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Bike the bridge this Sunday

I remember this from the past but didn’t realise it was on again so if you want to ride over the harbour bridge then here’s your chance. Of course at some point in the future Skypath will allow people to cross the harbour by bike every day of the year. In addition to cycling over the bridge you also get to cycle up the northern busway.


The 2013 edition of MS Bike The Bridge promises to be bigger and better than its predecessor. But entry is strictly limited. We have a maximum number of participants allowed to cycle over the Harbour Bridge. Once that number is reached the event is closed. The Auckland Marathon (that enjoys more than twice our limit) sold out within 3 weeks – so you must get in early to avoid disappointment! Enter Now and secure your place.

There is no excuse not to get into it! This year MS Bike The Bridge offers the following event options. These events all include the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge and Northern Busway.

- 115km
- 50km
- Harcourts Cooper & Co. 20km

Each of these distance options above include a division for Secondary School pupils. See our Event Information for more Details.

In keeping with the community ethos of MS Bike the Bridge our new finish line at North Harbour Stadium enables us to keep your whole family engaged and entertained with specific event options for Primary School kids, pre-schoolers and those who like to do their cycling a little on the edge!

More bore for your buck!

This post was largely written by good friend of the blog Warren S however I have added some parts too.

Seeing the picture recently of the 14.5 diameter tunnel boring machine to be used in the construction of the Waterview motorway connection started me thinking about the cost of infrastructure and the difference regarding tunnelling for road and tunnelling for rail. Actual costs are hard to come by but certain aspects are evident.

The cost of the Waterview TBM is given as $54 million. I suppose this cost is not great in the overall scheme of things, because the overall cost of this project is roughly $1.4 billion according to the NZTA. The original cost of $54 million will have a residual trade-in value of around $10 million when its Waterview work is done. That is a write-off of some $ 44 million.

Oct 2013 Open Day Alice 3

I then thought I would compare this TBM with the ones they are using in London for Crossrail. They are all made by Herrenknecht though the U.K. ones come from Germany while our one was manufactured in China to the German design.

Right now Crossrail are using eight TBM’s all simultaneously boring away somewhere under London. These machines are less than half the size of what is being used at Waterview at 7.1m in diameter. Being smaller they also come in considerably cheaper at about $20 million compared to the $54 million for our monster. And interestingly with Crossrail 85% of excavated material is being moved by rail or barge – not by road – so eliminates messy roads during construction. Combine this with the fact that there is also less spoil to remove and less concrete needed to make up the tunnel lining and the costs for tunnelling are likely to be significantly cheaper.

Crossrail is scheduled for completion in 2018 with a capacity of 24 trains per hour or roughly one every two to three minutes, that’s similar to what we can expect from the City Rail Link. While we could probably debate all day the merits of what train technologies to use, using our new EMUs an example each train could easily accommodate 750 passengers. At 24 trains per hour that is a capacity of 18,000 people per hour per direction through a rail tunnel. By comparison if we’re lucky the Waterview tunnels – at three lanes wide – will be able to carry about 6,000 vehicles per hour per direction or about 8,000 people if vehicles were carrying a high occupancy rate.

So some of the benefits compared to a motorway sized tunnel are:

  1. Smaller and cheaper TBM to do the job
  2. Less excavation required for rail.
  3. Rail will be more efficient – one line equivalent to two and a half motorway lanes or better.
  4. We are not left with a sole reliance on a motorway system can lead to stagnant chaos and long delays when there is an accident as happens frequently. An efficient metro at least gives us a viable alternative.

Being cheaper and having more capacity definitely raises some questions about how we deal with a future Waitemata Harbour crossing. We have seen traffic volumes on the bridge decline over recent years while at the same time more people than ever catch a bus across the harbour. Further once Waterview has been completed it is likely to take even more pressure off the bridge. At the moment the plans are to build a combined road and rail tunnel which might be similar to below however it is expected to cost roughly $5 billion.

With traffic falling – and potentially continuing to do so – it has removed the congestion/traffic growth argument from the debate and the NZTA have now shifted the discussion with them now saying that a new crossing is needed so the clip-ons can eventually be replaced. The problem is they are being hammered at constantly by heavy trucks (although replacement isn’t needed for some time yet). If the main issue is the clip-ons then we need to be asking if the problem is really worth us spending $5 billion just to avoid having to close two lanes while they are replaced. So what’s the alternative?

A rail tunnel under the harbour.

The idea is fairly simple, we build a much cheaper rail tunnel under the harbour to at least Takapuna, if not further up the busway and linking into the Aotea station on the city side. That provides a massive increase in capacity across the harbour and we use that extra capacity along with other tools like road pricing and demand management to encourage as many people as possible to use the rail services. We then close the clip-on lanes (one side at a time) and replace them.  That could leave us with replaced clip-ons and with rail across to the shore without the astronomical price tag currently associated with the harbour crossing project.


The Waterview motorway connection would appear to be a high cost ‘gold-plated’ project but it is the last link in that chain. After that I believe we have a strong chance of achieving long term value for Auckland with the CRL and ultimately a rail tunnel link to the North Shore.

Learning from San Francisco

I was looking at the herald this morning and I came across this piece titled Troubled bridge over San Fran waters by the Herald on Sunday sports editor who is currently in San Francisco covering the America’s Cup.

Take a look at the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Now imagine a part of it gone after an earthquake. Then think about US$6.4 billion and 24 years spent repairing it.

That’s what San Franciscans have endured since the 1989 earthquake when the Bay Bridge (actually two bridges) suffered the collapse of part of the eastern span connecting San Francisco to Oakland.

Now the news has come in that the re-built bridge will open on September 3, Labour Weekend in the US, after being closed for five days to prepare the new bridge for traffic. It’s not clear what sort of traffic chaos will apply during that period – the bridge routinely accommodates 280,000 vehicles a day.

Nor is it clear whether that will have any effect on America’s Cup fans trying to get to the action as the yachts duke it out on San Francisco Bay, near the bridge.

But what is clear is that bridge is finally opening, after 24 years of delays and budget blow-outs, with only a temporary fix. Three independent authorities have certified that the bridge will be safe with a temporary solution to the earthquake safety bolts which cracked as they were being tightened recently.

That was expected to delay the bridge opening even further – even stretching beyond State Senator Mark DeSaulnier’s complaint that the bridge was “10 years late and US$5billion over budget”.

But now permanent repairs – able to be done while the bridge is open and taking until December – will not delay the opening, though there will be more than one motorist wondering just how safe his morning drive to work really is.

This has relevance to Auckland for two reasons: When you drive on the Harbour Bridge, drive softly. No one needs 24 years and US$6.4 billion of frustration. At that rate, Auckland’s rates will be worth more than the houses.

Secondly, memo to Mayor Len Brown or whoever ends up organising a second crossing. Please give us, the ratepayers, an accurate idea of time and cost. Being 10 years late and 500 per cent over budget doesn’t bear thinking about…

Now I agree that single best reason for an additional harbour crossing – remember we already have a second one in the upper harbour – is to provide resilience in the situation where the bridge is damaged or being upgraded. The herald writer makes it appear that the bridge has been out of action for 24 years but that is simply untrue so let’s look at the story in a bit more detail.

The bridge was opened in 1936 and as mentioned is actually two separate bridges. The first from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island where it tunnels through the hill before continuing across to Oakland. The bridge has two decks for vehicles, one in each direction and is 5 lanes wide – although when originally built the lower deck was for trucks and trains but the tracks were ripped out in the 1960′s. As mentioned in the Herald piece, it carries a lot of traffic and connects right into the heart of San Francisco so like our harbour bridge is a key piece of infrastructure. In the 1989 earthquake it was damaged with one section collapsing however importantly engineers had the bridge fixed working again within a month.

As mentioned the writer makes it sound like the eastern bridge has been under repair for 24 years but this isn’t the case. The bridge is being replaced by a new version that is being built alongside the existing bridge, much like we saw when the Newmarket viaduct was replaced. Sometimes that means the existing bridge needs to be closed to enable the various changes related to construction to happen. We would see the same thing happen if we built a new harbour crossing as we would still need to connect it into the existing system somehow.

But the interesting thing is how the city copes with such a key bridge being out of action for a long period of time. Sure vehicles can divert to one of the other bridges but that introduces a fairly length detour and one that is much longer than equivalent detour in Auckland via the upper harbour. In that situation I also imagine that the other routes become pretty busy so while it might get you to your destination, it might not be fast. So how did the San Fran area cope both immediately after the 1989 quake and during the shut downs for repair and replacement of the existing bridge. Well there was of one mode of transport that was completely unaffected and able to move huge amounts of people, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, otherwise known as BART.

The system was opened in 1972 and like the Bay bridge connects the suburbs on the eastern side of the bay with San Francisco itself. It does this in a pair of tunnels under the harbour and through the city and actually travels under the western span of the bay bridge. Since it opened it has been extended to the network it is today and which includes a connection into the San Francisco International Airport. Further expansion is already under way or being planned.

Importantly in the aftermath of the quake and during closures of the bay bridge people have flocked to use the network as a means of getting across the bay however perhaps even more importantly while some people would have gone back to driving, a lot of people kept using the system and patronage has continued to expand.

San Fran BART patronage

But perhaps the most important point and the one most relevant to Auckland in all of this is that San Francisco has an alternative. While the closures to the bay bridge have obviously been a pain for residents, there has at least been another option that has the capacity to handle a lot of extra people. Even if there was another road based crossing, if something went wrong it would immediately be clogged up with all of the diverted traffic. Buses would provide no respite as would be stuck along with the rest of the vehicles. If one of the key reasons to create another harbour crossing is to provide resilience to the network in case something goes wrong then the absolute best thing we could do is to build that crossing as a mode that is not affected by the traffic mayhem that would ensue from a problem with the bridge. It would also need to be one that has the capacity to suddenly handle a lot more people.

This is one of the reasons we propose building a rail only crossing as part of the Congestion Free Network. In the future if demand eventually exists we could then look at another road based crossing but for now the focus should be on completing the missing modes and providing some real alternatives.

Campbell Live on the Skypath

Campbell Live did an excellent piece last night about the Skypath. If you haven’t seen it yet it is well worth a watch.

Campbell Live - Skypath

We have done a number of posts about the project in recent months, you can see them here.

Note to our commenter who is a part time resident of Northcote: Yes we know you don’t like the project and if you want to comment on this post then please remain respectful that other people are allowed to have different opinions (well that goes for everyone).

Locals still opposing Skypath

One of the most exciting potential projects at the moment has to be the Skypath. The project that hopefully will finally provide access across the harbour for the two key missing modes, walking and cycling.


Since they hit the news again earlier this year, the trust behind the project have been conducting consultation with the local residents associations and local board on either side of the harbour as well as the West Haven Marina users to work through any potential issues. Almost straight away we saw both the St Marys Bay Residents Association (SMBA) and the Northcote Residents Association (NRA) started complaining so I thought I would look at how things have been progressing since then.

Before I get into the progress though, I want to highlight the comments that the chair of the SMBA – Tony Skelton (TS)- made in October last year in the Ponsonby News. You can see it here, page 20.

Tony Skelton on Cycling - Ponsony News Oct 12


I’m pretty sure that most of our readers would severely disagree that cycling is not a form of commuter transport. I also know that even a few of my fellow bloggers commute mostly by bike. Moving back to the Skypath, the trust have been publishing detailed minutes of their meetings with the various groups which provides a lot of information. The first set of minutes I’m going to look at is from 7 March where a meeting was held with both of the resident associations. What is interesting is that both organisations appear to started out challenging the projected patronage numbers.

Carol requested details and timeframes of consultation being undertaken by SkyPath group. NRA has significant and serious concerns, particularly around patronage and residents’ concerns regarding the feasibility of the connections at the northern end and the community impact

Tony expressed concerns that the project is being publicly presented as a fait accompli without consultation. Tony has major concerns about the figures in the Horizon Survey and would like to challenge them, believing these make the whole business case flawed. He wanted to hear NZTA’s position.

Moving through the document I won’t cover every point but this next one did grab my attention. We know from earlier comments that one of the key concerns from the NRA was to do with parking. The trust asked about the trial parking scheme. (RR is Richard Reid who is working with the Trust)

RR: Wendy has noted entrances and exits and carparking. How is residents’ car parking scheme in St Mary’s Bay working?
TS: Resident’s Permitted Car parking scheme in St Marys Bay is brilliant, is working extremely well and will be extended. Link bus also has role to play. Residents noticed the change straight away. Business is also pleased. Good
enforcement of two hour limit for visitors. Westhaven parking is also increasingly restricted.

Next we get to one of the more interesting comments where it appears that Tony brings up similar comments as he did in the October 2012 article above. BW is Bevan Woodward who is the project director, KC is a member of the NRA.

Skypath Consultation - SMBA & NRA 1

I guess one small positive is that Tony the barges have been upgraded to ferries. This also shows that both of the residents associations really don’t want this. As the document goes on it lays out the key concerns. The issue of the Westhaven Marina Users are raised, Tony has this to say.

TS: Westhaven Marina is busy and simply cannot take more traffic. Development is planned. Westhaven Drive is a private road. Public Transport is shut out. I am making an application to have cyclists taken out of St Marys Bay Reserve. It won’t be possible to control cyclists on a 1 in 5 gradient and I can see horrific accidents happening.

Westhaven Dr appears to be an interesting situation, it is a private road however one of the later documents shows that it was purchased by the council in 2004. Does anyone know why it has not been vested to AT like the rest of the road network? But the part that shocked me the most was that he is trying to get cycling banned from a public reserve. It really makes you wonder why he hates cyclists so much. The trust also notes that the 1 in 5 gradient is wrong as it is actually 1 in 20.

A week later, the trust met with the Westhaven Users Association (WMU) as well Waterfront Auckland and the Council. The main concerns appear to how the pathway would connect with the waterfront as well as the impact on parking and traffic. The minutes seem less emotional which is not unexpected however there was this interesting note from the chair of the WMU

St Marys Bay Association may want to use the Westhaven Marina Trust document to stop SkyPath. It may be that WMU members will also ask whether the Trust document prohibits Skypath construction.
WMU’s concerns are that WMU is already accommodating a great deal of public use. More public use will put pressure on Westhaven Drive. On the other hand, development will make the area more attractive. It is currently an old fashioned marina. It could become “the place to be”

To me this really shows that the SMBA don’t really care about consultation, they simply don’t want the project full stop and are going to do everything in their power to stop it.

At a later meeting with the Waitemata local board, many of the same points raised by the SMBA were raised again however I found this answer to question by a member of the public interesting. The person asked why the NZTA won’t fund the project. Stephen Town who is the NZTA’s Regional Director for Northland and Auckland said this:

Under current policy, NZTA can’t fund SkyPath. NZTA doesn’t fund walking and cycling on motorways, and can only build new walking and cycling when there is concurrently new work to the State Highway. Examples are Victoria Park Tunnel and Waterview. In the case of the AHB, there is no new work. We have given undertaking that the $86 million strengthening project in 2010 made provision for walking and cycling. The SkyPath is a short length and would suck too much out of the NZTA walking and cycling budget.

Sounds to me like we need to get the policy changed so that the NZTA can build cycle facilities separate from other state highway works.

And the last of the meetings that I will look at is another one between the trust and the Westhaven Users Association around a month and a half ago. There are a few interesting comments:

Trevor noted that Transpower paid a substantial fee for an easement on Westhaven Drive to allow cable installation ($7million) and suggested that WMUA may say to SkyPath: we can invite you to be part of Westhaven but it will involve payment of a fee

And this, which along with a couple others suggest that within the Westhaven users group, there are plenty of differing views.

TD: Some WMUA members are opposed to SkyPath and advocate legal measures to challenge SkyPath, but others feel this would be expensive. WMUA’s view is that SkyPath will mainly benefit the more affluent suburbs at either end of the AHB

However it is the first of the comments that was particularly concerning and since then more details have emerged through an update sent out by the trust.

St Mary’s Bay Residents Association are opposed to SkyPath because the Westhaven Marina Users Association are opposed. The Westhaven Marina Users Association has suggested an annual fee of $800,000 to allow SkyPath users to pass through Westhaven Drive. Unfortunately SkyPath would not be financially viable with such a fee and we are unwilling to increase the toll paid by SkyPath users as we want to keep the amount paid by Aucklanders highly affordable. We’d appreciate your ideas on how we can resolve this one.

In the meantime we continue our consultation with St Mary’s Bay Residents Association and Northcote Residents Association, along with the residents at Stokes Point. We are making good progress with Council as we negotiate the underwrite required to fund and deliver SkyPath.

It seems to me that unfortunately we are still a long way off getting agreement from the locals on this issue but I know that the people behind Skypath are incredibly dedicated to getting this project built so hopefully they keep pushing on.

NIMBYs strike the Skypath

Last week we moved a step closer to finally gaining walking and cycling access over the harbour bridge with the councils transport committee giving it’s support to the Skypath proposal. There are still a number of official hurdles to jump through before there is any talk of actually building it, but no good project gets the go ahead that easily. As sure as night follows day, there are always bound to be a number of NIMBYs that have something to complain about. Some NIMBYs are just so opposed to any change that I am surprised they manage to change their underwear every day without getting into an argument with themselves. Sure enough the NIMBYs have started to raise their heads on this project.

In this story yesterday groups on both sides of the bridge have piped up.

Tony Skelton of the St Mary’s Bay Association spoke to the committee about concerns around the proposed entry and exits and questioned proposed patronage and profit numbers.

”Without those numbers then how on earth can you consider this?” he asked.

The project is being privately funded and the numbers have been independently checked by Ernst & Young. So what business is it of a local residents association to oppose the project? Clearly the members of the association do not see the value in the project, likely because they personally don’t intend on using it so believe it will be underutilised.

That contrasts quite highly with the stance of the well known NIMBY group – the Northcote Residents Association. This group has a history of NIMBYism having stopped the initial proposal to have a busway station that serves their area. The arguments these people come up with can really be quite comical. In this case:

Northcote Residents Association chairwoman Carol Brown said SkyPath users driving to the bridge will clog up residential streets. She said it should be connected to the Shoal Bay pathway.

Right … So it will be so successful that people will drive from all over the North Shore, park in their streets, then get out their bikes and ride to town? Give me a break. Everyone I talk to from the Shore tells me that the problem is never the bridge itself, but actually getting close to it. By the time you get close to Northcote point in your car, you might as well carry on all the way to town. The majority of cyclists that will use the bridge will get there by … cycling. If local parking does become a problem then perhaps they could get Auckland Transport to implement a special parking zone, like they are currently trialling across the water in St Marys Bay. These people can really be frustrating at times.

On the subject of NIMBYs, it seems the Milford ones have won in their battle to stop intensification around the shopping mall.

“Skypath” across harbour to become a reality?

Allowing people to walk or cycle across the harbour bridge is an aspiration that has been a long time coming. When the harbour bridge was originally proposed it included walkways, like Sydney’s harbour bridge, but the government of the time was concerned about ballooning costs and in the end all we ended up with was a four lane traffic bridge. Then when the clip-ons were added in the late 1960s we ended up with an eight lane harbour bridge but once again no ability to walk or cycle across the Waitemata Harbour.

While in recent times there have been concerted efforts to push for a walk/cycle connection across the harbour, I must say that most of the time I thought it was more aspirational than having a real chance. Particularly as NZTA continue to have a measly budget for walking and cycling projects in Auckland. However, a report to Wednesday’s Transport Committee meeting suggests that there’s actually a feasible and viable plan for making this project become a reality – a plan which doesn’t have to cost ratepayers and taxpayers a single cent: it only requires a commitment in terms of taking on revenue risk liability.

The report begins by outlining updates to the project since it was last brought to the Committee’s attention – back in August 2011. The updates are:

  • The AHB Pathway Trust (the Trust) has developed a lighter structure by using aluminium in the central span;
  • Auckland Transport (AT) has undertaken a review of the SkyPath’s business case and referred it back to the Council to consider funding sources;
  • A range of capital costs for the project has been identified between $28 and $41 million.
  • There is still uncertainty about the capital costs, however for the purpose of the financial analysis in this report a cost of $31 million has been assumed (as outlined in paragraph k) in Attachment A);
  • Update of information in the Trust’s business case and public private partnership (PPP) proposal;
  • Comparison of the SkyPath to the rest of the transport and cycling and walking programme;
  • Quantification of the Council’s contribution to the SkyPath; and
  • Initial identification of project risks (outlined below in paragraph 20).

Oh, and the Trust also created a pretty cool image of what the Skypath could look like at Christmas time:skypath-imageAs I understand it, the proposal for constructing the project is through a PPP between the public agencies involved (Auckland Council, Auckland Transport & NZTA) and what’s referred to as the “PIP Fund” – a private company willing to take on the 25% highest level of revenue risk and to fund the project up front. Payments for crossing the bridge – in the form of a HOP Card or cash – would raise the revenue required to cover capital repayments for the project and operating costs.

Here’s the proposed toll levels:ahb-pathway-tollWhile the report goes to painful lengths to note that this is just the beginning of the process for making the project a reality – in terms of getting official Council support and for Council to take on the revenue risk of the project (not to mention the possible long term requirement for maintaining the structure) – this is a really exciting step forward. And while the PPP structure isn’t perfect (why should we pay a toll to walk across the bridge when we don’t have to pay one to drive across it) I think it’s highly likely in the future that things will change and perhaps NZTA will realise it’s a transport agency rather than just a roading agency – and they’ll take on ownership and responsibility for the structure.

Plus the case for the project is pretty compelling – particularly if all logic and sense tells us that an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (in motorway form at least) should be a lot more than 20 years away. In a nutshell, the report makes a really good argument for the suggested approach:reasons-for-pathwayI sincerely hope that at Wednesday’s meeting the Transport Committee at least gives this approach a go. I think that not only would the pathway be a great transport connection and tourist attraction – but I also can think of it as an incredibly fun thing to wander across on a sunny summer’s day.

Here is a Cycling Auckland’s call for support for the project [thanks Max]:

NZTA confirms that another harbour crossing not needed soon

Over the last few months we have done quite a number of posts looking at the issues of a potential new harbour crossing and I think that it may have started to frustrate some from the North Shore. particularly councillor George Wood. He has became much more vocal on the issue though social media and calling for the bridge to be built as soon as possible. Well it seems that it has attracted the attention of the Herald who ran a piece today about it that has provided some useful information about the need for the project. I did have a little laugh right at the start as one of the things I had questioned earlier in the year was if there would be any North Shore politicians who would actually stand on a platform of not building another road crossing

North Shore leaders will this year ramp up calls for a new Waitemata Harbour traffic crossing, even though the Transport Agency does not believe one will be needed before 2030.

Although the agency expects to update an application to protect a preferred route for tunnels under the harbour towards the end of the year, Auckland Council member and former North Shore mayor George Wood fears complacency setting in.

He says community groups such as the Northcote Residents Association want to be involved in planning for a new crossing but are being kept in the dark about a proposal which follows at least six studies since 1986 and doubt about the longevity of the existing harbour bridge.

Arguing for the bridge on the grounds that it is old and could fall apart seems to have been a mainstay argument for those that want a new road crossing and helpfully the NZTA have addressed this.

Having recently spent $86 million strengthening the bridge’s two clip-on structures, the agency is focused mainly on its ability to cope with increasing freight loads.

Mr Town said that with careful management, there was no reason why the 54-year-old bridge could not last for another 100 years. But he said the “critical path” for bridge loads was heavy vehicles travelling on the northbound clip-on lanes, for which forecasts indicated a new crossing would be needed by 2030.

Even so, the agency did not want to build the new crossing too early, for cost reasons.

“It’s expensive, so getting the timing right is the thing,” he said.

The agency in early 2011 estimated the cost of a pair of road tunnels at $5.3 billion compared with $3.9 billion for a new bridge, and the Auckland Plan cites a figure of $5.8 billion to include future provision for trains.

Mr Town acknowledged that technological advances were likely to reduce tunnelling costs, while those for a new bridge were unlikely to fall markedly.

But he said “one of the big unknowns” was what the completion in 2017 of the western ring route with its connection to the Upper Harbour Bridge at Greenhithe would do for heavy traffic movements.

“It will provide a genuine heavy traffic option – between 2017 and 2021 we will be looking really closely at travel patterns.”

So the bridge is obviously fairly structurally sound and the issue then becomes a question of when the clip-ons need replacing. The NZTA seems to admit that it will depend a lot on what happens after the completion of the Western Ring Route. You may also recall that we found that the traffic predictions that had been used in the previous business case used incorrect data so it is quite possible that combined with the WRR this could see the need for replacing the bridge pushed out a lot longer than 2030.


Traffic volumes predicted in the AWHC business case vs actual

The other major issue with a new crossing would be the impact on the city centre. The current thinking is for the new crossing to link directly into the existing motorway system and to turn the harbour bridge into a kind of big off ramp. By taking the through traffic off the bridge, it would leave a hell of a lot of unused capacity on there which would have the effect of making it easier to drive to the city. That would severely impact not only the performance of the Northern busway but would see potentially thousands more cars per hour dumped into the city centre when all of the councils plans are focused on trying to reduce vehicle numbers that area.

So far everything seems to point to the conclusion that we are both unlikely to need the crossing for at least a few decades and that even then we might not want it due to the impact it would have on the rest of the city. That kind of brings me back to my question from earlier in the year and wonder when will we get a politician who is brave will actually stand up and say this to the residents of the North Shore?

I think the other thing worth pointing out from this article is it confirms that the NZTA are now looking at a combined road and rail tunnel like has been done in some places overseas. In this situation the tunnel diameter is big enough that a train line can be run below the road deck as shown below. If we must have a new road crossing then it does make sense to do it this way and it is interesting to see the NZTA say that the tunnelling costs are likely to reduce as the technology improves. My preference at this stage however would be for a dedicated and much cheaper rail tunnel first and to only build the road crossing if it is still needed after that (the business case costed a rail tunnel at $1.6b vs $5.3b for a road tunnel).

The same tunnel with a Bombardier ART light metro train under the road deck.

Why AWHC is the stupidest transport project ever

In the fallout from the release of the City Centre Future Access Study last Thursday and the government’s rather bizarre response to it, for some reason there seems to have been renewed discussion about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) project. It’s a bit odd to think that if Central Government has concerns about contributing to a $2.4 billion project they’d end up looking more kindly on a $5 billion project instead, but I guess as it’s a road rather than a railway line you really never know.

We’ve discussed the AWHC project on this blog many times before, most particularly recently pointing out some incredibly dodgy traffic statistics used by NZTA to help justify the project. In this post I’m not really going to focus on the cost of the project, or the heroic traffic growth assumptions or even why a rail crossing is a much more sensible option. What I’m going to simply look at is the likely traffic effects of the additional crossing – where it does and does not add capacity to the system and what the impacts of that are likely to be. There’s a wealth of information on the project website, which I will draw on to inform this. For a start, let’s just get a rough idea about what the AWHC project is – something that’s reasonably well illustrated in the diagram below:awhc-connectionsIt’s a little complicated with all the different colours, but let’s just think about what happens for southbound traffic:

  • Traffic heading to Shelly Beach Road, Fanshawe Street and Cook Street uses the existing Harbour Bridge
  • Traffic heading to SH16 west and SH16 port exits uses the new tunnel
  • Traffic continuing south on SH1 uses the new tunnel

The same is obviously also true in reverse. Oh an by the way I wouldn’t get too excited about the rail tunnel shown above – the fact that a shuttle line from Gaunt Street to Akoranga is shown, with no connections to the existing or proposed rail network at the city end, just illustrates that it’s only in there as a token gesture.

At the moment in the morning peak there are five lanes southbound coming over the harbour bridge. The Shelly Beach Road offramp peels off but the five lanes remain through St Mary’s Bay. Then one lane drops off at Fanshawe Street and four lanes continue southbound over the Victoria Park viaduct: two of those feeding into Cook Street and the SH16 exits and the other two linking with the Southern Motorway for trips heading further south. Ignoring the city exits (Shelly Beach, Fanshawe and Cook Street) for a minute, it’s clear that there are four lanes that link the Harbour Bridge through to SH16 (for east and west travel) and SH1 for travel further south. Here’s a diagram showing the future layout of the motorway network with the AWHC built:lane-diagram
It’s a bit confusing at first, but once you ignore the local roads it starts to make a little more sense. We can see that southbound in the morning peak there would be three lanes in the new tunnel and four lanes (one of which is a bus lane by the look of it) coming over the harbour bridge. The new tunnel effectively removes ‘through traffic’ from the Harbour Bridge, but doesn’t actually add any capacity over what already exists for that through traffic.

  • There’s still only two lanes which continue right through for southbound traffic.
  • There are only three lanes (compared to the current four) for traffic heading to either SH1 southbound or the SH16 exits.

What the new road does do, of course, is free up huge amounts of new roadspace for vehicles travelling from the North Shore to the CBD. There are now four southbound lanes over the harbour bridge worth of capacity – all of which can only link to Shelly Beach Road, Fanshawe Street or Cook Street. That’s potentially an absolute flood of additional vehicles that could be funneled into central Auckland because they no longer need to ‘compete’ with the through traffic for roadspace over the Harbour Bridge.

This impact is well documented in the project’s Local Roads report:

The main challenge for this assessment relates to the provision of additional capacity across the harbour and the potential flow on effects this may have on the local road network around central Auckland and feeder roads on the North Shore, particularly in the weekday morning peak. In particular it is noted that the new harbour crossing will allow more traffic to enter the CBD. This conflicts with various CBD strategies that encourage the provision of public transport for trips to/from the CBD and not to provide additional capacity for cars.

It fundamentally conflicts with the concept of a liveable city centre.

It is anticipated that space on the existing Harbour Bridge will be allocated to public transport, walking and cycling, if an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is provided. The precise lane configuration on the existing Harbour Bridge will only be determined over time and this will significantly affect the predicted traffic effects of the additional crossing. The scenario agreed for this study (for both bridge and tunnel options) includes the following lane allocation on the existing bridge:

  • One lane for walking and cycling;
  • A bus lane in each direction, but with general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp sharing the southbound bus lane; and
  • Five general traffic lanes in total, assumed to operate with three southbound and two northbound lanes in the weekday morning peak, with the reverse in the evening peak.

This scenario would provide three southbound lanes for general in the weekday morning peak plus additional capacity, equivalent to around half a lane, for general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp. This scenario also provides the opportunity for a significant increase in the rate of flow from Esmonde Road (and Akoranga Drive) onto the Northern Motorway, thereby increasing the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour and reaching the Auckland CBD.

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry about the fact that even after spending $5 billion NZTA still can’t bring itself to providing a proper dedicated southbound bus lane. The important thing to note from the above paragraphs though is at the very end: the real impact of the project is a massive increase in flows from the North Shore into the CBD. As no additional capacity is provided south of the CBD the are few gains there aside from being able to hit the gridlock through spaghetti junction a bit quicker because vehicles travelling through the tunnel no longer need to compete for roadspace with those heading for the CBD.

It seems as though the report writers began to realise this fundamental flaw with the project and therefore ended up recommending retaining some measures to limit the flow of vehicles onto the motorway from the North Shore:

A range of options could be used to limit the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour, including changes in the lane allocation. However, for the purposes of this assessment it has been agreed that the effects of the additional crossing will be assumed to be restricted by some means and that this should be reflected by modelling ramp signals on the important Esmonde Road southbound on ramp. Capacity constraints are already predicted to exist on the approaches to or on the other on ramps during the morning peak, and providing ramp signals at Esmonde Road will therefore further constrain the rate of flow able to pass across the harbour and into the Auckland CBD.

So we’ll spend $5 billion on adding a huge amount of capacity across the Waitemata Harbour but we’ll still need to use things like ramp signals to limit the flow of vehicles onto the motorway – doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of the whole project?

The impact of the project on some city streets is pretty massive in terms of additional vehicles – especially Fanshawe Street and Cook Street (Curran Street and Shelly Beach Road, two residential streets, get slammed as well):local-road-volumesTo cut what is becoming a pretty long story short, it really does seem as though the AWHC project involves spending $5 billion to make it easier to drive your car into the city centre – something we actually don’t want you to do. In other words, it is building the most expensive transport project ever to create more congested inner city streets and a less liveable city centre. It’s a huge amount of money on something that will make Auckland a far far worse city.

For that reason, it is quite simply the stupidest transport project ever.

The 41% Busway

I found myself in an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday about the Northern Busway and whether a North Shore railway line is likely to be necessary at some point in the future or not. This is a fairly common debate, but one that’s often a bit ill-informed by the assumptions that people make. Things like:

  • Rail to the North Shore is really expensive. Well yes it is, but not nearly as expensive as building a $5 billion road tunnel.
  • The North Shore already has a busway, why does it need a railway line? And here’s where things get interesting – read on!

While the North Shore certainly does have a busway – a very successful one at that – we must remember that the busway proper is only between Constellation and Akoranga Stations in both directions, then between Akoranga Station and the Onewa Road interchange in the southbound direction. In some other places there are bus shoulder lanes, but that’s it. When you actually start to map out how much of the Northern Express route (the core route along the busway) is busway (blue) bus lane or shoulder lane (green) and mixed traffic (red) the result is actually somewhat surprising:Breaking down the distances, you can see that northbound passengers in particular get a pretty raw deal:Total it all up and you actually find that only 41% of the Northern Express’s route is actually along the busway proper. A full 40% of the route is without any form of bus priority measures at all – including half of the route for northbound buses. Most worryingly the places with some of the patchiest bus priority measures, like the Harbour Bridge, St Mary’s Bay for northbound traffic and around the Britomart departure points are the very places where bus volumes are the highest and the competition for road space is most intense, with buses sadly losing out. For example, the fact that NZTA didn’t bother to put a northbound bus lane through St Mary’s Bay when widening that motorway speaks absolute volumes of the disdain that organisation has for public transport.

The point of all these calculations isn’t to criticise the Northern Busway, but actually to point out that a railway line south of Akoranga – like the rail line shown below - wouldn’t actually duplicate much of the busway at all: just the southbound section between Akoranga and Onewa which would be very handy for minimising the length of a cross-harbour tunnel:Furthermore, this is pretty much exactly the same section which NZTA’s Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Project adds capacity to – at a cost of at least $5 billion (a rough estimate based on past analysis suggests that a Takapuna to Aotea rail link should be able to be built for under $2.5 billion). After all, the only thing AWHC does is shift ‘through-traffic’ off the harbour bridge into a new tunnel and then turn the harbour bridge into giant on and off ramps feeding a heap of cars into downtown that we don’t actually want. For $5 billion!

Clearly in the meanwhile there are things we can do to improve the busway and increase the measly 41% total. An extension northwards from Constellation to Albany is a no-brainer. Improved priority measures in the inner city is another clear requirement, plus we need to do something about getting a bus lane northbound through St Mary’s Bay. But for goodness sake, before we go and spend $5 billion on a road tunnel that’ll do nothing but feed cars into downtown, can we consider a much cheaper and much more effective alternative?