Fact-checking hyperbolic arguments for more roads

Following the gridlock on the roads last Saturday, the NZ Herald published several perspectives on how Auckland should cope with disruption to its transport networks. Matt weighed in with an excellent piece on the need to build Auckland’s long-awaited rapid transit network, which would give people an alternative to congested roads. However, the Herald “counterbalanced” it with some arrant nonsense about the need for more motorways by University of Auckland associate professor (and prominent climate change denialist) Chris de Freitas.

I use the term “nonsense” for good reason. The article was rife with factual errors that undermined the points that it was trying to make. Let us count the mistakes.

One: Congestion does not cost the Auckland economy billions each year.

De Freitas contends that:

The cost to the region’s economy of traffic delays is estimated to be many billions of dollars a year, which does not include the mental anguish caused to frustrated and angry drivers.

He does not provide any citations for this figure. However, I am aware of the relevant research, including a 2013 NZTA research paper by Wallis and Lupton that found that a more realistic figure for the cost of congestion in Auckland was a mere $250 million:

Including all congestion cost components, we concluded that the costs of congestion in Auckland are approximately $1250 million per year when compared with free-flow conditions, or $250 million per year when compared with the network operating at capacity.

In other words, the only way we could achieve that hypothetical $1.25 billion saving in congestion costs would be to build a network far, far in excess of what is required to move vehicles. Furthermore, Wallis and Lupton’s estimates are derived using NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual procedures, which explicitly account for non-monetary values such as travel time and driver frustration. The actual financial costs of congestion are likely to be an order of magnitude lower – i.e. closer to $25-50 million. That’s just not a lot compared to Auckland’s regional GDP of $75 billion.

Two: Auckland is not adding a Dunedin worth of population every 3-4 years.

De Freitas asserts that:

Given that the region’s population continues to expand by the size of Dunedin every three to four years, the vulnerability to traffic snarl-ups will grow exponentially.

According to the most recent Census data, Dunedin has a population of roughly 120,000 people. Between 2001 and 2013, Auckland’s population increased by approximately 255,000 people, or roughly 21,000 people per year. For those who like numbers, that means one new Dunedin every six years, not every three years. De Freitas seems to think that Auckland is growing twice as fast as it actually is.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport’s Congestion Index shows that travel time delay actually fell by one-quarter between 2003 and 2013. This contradicts de Freitas’ claim that congestion will increase “exponentially” as population grows – why hasn’t it increased over the past decade?

Three: Rapid transit networks are well-suited for regions with natural choke-points.

De Freitas argues that geography is destiny, and that Auckland’s skinny shape makes it a natural for roads:

Public transport itself will not ease the region’s traffic crisis. Auckland’s geography, history and politics make it a unique case for infrastructure planning. Its long, thin shape led to the earliest transport routes developing along a narrow north-south axis. Strategic arterial roads followed this pattern.

He correctly observes that road networks become less efficient when they are forced through natural choke-points like harbours and portages. However, these choke-points actually make public transport more efficient, not less. Putting more cars on a single road causes congestion and makes that road less efficient, but putting more buses or trains on a single right-of-way increases efficiency by allowing them to share costly infrastructure.

Four: Auckland’s motorway network already has alternative routes.

De Freitas contends that the Auckland motorway network lacks redundancy:

The result is a highway system that is not yet part of a fully integrated network. It is linear with no alternative routes around major bottlenecks. Traffic that would want to bypass the city is forced through Spaghetti Junction, adding to the vulnerability of the system to gridlock.

He has apparently not noticed that NZTA has almost finished building a bypass of Spaghetti Junction at a massive cost of $3.6 billion – the Western Ring Route. Perhaps he hasn’t been out west in the last decade, but if he had he would have noticed the construction of SH18 and the Upper Harbour Bridge, major expansions of the SH16 causeway, and the in-progress construction of the Waterview Connection to link SH16 with SH20.

Do we have to cover the whole region in asphalt to satisfy the man?

Five: A major earthquake in Auckland is extremely unlikely.

De Freitas raises the spectre of a Christchurch-esque quake:

The region’s most strategic arterial roads are vulnerable during earthquakes. Older multi-span bridges and abutments along motorways such as around Spaghetti Junction would be most vulnerable to damage from ground liquefaction. Even minor damage to these would bring city traffic to a halt.

Now, I’m no geologist… but both of my parents are geophysicists who started out researching Auckland’s rocks. They do not believe that Auckland faces serious risks of earthquakes. Volcanoes are a stronger possibility, of course, but volcanic activity doesn’t cause soil liquefaction. Here is a map from the British Geological Survey of every major earthquake in New Zealand since 1843. Notice the total absence of any recorded earthquakes anywhere near Auckland. Unlike Christchurch, we are not close to NZ’s fault lines:

Source: BGS

Source: BGS

Six: More roads are not a good solution for disaster readiness.

De Freitas argues that more roads are needed to evacuate Auckland:

The vulnerability of a city is to a large extent a function of the adequacy of preparedness planning. How soon could Auckland be evacuated?

There is limited motorway access out of the isthmus that is the Auckland urban area, so there few alternative exits. Main feeder roads head for one major harbour crossing and easily become congested.

Some American cities that are vulnerable to regular natural disasters have tested the “more roads” approach to evacuation. So here is Houston, attempting to evacuate on one of its eighteen-lane freeways during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Not a lot of people actually made it out of the city:

Houston-HW_600

We could devote endless hectares of increasingly valuable land attempting to repeat the same solution that failed Houston. Or, if we think that natural disasters are a serious risk, we could invest in disaster preparedness and civil defense to ensure that the city’s residents will still have access to food, water, and health care services, regardless of what happens. That’s likely to be a much more practical, cost-effective solution.

Finally: The Herald needs to get better at fact-checking, or print a retraction.

While de Freitas’ article was printed in the op-ed page, that is no excuse for its blatant errors and omissions. Auckland only has one newspaper of record, and its credibility and usefulness to its readers is undermined when it prints this sort of gibberish.

Skypath consent publicly notified

On Friday one of Auckland’s most significant projects reached an important milestone – the resource consent for Skypath was publicly notified. Given the sheer number and size of them I haven’t read through all the documents yet – the Transportation Assessment Report alone is over 200 pages long – however you can find all of the documents related to it here.

All involved in the project should be congratulated for their mammoth efforts and dedication to get the project to this stage. This is especially true for the project director Bevan Woodward who has devoted untold hours into making Skypath a reality. The cover letter accompanying the consent application to the Council from Bevan highlights some of this and why the project is needed.

The application represents the accumulation of over ten years of work, due largely to the efforts of the Pathway Trust, a small and committed number of community orientated Aucklanders. Often unpaid, these citizens believe in what SkyPath will achieve for Auckland and its contribution to making it a more liveable city – as succinctly put by London mayor Boris Johnson “I have long held the view that a cyclised city is a civilised city”.

At many times the odds that the SkyPath project would ever get to this stage appeared highly unlikely. Not only were there significant funding and engineering challenges but it also took a long time before the necessary institutional support arrived.

Hence it is important to appreciate at the outset what SkyPath represents and to understand the principles that have sustained the longevity of this community-initiated and developed project:

  • SkyPath resolves the most critical gap in Auckland’s walking and cycling network, but perhaps even more importantly, it is a flagship project for ongoing improved walking and cycling facilities all across Auckland. Before its construction has even begun, SkyPath has helped progress plans for walking and cycling connections to the north and south.
  • SkyPath represents a significant change in Auckland’s transport planning, and a shift from the car dependent city that it has become. We must prioritise public transport, walking and cycling over private motor vehicle use. This is important for a host of reasons, including air pollution, community severance, climate chaos, traffic noise, unsafe streets for walking and cycling, health issues exacerbated by car dependency, and economic vulnerability due to reliance on overseas oil.
  • SkyPath directly attaches to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the most iconic structure on New Zealand’s transport highway network. SkyPath will transform this icon that for 55 years has stood for motorised transport only. The Auckland Harbour Bridge will finally become a multi-modal bridge, reaching the standard that is expected of many harbour bridges around the world.
  • SkyPath has been born from the initiative and energy within the communities of Auckland. There has been extensive consultation with a vast array of stakeholders to enhance the design and mitigate the challenges. This has included meetings, presentations, workshops, open days, surveys and public demonstrations of support. The Pathway Trust has engaged over a number of years with the NZTA, residents, business owners, mana whenua, community groups, professional institutions, user groups, Members of Parliament, media (radio, TV and newspaper), local boards, the Council, Auckland Transport and Waterfront Auckland.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

Skypath Consent - Observation Deck

The design for Skypath is largely unchanged from what we’ve seen before except for at Northcote Point where they have come up with a new design following feedback from residents. It will now loop back under itself  and they say the new design has the following benefits (an image of the older proposal is here).

  • Better alignment and closer proximity to NZTA’s SeaPath (direct link to Takapuna) meaning less adjacent properties
  • Smaller footprint
  • Maintains 5% gradient and does not require any change to the existing road layout at Stokes Point

Skypath Consent - Northcote Point

Here’s what the Harbour Bridge will look like before and after the Skypath is added.

Skypath Consent - Before and After

This is a fantastic project and one the Auckland and in particular the North Shore desperately needs. This is definitely a project that should be supported and I suspect most do although there is a small vocal group from Northcote Point who will disagree (many others in Northcote Point do support it). Public submission on the resource consent are open till 23 January and the hearing will be in March next year.

Once again congratulations to Bevan and all the others involved in the project for getting to this stage.

Skypath to move a step closer this week

News has been fairly quiet on SkyPath for some time however that appears set to change with news that the resource consent for the project is due to be lodged tomorrow.

Auckland’s SkyPath is a step closer to construction but its chief planner admits the project is battling funding hurdles, complaints from residents and a lack of political support.

Resource consents for the shared walkway/cycleway attached to the side of the Harbour Bridge are due to be lodged next week, following more than 10 years of planning.

The SkyPath could open as early as 2016 but it would come at a cost, with entrance fees of at least $3.50 each way or $2 each way with a Hop card.

Project director Bevan Woodward said he was optimistic the latest designs would be approved but was realistic about the potential for difficulties and delays.

”With everything involved in this, it has taken longer than expected,” he said.

New Skypath Design

Resource consent represents a major advance for the project but one that will see serious opposition, particularly from a vocal minority that live in Northcote Point.

But not all have shared his optimism for the project, with several disgruntled residents arguing too many people would be parking near their homes and that users might display anti-social behaviour.

Woodward said he had looked to counter those fears by employing two security guards, and said consultations had worked with Northcote Point residents to find the best solution.

The Northcote Residents’ Association said it had major concerns about the SkyPath but was ”not in a position to make any public statement about the project”.

North Shore ward councillor George Wood has stated he was publicly opposed to the SkyPath, but fellow North Shore councillor Chris Darby said feedback he received from residents showed a ”phenomenal level of support”.

Darby said the SkyPath was 55 years overdue and would follow through on the original plan for the bridge, which, before its 1959 build, included designs for a rail line and a 2-metre walkway, similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

”I’m optimistic that this is a project whose time has come,” he said.

”I would suggest there’s a minority concern. But all the surveys I’ve seen for Auckland city-side residents and North Shore residents are in favour of it.”

Also now seemingly tied in with SkyPath is Auckland Transports proposal to improve cycling routes from Northcote all the way through to Smales Farm which has brought government minister Jonathan Coleman into the debate complaining about parking. Both Coleman and Wood have now setup a meeting for tonight on Northcote cycle improvements in a bid to fire up locals against the project. If you live in the area and support both SkyPath and the improved cycling infrastructure in the area I would urge you to go along and make your voice heard

Coleman-Wood Meeting notice

Coleman-Wood Meeting notice 2

The comment that there is no such thing as a residents parking zone is a bit comical and perhaps they should ask the residents just over the St Marys bay about that. Speaking of comical, George Wood has also created this video about both projects featuring highlights such as:

  • Suggesting a concrete is historic which can’t have its layout changed.
  • Suggesting a concrete road is an icon of Auckland
  • Saying parking is at a premium due to the historic nature of the area in which residents don’t have off street parking followed by a shots of houses, all of which have off street parking and in which there is still plenty of on street parking available.
  • On street parking being used to park a boat
  • The owner of the Northcote Tavern not supporting cycling improvements as he fears locals won’t be able to drive to have a drink – again notice plenty of on street parking not occupied.
  • A shot looking towards the bridge again with heaps of available on street parking.
  • George talking to a supposedly NIMBY cat
  • Scaremongering that the SkyPath will be too heavy for the bridge.

As far as I’m aware George is the only councillor who has opposedSkyPath to date which is odd considering how many of his constituents both at Northcote Point and in other areas of the North Shore would benefit from the project.

There have also been some new details starting to emerge with these two documents uploaded to Scribd. by George showing what appears to be some new images of the project.

 

While this one is the result of a research report into the potential patronage of SkyPath. From memory one of the reasons for this report was that some locals didn’t believe the previous ones completed were correct. The report says the outcome is very similar to the previous studies done which is basically that a lot of people will use SkyPath and that most would access the bridge by cycling to it, not driving like some residents like to suggest.

I’m looking forward to seeing more detail about the project when the resource consent is announced.

Of course even once constructed there is on issue about the project that is likely to be debated for some time to come and that’s the fee to access the path. The Auckland Harbour Bridge will probably be the only place in the world where cyclists pay to cross while cars can do so for free. Sadly even with a change of government that position might not change.

Eventually, he was hoping that once the SkyPath was up-and-running, a future transport minister might decide to allocate $33m to buy out the project, removing the need for tolls.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that remained a hypothetical question that the minister couldn’t answer, while Labour’s transport spokesman Phil Twyford said ”it seems like the organisers have put together a PPP that could work and I don’t see any need to interfere with that”.

Dealing with whether we should be paying a fee to cross the bridge is something for a future discussion though and not something I’d want holding up the construction of one of Auckland’s most important projects.

Environmental effects of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing

The additional Waitemata Harbour crossing is a crazy project for a variety of reasons. The blog has noted before that the project is both completely unaffordable and totally unnecessary because of the lack of the actual benefits when you look at the detail. One thing that hasn’t been noted before however is the huge environmental impacts this project will have the coastline, both and the northern and southern end.

In 2010 an extensive study was carried out, which outlined the major options, looking at both bridge and tunnel options. This was the study that finally put an end to the even more ridiculous bridge idea. Usefully the study for the first time provided some detailed plans of what each option would look like on the ground. The issues is not so much the tunnel itself, but the complex arrangements required to allow for traffic merging between the different routes at the north end south ends. To recap the existing bridge will be used only for city bound traffic, and the new tunnel will be directed straight to the congestion at spaghetti junction.

AWHC north of Onewa

 

The plan above shows the motorway between Akoranga Drive (left), and Onewa Road (just out of picture to the right). The northernmost line is the railway line, however would be sure to take up much less space just built as a rail corridor, and would have a much higher capacity. The red hatched area is all of the land that would be reclaimed, while green is new viaducts or bridges. This would result in the corridor taking up twice as much space as it does now. As for what this would mean, this is the current view in the area. The large area of coastline to the right would be reclaimed.

P1050458

Looking north from public footbridge accessible from east end of Exmouth Road.

This next plan shows the area in the vicinity of the Onewa Road interchange, as well as the tunnel portals of both rail (left) and road (right). Again a huge amount of reclamation occurs.

AWHC Sulhur Beach

However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.

P1050446

Looking towards the city from public path alongside motorway. Accessible from Sulphur Beach and Tennyson St beside police station.

Currently this beautiful area is not well known. However in a few years this will very likely change. With Skypath to go ahead within the next few years, this will be the route of Seapath, which would give a great easy link through to Takapuna. Once that happens people will appreciate this area much more, and won’t like to see it disappear under 6 lanes of motorway.

This area will also become a large construction yard, potentially for about 5 years. This will have major effects on areas of Northcote Point, with a large number of houses looking straight into the area. Their seaviews may well be replaced with views of more motorway lanes and flyovers. People on the Bayswater side of the harbour would also have their views affected negatively.

P1050431

View from Beach Road on Northcote Point towards area of sea to be reclaimed

On the south side of the harbour things aren’t much better. Around Westhaven marina there is yet more reclamation. The yet to open Westhaven Promenade will have to be completely rebuilt, with part of the marina needing to be reclaimed as even more width is required to account for the sweeping motorway curves. The extra width required is highlighted by the need to extend the Jacobs Ladder footbridge by about 50% so people can still cross the motorway corridor. A number of marine related businesses along Westhaven Drive will also disappear, as the road needs to be pushed north to give the corridor the space it requires.

AWHC Westhaven

The Landscape and Visual report prepared for NZTA summarises the issues that will arise:

The landscape of Shoal Bay and the northern sector will be significantly affected by the scale and magnitude of roading and reclamation. Effects are: changes to landforms and natural features including increased separation of the bay from; loss of beaches, reefs, and open spaces; impacts on cliffs (including diminution of scale and loss of vegetation); loss of natural vegetation and potential change due to weed infestation; diminished/decreased experience and appreciation of natural landscape for travellers. In addition structures such as flyovers, bridges, tunnel portals, buildings and vent stacks are all expected to have adverse effects on existing landscape character and alter the balance between the natural and manmade landscape. The cultural and heritage of the existing landscape will also be affected by changes in the southern sector, particularly in and around Victoria Park. Such changes will include loss of buildings and trees but could also include positive effects due to the removal of the existing flyover.

Unfortunately it makes no attempts to actually visualize what the effects would be, including the vent stack, which would be a very dominant feature. Note 35 metres is about 10 stories high!

” Vent building estimated to be 70m long by 30m wide by 20m high and stacks 35m high”

The stack was rather contentious during the Waterview proposal due to the fumes of a high volume of traffic all begin released in a concentrated area. They will be located at the tunnel portals. One will be in the vicinity of Sulphur Beach, near where the second photo above was taken from the walkway.

Vent Building north

The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).

Vent Building

While an additional rail crossing will require some small reclamation, it will be a large magnitude less than what is required for the road crossings. This is because 2 tracks take the same space as 2 motorway lanes, and there will be no need for complex ramps and mixing of lanes, and of course there will be no need for huge vent stacks.

Hopefully this post will highlight a number of the major effects this project will have on the environment and landscape. Surely this will make some North Shore, St Mary’s Bay and inner city residents think twice about the need for this project, considering the effect on their backyard and harbour. This should also awaken reporters, including one John Roughan who was horrified at the sight of a comparatively tiny reclamation for the busway in 2007.

June 2014 Patronage

The patronage results for June are out and like recent months the results are particularly good for the rail network. The June stats are also significant as they represent the end of financial year results for Auckland transport. The 12 month figure is the highest it has been since 1959 – although of course the city had a lot less people back then.

 Auckland public transport patronage totalled 72,396,155 passengers for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +0.9% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +5.6% on the 12 months to Jun-2013.

June monthly patronage was 6,107,965, an increase of 623,266 boardings or +11.4% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +6.8% accounting for additional special event patronage and one more business day and one less weekend day in Jun-2014 compared to Jun-2013. Year to date patronage has grown by +5.6%.

Rail patronage totalled 11,435,085 passengers for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +1.7% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +13.9% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Patronage for Jun-2014 was 1,039,830, an increase of 194,491 boardings or +23.0% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +9.4%. Year to date rail patronage has grown by +13.9%.

The Northern Express bus service carried 2,426,745 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +1.0% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +6.5% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Northern Express bus service patronage for Jun-2014 was 210,069, an increase of 23,201 boardings or +12.4% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +9.1%. Year to date Northern Express patronage has grown by +6.5%.

Other bus services carried 53,424,378 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +0.8% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +4.2% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Other bus services patronage for Jun-2014 was 4,525,656, an increase of 420,821 boardings or +10.3% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +7.6%. Year to date other bus patronage has grown by +4.2%.

Ferry services carried 5,109,947 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jun-2014, a decrease of -0.3% on the 12 months to May-2014 and an increase +3.1% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Ferry services patronage for Jun-2014 was 332,410, a decrease of -15,247 boardings or -4.4% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ -7.3%. Year to date ferry patronage has increased by +3.1%.

AKL Patronage - All - Jun 14

AKL Patronage - Table - Jun 14

So rail patronage for June is up 23% on the same month a year ago while the 12 month rolling figure is up 14%, both are massive numbers. If we were able to keep up that rate of growth it would see us hitting the 20 million rail patronage target set by the government for the City Rail Link by the end of 2018. With the upcoming improvements from rolling out the electric trains to the majority of the network, the new bus network, integrated fares and other enhancements I think this rate of growth (or more) is eminently possible.

One of the important results is also to see the impact on patronage to Onehunga which has been the first to get electric trains – despite the recent hiccup. Patronage to Onehunga is up a staggering 37%. It seems the public are already responding the the improved quality of services and it’s something I’ve seen first hand with Onehunga Line trains often full in the mornings despite having significantly more capacity than the trains  they replaced.

You may also remember the patronage targets for the next few years were recently reduced after AT said the already reduced targets were basically impossible. Here’s how the rail patronage result looks compared to the target.

Rail Patronage vs SOI target 2013-14

In the end the result was only a few thousand short of the target. With only an extra 700,000 trips a year now needed to reach the newly lowered target for 2014/15 I expect it will be surpassed early. Someone should also tell Manurewa Local Board Chairperson Angela Dalton that patronage is rising as she is busy trying to say the opposite.

People will continue to abandon the trains in favour of cars until such time as there is attention focussed on security issues at suburban train stations instead of committing rate payers money into the City Rail Link,” Angela Dalton said.

Along with rail it’s also pleasing to see that bus patronage continues to grow too. This is quite important as it shows that all PT use is rising and that the increases in rail patronage aren’t simply a result of people shifting from bus to train.

All up a good result for PT and in other good news Cycling continues to grow strongly at the sites monitored by ATs automatic cycle counters. For June the result was up 11.4% while the 12 month rolling figure was up 10%

AKL Cycling- Jun 14

Considering the heightened discussion surrounding the traffic on the Harbour Bridge it’s also worth highlighting what’s happening with traffic on the bridge. As you can see vehicle volumes continue to struggle to get above 160,000 trips, something that was a regular occurrence  before 2007

AHB - All -2013-14

 

Photo of the day – Changing Conditions

The NZTA posted this series of images from one of their webcams on twitter yesterday showing how quickly the driving conditions can change.

NZTA Akld & Nthlnd Harbour Bridge Webcam

 

How the AWHC is a waste of $5.3 billion

Update 24/7/14 – Given the rumours flying around today about Government announcing the possible acceleration of this project, we have made this earlier post “sticky” while we write up a new post on the issue for tomorrow.

This is the first of a couple of posts looking more closely at the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project and how we could do it differently.

Last week there was some renewed debate over the merits of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) project, due to former Local Government Minister Michael Bassett suggesting it should start nearly immediately and made a lot more sense than the City Rail Link. I outlined why that particular argument is complete rubbish previously, but I think it’s worth delving back into exactly why AWHC is an unnecessary, wasteful, counter-productive and completely stupid project. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about the AWHC project’s roading components as proposed in quite a lot of detail here by NZTA.

Continue reading How the AWHC is a waste of $5.3 billion

Happy Birthday Auckland Harbour Bridge

The Harbour Bridge is arguably Auckland’s most visible and well known piece of transport infrastructure and it’s 55 years old today.

Harbour Bridge

The bridge was famously built as a scaled back version of what was originally intended and for exceeding traffic projections. Instead of a 5-6 lane bridge with footpaths the government of the day scaled it back to just 4 lanes and no footpaths – something still missing to this day (although Skypath will sort that out). The decision to cut back the bridge to four lanes has often been pointed at as a massive planning failure however the addition of the clip-ons has probably resulted in the bridge having more vehicle capacity than it would have had otherwise.

Since it’s opening until the mid-2000’s traffic growth on the bridge was fairly consistent every single year but since that time vehicle volumes have dropped and then effectively flat-lined.

AHB 1960-2013

By my calculation based on the figures above the bridge has probably carried just shy of 2 billion vehicles over its lifetime and should carry it’s 2 billionth within the next 12 months.

And just in case you think they are going up again, the monthly data from the NZTA shows volumes are on the way back down again.

AHB Apr - 14

Yet while vehicle volumes have dropped in recent years the number of people crossing the bridge have continued to increase thanks to greater use of buses.  During the peak trips across the bridge have increased massively from 18% in 2004 to 41% in 2012. This is in large part due to the development of the Northern Busway.

All those vehicles (and people) being moved have made the bridge probably the most transformative single project in Auckland’s history. It converted the North Shore from a series of largely sleepy seaside villages to a part of the region with over 200,000 people (although some residents seem to still think it’s a sleepy seaside village judging by their reaction to the Unitary Plan). The image below shows what the North Shore looked like from the air in 1959 when the bridge opened compared to now.

Harbour Bridge Impact

Last year my Grandmother passed away and she was the kind of person who kept almost everything. While cleaning out her house we happened to stumble across some old newspapers and that included the special editions of both the NZ Herald and the Auckland Star. It would have been great to be able to scan these for everyone to see but it would have been difficult due to the large size of them (if someone wants to do this let me know). Both papers contain a heap of articles about the history of the project and how the bridge was built, far too many to cover off in a single post however. They also each contain a huge amount of advertising as it seems everyone business wanted to be associated with it which I guess is fairly unsurprising.

Harbour Bridge papers

Seemingly ever since the bridge was first built people have been talking about the need for an additional crossing. Amazingly despite serious discussion about another crossing popping up every few years there has yet to be a firm need for it and thankfully it seems to be one of those projects that are always needed in an ever shifting few decades. Buses have helped more and more people across the harbour while the suggestion of the bridge or its clip-ons falling into the harbour has been repeatedly dismissed by the NZTA. That is a good thing as a new crossing is expected to be hugely expensive at about $5 billion which is over twice the cost of the CRL.

By the bridges 60th birthday we will be able to finally celebrate being able to walk and cycle across the harbour thanks to Skypath.

Happy Birthday Auckland Harbour Bridge

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.

Conclusion.

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.