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.
This upgrade will likely only continue to cement Dominion Rd as one of the most prominent PT routes in the city.
A week or so ago I wrote a post about how I think we can make sense out of ferries in the mix of Auckland’s public transport system. I think my key conclusion was that ferries do make sense in certain locations and we should try to take advantage of where they do make sense rather than pushing new routes all the time. Another piece of the public transport jigsaw puzzle is light-rail (or trams). In a number of ways light-rail is actually quite similar to ferries – it has its ardent supporters, it’s pretty expensive (although more in terms of capex while ferries are expensive in terms of opex) yet it also probably makes sense in some circumstances.
Let’s look at those circumstances, firstly by seeing what light-rail’s general advantages and disadvantages are compared to other modes. This is reasonably well summarised in a useful Australian Transport Study that highlights the importance of mode-neutrality when assessing transport projects (in other words, finding the best solution and recognising that all modes have a role to play in the right circumstances):Definitions of different modes is a much debated area, particularly when we’re discussing the “in between” modes of bus rapid transit and light-rail. In my mind there’s effectively a gradation of different types of both technologies – ranging from both buses and trams running in mixed traffic right through to Northern Busway style style bus operations or completed grade separated light-rail.
My general opinion is that in mixed traffic there’s little, if any, advantage to be had from running a tram or light-rail vehicle compared to a bus – as the capacity of the corridor is not determined by the vehicle itself but by the amount of congestion in that lane. At the other end of the scale once we’re talking about full grade separation it seems that light-rail once again doesn’t offer too many advantages over either a busway (which will be a cheaper) or heavy rail (which may be of similar cost but will have much higher capacity). Vancouver Skytrain style light-metro systems are a different issue entirely and have been covered extensively previously in posts that I’ve made.
The most obvious improvement to make as bus patronage grows along a route (or where there’s potential for fairly high bus patronage) is to install a bus lane. By separating the buses from general traffic, the capacity of the lane increases pretty dramatically while reliability and speeds of the bus services also improve a lot. With bus lanes being cheap and quick to implement, in the vast majority of situations probably the most important thing we can do to improve our public transport infrastructure is through extended, new and improved bus lanes.
However bus lanes only suffice up to a certain level of use – something which in many ways was the key finding of the City Centre Future Access Study’s Deficiency Analysis. In terms of buses per hour this is shown below:
Once you start to push the limit of a bus lane the results are fairly ugly:Before I go on to discuss the different options for what to do when a bus lane hits capacity I think it’s worth noting the difference between high frequency bus corridors where a large number of buses converge on a particular street (think Symonds Street or Fanshawe Street) compared to a high frequency bus corridor where frequencies are high of a single route (think Dominion Road north of Mt Roskill). Analysis tends to suggest that simply adding more and more buses in the latter situation hits a limit where it’s not really adding much value anymore as the buses tend to get in each other’s way as they’re all trying to do the same thing but not achieving it particularly well. Of course you can run local/express splits to reduce this problem but once again eventually you’ll hit a wall.
Now moving on, once a basic bus lane no longer has sufficient capacity there are a few options for what you can do about it – and the right solution is likely to depend on the circumstance:
- Upgrade to a higher-quality BRT bus based system. This could involve median bus lanes, a semi-grade separated median busway (like proposed for AMETI) or a full grade separated busway (like the Northern Busway between Akoranga and Constellation).
- Build heavy rail. This could involve a new line completely or extensions to existing lines. It could be underground, at grade or elevated.
- Build light-rail. In this scenario I’m thinking about something that runs at street level in its own lanes but isn’t grade separated at intersections.
What’s probably going to make or break which of the three solutions above is most appropriate will be a number of criteria – the most important in my mind being the level of additional capacity required, the nature of existing infrastructure and the land-use impacts of the option. Oh, and of course the cost. Let’s explore this with a few case studies.
In the case of the City Rail Link project, future growth in public transport demand to the city centre effectively overwhelms the bus network (and the rail network at a later date) requiring something to happen in order to retain high quality access to Auckland’s city centre and around the region. Enhanced bus solutions don’t really work because our existing infrastructure only has a busway to the north whereas railway lines spread out west, east and south – as well as not working due to the capacity required (which would take away too much road space to provide for with buses alone) and also the land-use impact (widened approach roads throughout the isthmus). Light-rail doesn’t really work either as it’s of insufficient capacity and doesn’t integrate with the existing infrastructure.
In the case of the AMETI busway corridor, heavy rail is probably cost-prohibitive due to the need to get across the Tamaki River, while light-rail gets stuck between the need for a lot of feeder buses into Botany and then heavy rail connections at Panmure and Ellerslie at the route’s potential other end. In this situation the busway makes pretty good sense.
In the case of Dominion Road’s long term future, things start to get interesting. Because of the corridor’s significant heritage and character value, large-scale widening for a massively upgraded bus solution is unlikely to ever be feasible. Even widening the existing bus lanes outside the retail centres along the route proved to be impossible to make ‘stack up’. Heavy rail is clearly infeasible at street level or elevated and is almost certainly cost prohibitive underground – so light rail starts to look like it could be worth exploring further. Further potential aspects in favour of light-rail on Dominion Road include its huge potential as a high-intensity mixed-use corridor where amenity of the street environment is important as a shaper of land-use patterns. Plus the route is potentially well anchored at the city end by putting the tracks down Queen Street (probably via Ian McKinnon Drive) and at the southern end by a future rail station/bus hub – so it’s likely to be a single route without any deviations or branches.
Perhaps in summary we can try to distill a clear rationale behind situations where light-rail might make sense for Auckland. I think it’s in situations where demand along a single corridor (rather than where a number of corridors come together) can no longer be efficiently provided for by standard bus lanes and where land-use factors make either enhanced bus priority options or heavy rail infeasible or cost-prohibitive.
In my mind this is a fairly difficult test to pass and I don’t actually think any corridor in Auckland at the moment (perhaps except for Queen Street) would fit the criteria. This will probably annoy some, who want to run trams everywhere and anywhere, including seemingly with mixed traffic along Ponsonby Road. It might annoy others who think that light-rail is an expensive folly which doesn’t make any sense in Auckland. If I annoy both sides of the debate then I’ve probably got it just about right.
We talk a lot about trying to improve our city and on of the most common things is about making things better for pedestrians. Invariably that tends to involve doing things that reduce or even remove the vast amount of priority that we have given to vehicles, particularly parking, through improvements like shared spaces and street upgrades. The latest upgrades to be announced were a few days ago for Dominion Rd. One thing that really frustrates me when we talk about street upgrades though is the reaction that comes from business owners to theses suggestions.
Dominion Rd is one of those places that has planned to be upgraded for years, the previous incarnation of the plan came out in 2010 and one of the main reasons it never went forward as suggested was that it proposed to remove all on street car parks. The local businesses in particular were incensed about this and even though more parking was going to be added to some of the nearby side streets to make up for it, they claimed it would kill their businesses. Of course they are happy with the current proposal that retains on street parking, the Herald reports today:
Dominion Road Business Association chairman Chris Hammonds says at the moment buses have to merge back into traffic because the lanes are not continuous.
He says the upgrade is good news for both bus passengers and motorists.
Chris Hammonds says bus lanes that run 24 hours per day, seven days per week, would cripple business along the road.
He says keeping the lanes only operating at peaks times will ensure customers are still able to park near the shops they want to go to.
What these people continually fail to realise is that it is not cars that go shopping, it is people. I don’t know a single person who would expect to go to a shop on Dominion Rd, or pretty much any road for that matter, who expects to be able to get a car park right outside of the shop they are going to. The key for these people to improve their businesses is to not only provide things that people want but to get more people going past their doors. More people will equal more sales and that has been proved today by the release of a study on the impact the shared spaces have had on Auckland. I reported back in May that Fort St had been a success on a number of levels however at that time some of the economic impacts were still being assessed. Here are the key findings of the study and while it refers to shared spaces, I am fairly confident that there would be similar results for other street upgrades:
- Spending has increased by 65 percent and hospitality spend in the area has increased by over 400 percent
- 91 percent of surveyed users and stakeholders were highly complimentary about the new shared space environment, compared to only 17 percent pre-upgrade
- Vehicle volumes have dropped by over 30 percent.
- Vehicle speeds have reduced by more than 25 percent.
- 75 percent of delivery services found it ‘much easier’ to make their deliveries
A 65% increase in spending is a massive increase, especially in the current climate and is largely down there being more pedestrians. So the next question is how we get more people to Dominion Rd. The reality is that to get significantly more people to the area the only practical way to do so is by improving public transport which means not just upgrading the lanes for use in peak times but also by making public transport more attractive off peak as well. Having buses have to merge in and out of traffic only serves to make them slower than cars and therefore unattractive. That probably might be as much of an issue on some streets but Dominion Rd is perhaps the premier bus route in the city (aside from the busway) and it has a lot of buses. To get an idea of how many buses are expected to be travelling down there in the future during the day we can have a look at the draft RPTP.
Thats 18 buses an hour in the peak and 12-14 buses and hour off peak so there is the potential for a lot more people to get to and through the area. Add to that likely school bus routes, private tour buses, motorcycles and bicycles and that lane is going to be fairly busy while also transporting a lot of people. Instead of fighting to destroy the bus lanes outside of the peak hours, perhaps these retailers instead should be pushing AT to introduce the proposed fare zones faster that would allow people to get off a bus, quickly do some shopping and get back on another bus without being penalised. That would help encourage more people to stop off and shop and what’s more it would do so without using up a single car park but its seems some of these retailers are going to have to be dragged into reality kicking and screaming.
Interestingly on the topic of retailing and cars, Patrick found this letter from 1976 from a shop owner who when talking about the city centre notes that is being strangled with cars and that it will die without more people being able to easily access the city and he notes the only way for this to happen without adding more cars is by developing the mayor Robbies version of the CRL.
The last line:
‘Let’s face the real issue- Either BRING THE PEOPLE INTO THE CITY WITHOUT CARS or LET THE CITY DIE’.
Is the really important point, the city very nearly did die, in fact for a whole lot of businesses it did die, but now has thankfully come very much back to life. Which is what is so frustrating when we hear of retailers fighting to keep car parking or streets dominated by driving, the evidence just doesn’t support this view. As Patrick observed in this post:
This may seem counterintuitive to shopkeepers but there is a clear inverse corelation between car numbers in the central city and its vitality.
And by ‘vitality’ he means commercial vitality; business. Only people buy things, and people will be in retail areas if they are good places to be and easy to get to. Sure some things are hard to take home without a car, but this can be dealt with either by offering delivery or by the fact that there is still a huge amount of parking around Dominion Rd. But the bigger issue for a traditional strip like Dominion Rd is the same as for the central city, retailers there have to offer something other than what is offered at the big malls, which is largely a bland and predictable experience of near identical chain stores with lots of parking. Dominion Rd has developed its own character and enhancing this is surely the best way to entice more and more of those people on those buses to hop off and spend some money there than to try to replicate the suburban mall experience. Being unmall-like is a key competitive advantage of Dominion Rd, and another is having an incredibly high- and rising- number of people on those buses just waiting to be enticed off and into the shops.
Check those figures for the shared spaces in the city above and remember that not that long ago retailing in the CBD was consider all but over.
Auckland transport has released the latest plans for improving Dominion Rd, here’s the press release:
Dominion Rd bus lane and village centres upgrade approved
A major upgrade of Dominion Rd to create peak hour bus lanes along most of the road and upgrade its three village centres has been approved by Auckland Transport.
The $47 million project also includes new cycle routes through quieter roads either side of Dominion Rd. Construction is expected to begin in early 2014, subject to NZTA funding approval.
Dominion Rd is one of the few transport corridors in Auckland where there are more bus passengers than drivers in peak hours. It carries about 2.2 million bus passengers a year, three per cent of the entire region’s public transport trips.
Dominion Rd’s current piecemeal sections of bus lanes will be joined up to create continuous lanes in peak hours between State Highway 20 and View Rd. The bus lanes will also extend through intersections, which they do not at present. On-street parking will be retained at other times.
The bus lane operating hours of 7am – 9am for the northbound lane and 4pm – 6pm for the southbound lane will not be changed as part of the upgrade. However they will be reviewed as part of a planned region-wide review of bus lane hours.
The project will help improve the reliability of buses on Dominion Rd and increase its capacity so it can deal with an expected growth in travellers. A 30 per cent increase in transport trips is predicted along Dominion Rd.
A review of the project allowed Auckland Transport to reduce the potential cost of the project by about $50m. This will be achieved by keeping the bus lane widths at 3m north of Mt Albert Rd, meaning expensive service relocations are not necessary. Between SH20 and Mt Albert Rd, which requires widening to create new bus lanes, they will be 4.5m.
Auckland Transport board member and Albert-Eden Cr Christine Fletcher says at this stage the benefits of widening the bus lanes were not great enough to outweigh the significantly higher cost.
“This upgrade will still deliver big improvements to bus reliability and travel times, as most of those come from having continuous bus lanes. It also means much needed upgrades for village centres and safer routes for cyclists.
“There is huge demand for the funding available for transport projects in Auckland, so the savings from this project will be able to be put to good use elsewhere.”
Albert-Eden Cr Cathy Casey says: “I am delighted that Auckland Transport’s board has listened to the people on Dominion Road and that the village centres of Mt Roskill, Balmoral and Eden Valley are to get their long awaited upgrades including new footpaths, trees, street furniture, pedestrian priority, and lighting improvements. Footpaths along the length of Dominion Rd will also be upgraded.
“It has been a long road to hoe for Auckland Transport but it is worth it to get Dominion Road right!”
The village centres of Mt Roskill, Balmoral and Eden Valley, will get upgrades, including new footpaths, trees, street furniture, pedestrian priority, and lighting improvements. Footpaths along the length of Dominion Rd will also be upgraded.
Albert-Eden Local Board Chair Peter Haynes says the board is pleased that a start to the long-awaited work on Dominion Road is finally within sight.
“The uncertainty caused by delays over the years has held back the development of the road, it has the potential to be one of Auckland’s great thoroughfares.
“We welcome the upgrading in the village centres and of footpaths, pedestrian crossings and refuges between the centres. We are pleased that there will not be wholesale widening of the road, and that the plans to make the road into a highway like Balmoral Road are buried in the past.
“The board will work with Auckland Transport to see that local people are fully consulted on these plans, and to determine safer alternative routes for cyclists.”
Puketapapa Local Board Chair Richard Barter says the board is pleased with the outcome.
“The board acknowledges that the goal for the project is to improve bus services so appreciates the Auckland Transport Board’s support for the streetscape upgrades along Dominion Rd. This will further encourage the use of public transport and will be a boost for local business as the villages along the route will become attractive destinations.
“The decision will create certainty for local residents who have been waiting for many years for the upgrade of the Mt Roskill Village.
A commuter cyclist, Mr Barter says the safe cycle routes planned to run parallel to Dominion Rd will encourage local people to try commuting by bicycle.
Public information days to update the community on the plans will be held on Saturday 17 November in Mt Eden and Wednesday 21 November in Mt Roskill. More information, including a video showing concepts for the upgrade, is at www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz.
Its good that the bus lanes are being extended right up to the intersections but it seems odd that on what is one of the busiest and most successful bus corridors in entire region, a route that carries more people at peak via bus will still only be in operation for four hours a day and that outside of those there will be on street car parking. To be fair, this partly isn’t Auckland Transports fault as the local businesses still seem to think that it is cars that come in and buy things and not people. I do hope that once the street is upgraded that perhaps AT embark on a programme to change both of these aspects. They could remove 5% of the on street parks per year while also extending out the bus lane hours on a gradual basis so that people can get used to it. Personally I would love to see trams put back down Dominion Rd with them in the centre of the road but it will be a slow process to convince the business owners that allowing more people being able to get to the area easily will benefit them.
Here is a video that AT has made showing what it may look like.
And an idea of what Mt Roskill may look like
I do know that some people are annoyed that there are no dedicated cycling facilities being included on the road. While many commuter cyclists are probably still going to use the road, the thinking is that two other routes will be created for more recreational cyclists on the streets that run roughly parallel to Dominion Rd. Fellow blogger Kent offered this little nugget of analysis on the situation:
- Any infrastructure needs to be be built from the cbd out, without gaps- what has been built is a joke
- Dom rd is a uniquely successful PT route.
- Dom road, in many places, has special urban fabric that should’t be further compromised
- Catering to all modes, would jeopardise one, or both of the above
We are going to be doing a separate post that focuses solely on the cycling proposals along with some suggestions so if you are thinking of firing a shot at AT about it, hold off till we get that post up. One question that AT haven’t answered yet though is what they now plan to do with the $50m they have saved but that was budgeted for in the long term plan, that could build a lot of alternative cycling infrastructure in other parts of the city.
Here is a cross section of the road at the Valley Rd and Balmoral shops:
It wasn’t picked up much by the media last week, but the one truly new piece of information that was revealed in Auckland Transport’s announcements on the City Rail Link was the inclusion of something they’re calling the “Inner West Interchange”. It’s highlighted in red in the picture below:
In many respects, the inclusion of the Inner West interchange answers a few questions that we’ve been asking on this site for a while now, particularly in relation to the scenario where the eastern link is not constructed. A big question that we were all thinking about on this site related to how some of the trains would be turned around, if they’re unable to travel directly between Newton and Grafton directly.
Without the eastern link, the rail system effectively becomes like a single line, from the west, through the CRL before branching off into a number of lines at the other end of the CRL (eastern line, southern line, Onehunga line, Manukau branch). As you obviously don’t need to run anywhere near as many trains in total on the western line as you do on all those other lines combined, you need somewhere to turn some of the trains around. After much discussion and debate, I think (and pipe up if you disagree fellow bloggers) everyone writing on this site is of the opinion that the eastern link is necessary.
With Kingsland Station and Newton Station being relatively nearby (not to mention Mt Eden station, although its future seems far from certain given the bizarre location it’s shown at in the image above), it would seem as though there are two choices:
- Build the eastern link and therefore don’t build the Inner West Interchange Station
- Don’t build the eastern link and therefore build the Inner West Interchange Station
Let’s take a bit of a close look at the area this station seems to be located:
The yellow line is 200 metres in length, which I presume would be about the requirement for an interchange station – if trains were going to be held there for any length of time before turning around to head back through the CRL. I also imagine the space requirements here in terms of width are going to be fairly extensive. Remember that we’re going to have two tracks coming out of the CRL tunnel plus the existing two tracks heading towards Grafton and Newmarket. As some trains will be turning around here you’re going to need at least four tracks and platforms: two for through trains and two for trains that will be turning around to head back through the tunnel. Presumably that means four tracks all the way between this station and the southern tunnel portal – not the prettiest thing to plop in the middle of the inner suburbs one would think.
One possible positive out of this station, however, becomes apparent when looking at the image above – it’s right next to that horrible interchange between New North and Dominion roads. With an incredibly busy station on its doorstep, we could demolish the defacto motorway interchange, narrow down the roads to something a bit more normal and create a really fantastic little transit-oriented development node. The whole section of New North Road between Mt Eden Road and Kingsland is ripe for large-scale redevelopment – and the station here could be the catalyst which enables that to happen.
Overall though, given the choice I think I’d take the eastern link. We can find other ways of removing the defacto motorway monstrosity without compromising efficient operation of the whole rail network.
This is a guest post from reader Axio
Peter’s post on the future of driverless light-metro got me thinking about whether there are alternative alignments where an automatic metro could be used, and I felt that it would be a cost-effective solution to mayor’s vision of rail to the Airport and the North Shore.
Many proposals presented in this blog focus on connecting a North Shore line with the City Rail link by crossing at right angles at Aotea station and tunneling under the university to come out somewhere on the Eastern line. This minimizes the additional infrastructure needed on the city side of the link. However tunnels are very expensive and if an elevated metro is used then we might find that we can achieve much more substantial system for a similar cost.
This alternative considers a line from Takapuna through to the Airport. This would be a driverless metro elevated along its entire length, except possibly the harbour crossing. The proposed alignment is illustrated below.
The benefits of this alignment are many:
Obviously this provides rapid-transit to the North Shore, Mangere, and the Airport, meeting the strategic goal. It brings Takapuna onto the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), which is useful as it has been identified as a commercial centre in the Auckland Plan. This also makes the CBD much more accessible from western South Auckland.
- Leverages the most effective part of the Northern Busway by providing a high frequency connection at Akoranga. If most buses terminated at Akoranga then the lowest capacity and slowest section of the busway (the harbour bridge and CBD) would not be required for the bulk of trips.
- Replaces overcrowded bus routes on Dominion Road, and in doing so takes the pressure off Symonds Street. It also allows Dominion Road to retain its on street parking which was a sore point during the submissions into Light Rail on the corridor.
- Connects into the existing rail network at Onehunga and Mt Eden (depending on where stations are placed following construction of the City Rail Link).
- Provides another access point to Eden Park along Bellwood Avenue.
And overall it brings together parts of Auckland that are presently quite separate as far as transit is concerned.
For automatic metro the line requires its own right of way which would be achieved largely using elevated rail. As most of the line is above road corridors, this would require a viaduct composed of single columns about 4.5m high with the rail deck around another metre higher. Stations would be spaced every kilometer or so. As mentioned earlier the harbor crossing may be tunneled, and the section along SH20 could be at ground level in places.
There are some challenges inherent in the alignment and terrain. The section east from Hillsborough Road to sea level will be quite steep and probably require a viaduct that extends well east of where SH20 flattens out in order to reduce the gradient. Similarly the section through the CBD will be quite steep, although with a station in the middle the slow speeds due to gradient will be less painful to passengers. Getting through the CMJ can be done using the old Nelson Street off ramp from the Southern Motorway followed by a viaduct over the CMJ once clear of K-Road. The corner at Wellesley and Hobson is quite tight, although the radius exceeds the 35m mentioned as the limit for this type of metro as shown.
This brings us to the big question: what will it cost? In this case I will just look at the section from Wynyard to Onehunga as costings for heavy rail north and sound of there can be found in other documents and provide a reasonable indicator of cost (particularly to the north where the cost is largely due to the tunnel).
The Vancouver Skytrain provides the most useful estimates as it is the system on which this is based. South Fraser Blog quotes On Track: The SkyTrain Story which indicates the cost for the elevated only section is around $47million per kilometer in 2012 Canadian dollars. At the present exchange rate this comes out to about $60million per kilometer so the line from Wynyard to Onehunga, at around 14km, would have a baseline at $840 million. Building above a road corridor would likely increase the cost, and we also have to deal with the special viaducts at the CMJ and Onehunga. Finally that estimate does not include the cost of the trains.
Compared to the Waterview Connection and the City Rail link this project, at a little over a billion dollars, is relatively inexpensive given the area it provides service to, although obviously much of the benefit would come from the un-costed sections from Wynyard to Takapuna, and Onehunga to the Airport. It does also have the ability to be built in sections with each section providing significant benefits on its own. For instance Wynyard through to Bellwood Avenue would provide a different place for Dominion Road buses to terminate, and still connect the Isthmus and West to Midtown and Wynyard.
The cost not-with-standing, an elevated metro has a significant downside, visual pollution. A 5.5 metre viaduct will stand-out in all but the CBD, and as Dominion Road has something of an iconic status this visual pollution may be unacceptable. There are alternative corridors through the isthmus such as Sandringham Road which would have the benefit of being closer to St Lukes, a major attractor, but increase the overall cost and the journey time from the North Shore to the Airport.
Finally, while this line is intended to complement the City Rail link, it does have potential to stand on its own, providing rapid transit access to Midtown from the central slice of the city (from the Airport to Albany) and the West, assuming a transfer at Mt Eden. However it would not be connected to the East of the city, and so its benefits would be reduced without the City Rail link.
Fantastic aerials of the the biggest urban motorway junction in Australasia under construction. From the Whites Aviation collection at the National Library:
1968, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground
Auckland City used to just flow into its surrounding inner suburbs. Weirdly, as seen above they started with arguably the daftest part of the whole plan: The massively over engineered Dominion Rd/New North Rd flyover. Some engineer was allowed to get more that a little carried away that day. Ah: Brave New World.
1966. Newton. George Courts on K'd on the Left
Site clearance already beginning; anticipating SH1 being shoved right through town. You can see why K’Rd was such a successful shopping precinct; direct connection with its community. Plus of course being at the heart of the well used tram network.
1967. Domion Rd flyovers, looking west
Unusual view. Western Line on the left. Easy to see how out of scale the Dom Rd flyover is, and needlessly complicated. The scar of the pointless destruction of community that is to become dumb little mini-me motorway of Ian McKinnion Drive on the right.
1969. Symonds St in centre. work starting on SH1 through the city
Work begins. Check out the on-street parking. They’ve got to go somewhere if this is the mode you invest in. A big additional but uncalculated cost of the auto-dependent choice.
Not sure of the date 1970s. The full CMJ sandpit.
Fantastic print. Whites clearly invested in some better kit by this stage. A Hasselblad maybe; looks like it could be the great 40mm Distagon, or possibly the 38mm Biogon on the SWC, developed by Zeiss and Hasselblad as an aerial reconnaissance camera for the Luftwaffe in the 1940s! [A fact you don't see in their advertising]. And still great. Happy to be corrected, if anyone knows. Forgive me for indulging my inner camera nerd.
CMJ, with gardening
Severance at its best; no way across to K’rd now, hey guess what?, it’s never recovered commercially.
CMJ_lost street pattern
1950s "Master Transport Focal Point"
And how they sold it. Doesn’t look like much does it? A few little lines, nothing that’ll totally cut the CBD from its inner suburbs and nearly kill it for example. The text talks of tunnels. Yeah well that would have been much better, human life could have continued so much better if the surface hadn’t been reduced to a few car dominated bridges.
A fine monument to central planning. South Seas Soviet style. This whole effort was planned and built by government apparatchiks in Wellington immune to any input from the locals, including the local elected officials.
Well there you go: How modern Auckland was made by a city engineer with the phrase: “It’s a technical matter”. Never let the pricks get away with that one again.
Edit: Just added the accreditation for the photos
- Auckland motorways, Dominion Road interchange. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-67442-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23121284
- Newton, Auckland with motorway construction on right of Grafton Bridge. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-66170-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23119567
- Auckland City, including Southern Motorway and Eden Crescent. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-67026-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22595451
- Motorway junction, Symonds Street, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-68574-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22792353
- Auckland motorway construction, Newton, with ‘spaghetti junction’ roads. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-74702-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22722332
Tuesday’s Herald had a lot of good coverage of transport issues. No fewer than four good reports by Mathew Dearnaley. Rudman on the Remuera buslane rebellion, covered here on this site. And even a piece on the transformation of LA back towards being a transit town.
There was also really good coverage of this site’s founder, Josh Arbury, in his new role as Transport Strategist at the Council on value for money in Auckland’s PT; here. A piece on design of the new trains, here. And coverage of ways to raise infrastructure investment funds via proposed road pricing here. This issue deserves its own post and will get future coverage on this site. All this follows earlier an report on fewer road deaths here, and a really encouraging report on Shared Spaces with not only Alex Swney of Heart Of The City saying really good things about the improvements they bring but even the AA’s Simon Lambourne managing to not see the world ending at the removal of parking spaces; here, although still demanding more parking buildings.
But the one I want to look at in detail is about a seemingly insignificant little road with a boring name; who was/is Ian Mckinnon? Dearnaley’s article is here.
I have always hated this road. I hate driving on it. I certainly hate cycling on it. I hate the detail of its design. I hate its programme of speeding vehicles up briefly in the middle of the city. I hate the way it turns its back on its surrounding sites. I hate the way it cuts off Eden Terrace. I hate the way it spreads the quality of a motorway a little further into the surrounding area. And now it turns out to be so bad that it kills its users too….. In short the whole thing is a disaster. Why? Well first let’s look at its reported problems.
Although the road was built almost to motorway standard for the 30,000 vehicles that use it daily, and includes long downhill sections in both directions, it lacks a median barrier and has become notorious for crashes on its main bend.
So the idea of building a road ‘almost to motorway standard’ to link ordinary streets in the middle of the city has led to bad outcomes. Surprise me. And despite a road design that encourages speed it is now expected that declaring a lower speed limit will fix the situation, although police concede that this is unlikely.
But although the police intend monitoring the new limit, they are expected to “exercise discretion” until drivers get used to it, with prompting from electronic message signs over the next two weeks.
Hopeless really, it should have the physical characteristics of a city road; in particular it would be best to reduce it to one lane each way to help slow drivers. This would also provide the opportunity to add a real cycle lane here on the resultant spare tarmac. Something urgently needed because the NorthWestern cycleway stops at the Newton Road overbridge and this annoying little road could provide a way to link the cycleway up to K and Queen, to Symonds Street and therefore the Universities and the hospital, through to the Domain and so forth. A low cost way to get a great deal of cycling connection and some traffic calming thrown in for free! Like this:
Ian McKinnon Drive as a way to extend the NW cycleway to Upper Queen St and beyond
Now let’s go back a bit further and look at what else is so bad about this road. Here’s a wider view from above:
Dom Rd/New North Rd flyovers bottom. Ian McKinnon Dr top.
Ian McKinnon Drive is a relatively new road [anyone got a date?] inserted through a much older street pattern and a sorry consequence of the terribly over-engineered and land gobbling monument to post-war planning that is the Dominion Road/New North rd interchange. Originally designed to be part of the Dominion Rd Motorway, yes!, this interchange clearly needed somewhere to head to once the motorway was thankfully abandoned, so Ian Makinnon was rammed through. Here is how it was:
Dominion Rd + New North Rd with rail line pre interchange
Ok you can see the problem; both Dominion Rd and New North Rd converging into one road city bound. You can also see what’s good about this intricate and interwoven neighbourhood street pattern; housing and employment mixed together, walkable and interconected streets; a modern urbanist’s dream. But to allow [or force] a car based transport model on a city like this can only mean getting out the wreckers ball. It also means, of course, choosing to prioritise those living further out and wanting/needing to drive in over the value of the land and buildings and the community already existing in this inner area. New outer suburbs over older inner ones. Spirit of the times. Here is work by Kent Lundberg showing what value was directly destroyed by putting this road in [Twitter: @kentslundberg]:
Interesting to see just how much of old inner Auckland has been lost to expanding the roadspace to accommodate our imbalanced car focussed system, especially in the light of how valuable this kind of inner city property has become. What great rating income if nothing else has been abandoned by choosing this kind of city. Lost wealth. But that isn’t all, this demolishing and severance, as well as the presence of more and more vehicles rushing past has kept the remaining odd parcels of property low value, underdeveloped, and underperforming. Auto-dependency waving yet again its magic wand of anti-agglomeration. In the top left you can see a stretch of Newton Gully which has also, of course, been sacrificed to auto infrastructure. Making complete the separation of the remaining housing of Eden Terrace into a strangely stranded island. And one that few walk to and from as Ian McKinnon and motorway form such barriers to pedestrians.
You can also see there is a rail line running through these pictures. Had the earlier versions of the City Rail Link been built and a real Auckland passenger service been invested in so many of the commuters that these interventions were designed for could have still got to the CBD efficiently. Then could the costly destruction of so much of this neighbourhood have been avoided? It would have had to have been considered valuable for that to happen or at least there would have had to have been the ability for local view to have been heard and considered instead of distant decisions being forced down from City Hall and Wellington. We could still do much to improve this area, undo a lot of the damage, but we’ll never get the old street pattern back. The good news is that reducing the road space will become more and more viable as we build effective alternatives car commuting and as it would release a fair of land for productive use such rehab work might pay for itself. Here is an earlier post about this by Josh Arbury.
Let’s also remember the wider lesson from this story, we must balance place value and movement benefit more sensibly than was done here. Motorways and other invasive insertions are always more likely to happen in areas of low value but are those values permanent? How much have we already lost? Grafton Gully, for example, is a terrible loss to the city and clumsy separation of the city and the Domain, and put through in an age when we valued wild places a little less. Is it any surprise that the road lobby are now proposing to complete the total separation of Onehunga from its harbour by motorway; a lot easier to get its payday among the poorer and less connected of South Auckland after getting a bloody nose in the eastern suburbs.
So we can see in this one example how the auto-dependent model is considered the least productive and most wasteful system of movement for a city; it is a costly destroyer of place value. But we’ve always known that:
De Leuw Cather report 1965, detail
The NZ Herald reports:
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) yesterday announced that it was commencing investigations into a new motorway between spaghetti junction and Hillsborough, along the approximate route first proposed in the 1960s.
The agency confirmed it was seeking community views on the project. While the route is in early stages of investigation, the agency said that it would provide for four lanes of traffic in each direction, with grade separated interchanges at Mt Albert Road, Balmoral Road and New North Road. Connections to State Highway 20 would be provided at its southern end, while links with all motorways feeding the central motorway junction, at its city end, would be provided.
Regional Highways Manager for NZTA, Tommy Parker confirmed that investigations had begun: “Our traffic modelling has shown that even with the Waterview Connection built and with the proposed East-West Link connection to the Southern Motorway, by 2025 congestion in Auckland will be worse than ever, especially for north-south flows across the isthmus.”
“This project has been in the plans since the 1960s, the first section of it was even constructed, which is why the Newton Road bridge is so long and why there’s an interchange between Dominion Road and New North Road,” said Mr Parker. “While we have not yet decided whether the eight-lane motorway will be tunnelled or provided at surface level, we note the likely high cost of a tunnelled option.”
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee was encouraged by the news: “Congestion in Auckland is proposed to get worse and worse, according to my officials at the Ministry. That’s just unacceptable for the country’s largest city, and my officials have informed me that the only way we will avoid congestion getting significantly worse across all parts of Auckland is to significantly expand our motorway network.”
“Anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t want this country to shift forwards and probably wishes it was still full of dirt tracks,” Mr Brownlee added.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown was enthused upon hearing of the investigations. “Look we’ve got a lot of projects in the works at the moment, but we’ve got to tackle congestion, we’ve got to get the blood really pumping! I’m really excited about this project contributing to the complete transformation of this part of Auckland.”
The concept of a motorway near Dominion Road was included in a 1963 transport plan for Auckland, by international consultants De Leuw Cather Limited. The Plan also included other proposed motorways that have not yet been built in Auckland, such as the Eastern Highway and a Henderson to New Lynn Motorway. The study had been presumed lost for many years, before being discovered in the Auckland University Library by a junior NZTA staff member.
NZTA’s Mr Parker highlighted the agency’s recent discovery of the document: “For many years now people have been saying that constructing the Waterview Connection would complete Auckland’s motorway network. Understandably, this was very distressing news for us at the NZTA as there would have been significant job losses once the Waterview Connection is completed, had we not found this study.”
“You can understand our excitement at discovering a whole series of new projects we can now focus our efforts on. This will keep us in work for many years to come as Auckland’s motorway network is actually far from complete.”
Auckland Business Forum chair Michael Barnett was also pleased with the re-discovery of the document: “We’ve been thinking up motorway projects for years and had just about run out of ideas. We’re extremely pleased to see such a large number of projects and expect them to be completed in the next three years, otherwise Auckland’s economy will grind to a halt.”
A number of Auckland Councillors spoken to had mixed views on the proposed Dominion Road motorway. Mike Lee, chair of the Council’s Transport Committee and Auckland Transport Board Member, spoke passionately against the project when it was unveiled at a council meeting yesterday. “There’ll be blood on the streets! This is mindless provincialism at work here!”
Local Councillor Cathy Casey also spoke passionately against the project: “This is a disgraceful outrage. The motorway will sever communities and destroy thousands upon thousands of homes. Worst of all, it will displace Auckland’s last remaining off-leash dog exercise area.”
NZTA’s board is expected to provide the required $4 billion in funding for the project at their meeting tomorrow.
I had a few moments spare in the city library yesterday and thought I’d have a peek up at the Auckland Research Centre. This section of the library is great for finding old plans and proposal on anything related to transport or urban planning (by the way, just about every report, plan or meeting minutes from any council in Auckland is held on desk copy in the archives in the library basement. If you ever wanted to know about any council document it is there).
While there I luckily found what I was looking for, a copy showing the 1972 Rapid Transit Plan for Auckland. The history of this plan is eerily similar to our current situation in many ways. It was a revolutionary scheme championed by the charismatic mayor of Auckland Dove Myer Robinson (leading to the nickname ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’), despite the mayoralty and council not having the means to actually fund the thing independently. They began working on alternate funding solutions such as a targeted land tax but found them impossible to implement without support from Wellington. In the end by the Labour government reluctantly offered an election pledge to fund the proposal, but failed to deliver on that pledge. A wholly unsupportive National government were voted into power in 1975 and in 1976 the plan was cancelled completely.
The 1972 plan was based on the De Leuw Cather report of 1965, and it actually goes into very fine detailed design, modelling of patronage and economic analysis. It even goes so far as to include scale diagrams of the necessary grade separations on the western line, designs for park and ride stations and timetables for the integrated bus feeder services. One wonders if project DART planners couldn’t have simply checked this document out from the library and got stuck in!
I’ve taken photos of two pages that outline that out line the main components of the scheme so I’ll go through the interesting features of each one. Overall it is such a huge shame we didn’t build this scheme, as it would have provided us with a five line rapid rail transit system with a central city underground loop, fed by integrated bus feeders and park-n-ride and a focus on development around key nodes. Auckland would be a much different (and in my opinion better) place if we’d had such a system shaping the city’s development for the last thirty years.
The city loop (an actual loop)
Unlike the current proposals for a City Rail Tunnel, the 1972 scheme did actually contain a tight loop of tunnels under the core of the CBD. Two main stations were proposed: one downtown in the vicinity of theQueen St/Shortland Street intersection, and a second midtown between Queen Stand Mayoral Drive, about halfway between Aotea Square and Albert park. A third city station was to be built at K Rd, but this would have been a stop on the western line only.
The City Loop proposal from 1972. Click to view full detail.
Now I’m generally against rail loops, especially one way loops but this one seems to be small and tight enough to work. With only two stations and about a two kilometres right around it would be very quick to circuit and would have worked well. (Compare this to the modern suggestion of using the City Rail Tunnel and the existing Newmarket to Britomart line as a loop: that would be 9.3km around with seven or eight stops on the way. Just plain loopy!).
We can see that the main link to the existing system comes via a tunnel and viaduct leading to the old Auckland Station. Indeed next to the former railway hotel opposite the station buildings there is still the empty section of cliff where the viaduct was to enter the tunnel. A good benefit of this scheme is that it maintained the old terminus as a proper ‘central station’ for long distance trains and generally kept them clear of the suburban tunnel operations. Also visible is the tunnelled link to theNorthShoreline, which passes underneathWynyardWharf. If only we had that tunnel today we could already have the station for the waterfront development.
As an aside, if you look closely at that page (sorry about the quality, I snapped it on a camera phone) you can see the full central motorway junction plans in all their monstrous glory. Notice how the spaghetti stretches right down Grafton gully to a elevated Eastern Motorway, while the CMJ is insanely complex due to the links to the mercifully never built Dominion Motorway (note how the Dominion Motorway runs beside the huge new North Rd interchange, rather than through it as commonly assumed). Could we image the traffic nightmare the full junction would be today, not to mention the urban destruction? Sounds like Dante’s tenth circle of hell to me, a combination of Limbo and Treachery.
The suburban network
Moving on to the second image we see the real extent of the rapid transit system proposed. One thing I can’t quite figure out is whether the dots indicate the only stations, or if they are simply the major stations. If it is the former then the plan involved a major rationalisation of stations and would have been a really rapid rail system.
For example the southern line would have only six stop between Newmarket and Papakura allowing for some lightning transit times! I guess we can assume that every station would have been a major bus interchange and almost all passengers would have used a feeder bus to get to their local station. An interesting omission here is a Manukau link, perhaps we would have seen Papatoetoe or Manurewa be the ‘centre’ of south Auckland instead, or perhaps they would have simply built the branch at the time Manukau was first developed rather than thirty years later. Looking at the lines in turn now, perhaps the most obvious addition is the North Shore rail line. Not surprisingly the station locations are almost exactly the same as the busway interchanges. The first is one at the bottom of Onewa Rd in Northcote, originally planned for the busway but never built. Next we have stations as Barry’s Point (aka Akoranga), Wairau valley (aka Sunnynook), Sunset Rd (aka Constellation) andAlbany. From there the line takes quite an interesting route north, via a station at Redvale (presumably a big park n ride?) it curves around the waterfront at Stillwater to a station half way along the Whangaparoa peninsula like a sort of rail based Penlink. Again with only six stations between Whangaparoa and the CBD transit times would have been around 30 minutes or less.
The rapid rail network proposal from 1972. Click to view full detail.
The western line appears much the same, except for the fact there are only four stations remaining between Henderson and town. The main difference is that the route leaves the existing line at Ranui and curves north along a ridge beside Don Buck Drive to terminate at as station called ‘Hobsonville’, which if we look closely is actually right where Westgate exists today. A quick glance at Google Maps shows that this ridge line is still largely undeveloped, perhaps we could still use this route to extend the rail line up to Westgate and the upper harbour?
Over on the Eastern Line close inspection shows something interesting. Unlike the Western and Southern which use the existing tracks, it looks like the eastern rapid rail would have run alongside the existing tracks in the same corridor. In particular we can see a station at St Johns Rd and an alignment that appears to cross over the existing tunnel, both of which suggests the new line was intended to climb up the hill rather than use the low level tunnel. I guess this is in order to keep the old ones for port freight. Perhaps this is something we could still look too in the future (that is keeping the existing eastern line tracks for freight and building a new set in the corridor to specifically to take rapid transit), especially if we were considering some from of light rail or light metro for a line out to Botany and beyond. At Panmure the rapid rail line has definitely deviated from the main line and it passes east of the Panmure lagoon before passing further east to new stations at Pakauranga and Harris Rd (just before contemporary Botany Town Centre) to terminate at Howick. Apart from the last station, this route is pretty much the same today on the Auckland Plan and the AMETI busway plans. This is an interesting concept, modern designs have rapid transit to Botany then heading along Te Iririangi Drive, but a spur out toward Howick would certainly get right deep into the neighbourhoods on the Howick peninsula.
The last line is quite a curious one. The outer section of this is extremely similar to current proposals for an Airport/southwest suburbs line, more or less following the motorway corridor from Onehunga to the Airport via Mangere Town Centre. The interesting bit is on the inner section: rather than travelling along the Onehunga branch and the Southern line into the city, it actually swings up part of the old Avondale-Southdown corridor through to Mt Roskill then along Dominion Rd straight into town. Certainly this would be quite a good way to get a direct trip to the airport plus take care of the central ithsmus transport needs at the same time. A close look at the map suggest the line runs parallel just east of Dominion Rd, presumably in the same corridor as the proposed motorway. Luckily for us we never carved that horrific scar across the central suburbs, however unfortunately that likewise make such a rail line quite infeasible today. I suppose a long Dominion rail tunnel or some sort of light rail or metro system could work (if we had the funds), but generally I think a rail line via Onehunga paired with trams on Dominion Rdwill take care of those transport needs.
From a modern viewpoint this system is extremely radial and CBD focussed, like the system in Melbourne. However if we had had these lines in place by the late 80s we can assume that other lines would have been built since, for example the Te Irirangi – Flatbush corridor probably would have included a rail link between the eastern and southern lines in addition to an expressway, and probably over to the airport too. Likewise completing the gaps in the route between Avondale, Onehunga,Westfieldand Panmure would have been a logical choice for an ithsmus line linking all the main radials.
A real shame this network ended up being cancelled shortly before it got started, but perhaps there is a thing or two we could learn from this proposal for the future of rapid transit in Auckland.