Congestion pricing has once again hit the political radar, with the news that the Auckland Transport Alignment Project has recommended it as an option to more efficiently manage the transport network. They find that variable road tolls – highest during peak periods on busy roads and low (or even zero) at off-peak times – are the single most effective intervention to improve traffic flow.
On the whole, it looks like support for the idea is on the rise, which is positive. That suggests that the work that Auckland Council’s consensus building group did a few years back has contributed towards a better public conversation on the issue. That’s good, as it’s a challenging idea to sell to people.
The NZ Herald’s editorial on the topic was tentatively supportive and showed a reasonable understanding of the core principles of congestion pricing:
Transport Minister Simon Bridges conceded this week, “we can’t keep building new lanes on highways. We will need a combination of demand-side interventions if we are going to deal with congestion over the next couple of decades”. He prefers the term “demand-side interventions” to taxes, tolls or charges but those are what it means.
Unlike the council, the Government does not advance these for revenue raising but for reducing traffic on the roads. It clearly thinks road rationing is more politically acceptable than revenue raising and the AA agrees. Feedback from members, it says, showed support for tolls as long as people could be convinced it was for congestion benefits, not simply revenue.
However, the Herald’s editorial also exhibits a common misunderstanding about congestion pricing, arguing that free routes must be available as an alternative to tolled routes:
The joint report for the council and the Government this week did not suggest how road travel might be charged. Mr Bridges said one option was to track all traffic with GPS technology which is being trialled in Singapore and Japan. But that implies no roads would be free at times the charge applied. Travel is a basic freedom. We could welcome the chance to pay to use a fast lane when we need one, so long as free lanes remain.
The Herald’s position is basically in line with NZTA’s existing tolling policy, which states that:
…a road tolling scheme may be established to provide funds for the purposes of one of more of the following activities, namely, the planning, design, supervision, construction, maintenance, or operation of a new road, if the Minister of Transport is satisfied that:
- the relevant public road controlling authorities (including the Transport Agency) have carried out adequate consultation on the proposed tolling scheme;
- the level of community support for the proposed tolling scheme is sufficient;
- if an existing road is included in the scope of the tolling scheme, it is physically and operationally integral to the new road in respect of which the tolling scheme will be applied;
- a feasible, untolled, alternative route, is available; and
- the proposed tolling scheme is efficient and effective.
However, I think that both NZTA and the Herald are being too hasty in assuming that the untolled alternative route has to run parallel to existing roads. Alternatives can exist in time as well as in space.
Stu Donovan described the maths behind this last week. Transportblog reader Bryce Pearce also dug up a good practical example: apparently Singapore’s road pricing scheme allows people to travel for free most of the day. For example, if you are trying to drive on Lorong 6 Toa Payoh at 8:30am, you’ll have to pay $1. But if you leave an hour earlier or an hour later, you won’t pay anything:
ATAP took a similar approach when choosing how to model congestion charges. As the following diagram shows, the ATAP scheme would increase peak and inter-peak pricing, relative to current fuel taxes, but decrease charges in evening periods. Consequently, people would have options to save money for certain types of trips, for example, by shifting supermarket trips from the afternoon to the evening:
Arguably, being able to travel for free on the same road, at a slightly different time, is even better than being able to travel for free on a different, more circuitous road at the same time.
There are obvious user benefits to the approach of varying tolls by time of day. It allows people to make better choices that respect their individual preferences for time, timeliness, and money.
But there are also important system-wide benefits from variable tolls between different time periods. Because congestion can be quite sensitive to changes in the number of cars on the road at a given time, encouraging even a relatively small number of people to shift the time at which they travel can lead to large benefits.
That’s nicely illustrated in the following graph of Auckland Harbour Bridge traffic volumes. The AHB is essentially free-flowing during the middle of the day, when there are around 1300 vehicles per lane per hour. But it is considerably slower during the evening and morning peaks, when the bridge carries more like 1500-1700 vehicles per lane per hour.
Because the peakiest bits of the peak are relatively short – perhaps 2.5 hours in total across an average weekday – you could improve the performance of the bridge by charging tolls during a few short windows. People could still travel for free (or at any rate a lower price) during the remaining 21.5 hours of the day.
From my perspective, that’s a pretty good alternative for drivers! But what do you think about the issue?
We are increasingly concerned that Auckland is in the middle of very poor process where by far the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure project is being forced along and at ill-considered speed without anything like the level of public participation nor detailed analysis that it should have.
NZTA are relying on a 2008 study into possible future harbour crossings to just get on with designing and designating a road only crossing. This study started with the assumption that any additional crossing would be a road lane crossing. No kind of comparative analysis of all options like the Centre City Future Access Study that was done to be certain that the City Rail Link is the right mode and route for that need has ever been undertaken.
Looking at the current options across the harbour it is clear that the highest capacity urban transport mode is what’s missing. There are 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, and some passenger ferries, but no dedicated Rapid Transit route. We hold that it is absolutely necessary to do a proper comparative analysis between modes for the next harbour crossing before any designation or final design work is undertaken, and have been consistent in requesting it. We are not claiming to know what the outcome would be but that it is frankly irresponsible to proceed any further without such a study.
Particularly as a great deal has changed since 2007 when that report was commissioned. Aucklanders have proven that they are just like city dwellers everywhere else in the world and are very keen to use good quality Transit systems when they get the chance. Since the upgrade and electrification of the existing rail network we have been piling onto our new trains at a rate well in advance of expectations. The Northern Busway too has excelled expectations even though it has to share lanes with general traffic on the bridge and therefore is not as Rapid as a dedicated route would be. These two top tier systems are attracting riders at a rate of 20%+ year on year, and while there is relief ahead for the rail network with at last the CRL underway, there is no plan to deal with an ever rising flood of buses into the city centre with this hugely expensive project.
The line that ‘Aucklanders just love their cars’ as an excuse to not provide quality alternatives to driving has been forever proven to be the nonsense it always was. Aucklanders are the same as everyone else; we love what ever works well for our needs. So when we get options like the example below from Panmure for reliable fast travel we take it.
Furthermore it is well understood that it is the quality of the alternatives that govern the speed and reliability of the surface routes. So that in this example the car and bus speeds and reliability would be much worse without the separate Rapid Transit alternative. The same will be the case for across the harbour; a great alternative means freer roads, another driving route means more cars everywhere; more congestion See here for a discussion on this:
There’s good science to back up the commonsense view. It goes like this: public transport operates to a fixed speed, a timetable. Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
Additionally the commitment to this road only crossing is made before the completion of the Western Ring Route, the current multi-billion dollar bypass for cross harbour traffic. It is also being made without any kind of business case. Existing estimates are up to $6Billion dollars for a return of 30-40 cents on the dollar. This desperately needs proper and thoughtful analysis, without the ridiculous haste from politicians.
All over the world cities are kept moving by building high capacity spatially efficient Transit systems. Auckland is simply at the point where it can no longer delay adding this essentially weapon to its arsenal of movement options. From statements by NZTA they agree that a Rail crossing is required but they insist, without any analysis or study, that this must come after another road crossing.
Three road crossings, and no more spatially and energetically efficient option? We would like to see analysis of what reversing this timing could achieve. What if the next crossing is high capacity electric rail? Especially driverless low operating cost rail.
- What are the outcomes for traffic congestion across the wider city?
- For land use?
- For the local environment?
- For Carbon Emissions?
We know that the people constantly say they want extension of quality Public Transport:
Survey of Automobile Association members
The public deserve to have a say in what is being done in their name and with their money. There are so many questions. NZTA know that this project will flood the city centre with cars and that there is simply nowhere for them to go. They also quietly discuss levels of tolling on both the new crossing and the old bridge. This massive project will not only soak up huge sums of investment funding closing off opportunity to make other decisions across the city and nation, but also induce more traffic everywhere on Auckland’s roads. It is also the reverse of future proofing as it commits us all to more driving:
The road only crossing is a huge Traffic Inducement scheme, as NZTA explain in this slide.
To claim all environmental and traffic congestion concerns can be waved away because of future technology is very weak. That argument suggests that the time to build this kind of infrastructure is when we all do have electric cars, not on the prospect of their arrival some time in the future. And if driverless cars are to be that revolutionary then perhaps all this expensive additional road space will not be required? Meantime there is current electric and driverless technology that can be invested in right now.
In Vancouver the SkyTrain mass transit system shifts 117m people per year, at frequencies often down to a train every 2 minutes, running from 5am to 1:30am daily and all at an operating surplus. Driverless, Electric Light Metro. North Shore people have already shown they are not too posh to bus, they certainly won’t be reluctant to use a quicker, quieter, cleaner, more direct, 21st century movement system like this.
The absence of rail as well as walking and cycling options to the North Shore has been considered an oversight by many probably ever since the Harbour Bridge was first approved for construction over 60 years ago. While Skypath will finally rectify the walking and cycling situation, many have looked to the prospect of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) to rectify the rail one.
Some papers I received from the NZTA at the end of last week as part of an official information act request suggest that those hoping for rail to be part of AWHC are likely to be out of luck again. They confirm the NZTA only plan to designate a road based crossing. This is in sharp contrast to how the NZTA have presented the project to the public to date which includes saying that the tunnels include provision for Rapid Transit and have pictures showing tunnels with both cars and trains in them – such as the one below and this one which is described as their current concept. Their plan is to have the tunnels become SH1 with the existing bridge acting as a sort of giant off ramp to the CBD.
In addition to the likely absence of rail from the project, the documents also suggest that:
- the NZTA could look to cut the connection to Onewa Rd
- they are waiting till after the route is protected before doing a detailed business case
- along with some other public information suggest that the NZTA deliberately ignoring any additional works needed on either side of the harbour
There are five documents in total and are dated between November 2014 and May 2015. They were the result of asking for ‘All advice to senior management, the board or the Minister on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing’
In November 2014 a paper to the NZTAs Senior Leadership Team makes this comment
The additional crossing has been identified as providing for both road and rail. Whilst the road network is mature in this area, there is currently no rail network on the North Shore. As a result Auckland Transport’s support for protecting the route for rail now is unclear. A high level discussion with AT is required to understand their aspirations.
On 10 February 2015 there is a short briefing to the Minister about the route protection process.
On 20 February 2015 there is a much more extensive briefing to the Minister after the minister obviously asked for more info. As part of a series of questions and answers the NZTA say:
The business case, which will be completed in 2017, will consider rapid transit options. Work on rapid transit options will be led by Auckland Transport. The preferred option will be secured through the route protection process.
It’s also from this brief that a small point about Shoal Bay is raised and that there are options to mitigate it.
Impacts on Shoal Bay: The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing would generate significant impacts on Shoal Bay on the North Shore including those resulting from land reclamation. There are opportunities to mitigate these effects.
Just under a month later the Minister announced the NZTA would be moving ahead with the designation process and a few days later this memo was produced discussing the next steps. This is what they say about rail.
They say a key decision is to ‘Agree with Auckland Transport the extent of rail involvement in the designation process.’
It is also from this document where they raise some of the other issues I mentioned including:
That they are considering holding off on the business case. Along with the rail comment above, deciding this is the other key decision that the memo says needs to be made.
That they are considering dropping the connection at Onewa.
Recently I’ve been hearing that extending the tunnel all the way to Esmonde to avoid reclamation in Shoal Bay is being progressed and that means anyone who accesses the motorway from Onewa Rd and wanting to go somewhere other than the CBD would have to drive north to Esmonde first then turn around and head down the tunnels. Alternatively they would have to go into the city and travel through city streets before re-joining the motorway.
The final document is a paper to the NZTA board in May 2015 discussing the route protection and other issues. In it they effectively confirm that the NZTA will not be including rail designations as part of its work and that instead it is up to Auckland Transport. They also note that the ‘lack of clarity’ around rail is the main risk to the route protection process.
Now obviously this doesn’t mean that rail isn’t going to happen as Auckland Transport could also look to protect a rail route at the same time but it seems fairly clear that the NZTA are fully prepared to designate for a road only crossing if AT don’t get on with a rapid transit option. That seems like a recipe for something going wrong due to miscommunication. We know AT have recently been conducting a study on the future of Rapid Transit to the North Shore but we haven’t even heard the outcome of that yet, let alone have the work needed for a notice of requirement completed to coincide with NZTA’s previously stated desire to start the NOR in the middle of this year.
All of the information also suggests that the NZTA intend on building road tunnels regardless with rail either at best happening concurrently or more likely never. There doesn’t appear to be any consideration a different staging of the project which could see a cheaper rail option built first and a road crossing considered if still needed in the future.
In addition this board paper notes the decision had been made to only do route protection at this time and leave the business case to later.
Next steps are tightly focused on route protection. The wider business case will be progressed as a subsequent piece of work, and subject to a separate funding application.
What is also worth noting from these documents is that appears the NZTA are treating business cases as only being used to inform when a project should start construction and what funding source it would have rather than whether it’s worth doing at all. That means the AWHC with a benefit cost ratio of 0.3 can (from an earlier study) is progressed because it passed the “do we like it” test.
There is also an interesting comment in the board minutes as a result of this paper. Included in the minutes it says ‘Board members discussed how to ensure the NoR process is contained tightly to matters relating to route protection only for the future crossing’. I’ve long understood that for the AWHC to function it will also need some significant widening of the motorway north of Esmonde Rd. It seems the NZTA want to keep discussion away from that.
One additional piece of information that was quite interesting from the 20-Feb paper was a little note on why the NZTA have picked the western alignment rather than going to the East of the city like the NZCID have suggested.
The eastern alignment was not progressed as it would have cost significantly more, including a $1 billion upgrade to Grafton Gully to accommodate additional traffic and improve connections into the central motorway junction. The eastern alignment would also have resulted in congestion on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and underuse of the new crossing.
An extra $1 billion just for Grafton Gully alone which presumably doesn’t include the extra cost of an even longer tunnel.
As I’ve said before, lets get the missing modes completed first before seeing if we need another road crossing. It might just be that a cheaper rail crossing has sufficient impact to delay a more expensive road crossing.
As regular readers will know, we’re not exactly big fans of another road-based harbour crossing being a priority. We believe that after Skypath, the next crossing should be a rapid-transit-only crossing, providing those travelling to and from the North Shore with a complete and attractive alternative to the current bridge. It could be designed to leave space so that a future road crossing could be built if still needed.
Instead, the current most likely outcome is that we’ll spend $4-6 billion on a tunnel and massive interchanges at each end. And yet, because of changes they’ll make to how the existing bridge is used, it’s likely the extra crossing won’t even provide any additional capacity to the road network. About the best we’ll get is some bus lanes – AT and the NZTA have been suggesting that light rail could possibly go over the existing bridge, but my understanding based on conversations with various staff is that this is unlikely to be a realistic option.
So if we’re going to build a road crossing that doesn’t actually do much, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a cheaper bridge option. According to the last study by NZTA in 2010, a bridge option would be around $1.4 billion cheaper. That level of saving is nothing to be sneezed at, after all the entire cost of the Waterview tunnels project is $1.4 billion!
A bridge would also be considerably cheaper to operate and maintain – about $4m per year vs $20m per year (in 2010 $). Again $16m a year, every year, is significant. That’s roughly how much public subsidy is paid each year to top up fare revenue on the North Shore bus network.
The main reason for selecting a tunnel rather than a bridge was the result of public feedback around 5 years ago on the council’s Auckland Plan, and I’d say most of that feedback took place without considering the huge cost impact of their decision. One of the main reasons for this is the view it would obviously represent a dramatic visual change, which many people would be fearful of.
But would a bridge option be all that bad? Bridges all over the world can be some of the most stunning and iconic features of cities. Designed well they are more than just function.
Below are some of the renders from the NZTA study, so take a look for yourself. We were reminded of these when leafing through some of the obscure old reports so I wonder if most people even knew this was an option?
We quite like the design, the triangular cable towers are vaguely reminiscent of volcanic cones or perhaps sails on the harbour. In any case they have a monumental look. Cable stayed bridges are quite popular these days, as they are strong, stable and self-supporting during construction, which makes them fast and cheap to build. Of course there would be other types of bridges that could work: a grand suspension bridge like the famous Golden Gate, another steel arch bridge, a very simple concrete girder or maybe something wild and unusual.
Thinking about this, we think there are some other potential benefits of a second bridge, beyond the big construction cost saving and the cheaper operations and maintenance over time.
Firstly, it would be easy to provide road and rail on the same bridge, something that is difficult and expensive to do in a tunnel. We know that Auckland Transport are currently looking at rapid transit options to the North Shore. Given they are considering light rail across the isthmus and the airport, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that they would consider it here too? And why not, light rail only takes up as much room as a traffic lane each way, and it can handle almost any grade you would want on a motorway bridge. So for the minimal cost of adding two lanes for light rail to the six lanes of motorway you could literally double the people carrying capacity of the crossing. It would also tie in nicely with the current plans for the isthmus which would see light rail along Fanshawe St to Wynyard.
There is also the possibility that you don’t need to add much at all. The NZTA designs below show a box section holding up the road deck. With a little tweaking to the design it could probably be big enough to run a rail line through each way. A rail deck inside the bridge structure is pretty common in bridges around the world, perhaps a double deck bridge is an efficient solution for Auckland?
Secondly, a new bridge would give a nice and more direct walking and cycling link, as we can see in the picture below. While we agree the Skypath is an excellent value retrofit and should proceed asap, having separate walking and cycling links on a more direct alignment would be even better in the long term. We would obviously expect walking and cycling connections to be a little wider than shown in the image below though.
Thirdly, bridges avoid a lot of the problems that tunnels can have with things like vehicle fires, water leaks and dangerous goods spills. Melbourne has had a pair of under-river tunnels since the early 2000s and it has experienced all three kinds of incidents, with many lives lost in one bad fire down in the tunnel.
So, could a relatively cheap and efficient new bridge with a mix of traffic lanes, light rail, walking and cycling be the right answer for the North Shore? Such a crossing might come in under $3 billion, less than half some of the recent estimates for doing motorway and rail in tunnels. But there might be some further savings to be had too. In the renders below we can see that the bridge itself is a fairly slender and graceful structure. But the real impact, and much of the cost, of the harbour crossing plans come from the connections either side, including what amounts to a new Spaghetti Junction in St Mary’s Bay complete with three additional tunnels under Victoria Park and a similar tangle of ramps and reclamation at Northcote Point though to Akoranga.
If the crazy plan to dump six lanes of bridge traffic onto Cook St was dropped, they could drop the duplicate Victoria Park tunnel and a mess of associated ramps and structures approaching it. The existing Victoria Park tunnel could be reconfigured into one lane each way to Cook St by adding a central fire wall, instead of building a second one next to it to get three lanes each way to the middle of town. This would improve connectivity to midtown while providing a reasonable, rather than insane, amount of vehicular capacity. Not only would this save the city from drowning in traffic that has nowhere to go from Cook St, it would also save a further half billion or so from the cost and reduce the amount of structures and reclamation on the waterfront.
A second advantage of new bridge with light rail would be the ability to drop the proposed busway additions on the old bridge. That sounds crazy coming from this blog, but you have to ask why you would need both a busway and railway next to each other when rail alone can do the job well. If you dig through the plans you can see NZTA have designed an elaborate series of busway lanes and flyovers either side of the harbour bridge, in addition to the rail designation (clearly they didn’t put much faith in rail ever actually happening). Dropping the busway links in favour of light rail only would likewise cut out a lot of concrete, and hundreds of millions of costs.
There are some further benefits of value engineering out the spurious ramps and links. With less linkages you need to reclaim less harbour and build fewer flyovers, but you’d also get to detune some of the worst bits we already have. Do the crossing right and St Marys Bay could be turned from eleven lanes of motorway into a six lane waterfront boulevard through to Fanshawe St and Cook St. It might have more in common with Tamaki Drive than Spaghetti Junction.
So what about it Auckland? Would we be happy with a new bridge if it meant traffic, rail and people could be accommodated together while saving billions of dollars and reducing the impacts on the waterfront areas? Is there a “lean and mean” road solution that could be funded and built earlier while also giving people the rapid transit crossing they want?
To finish we just have to ask, why was this option dropped so readily? Given the potential to save billions and get better outcomes shouldn’t we at least have a thorough discussion?
The issue of another road crossing of the harbour has been one we’ve discussed for quite some time. It’s a project that many Aucklanders like to think makes sense but that when you look deeply at the details it’s not so clear it’s a good idea. Without going over everything again – you can read some of our old posts on the subject – the project is hugely expensive and yet doesn’t actually appear to provide that much benefit.
In fact the impact seems to range from actually make some key things worse – to at best not actually changing all that much. It is expected that any road tunnel would plug in directly to the Central Motorway Junction and therefore only be used by those travelling through the city or to the connections with Grafton Gully or West Auckland. That would leave the existing Harbour Bridge as a giant off-ramp.
In fact it is actually likely to undermine many of the goals the council have been striving to achieve such as increased use of public transport and a more people friendly city centre. Both will be much more difficult to achieve if a firehose of traffic is turned on to the CBD.
From Sydney but appropriate here too
If spending $4-6 billion to undermine your city’s goals seems stupid, equally so is the more likely alternative version from the NZTA.
One thing that is widely accepted is the need to improve the rapid transit options across the harbour. The Northern Busway is fantastic however it’s missing any priority across the bridge despite buses carrying around 40% of the people going over it AM peak. They would use AWHC to finally dedicate some space on the bridge for PT but the actual number of vehicle lanes across the harbour will be about the same as they are now. In that case we end up spending a huge amount of money to add no vehicle capacity and just to add some bus lanes. It begs the question of why bother, why not just leave the bridge as is and build a better and cheaper dedicated PT crossing.
Because of the need to improve rapid transit options we’ve long advocated for a rail first option to be considered. This doesn’t mean we can’t build road tunnels in the future should they be needed but along with Skypath, rail tunnels more cheaply, directly and immediately address the modes missing across the harbour.
And we’re not the only ones. The Campaign for Better Transport have created a petition calling for a rail only option to be considered. It’s managed to pick up a good amount of media coverage and forced some interesting statements from the NZTA and the mayor. Reading between the lines and combined with what we’ve heard it highlights a concerning situation.
First up from the North Shore times
But NZTA Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner says Pitches is “misleading” people.
Rail hasn’t been ruled-out, he says.
Although harbour crossing route protection work is underway, NZTA doesn’t know precisely when it will be needed or what form it will take, Zollner says.
Previous proposed plans include twin vehicle tunnels future-proofed for rail.
An Auckland Transport spokesman says a public transport study anticipating future growth will be completed mid next year.
The agency which manages local roading connected to NZTA’s motorway network, says it’s investigating how public transport options would integrate into future connections.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown says central government has committed to starting a second harbour crossing within seven years.
Rail will either be part of the second crossing or complementary to it, Brown says.
Another proposal would see harbour bridge lanes repurposed to carry light rail to and from the North Shore.
The NZTA are intending to lodge designation documents for the crossing this year. That means there is no way they can be intending to include rail options within their plans. This matches with what we’ve heard elsewhere that they intend on building their road tunnels and leave the rail options to AT/council to sort out as a separate project. Despite what the mayor or AT say there is no way they’ll be able to justify spending huge sums of money on a rail crossing to the shore if we’ve just spent $4-6 billion on a road crossing.
The second piece is from the Central Leader
“At that point in time they either will build the capability for rail within the tunnels or as correlative part of it,” Brown said.
But the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which constructs state highways says no decisions have been made.
Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner said NZTA and local agency Auckland Transport were currently working to protect a future route for an additional harbour crossing.
“While we don’t yet know when it will be required, and precisely what form it will take, in a rapidly growing region it’s essential that we protect and keep our future options open,” he said.
The northern busway serving the suburbs north of the bridge had been a huge success, and one of the benefits of a second crossing would be to continue it across the harbour.
“(It) could then also be used for rail or other innovative public transport options in future,” Zollner said.
Again this all but confirms there is no intention to build rail as part of the next harbour crossing. At best it is happening as an afterthought and only once we’ve sunk billions into some road tunnels and massively upgrading the motorways either side – something the NZTA are being very quiet about. I suspect the only reason they’ll even consider having light rail on the bridge is that after they’ve built the road tunnels they’ll revoke the state highway designation and hang the bridge asking with its expensive maintenance costs over to AT.
The AWHC appears to be a classic case of the same gung-ho roads first approach that has left Auckland in such a mess for so many decades. So let’s build a great PT crossing first and then see if we still need more traffic lanes across the harbour.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter then you may have seen some of these the other day. If you haven’t, here is a collection of some great old colour photos of the Auckland Harbour Bridge and St Mary’s Bay before they both got fatter with more traffic lanes. The images come from Denis Wilford and were taken between 1960 and 1964. It always amazes me just how slender the bridge looked back then before the clip ons and also how much space there still was around St Mary’s Bay even with the road rammed through it. In 1964 the bridge had traffic of around 22,000 vehicles per day, by comparison at its peak in 2006 it carried almost 169,000 vehicles.
The Auckland Harbour Bridge from the southern end – 1964
The Auckland Harbour Bridge from the air, with Birkenhead, Devonport and Takapuna. The Hauraki Gulf beyond – 1963
The Auckland Harbour Bridge from the air, with Birkenhead beyond and the Westhaven Marina in the foreground – 1963
The Auckland Harbour Bridge from London St – 1961
The Auckland Harbour Bridge with Auckland City beyond – 1961
On the way over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, travelling north – 1960
On the way over the bridge, travelling north, looking over to Auckland City and Westhaven Marina – 1960
The motorway from downtown Auckland City to the Auckland Harbour Bridge – 1960
The motorway from downtown Auckland City to the Auckland Harbour Bridge – 1964
Thoughts of Sydney are inseparable from images of its harbour:
It’s naturally beautiful, but also much of what has been added around the harbour increases its appeal, particularly the Opera House and the Bridge:
The bridge is not only beautiful, and massively over-engineered, but also is an impressive multitasker; trains, buses, general traffic, pedestrians, people on bikes. All catered for.
Despite that when looking at the bridge its mostly covered with cars in terms of moving people the general traffic lanes are the least impressive of the three main modes, as shown below in the am peak hour:
It is its multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
The Bridge has always been impressively multi-modal as the first toll tariff shows, and it carried trains and trams from the start:
In 1992 it was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The evidence from Sydney shows that what we need to add next are the missing high capacity modes. And that we clearly aren’t using the existing bridge well enough. Our bridge was never designed to carry trains, but it does carry buses, and currently these could be given the opportunity to carry even more people more efficiently. And that very opportunity is just around the corner. In 2017 or maybe even next year the alternative Western Ring Route opens, described by NZTA like this:
The Western Ring Route comprises the SH20, 16 and 18 motorway corridors. When complete it will consist of 48km of high quality motorway linking Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore Cities. It will provide a high quality alternative route to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and take unnecessary traffic away from Auckland’s CBD.
Excellent, always great to invest in systems that take unnecessary traffic away. And there is no better way to achieve this than to make the alternatives to driving so much quicker and more reliable with dedicated right-of-ways. Here is the perfect opportunity to achieve that, the opening of the WRR should be paralleled by the addition of bus lanes right across the Bridge in order to lift its overall capacity. And at the same time perhaps truck priority lanes on the sturdier central lanes should also be considered, so the most important roles of highways, moving people and freight efficiently, can be more certainly achieved. Although the need for that depends on exactly how much freight traffic shifts to the new route [as well as the rail line and trans-shipping via Northland’s new cranes: ‘New crane means fewer trucks on the highway’]. Outside of the temporary blip caused by the building of Puhoi to Warkworth [much which will be able to use the WRR] heavy traffic growth on the bridge looks like it is predominantly buses.
Meanwhile our transport agencies should be planning the next new crossing as the missing and much more efficient Rapid Transit route. Cheaper narrower tunnels to finally bring rail to the Shore; twin tracks that have the people moving capacity of 12 motorway lanes. Here: Light Rail or super efficient driverless Light Metro are clearly both great options that should be explored:
But before all of this there are of course those two much more humble modes that can add their invigorating contribution to the utility of the Bridge, walking and cycling, Skypath:
The famous cycle steps on the northern side, there are around 2000 bike trips a day over the bridge [despite the steps]:
And there they were right at the beginning:
First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.
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.