expectations of reliability unreasonable? Is my experience that the 258 and 267 route buses are routinely delayed by 10+ minutes within AT’s “acceptable” standards?

I’m just not willing to sacrifice 2+ hours a week to standing unproductively in bus shelters; I’m, with regret, off to buy a car.

I look forward to your feedback.
Sincerely,

$20m Dominion Rd Parking Boondoggle

Late last week Auckland Transport put out a press release about the upgrade of Dominion Rd saying that would start as early as September. Here’s the first part of it:

Work on the long awaited upgrade of Dominion Road, one of Auckland’s busiest roads and its second busiest bus route, will go ahead in September, following decisions by Auckland Transport and New Zealand Transport Agency this week, to fund the $66.3 million project.

The project which will transform Dominion Road and the key villages that it serves, will be carried out in stages and is expected to be completed in about mid-2016.

Work on the associated cycle routes on streets paralleling Dominion Road, will start in May and be completed by about October.

This has been greeted by Auckland Transport chairman, Dr Lester Levy, as a red letter day for Auckland and one that the New Zealand Transport Agency has helped to make possible.

Dr Levy says that the improvements to the road will give it the capacity to deliver up to 3 million bus passengers a year to their destinations, quickly and efficiently.

He says that because of the importance of Dominion Road to Auckland’s future public transport systems, with greater walking and cycling options and reduced congestion as part of the mix, Auckland Transport (AT) and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) had collaborated in the planning and funding of the upgrade.

NZTA’s commitment has been vital to an immediate start, Dr Levy says. “Joint planning and coordination has been followed by joint funding by NZTA, who will contribute 53% of the cost. This means we can start the search for tenders immediately.”

It’s great that it the upgrade will be starting soon however the cost of the project caught my attention. The last we had heard, the project including the alternate cycling routes were expected to cost $47 million. I had been meaning to write a post about exactly this and asking how the costs had increased by ~$20 million without anyone knowing however the Herald did just that yesterday morning. I’ve bolded the key part.

Auckland Transport’s cost estimate for upgrading Dominion Rd has ballooned by 40 per cent to $66.3 million.

That compares with $47 million which the council body announced late in 2012, after rethinking a controversial $100 million plan which included 24-hour bus lanes along the full 5km length of the route, with extra room for cyclists as well.

Although there will now be little widening – except to extend bus-lanes along the road’s southern section between the Mt Roskill shops and the Southwestern Motorway – transport planners blame the latest cost blow-out on having to buy more properties than expected and design changes to preserve parking in side streets after public consultation.

That is to compensate for lost parking on Dominion Rd at peak times, to make way for an extension of bus lanes through village centres in Mt Eden, Balmoral and Mt Roskill, communications general manager Wally Thomas said.

I do support the general idea of putting parking on the side streets however $20 million of ratepayer money is an obscene amount to spend to do this. This is even more so seeing as the current plan doesn’t even include making the upgraded bus lanes permanent which potentially means there will still be people parking on Dominion Rd outside of peak hours (some of the released images show this). I’m not sure how many carparks are planned to be built with the property prices that exist in many of these areas $20 million won’t go far. My guess is AT would be lucky to get an extra 100 carparks for that kind of money and what budget did they cut to find that extra $20 million needed?

Dominion Rd design image

What AT are clearly doing is caving into the noisy local retailers who simply don’t get that people buy stuff, not cars. Making it easier for more people to get to their stores should be the primary goal and the most effective way to do that is through the vastly improved bus lanes. Already on Dominion Rd more than half the people at peak times are in a bus and from what I’ve seen (and heard about), buses are often extremely full well outside of peak times. Currently around 1.8 million people use buses and the upgrade is said to have the capacity for up to 3 million trips a year. In contrast a handful of carparks won’t get close to delivering half that many extra people.

And it’s not just us saying this. Research conducted by the NZTA which saw similar results to research overseas found that shoppers who didn’t arrive by car spent more on average than those that did while retailers also tend to overestimate the impact of car parking on their businesses. Unsurprisingly making an area nicer for pedestrians is far more important.

This research project investigated the economic impacts of transport and road space reallocation in shopping areas located in central cities and along major transport corridors in New Zealand. It focused on three research questions. The first being to understand the retail spending of transport users; resulting in data that provides an average $ spent per user and primary mode of transport. The second element focused on identifying the road space allocation and design elements important to retailers and shoppers. Finally, a case study compendium was developed.

The data shows that sustainable transport users account for 40% of the total spend in the shopping areas and account for 37% of all shoppers who completed the survey. The data indicates the pedestrians and cyclists contribute a higher economic spend proportionately to the modal share and are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas.

The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.

In addition to all of this it also shows a lack of faith by Auckland Transport in the increasing quality of the PT system to be useful for a wider variety of trips and in many cases it helps to actively undermine the organisations PT goals. Perhaps it’s decisions like this that go towards AT asking for their targets to be cut on the back of lower than predicted patronage.

Lastly many cyclists have been particularly upset by the “parallel” cycle routes which basically consist of traffic calming local roads. One of the biggest complaints is the windy routes many they take that makes journeys considerably longer than they would be by using Dominion Rd. This is especially the case around King Edward St and Burnley Tce where users are forced to either Sandringham Rd or Dominion Rd. This decision seems to suggest it’s ok to spend millions on buying up houses to provide what will probably be free parking for local businesses but it isn’t ok to do the same to make those alternate cycle routes more viable.

Dom Rd Cycling Network

Dominion Rd upgrade open days

Auckland Transport are holding a couple of open days on their plans for Dominion Rd (first one this evening)

Feedback sought on detailed designs for Dominion Road Upgrade

Auckland Transport (AT) is planning a major upgrade of Dominion Road, for which detailed designs are being shared with the public at two open days this week.

The open days are being held tomorrow Thursday 10 April, 3.30pm to 7pm, at the Auckland Deaf Society clubrooms at 164 Balmoral Road in Mt Eden; and on Saturday 12 April, 10am to 1pm, at the Dominion Road Primary School hall on Quest Terrace in Mt Roskill.

Public feedback will be used to fine-tune the design before construction starts in spring this year. The feedback period closes on 30 April 2014.

The Dominion Road Upgrade is designed to bring many improvements – particularly in regards to pedestrian and cycle safety and public transport reliability – to those living, working and travelling along or near this key arterial route.

Dominion Road is vital to Auckland’s public transport network and carries about 1.8 million bus passengers a year. It is one of the few transport corridors in the city where there are more bus passengers than drivers in peak hours.

The upgrade will increase the route’s capacity to deal with an expected 67 per cent growth in bus travellers by 2021. Continuous peak hour bus lanes (northbound 7am to 9am and southbound 4pm to 6pm) will be introduced on Dominion Road from State Highway 20 in the south to View Road in the north. Parking will be available on these bus lanes outside of peak hours. The upgrade will also see bus stops located at 400m intervals, which means pedestrians are always within a four minutes walk of a bus stop once on Dominion Road.

The three village centres of Eden Valley, Balmoral and Mt Roskill will be upgraded with new trees, lighting, artwork, seating and pedestrian improvements. The design has some elements consistent across the three centres but also emphasises the distinctive character of each village through the use of individual colours, patterns and plant species.

Village upgrades will include new footpaths, attractive landscaping, new seating and bike stands, improved lighting, planted rain gardens to reduce surface flooding and remove pollutants, additional stormwater bores to reduce run-off, and pedestrian-priority crossing and raised median to improve road safety. There are some proposed changes to the current on-street parking and loading areas along Dominion Road and some of the adjacent side streets to enable the upgrade to occur, and AT welcomes feedback on these plans also.

Implementation of the specially-marked cycle routes, to be created through quieter streets to the east and west of Dominion Road, is expected to start in May, prior to the main upgrade, and take about six months to complete.

The cycle routes will traverse about 12km long and are designed to make cycling an attractive, easier and safer option for the local community, in particular the area’s 12,000 school pupils, and will provide good connections to the area’s parks and 16 local schools.

Albert-Eden Local Board Chair, Peter Haynes says “We aim to upgrade the road without detracting from the colour and character that have made this one of Auckland’s best-loved streets,”

“It’s a special road, celebrated in song and remembered with fondness by many Aucklanders.  I can’t wait to see the major improvements to pedestrian safety, to the new cycleways that offer safer alternative routes, and greater public transport on the road.  We’ll be listening hard to what locals and local businesses have to say,” says Dr Haynes.

Julie Fairey, Chair of the Puketapapa Local Board says “The board is looking forward to collaborating with Auckland Transport and the local community to identify the elements of the much-needed upgrade at the Roskill Village shops.  We’ll be working alongside the improvements made through the Dominion Road Project to make some specific investments to revitalise the business area, which has much to commend it but is often overlooked because it has become run-down.”

More information on the Dominion Road Upgrade can be found online at www.at.govt.nz/dominion

I can’t make the open days but I am looking forward to seeing the designs. My biggest concern at this stage is that there is no proposed change to the times the bus lanes operate. The morning is probably fine but I frequently hear about buses in the evenings leaving town packed with people and getting stuck in traffic due to parked cars.

Speaking of parking, in light of the other demands on Dominion Rd, it seems odd that AT are also consulting on extending the amount of time people are allowed to park on the road in village centres.

Auckland Transport (AT) has been working with the Albert-Eden and Puketapapa local boards and the Eden-Valley Business Association on ways to improve parking throughout Dominion Road and the village centres of Eden Valley, Balmoral and Mt Roskill.

The existing short-stay parking restrictions of 30 minutes or less do not provide a sufficient amount of time to support the main retail and commercial activities. In addition, the current range of parking restrictions can be confusing and results in an excessive number of parking signs in a relatively small area.

In order to address this issue, AT is proposing to install a 60-minute parking zone (P60) throughout the main village centres. This proposal involves changing the existing on-street parking restrictions, which will reduce the number of signs and different restrictions. The type of signage used to describe those restrictions will change also.

The village centres are important and AT should probably change how they manage parking on side streets however they need to be removing parking from Dominion Rd.

Dominion Rd parallel cycle routes get NZTA Funding

Some good news today that the NZTA have agreed to pay for just over half of the project to create cycle routes parallel to Dominion Rd.

The NZ Transport Agency has approved $3.2m in funding to extend Auckland’s cycling network.

The money will be used to construct cycle routes on less busy suburban streets that run parallel and adjacent to Dominion Road, one of Auckland’s busiest arterial links between the CBD and suburbs on the western side of the city and Auckland International Airport.

The Transport Agency’s funding is a 53 percent share of a $6.1m project led by Auckland Transport to provide 5-and-a-half-kilometres of cycleway on the parallel routes either side of Dominion Road.

The Regional Manager for the Transport Agency’s Planning and Investment Group, Peter Casey, says key considerations behind the Agency’s decision to provide funding include the benefits the project will deliver in terms of safety and travel choices for people.

“The Transport Agency is committed to reducing traffic congestion by providing options so that people don’t have to rely on using cars,” Mr Casey says. “The new routes will encourage more people to cycle. They will be available for less confident cyclists as an alternative to the more challenging Dominion Road, and by the large number of children living in the area.”

Auckland Transport says the funding decision is an important step for the project.

“It’s great that we can get worked started on this project,” says Auckland Transport’s Manager Community Transport, Matthew Rednall. “These are important links for growing cycling for Auckland, and for providing cycling facilities between schools and local communities.”

Construction is due to start later this year. The project includes safety upgrades at intersections, improved lighting and signage, and construction of speed humps and “islands” to slow motorised traffic.

The cycle routes are part of a much wider AT project to upgrade Dominion Road itself, which is also supported by the Transport Agency to help improve Auckland’s public transport system. 

I know this has been a fairly controversial project amongst many in the cycling community who want to see dedicated cycle infrastructure on Dominion Rd. AT say it was dropped as an option as much of Dominion Rd would have needed to be widened to accommodate it at a cost of up to $50 million. The parallel routes involve a mix of

  • New traffic lights at major intersections.
  • Destination signage.
  • Raised tables and other measures to slow vehicle traffic.
  • New sections of shared paths or widening paths.
  • New links between streets for cyclists and pedestrians.

You can see the proposed designs on this page.

Dom Rd Cycling Network

To me the biggest area that really needs to be addressed is on the eastern route at King Edward St/Burnley Tce where riders are forced to either Sandringham Rd or Dominion Rd due to there being no through route but that is something that is unlikely to be cheap either. One other small benefit of this approach is at least this part of the project appears to be starting as soon rather than having to wait for the rest of the upgrade works to happen.

Highway Teardowns

Location of freeway, Harbor Drive, Portland

Location of former freeway, Harbor Drive, Portland

Unfortunately, while freeways did provide vehicular access to downtown, they also disrupted the existing urban grid and street system. Freeways severed local commercial activity from customers, and many once vibrant streets now stand with shuttered businesses and negligible street activity. -Mayor’s Innovation Project

It is conventional wisdom that motorways or other high capacity, limited access roads have no place in productive urban environments. Increasingly, cities across the globe are pursuing projects which attempt to mitigate the problems and re-insert a transport structure that supports local accessibility and high value land use outcomes. In addition to the famous tear out projects in Portland (above), San Francisco and Cheonggyecheon, there are also dozens of other cities that are pursuing flyover teardowns, motorway caps, freeways-to-boulevard solutions, and in cases total removals.

A recent publication by the Mayor’s Innovation Project, Rethinking the Urban Freeway (PDF) gives a nice synopsis of the rationale behind motorway removals including the opportunity costs of motorways which  “occupy valuable land without paying taxes; reduce the value of nearby properties; and reduce quality of life in nearby neighbourhoods.”

Matt’s recent post Guess where this is?  showed a stark depiction of our own transport legacy. Here’s another look at the area using a figure/foreground diagram showing the disruption of the urban fabric caused by both the CMJ motorway and the Dominion Rd Flyover.

Figure/Field Diagram, Auckland

Figure/Field Diagram, Auckland

Below is a look at the same area using a diagram to illustrate intersection density. Intersection density is a useful tool to quantify the viability and walkability of a neighbourhood. In Julie Campoli’s new book Made for Walking she uses the same technique to demonstrate that all walkable and successful neighbourhoods have a high concentration of intersections that support movement choice. The drawing shows intersections in red which allow turning options (dark red showing 3 choices,  light red 2), and the black dots depict places where intersections have been cauterized by motorway-type roads.

Not made for walking: intersections removed

Not made for walking: intersections removed

We know that land value and productivity reach extreme levels in the city centre. The CMJ and the Dominion Road Flyover have almost completely disconnected Eden Terrace from the city centre causing a radical (and unnatural) devaluation of land. So while Eden Terrace, Grafton and Freemans Bay are ‘close’ to the city, the urban transport structure defeats the advantages of proximity. The relationship between urban proximity and land value is still  based on an urban structure of ‘cityness’ which is largely influenced by walkability and accessibility to local places and services.

Here’s a look at the disurban environment of Eden Terrace. Not only is the area now disconnected from the city and its associated value but the resulting road structure tends to concentrate through traffic further isolating the remaining bits into a sort of archipelago.

IMG_2061

Dominion Road Flyover wasteland

add

Dominion Road overkill

Eden Terrace, disconnected and devalued

Finally, here’s a recent video describing the progress of some tear out projects in America.

Should we build a station at Dominion Rd?

My fellow bloggers and I were having an interesting – and unresolved – debate over the weekend that I thought probably deserved a post. The debate was about whether we should build a train station on the Western line at Dominion Rd. I’m going to go through some of the pros and cons of the idea.

Build it

After the CRL has been completed, Mt Eden station is almost certainly not going to be needed unless we start running some peak only services from the west to Newmarket – but that is a debate for another post entirely. That would means for someone heading towards the city the first stop after Kingsland would be the new Newton station which would have an entrance roughly opposite the intersection of Mt Eden Rd and New North Rd. This has the impact of shifting the station entrance further north by ~400m meaning some people who are currently within easy walking distance of the train station will no longer be. That in itself probably isn’t such an issue as not many people currently use Mt Eden station and it is near the bottom of the list in terms of boardings due to being less frequent and direct compared the two bus routes of Dominion Rd and Mt Eden Rd.

However I’m sure any Dominion Rd bus user will be quick to point out that with the exception of a few express services, Dominion Rd isn’t as direct as it could be. Most buses take a detour down View Rd and Esplanade Rd before joining Mt Eden Rd to head towards the CBD. By comparison car drivers race (and they do) down Ian McKinnon Dr towards the CBD. However Ian McKinnon Dr didn’t always exist prior to that (and even after the motorway style interchange was built) the only route was up New North Rd and down Symonds St. I have heard the Dominion Rd buses and other traffic were diverted to View Rd to enable construction of the interchange but the buses were left there once it was finished, out of the way of the car drivers.

The question some have raised is whether we should change how Dominion Rd buses work and instead of sending them via the current route, if we should instead send them down Ian McKinnon Dr and Queen St to their destination. This is a similar route to what some of the express buses do. The advantage of this is that Dominion Rd users going to the CBD would get a much faster travel time but the downside it there would be effectively no opportunities for interaction with other routes (link excepted) until the buses reach Wellesley St. For the new network which is based around the idea that by accepting transfers for some journeys, we can vastly improve the reach and quality of the frequent bus network that could be a serious an issue.

As such a station where Dominion Rd crosses the rail line could be extremely useful as a transfer point on the network. It would give people coming particularly from the west an easy way to transfer onto Dominion Rd services. People from the Dominion Rd area travelling to places like Orakei could also benefit through a quick connection to a train on the eastern line. Due to the road and massive interchange I’m guessing any station would need to be to either the east or west of Dominion Rd rather than directly under it – although more on that soon. To give an idea, these boxes show roughly where it could happen.

Dominion Rd Station location

Personally I lean towards it being on the western side as on the eastern side it might be quite tight between the over bridge and the CRL portals. Of course the western side might invoke the memory of the Inner West Interchange that was proposed as part of the CRL however that was proposed as a four track station to be used to turn trains around and has since been removed from the project. This would be a simple station with side platforms so quite different.

One of the other potential benefits is it could potentially provide rail network overage to the areas North-west and South-east of the interchange which are currently just outside easy walking distance to either Kingsland or Newton stations. The lines on the map below radiate represent how far someone can walk up to 900m from a station entrance with each progressively darker colour representing another 150m and showing those areas not covered.

Kingsland and Newton Station access

In terms of the number of people that might benefit by now being really close to a train station, it might shift 2,500-3,000 people into that category which is good however many of  those are already fairly close to Kingland or Newton anyway so not all are an addition to the rail network catchment. Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities to get more people in the area would be to actually take down the interchange and return it to a normal intersection and in the process possibly freeing up as much as 30,000m² that could be used for redevelopment. That would help in significantly humanising the area as well as probably helping to address housing supply issues. If built at the same time, the station may be able to be put partially under the road over bridge.

Overall I would say the primary benefits of such a suggestion are to Dominion Rd bus users (for the quicker trips to town), the wider PT network from having additional connections and the redevelopment opportunities if we were to remove the interchange

Don’t build it

Obviously the other side of the argument is the idea that we shouldn’t build it. This comes about for a few key reasons and the first one is due to time.

From what I’ve seen the western line acts quite differently to the rest of the rail network in that has many more people who use stations all along the network for trips i.e. Glen Eden to Mt Albert. This is in contrast to the rest of the rail network on which patronage is almost exclusively CBD focused. Even so the vast majority of people using the western line are heading to the CBD, Newmarket or Grafton and as such the peak loading point – the place on the line where trains are carrying the most people – tends to be east of Kingsland. With the CRL the CBD focused trips are likely to increase substantially due to the much faster journey times the CRL provides.

Even with our new much faster electric trains, every time one needs to stop at a station it will add about 1 minute to the journey time after the time spent decelerating, dwelling at the station and then accelerating back up to speed. This is important as it means if we were to build a Dominion Rd station the majority of western line passengers are going to be held up and over lots of people, that will quickly add up. In reality this time could add up even higher as one of the most annoying features of the Western line is its very close station spacing meaning trains act almost like a slightly beefed up local bus service. This close spacing means trains often aren’t able to reach their full speed and speed is one of the biggest advantages the Rapid Transit Network is meant to have. A station at Dominion Rd would be roughly 900m from both Kingsland and Newton.

Inner West Station spacing

The next major thing against a Dominion Rd station is that not all stations are created equal. As with the walking distance map earlier in the post, there are a number of people who would be technically closer to a Dominion Rd station but who would choose to walk further to use the Newton one instead. The reason for this is that Newton would offer a greater choice of services as it would be served by all lines and even if just being used to head down the hill to the CBD, Newton would have higher frequencies. In effect Newton will have a much greater pull than Dominion Rd does.

In addition on the surface Newton would also serve as an interchange with buses heading down Sandringham, Mt Eden Rd and New North Rd so could very much turn into a bit of a transport hub. This would further increase the pull of Newton. Arguably while using Ian McKinnon Dr is faster, there is much greater benefit to be had by continuing to send Dominion Rd buses via the route they currently use (or via New North Rd) and therefore being able to link all of these various services together. It would also help if when building the CRL we also built a decent surface level bus interchange in the area.

Lastly there isn’t any reason why the removal of the interchange and redevelopment of the land around it couldn’t happen with this scenario too. The catchment of both Kingsland and Newton stations could also both be helped by a few pedestrian connections which would extend the reach slightly and with the plethora of buses through the area there is a lot of frequency and connectivity on offer.

I favour not building it but what do you think?

Then & Now: Dominion Rd & Balmoral Rd, 192? v 2013

Dominion Rd (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A10950)

Dominion Rd (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A10950)

Dominion Rd. 2013

Dominion Rd. 2013

Inspired by Los Angeles Metro’s blog series Then & Now, here is a look at the intersection of Balmoral Rd and Dominion Rd. The historic image is sourced from the Auckland Council Heritage Image collection, and identifies the following businesses:

…showing the premises of Mrs Porter, Dressmaker and Fancy Goods (right);from left in Balmoral Road to Dominion Road: Balmoral Soda Fountain and Confectionery; Powells Prams; Boot Repairer (Charles Leonard); Staceys Cake Specials; Capitol Theatre on Dominion Road.

What’s changed? There is considerable erosion in this area from road widening.  As many as ten buildings were removed from three of the four corners leaving swirling slip lanes and leftover green space. Today the area consists of restaurants and a few local services such as a dairy and dry cleaner. The Capitol Theatre was re-opened in 2009.

The tram lines have been removed, but the urban structure of this historic neighbourhood supports some of  the highest levels of PT patronage in the city. On weekdays there are more people in buses moving down this street than there are cars.

The Mt Roskill Spur

One project on our Congestion Free Network that appears to have caught the attention of a few people has been what we call the Mt Roskill Spur. We’ve been getting some queries about it like what it is, why have it on the CFN and how much does it cost. The purpose of this post is to hopefully answer those questions. You can see it on the map below.

CFN Mt Roskill Spur

What is it?

This is the easiest of the questions to answer. It’s a short railway line that comes off the Western line between the Mt Albert and Avondale stations and ends at Mt Roskill. It would have two stations, one at Owairaka and one at Mt Roskill.

Why have it on the CFN?

Before I answer this question let’s take a quick history lesson.

Back in the 1940′s after World War 2 Auckland was starting to develop quite quickly and this was a time well before we started building our first motorway. At the time a huge amount of freight was being moved around the country by rail and that was only expected to increase. Likewise with the city growing it was realised by the railways that there was a strong possibility that there would be increases in passenger trains within the region (early incarnations of the CRL had been talked about since the 1920′s). It was realised that the growth, would put a lot of pressure on the Newmarket junction. In addition the tracks on the inner sections of both the western and southern lines are quite steep which is not ideal for hauling heavy freight trains up in a hurry.

They realised that to get freight trains destined or arriving from north across the city it would be increasingly difficult and so in the late 1940′s designated a route known as the Avondale-Southdown line. The intention was to enable trains to bypass Newmarket by cutting across the lower section of the isthmus. The designation for the line is in blue on the map below but of course was never built.

CFN Avondale-Southdown Line

You can also quite clearly see some elements of the designation in the councils GIS maps. One of the best examples is at the Avondale end where the land for the junction with the western line is clearly visible by looking at the property boundaries. I have highlighted in the image below and just in case you’re not completely familiar with it, the building with the large roof is the Pak n Save on New North Rd.

CFN Mt Roskill Spur Junction

Building the line has appeared on a quite a number of documents over the years and most recently has included the Auckland Plan and as such has been included in the Integrated Transport Programme however it is considered a third decade project i.e. sometime between 2031 and 2041. The plans do list it as being on the future Rapid Transit Network meaning it is intended to eventually carry passengers however I’ll come back to that point shortly.

Of course the line is yet to be built however within the last decade the NZTA and its predecessors have been busy “completing the motorway network” and SH20 has been extended from Hillsborough through to Maioro St with the Waterview Connection project being the piece that will like SH20 with SH16. Because the rail designation already existed it made sense for the road builders to future proof what they were doing – which was probably helped along by the fact they needed to use some of the rail designation. The short version is that as such the bridges that cross the motorway through this part have also been designed with the rail line in mind and in almost all cases the extra span is already in place just waiting for a rail line to be installed underneath it. This is perhaps most clear at Maioro St (below) where you can see the spans for the motorway between the on/off ramps while there is a completely separate span for the future rail line.

CFN - Maioro St

Because the most of the motorway bridges have already been built it means that there is much less to do if we do ever decide to build the line. That should save a heap of money and time in the long run which is always a good thing. There are two bridges which have not yet been built, one is Richardson Rd while the other is Dominion Rd. Adding the already completed bridges to that the fact that Kiwirail already own most of the corridor and it means that it should bring down the cost of  building the line substantially although admittedly I’m no engineer. The Road crossings that would need to be addressed to enable a train service like we proposed would be New North Rd and Richardson Rd.

So why the spur?

Well if you look at the second image you can see that to get back to down to sea level from Hillsborough the rail line curves and weaves through the suburbs to the north of Onehunga, well away from the existing rail network. Further while the line is designated and Kiwirail own many if not all of the properties needed, I personally can’t see the residents of these houses being all keen on a rail line going in nearby and I can see them fighting any construction regardless.

Other plans have suggested that the route down to Onehunga might follow SH20 all the way however getting down from Hillsborough is extremely steep dropping by about 60m over 1.5km which would probably be far too much for trains to handle. Further designing and designating a new route down to Onehunga is likely to take an extremely long time and cost a lot of money. So the question we asked is whether there is anything we can do to make use of at least parts of the existing designation without having to wait for the whole thing to be completed. The Mt Roskill Spur was the answer.

What benefits does it have?

There’s no point in building something just for the sake of it and so the next question is if there is any logic in building this line. We think there is. There are a number of different options for how we run trains after the CRL has been completed and one of the options is a three line system where each of the long lines (West from Swanson, South from Papakura, East from Manukau) are paired up with a short run elsewhere on the network. One of the key reasons for this is that joining long lines together (say west and south) makes for a very long route which can suffer from reliability problems as delays can be amplified along the route.

The long and short pairing helps address that somewhat while also being useful in providing additional services on the inner sections of each of the lines which is where the most passenger demand is going to be. The Onehunga line already serves this function on the southern line. This extra capacity is likely to be especially important on the inner western line which would suddenly become much closer to the CBD following the completion of the CRL and likely to see a significant boost in patronage. So it effectively helps to balance out the rail network while also providing additional capacity on the existing lines. You can see that AT has been thinking about exactly this from this image on their CRL page which shows the rail network as a three track system. We’re suggesting sending either the red or green route to Mt Roskill.

The second and most obvious benefit is that it would provide two new stations on the network in what are fairly residential areas and the land surrounding the proposed Owairaka station (which would be between Richardson Rd and Maioro St) has zoned to allow for a town centre and the surrounding area has a decent amount of Terraced House and Apartment zoning in the Unitary Plan. It is one of the higher density zoned places in the old Auckland City area (should have been a lot more).

CFN - Owairaka Zoning

 There are also some potentially large benefits to buses. We already know that the Dominion Rd buses can get very busy at peak times and it is one of the most popular routes in the city. These routes are only like to get busier in the future as PT becomes more useful overall. Yet at the same time we know from the City Centre Future Access Study that space within the CBD is going to be extremely constrained due to the number of buses from other areas. That is after-all one of the key reasons for needing the CRL.

This spur helps to improve that situation as the two stations are passed by three different Frequent bus routes (two on Dominion Rd and one on Sandringham Rd). While the rail network goes in the “wrong direction” for a little bit, it will likely be slightly faster from Dominion Rd through to the centre of the CBD so that gives bus passengers the option of a quick transfer to the rail network for a faster journey. Not all will do that but it is likely some will and combined with the patronage from those living in the vicinity of the stations are likely to reduce the pressure on buses, especially on Dominion Rd meaning more space on them for people closer to town.

Some have asked why not extend the line all the way Hayr Rd which also carries a frequent bus route. That could be done perhaps a bit later however by my calculations the rail network isn’t as competitive from a time perspective and there would be the added cost to get the line under Dominion Rd. The map below shows the proposed frequent routes in the area.

CFN - New bus network interaction

So hopefully I’ve managed to explain why it is potentially such a useful but of course the cost is the big question.

How much does it cost?

This is the area where we have had to speculate the most however here are some estimates.

Railway Junction – The Newmarket junction was recently upgraded at a cost of about $50 million however that is much more complex that what is needed here. We’ve estimated $25 million.

New North Rd – This would have to be grade separated so once again we have allowed $25 million for this.

Richardson Rd – While the rail span hasn’t been built yet, it has been designed for so can probably can be done for $10 million or less.

Stations – We don’t envisage the two stations needing to be major ones like say New Lynn or Newmarket but a typical suburban station instead so probably $5m each so $10 million combined.

Tracks – Because the corridor already exists and has been grade separated we expect that the tracks should be able to be laid much cheaper (per km) than other projects. The complete rebuild of the Onehunga branch was in the vicinity of $10 million while the new Manukau branch cost $50 including the station in a trench. As such we think it should cost ~$80 million.

All up that gives us a cost of about $150 million.

I think the rail spur proposed above would be a very useful addition to our network after the CRL is constructed. Not only would it be fairly quick and easy to construct, it would also offer a speed advantage over catching the bus (and probably driving) for those currently living in the southern part of the Auckland isthmus and it would help ease pressure on the need for us to keep adding more and more bus services, by shifting those trips to rail. It would also be likely to significantly ease congestion along both Sandringham and Dominion Roads if the service was attractive enough. A pretty useful “low hanging fruit” I think.

avondale-mtroskill

More details on Dominion Rd released

Auckland Transport have released more details about the proposed upgrade to Dominion Rd along with proposed cycling routes that will be roughly parallel to it.

As part of the Dominion Road upgrade, new cycle routes will be created through quieter streets parallel to Dominion Road to provide connectivity between State Highway 20 and the City Centre.

The proposed routes are designed to make cycling an attractive, easy, and safe transport and recreation option for communities around the Dominion Road corridor and will provide local connections to schools and parks.

They will improve safety for cyclists by;

  • Providing consistent destination signage and clear road markings
  • Slowing vehicle traffic through installing new traffic calming measures
  • Removing pinch points by widening footpaths or creating shared paths
  • Providing lighting through local parks

Those affected are invited to come and find out more about the proposed cycle routes, talk to our planners and give us feedback to be used in the detailed design.

These public days will be held on

Tuesday 23 July, 3.30 to 7pm at Deaf Society, 164 Balmoral Rd, Mt Eden.

Thursday 25 July, 3.30pm to 7pm at Dominion Road School, Quest Terrace, Mt Roskill.

Obviously one of those dates has passed but if you want more information then see if you can make it to the event tomorrow. They have also released this overview of the works they plan to undertake which includes all of the measures planned for the cycling routes.

Dominion Rd Overview

The need for a connection between Burnley Tce and King Edward Street becomes so apparent when you look at it on a map like this. I’m not sure when feedback closes so make sure you get some in if you are interested or affected by this project.

You may also see from the image above (and on the full map) that the bus stops are fairly well defined. As part of the project Auckland Transport are looking to rationalise these so they are no longer so close together. It will mean that some people have to walk a little bit further but will also mean that buses will have faster journeys from not having to stop so often.

Currently, bus stops are generally located at 200m to 400m intervals. The project proposes to consistently have bus stops along the corridor at 400m intervals, which means pedestrians are within four minutes walk of a bus stop once on Dominion Rd.

The proposal seeks to ensure that bus stops are located as close as possible to the village centres to emphasise their importance as a destination. The exact location of each bus stop is still to be determined and the public will be able to give feedback on bus stop locations during the detailed design phase.

The map below gives an indication as to the locations compared with what exists now. One of the features of the map above and below is the suggestion that of a higher quality type of bus stop in key locations. This sounds like a good idea to really help highlight the main locations along a route, especially those bus stops that will act as transfer locations.

Dominion Rd proposed bus stops

Personally I think the proposal seems fairly good but it is bound to upset some people.

Funding approved for Dominion Rd design

An interesting press release came out from the NZTA today.

NZTA funds support upgrade of busy Auckland commuter route

The NZ Transport Agency has approved $1.14m in funding to help in the design of a significant upgrade of one of Auckland’s busiest commuters routes to improve travel for bus passengers to and from the CBD.

The $1.14m is a 53 percent share of a $2.16m design project led by Auckland Transport to improve a 4.2 kilometre-long public transport corridor along Dominion Road, a key section of the bus route between Auckland International Airport and the central city.

The Regional Manager of the NZTA’s Planning and Investment group, Peter Casey, says the NZTA has identified the Dominion Road upgrade as a strategic project to help improve Auckland’s public transport system.

“Supporting Auckland Transport and Auckland Council deliver key projects like this has winning advantages for people. They get more choices about how they travel, and improvements in public transport will help reduce the number of cars on roads and motorways and ease congestion,” Mr Casey says.

The design phase of the project will take about a year. In that time, plans and costs for the upgrade will be finalised. The key feature of the project will be an extension of dedicated bus lanes already in place along Dominion Road. The upgrade is planned to deliver several benefits for people:-

  • More frequent buses and a two minute reduction in journey times along the road
  • Increase the number of people using buses during peak hours by 82%
  • reduce the number of people travelling by car during peak hours by 20%
  • provide parallel cycle routes to make cycling safer

Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy welcomes the NZTA’s funding announcement.

“Dominion Road is one of Auckland’s iconic roads and Auckland Transport is delighted to have received NZTA funding to enable us to move into the detailed design stage of the project. Once complete, the Dominion Road upgrade will see bus services improved, village centres upgraded and through the parallel cycle routes, improved safety for cyclists travelling to and from the City,” Dr Levy says.

Mr Casey says support for this first stage of the upgrade complements other public transport projects the NZTA helps fund like the improvements to the city’s rail system and the introduction of integrated ticketing.

In the three years between 2012/15, $3.4b will be invested in the Auckland region’s transport systems through the National Land Transport Programme. The NLTP is a funding partnership between the NZTA and local authorities like Auckland Transport and Auckland Council. The region’s committed and recommended investment includes $1.6b for state highways, $968m for local roads and $890m for public transport. The investment includes funding for Dominion Road when re-construction of the route starts.

There were two things that caught my attention. Firstly let me say that this is a positive thing but I found it odd as I can’t recall ever seeing a press release from the NZTA about funding the design stage of a local project before. The funding agreement usually goes on behind the scenes and the agency doesn’t make a song and dance about it. In fact for a local project, it is normally Auckland Transport that makes the announcement and a brief mention is made of the funding arrangement. This makes me worry that perhaps this announcement is just a PT washing exercise. Of course it could be the start of the agency communicating more but time will tell.

The second and perhaps more important thing that caught my attention was impact that this project is likely to have on public transport. When the current incarnation of the project was announced last year, some of the key features were that the bus lanes would be extended through intersections rather than stopping short like they currently do.

This release suggests that those extended bus lanes will take two minutes off the journey time along the road which is according to the current timetables, a reduction of around 7% (current trip time is listed as 30 minutes). Even more impressive is the suggested increase in peak bus patronage of 82%. I’m not sure what time period that is over but it is a fairly massive increase. Dominion Rd is without a doubt already our best bus corridor outside of the Northern Busway. At peak times the bus lanes are moving far more people than the general traffic lanes do and that will obviously only continue to increase. To put things in perspective, Dominion Rd buses move about the same amount of people as the Northern Express does.

Future Mt Roskill

This upgrade will likely only continue to cement Dominion Rd as one of the most prominent PT routes in the city.