The NZTA have recently published information on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing on their website, including all of their technical reports, which are mostly from around 2010. These reports have been available elsewhere, however most people wouldn’t know they existed so it is good that NZTA have pulled them all together on the main NZTA site.
New to me are the timeframes for the project, which the NZTA have indicated are:
|2015||The Transport Minister asked the Transport Agency to take immediate steps to further develop the project. The Transport Agency will engage professional advisers to help prepare to help future proof the route.
|Mid 2016||NZ Transport Agency to serve Notices of Requirement for land required.
|2017 to 2018||Detailed business case investigations including funding options and design. Application and hearings for resource consents.
|2019 to 2022||Procurement stage including contract award, detailed design, land acquisition and preparation for works.
|2022||Estimated start of construction.
|2027 to 2030||Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing opens.
This is a much more aggressive timeline than the NZTA indicated at their recent briefing on the National Land Transport Programme, where it was suggested that the tunnel was unlikely to progress beyond the designation point for at least a decade.
The project website claims that the Auckland Plan identifies the AWHC will be required between 2025 and 2030 however, as we covered in this post, there isn’t any rational justification for this based on the Preliminary Business Case, which calculated a BCR of just 0.4.
The project website mentions the “bigger picture”, emphasising that more than “55% of NZ’s freight travels through the Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions”. As Matt covered in this post though, there really is only a tiny proportion of freight originating from Northland that is destined for points south, and vice-versa. It is quite misleading to include Northland in this statistic and it is certainly no justification for the AWHC . In any case, the website doesn’t mention the Western Ring Route, which is a continuous motorway linking Manukau and Albany and is due to be completed in phases in the next few years.
I haven’t reviewed all of the technical documents, but there are a couple of things about the transport modelling report that stand out. The emphasis in the snippet below is contained in the report – it isn’t mine:
The transport model also has this table of car parking costs as an input assumption for the BCR, on p.42 of the report:
I asked the NZTA what the highlighted text meant, and if the parking costs were daily or hourly rates, and they had this to say:
- The Transport and Traffic Model Report (2010) analysis used costs that are 50th percentile costs which was appropriate for that stage of the investigation.
- This report was one of the outputs of the Preliminary Business Case which was developed to assess the bridge and tunnel options. The focus was a fair “like for like comparison” between these two options, and as such the BCRs were tailored to the level of assessment appropriate to the decisions that were required to be made at that stage.
- Currently, no further benefit cost analysis has been completed since 2010. Several years have passed since the benefit cost analysis was completed and we anticipate the BCR will be higher now.
- Should a designation be secured for the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing, the Transport Agency will move forward with a Detailed Business Case in approximately 2017-2018. This will include further investigation to evaluate the preferred option and a detailed analysis of current costs and benefits.
- The parking costs referred to in the report reflect average daily costs and were accurate at the time the modelling was undertaken.
So it looks like the mysterious Appendix M doesn’t actually exist, and any further analysis of costs and benefits won’t take place until the six lane tunnel for general traffic has been designated. The BCR of a rail only crossing to the North Shore, which will be billions of dollars cheaper than a road crossing primarily for single occupant cars, has not been calculated. The modelled costs of parking for the CBD seem woefully underestimated, compared to current earlybird rates of $24 a day.
This is completely the wrong way to go about a project which the Minister of Transport estimates will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion. Public consultation has been pretty much non-existent. I doubt many North Shore residents realise that if the new crossing is tolled, it is likely to be a toll on both the existing bridge and the new crossing.
There has been a complete lack of analysis of the impact of the fire-hose of single occupant cars which will flood the CBD as a result of the project, and neither has the full cost of increasing the capacity of the CMJ and approaches been considered. The NZTA already have in the scope of the designation work widening the motorway from Esmonde to Northcote, but it is likely that the motorway will have to be widened further north as well. The space required for this motorway widening work will undoubtedly take precedence over any future design for mass rapid transit.
Luke did a post last year on the environmental impacts of the toll road tunnel, including ventilation stacks for exhaust fumes that will be up to 35m (10 storeys) high on both sides of the crossing and the massive amounts of reclamation required. I’m not sure why the residents of Northcote Point haven’t formed an action group yet over the impending loss of Sulphur Beach and the marina. They seem oblivious to their neighbourhood becoming a construction site for at least five years too.
And of course the fact that the tunnels might be “future-proofed” for rail means nothing in practice. The designation process should not be going ahead without a clear understanding of what the mass transit network will look like on the North Shore.
There is no urgency for the crossing either – actual traffic volumes are well below the trend envisaged in the 2010 reports:
I wrote to Auckland City Councillors and asked them to stand up for what Aucklanders actually want, rather than simply acquiesce to this ill thought-out plan. The only response I got was from Cllr George Wood, who said that “I must say that Simon Bridges is committed to the AWHC” and “people north of the Waitemata want the additional crossing. We certainly don’t want wish it to be stalled.”
Does George speak for everyone on the North Shore? Does Simon Bridges? What do you think?
A random assortment of charts from data that I regularly collect but which don’t often warrant their own post.
That downward spike in fuel prices a few months ago didn’t last too long
Average traffic volumes over the harbour bridge are up slightly – an increase of 0.9% over this time last year – but still below what they were a decade ago. For an explanation on why there is a new and old count see this post.
The road toll is creeping back up. The 12 months to the end of June were up 11% on the same time the year before. Note: back in the mid-late 1980’s it was over 800 in a year so this is an improvement but still way too many people killed and injured on our roads.
Airport passenger volumes continue to increase, now over 15 million passengers a year pass through the airport. Of the 4 million international arrivals, 1.9 million are New Zealanders (I assume a similar number of departures are too).
Wellington patronage data for June is now available and shows modest growth of 2% for the year. The strongest growth is on the rail network at just over a 4% increase in patronage.
On the issue of rail, a year ago the Auckland rail network carried less passengers than the Wellington network however (11.4m vs 11.6m) however the huge growth in Auckland has dramatically turned the tables.
While still on rail, here’s the results for each month shown over a calendar year – highlighting just how much larger patronage is this year compared to previous years.
Lastly on PT, how we’re tracking against the Auckland Plan target of doubling patronage from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022 (we’re just over 78 million now). After a slow start, patronage now seems to be tracking at a similar level – albeit with a lower number – to the Auckland Plan target. If the current trend continued we’d probably end up with around 130 million trips.
AM peak cycling counts from 9 of ATs automated cycle counters shows numbers continue to rise.
We are all having quite a bit of trouble taking all the transport institutions seriously over RTN designations and intentions. The failure for any action to have been taken over a route through Mangere and the Airport over the last decade, and the constant reductions of any available space for a rail ROW there, or at least one not prohibitively expensive, make all the assurances we hear increasingly hard to believe.
Now we are expected to have no concerns at all about a process which shows every sign of just being another massive state highway with a little pretend drawing of a train in the sump of a massive road tunnel.
Tommy Parker confirmed today that buses on the bridge are to be the RTN solution, ie what there is now.
Our view is that this puts the cart before the horse. NZTA should not be starting with a solution without any clear description of the problem. We do not see why it needs a designation over a stretch of water to analyse what may be missing across here. Although it is not the designation that is the problem, but the lack of a needs focused, creative, and open minded analysis that troubles us.
As to us it is clear that what is missing from the existing bridges is a real RTN route [assuming SkyPath happens]. Therefore we expect to see real exploration of what delivering rail only tunnels [or bridge] would do to shape demand here. A rail system would certainly be higher capacity than road tunnels, and, well planned, would also likely be much cheaper and stageable. Adjacent rail systems do add resilience as the TransBay Tunnels did in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco. And not do have all of the disbenefits of the massive increase in vehicle numbers throughout the whole city [congestion!] that more traffic lanes will.
We know than any additional road capacity here would be a total disaster for the city, which we are currently de-carring, and the CMJ which is already full, and the North Shore local roads. We also know, and NZTA almost brags about this [see below], the main outcome would be a traffic inducement on a massive scale:
This is ‘decide and provide’ in a bad way, a huge programme of traffic creation; $6 Billion to get people out of buses and into the driver’s seat. What ever we build across this route will be used; what an amazing opportunity to choose to shape both demand and the city in a wholly positive way.
However the fact that NZTA is not currently allowed to spend on rail capex, and anyway really is mainly a State Highway provider and then is not calling for any outside expertise to explore rail systems is also not encouraging:
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
We would like to meet with NZTA at the highest level to discuss this further.
We are extremely concerned that institutional momentum is building for a very very poor outcome for the city and country and are determined to improve this process.
We look forward to your reply,
Digging around online the other day I came across an Auckland Council Archives webpage with a series of old plans and charts on early Auckland harbour bridge and tunnel concepts. I do recommend having a poke around for fans of this sort of thing.
The one plan that really caught my eye was the one below, a 1930s concept for a suspension bridge from Devonport to Parnell. Click this link for the full size version.
Look at that: tall towers with graceful parabolas of cable holding up a long spanning slender deck. Boy I do love a good suspension bridge! And check the engineers stamp in the bottom right corner. None other than J.J. Bradfield himself, designer of both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the connected City Circle underground rail system.
With 175 feet (54m) clearance above the water this would have had more room under it than our existing bridge, however it would have ended up on the wrong side of the modern container port. If they had built this perhaps the port would have been forced to move out by now.
The four lanes and two tram tracks sounds like just what we need today, if you could squeeze in a footpath and cycleway. Having said that, you can presume the trams would have been ripped out and the bridge converted to a six lanes all for traffic like so many bridges from that era.
I also wonder what would have become of the motorway system without the harbour bridge to Northcote Point, presumably spaghetti junction would have ended up further east and Parnell would be sliced in half by a motorway. Would we lament the swathe carved through Devonport and Bayswater the way we lament the long gone villas of Newton gully and the lost beaches at St Marys Bay, or would we simply forget like we have the City of Cork Beach? Perhaps the Eastern Motorway would have been built, perhaps instead of the Southern?
In any case, the shape of our city would have been considerably different. A reminder that new transport infrastructure shapes our future city as much as it responds to our existing one.
…and doesn’t it make our actual bridge look like an ugly bugger in comparison?
I regularly keep track of a number of statistics about transport and one of those is traffic volumes from the NZTA. Recently I noticed an anomaly with the figures for the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Previously volumes were reported as:
- Centre Span
- Left Clip-On
- Right Clip-On
The monthly data for March and the annual data for 2014 (released in March) was different, instead reporting just Northbound and Southbound traffic volumes – the annual data also included the clip-ons but not the centre span. That in itself isn’t such an issue however the total traffic volumes were quite different, even for previous months/years. An example of the difference is shown in the chart below of annual traffic volumes. You’ll also notice that the volumes are up slightly – although they are still less than they were in 2005 and in percentage terms is low considering Rapid Transit services like the busway are growing by double digit figures. The chart also includes the traffic volume predictions found in the most recent business case for another road harbour crossing.
So seeking an answer for discrepancy I asked the NZTA why the figures were different. The answer is below.
The original site was a National Telemetry Site with loop detectors on the two clip-on sides and an infra-red detector over the four centre lanes. This equipment used on the centre span could not determine directionality and loops could not be used due to the steel deck (the clip-on counters are on the concrete deck north of the main span).
The Auckland Motorway Alliance (AMA) established a count site just north of the bridge some years ago to collect directional data, but it was noticed that the AMA counts and the Telemetry site counts were drifting apart. The problem was with the centre span equipment, which was missing more vehicles as time went by. Therefore, it has been decided that the data from the centre span counter was too unreliable to use.
The Telemetry site was life expired anyway, so the AMA site will become the new Telemetry site. I am told that the clip-on counters are still providing reliable data, so there is no need to decommission them.
That seems a pretty reasonable explanation however as the monthly data released so far only extends back to March 2014 I asked if any further data was available. What I received back surprised me. I did receive some extra monthly data but far more interestingly I also got two years of hourly data by direction – from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2014. Below are some of the insights we gained from that.
First up results by the day of the week. I was quite surprised to see that traffic builds up over the course of the week with an average difference between a Monday and a Friday of over 15,000 vehicles per day. The busiest single day over that two year period was December 19, 2014 when over 200,000 vehicles crossed.
Breaking that down further by time the table below shows that while Fridays have the highest overall volumes, the strongest peaks occur earlier in the week which I can only guess is due to a lot of people rushing to get home whereas on a Friday the peak is smoothed a little, perhaps from people leaving work earlier or staying at work longer socialising. You can also notice that the late night/early morning volumes over the bridge are much higher than other days of the week from people ou
Click to enlarge
Showing traffic volumes over the course of the average weekday we get the chart below. I was quite surprised to see that the afternoon peak was stronger than the morning peak.
The data allows us to break that down further including by direction
While volumes peak in the morning and afternoon I was interested to see how things compare on a per lane basis as the moveable barrier on the bridge means that in the peak direction there is an extra lane available. It is often stated that a single motorway lane can move about 2,000 vehicles per hour. As you can see the volumes on the Harbour bridge fall short of that and peak at around 1,700 per lane. It’s also interesting that at times when the bridge is in a 5-3 configuration that lane volumes are similar.
Note: I’ve estimated the times that the barrier is moved as I’m not 100% certain.
I suspect it will be very hard for the bridge to hit any maximum capacity as it is limited by the motorways either side of it. That is also one of the major flaws of any plans to build and additional harbour crossing. You’d have duplicate or at least widen much of SH1 to either cope with the volumes or allow the connections to be used to their potential.
Lastly it’s worth considering the role that buses now play in the Harbour Bridge. Over the two hour morning peak (7-9am) around 200 buses cross the bridge southbound yet they carry around 9,000 passengers which is well more than the bridge carries in an a single morning peak hour. That points to one of the big benefits of PT investment, it’s capacity abilities. By having a strong, congestion free route it allows us to take the edge off volumes and move many more people at a time they want to travel. Imagine the impact there would be if tomorrow all the PT users who currently cross the bridge by bus instead tried to do so by car.
Overall fascinating data so thanks to the NZTA for providing it.
The government has announced it is restarting the process to protect the route for an a third harbour crossing that raises a huge number of questions.
Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, has taken steps to future-proof the route for an additional Waitemata Harbour crossing in view of the rapid growth Auckland is set to undergo in the next 20 years.
“I have asked the NZ Transport Agency to recommence work on what will be a critical transport link for Auckland and the upper North Island.
“The preferred route for the additional crossing is a tunnel east of the Auckland Harbour Bridge between the Esmonde Road interchange on the North Shore, and Victoria Park Tunnel and Central Motorway Junction in central Auckland.
“Advisors are preparing for the designation process and are putting together a business case focusing on the timing of construction and potential funding options,” Mr Bridges says.
In 2013 the Government announced its support for a tunnel in preference to a bridge.
“With increasing demands on Auckland’s transport network, the Government will continue to work closely with its local government partners to provide a resilient network and wider transport choices,” Mr Bridges says.
The NZ Transport Agency says an additional crossing is likely to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, and is likely to be needed between 2025 and 2030. A construction start date will depend on a number of factors, including the rate of freight and traffic growth.
Mr Bridges says that the additional Waitemata Harbour crossing will work in conjunction with the existing Auckland Harbour Bridge.
The business case will look at a range of public transport options, including heavy rail. The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport will be working together on this part of the project, including any necessary route protection for public transport.
“The Government knows that investment in all modes of transport will ease congestion and bring lasting benefits for Auckland and for New Zealand as a whole,” Mr Bridges says.
The NZTA last studied an additional crossing five years ago and the reports from that study are available here. The questions I have are in no particular order.
With construction depending on factors such as traffic growth, will the new business case take into account the actual traffic volumes from the last 8+ years. After almost 50 years on constant increases, traffic volumes fell after 2006 and have been so stubbornly flat that they are still less than they were in 2003. Not only did the previous business case – produced in 2010 – predict growth that hasn’t materialised but they also used a model to predict the volume for the starting year of their prediction (2008) which was well above the observed actual volumes.
Related, what will be the employment and traffic volume targets the project must achieve. After all if the City Rail Link is going to have bogus targets foist upon it then why shouldn’t the single most expensive project we’ve ever considered.
With the project costing between $4 and $6 billion how will we pay for it. To put things in perspective we currently spend about $3.4 billion on transport per year for the entire nation and that includes costs for state highways, NZTA contributions towards local roads, road policing, and of course NZTA contributions towards public transport. Within that budget we spend $1 to $1.4 billion on state highway improvements. In short an AWHC would suck up massive amounts of cash and that would impact on a huge numbers of projects from all around the country. Even if built as a PPP the ongoing payments would likely cripple our transport budgets for decades. As an example Transmission Gully which is costing around $850 million will have repayments once it opens of about $125 million a year. AWHC would be significantly more than that.
Will the business case achieve a Benefit Cost Ratio of greater than the 0.3 it did last time (Answer: presumably it will because of the changes since then to the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Model allowing for a longer assessment period and reduced discount rate – still won’t be above 1 though)
It’s all very well talking about a horrifically expensive tunnel under the harbour but what constantly seems to be ignored is what happens on either end of the tunnel. Studies prior to the 2010 one have talked about how any new crossing would also require major expansions to the Northern Motorway to cope with the increased capacity thrown at. How much is it going to cost to duplicate SH1 to Albany and beyond? If not then we just get this situation.
What impact will the $4 billion we’ve been spending to create the Western Ring Route have on traffic and travel behaviour. At the very least we should probably be waiting till after that work is completed and traffic volumes have settled down before we do any analysis of traffic demand over the harbour.
Regardless of how much it costs or what the benefits are one fact that can’t be ignored is that this project will have major impacts on the environment it passes through. It effectively creates a new motorway out in Shoal Bay with all the red hatched parts in the images below being reclamation and the blue parts being viaducts. I wonder what the likes of the Herald’s John Roughan will say about – note: I still don’t think he’s admitted he was wrong about the Northern Busway.
Further if some of the residents of Northcote got so upset about the idea of Skypath, I wonder what they’ll think of having a mini spaghetti junction on their doorstep. Even more so when they realise that the two square boxes on the image above where the new lanes change from tan to purple colour (to the right of the 1 symbol) are 35m high (~10 storey) ventilation stacks for the exhaust fumes inside the tunnel. There is also one on the city side next to the current Air NZ building (below).
One mini positive is that the government are at least saying the business case will consider a rail crossing however in my mind the NZTA also need to assess options that involve building a PT only crossing first. A dedicated PT crossing along with Skypath are the real missing modes across the harbour. This is especially important given the huge growth we’re seeing in bus passengers from the shore and in the morning we’re seeing up to 30-40% of people crossing on a bus – up from 18% in 2001. This growth in PT is likely to continue for some time yet, especially once the new network eventually makes PT much more useful to a wider variety of people. One risk is I suspect there are quite a few people behind the scenes that will think an acceptable solution to PT across the harbour is just to leave it on the existing bridge.
The 2010 and 2011 car results seem like they could be incorrect but I can’t confirm it
Overall route protection itself isn’t a bad thing but any suggestion that this is project is needed any time soon is fanciful thinking. There are far greater priorities in Auckland such as the CRL and significant upgrades to PT in many other areas. The government should be focusing on getting those projects consented and underway first.
These pictures come from reader Jonty showing the NZTA’s new lighting scheme on the Harbour Bridge. The NZTA are usually quite good at providing information on changes like this but I haven’t seen anything this time so I’m not sure if it’s a permanent thing or not.
Overall I think it looks like a great addition and long overdue. It could also be important as from memory the lighting proposed for Skypath was a source of complaint from some local residents. If the NZTA have introduced lighting then that hopefully reduces those complaints.
This is a sort of ‘Photo of the Day’ post to follow Matt’s one this morning: The day in question being last Friday 30th of Jan. Thankfully I was able to get back to the city from work in the South Island just in time to ride to the Ministerial Cycleways Announcement on the abandoned CMJ off-ramp. See here for how promising is the repurposing of this symbol of urban motorway-era overbuild into something useful.
As I observed in the post linked to above it’s surprisingly pleasant on the ramp, you’re largely above the traffic. Here’s a pic with a photo-op on bikes for Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown, and AT Chair Lester Levy going on in the distance.
And the backdrop? Three current and three soon-to-be apartment buildings. Left to right; Urba on Howe street, a new build, two existing blocks, the old Telecom office about to be converted, another 80/90s office building of considerable ordinariness under conversion, and another existing one. Hundreds of new dwellings in easy walk or ride to K Rd, Ponsonby, and of course the city.
I had a good chat with new transport minister Bridges, to be continued, he was very relaxed and out of a suit unlike his poor officials [background]. Those elegant cuffed wrists holding the phone belong to city Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid who will be very important in making sure that NZTA’s traffic engineers don’t get away with insisting on some sort of massive cage along the sides of this route out of panic about what humans might do in their motorway corridor.
A balance between ensuring safety and creating a great environment is key here. It is important that the physical detail of this conversion treat riding and walking as normal activities that do not require the kind of defensive constructions that hurtling along in tin boxes at 100 kph do. It is already a fun and secure place to ride and walk. And even though its as close as we are likely to get to an elevated Highline in Auckland I don’t think it needs to be fussily guilded. I like experiencing the tough motorway engineering on foot or bike; there’s something a little transgressive about it. Sightlines need to be clear and the width is great, and practical for reducing conflicts on a shared path. For the route see Matt’s previous post.
The only cost of any consequence is a short bridge at the southern end of the ramp opposite South St connecting through to the bottom of East Street then up to K Rd in one direction, and Canada St, and the Grafton Gully and North Western cycleways in the other. Yay. The architects of the Pt Resolution Bridge [now called Monk MacKenzie along with structural engineers Novare Design] are on the design team so we have high hopes for a beautiful structure here.
Breaking! Just got the ok on Twitter from NZTA to share these:
Stunning. But interestingly only views from the motorway users’ perspective, and no one appearing to be using it… hopefully there are some equally developed views for above. You can see the bridge sweeps past South St to link with Canada St and the bottom of East St. Therefore directly to the Grafton Gully and Northwestern Cycleways more than to K Rd.
Talking of beautiful pedestrian/cycling bridges after the function I rode on to see the new one between the Grafton Gully cycleway and the path between Elam/Whitaker Pl and Symonds St:
And what a lovely sensuous and sinewy thing it is too. Structural engineering practice Novare were the lead designers.
From there I headed down to the city via O’Connell St. Of course it would be much better if there was also a route through the Wellesley St underpass. There is available space at the northern end which is currently only occupied by desultory planting. This would mean that pedestrians and riders wouldn’t have to go up and across Symonds St to get to and the from the city and the cycleway. It is hard to imagine how this connection isn’t a priority for AT/AC?
O’Connell St is insanely improved; fantastic work by AC + AT. A huge success; peopled, busy, new sales being made and life being lived on the street. Previously it was just parking and vehicles circulating looking for parking. Still needs a tweak to reduce the rat-running, a good start would be to review the street pattern to the south [uphill], I propose reversing the one-way to up hill rather than down, as it currently funnels vehicles into O’Connell. Reversing this pattern would retain the same level of vehicle access to the surrounding buildings but direct movement towards the streets with higher vehicle priority. The aim should be for only delivery or emergency vehicles with destinations actually on O’Connell to be there. How it was:
From there I went to check out Waterfront Auckland’s new [not yet officially opened] boardwalk. Fantastic:
Wide, elegant, graceful: great work WA. Another of those projects that makes you wonder what took us so long….?
And obviously, in the words of the Grandfather of Soul James Brown; it’s now time to “Take It To the Bridge”
After all who can disagree with Brown, especially about what’s cool.
In fact all the good things in this post make me feel very optimistic about the progress on the great task of fixing our potentially great city after decades of damage and neglect through the auto-age. So much so that I have to also agree with Brown here on the Ed Sullivan show in 1966 , so about Auckland’s progress:
“I Feel Good!”
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
Here’s what the Harbour Bridge will look like before and after the Skypath is added.
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.