Several months back, I took a look at the way we’re designing street networks and neighbourhoods in greenfield subdivisions. It’s not a pretty picture. The reigning assumption seems to be that places on the edge of the city are car-dependent now and will be car-dependent forever. As a result, developers and planners build places where it’s difficult to walk, cycle, or take a bus.
In my view, this ignores the reality that today’s fringe suburbs are tomorrow’s urban fabric. That’s nicely illustrated in this map from the Auckland Plan, which shows how the city has expanded since 1840. Suburbs built in the 1950s and 1960s are now firmly in the midst of the city.
In other words, urban growth wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that it is often pathological from a transport perspective – i.e. a developer goes to the edge of town and builds a bunch of cul-de-sacs, single use suburbs, and non-connective street networks, under the assumption that it will be a car-based place forever. Then somebody else comes along and develops the next paddock, and before long you’ve got this unworkable mess in the middle of an urban fabric.
In my previous post on the topic, I took a look at some research into how we can transform car-dependent suburbs into workable urban places. Here’s one such design from Galina Tachieva’s Sprawl Repair Manual. It’s a great idea, but it would require the purchase and demolition of 5-10% of the houses in the neighbourhood. The end result would be a net increase in dwellings as sites are redeveloped, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to implement.
Wouldn’t it be better to simply do it right the first time?
Now, I’m no urban designer, but it seems like there could be a role for strengthened structure planning in greenfield areas. This could entail, for example, local governments establishing (and rigorously enforcing) structure plans for street networks and street designs in new developments. The aim would be to ensure that streets functioned well for all modes of transport, rather than just cars, and that they didn’t create any “holes” in the urban fabric that would be difficult to travel through later on.
There are a number of great examples from the Netherlands, but I figured that it would be good to highlight some local examples where people are taking steps in the right direction. I haven’t comprehensively surveyed new developments, so I can’s say how representative these examples are.
First, here’s the development plan for Hobsonville Point. Hobsonville’s quite interesting as it’s conceived as a mixed-density, mixed-use place with a ferry connection. Here’s the plan for the street network at the Point itself:
The street cross-sections seem to be designed in emulation of the city’s most successful urban/suburban places – with street trees and relatively narrow lanes (by Auckland standards, at least). The two “boulevard” sections (red lines on the above map) are designed with 1.8 metre cycle lanes. It would obviously be better to have safe, separated cycleways, but hey, it’s a start:
A bit further west, at a Special Housing Area site in Whenuapai, they seem to be going one step further and installing separated cycle lanes on two major streets from the get-go. (All images are from the plan change released by Auckland Council the other week.) Although Whenuapai is following the classic “boxes in a paddock” model of suburban development in Auckland, it seems to be aspiring to something a bit different on the transport front. Here’s the map of the development:
It’s a bit difficult to understand how all of this will fit together without knowing more about proposed street networks for surrounding areas. The streets within the SHA seem like they may be quite wide, without consistent cycle provision. But take a look at the street cross-sections for the main arterials, Brigham Creek Rd and Totara Rd. They will have safe separated cycleways from the start:
Of course, a few cycleways in new subdivisions will not compensate for the street design mistakes made in previous developments. If you start riding the Brigham Creek Rd cycleway, you’re probably going to be mixing it up with traffic on some pretty inhospitable roads before long. That will take time to fix. But I’m hopeful that these projects are an indicator that we are in the process of overcoming our pathological approach to street design in new subdivisions.
Lastly, I’m aware that I’ve mainly talked about cycle design here, and omitted public transport. That’s because safe cycle facilities are particularly easy to install in advance, and challenging to retrofit. (Once people have moved in, adding cycle lanes means taking away their essential human right to free on-street parking – cue uproar!) But we also need to ensure that the area is served with good rapid transit choices, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.
Given the growth out near Hobsonville and Whenuapai, perhaps we should be talking about accelerating the installation of busways on state highways 16 and 18? I honestly can’t see those areas working, long-term, without congestion free transport options:
What do you think about street design in new subdivisions? How could we do things better?
A decision by the council’s Development Committee has been pitched as a battle of whether a 20ha block of land at Hobsonville Point should be used for housing or a film studio and is the outcome of competing visions for the land from two council controlled organisations. Of course things aren’t quite as simple as that – including just how much land is being talked about. The whole thing seems a bit like two children arguing and the parent (council) having to pick which one it believes the most.
The land was initially earmarked by the former Waitakere City Council as being for a marine industry precinct however for various reasons that hasn’t gone ahead. The council in the past have agreed that the land would be developed if the marine precinct didn’t go ahead.
Auckland Council Properties Ltd want to develop the full 20ha providing 441 dwellings across 14ha of the land and the remaining 6ha of land would go towards an employment hub. They say that this option would recoup the $36 million already spent on the land and provide the council a $34 million profit.
Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) is to use 10ha of the land for a film studio and the remaining 10ha used for 315 houses. Interestingly both proposals have the same density of housing, the difference is how that’s laid out and integrates with the rest of Hobsonville and it is also said that the ACPL option does much better in this regard.
High level analysis by CBRE suggests that with this option the council will achieve $24 million less from the development. In return ATEED say the film studio will create 435 new jobs which over 25 years would generate the equivalent of $483 million (in $2007). No mention seems to be made of how many extra jobs would be generated by the employment hub.
ACPL also say they think a realistic alternative for a film studio would be better located just down the road closer to the industrial area going in around Westgate and say they’ve even offered to help find and acquire a site for those purposes. Presumably the benefits of a film studio precinct would be fairly independent of the location
The council have voted to give ATEED an extra four months to come up with a more solid proposal for a film studio.
I don’t have a firm view on either proposal but suspect the ACPL one is probably the stronger of the two primarily because I can’t see what unique benefits having a film studio with a near waterfront location are vs having it down the road. What do you think?
Well this is positive, albeit a unexpected. AT have announced that due to better than predicted patronage, despite the high fares, they are going to see if they can get a lot more people using the service. To do that they are dropping the fares as a trial for a month starting Monday. Here is the press release from AT:
Three weeks on from the launch of the new Hobsonville and Beach Haven ferry services, patronage is showing good growth above initial forecasts with 26% above forecast for week one (317 passenger journeys); 68% for week two (422 journeys) and 56% for week three (232 journeys for three days).
Capitalising on this beginning, Auckland Transport is offering a special price deal for all trips on the Hobsonville and Beach Haven ferry services to encourage more people to try the service. Special prices are available from 25 February until 24 May 2013.
Auckland Transport’s Manager of Public Transport, Mark Lambert says “It’s been a good start for the new services. We’re looking to stimulate further growth with the special fares helping promote the services and attract more people who may not have been public transport users previously.
“Ferry travel is a very pleasant and time-saving travel option for those working or studying in the city as well as those looking to travel for leisure”, says Mr Lambert
The Hobsonville and Beach Haven ferry services run two morning and three afternoon sailings each week day.
A bus service departing from Westgate connects with ferry sailings at Hobsonville.
Fare and timetable information is available at www.AT.co.nz
See the full brochure here. As a comparison, current adult fares are $12 ($9.20 with HOP) from Hobsonville, $8 ($6.20 with HOP) from Beach Haven and $4 ($2.80 with HOP) for trips between the two.
This is absolutely great to see and hopefully patronage will grow enough that AT will be able to justify leaving fares at this level permanently. I would also love to see AT trialling this kind of initiative in other areas, like offering special off peak fares on train and bus services.
Just over a week ago I went out to Hobsonville point for the opening of the ferry wharf, but I didn’t actually have a chance to look around the rest of the development. So last weekend my wife and I went out to Hobsonville again to have a better look around the development, as well as have lunch at the Catalina Cafe. The good news is that I can honestly say I was quite impressed by what I saw. Many of the features incorporated into the development so far are exactly what we promote here on the blog.
Below is an overview of the development with the recently opened wharf at the top left of the image, and the Catalina Cafe roughly in the middle next to the Hobsonville Point park. This area is also where the first houses have been built, some of which are already occupied. I love that developers have gone for a grid-type layout as opposed to the typical cul-de-sac that we have so often seen.
The first thing I noticed is that no work has been done to widen the main road currently running through the development – Buckley Ave. Compared to most new developments it is much narrower, which is superb as it helps to reinforce for drivers that they are in a residential area and should slow down. Along with the visual queues the posted speed limit is only 30kph, as shown in this wonderful sign:
Here is a view of Buckley Ave from outside the cafe:
In the background you can see some of the newly-built houses. You can tell right from the start that the area is higher in density than other developments over the last few decades. The narrow streets exist through these houses too. The developers have gone a step further by ensuring that footpaths carry on through intersections with the side streets, making them more pedestrian friendly.
As the main street is narrow and currently subject to low traffic volumes, there aren’t any formal crossings. However it is still clear to both pedestrians and drivers where these crossing-points are. Any paved area that connects with the road for pedestrian use also contains these bollards:
One thing I hadn’t noticed at the wharf opening is that access to the wharf area is actually via a shared space. Although interestingly, it is controlled by lights as it only wide enough for one vehicle.
Further around the development the new primary school appears to have been completed, along with part of what I assume will be the main road through the development – Hobsonville Point Rd. Once again this road is not a massive arterial which is great, and also includes cycle lanes, an urban corner park and bus stop:
And lastly the new primary school:
All up there are some great things going on here which is good to see.
Sunday’s launch of the Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry seems to have got some, such as the perennial mischief-maker Cameron Brewer, excited about ferries and thinking that they can fix all of Auckland’s Transport problems. On the plus side, he also seems to have become a fan of bus lanes which is something to store away in the memory banks:
“Yesterday’s opening of the new ferry terminals for Beach Haven and Hobsonville Point was a great day for Auckland, but the claim that ferries would play a much greater role in Auckland’s transport future was a bit disingenuous. The rhetoric simply does not match the reality of what’s being planned and budgeted.”…
…”These two new ferry terminals are great but the sad reality is the council won’t be able to pour a heap into new or improved ferry infrastructure simply because of the Mayor’s central city rail obsession which is set to soak up most of the public transport capital expenditure budget this coming decade.
“Spending approximately 80 percent of the 10-year budget on the City Rail Link is not a balanced approach, and will not deliver a strong and mixed integrated transport system.
“This is not good news for ferry and bus users who want serious investment in their infrastructure and services. The Mayor tells everyone he’s going to do everything, but the budget clearly points to one CBD project soaking up most of the money”
“In 2013/14 alone we’re set to spend $180m on the City Rail Link. That’s a lot of ferry terminals or tarmac for new bus-lanes,” says Cameron Brewer.
While the support for bus lanes is great (a pity it comes too late to save the Remuera Road bus lanes from being turned back into T3 tractor lanes) I think Brewer, along with a lot of other people, often miss the point when they state that ferries should do much more of the transport task by building a whole pile of new terminals and opening up a whole pile of new routes. Put simply, the point is that while ferries have an important role to play in Auckland’s PT system, they only work in certain situations.
So what are those situations? Obviously for a start they need to be on the coast – which has the somewhat unfortunate outcome of half a ferry terminal’s walking catchment being water (much more than that if a long wharf is required). The prime waterfront location of ferry terminals also makes park and ride facilities either incredibly expensive to provide in terms of land acquisition or incredibly ugly. Or both. So there’s quite a reliance on good feeder buses, or having the ferry route offer such a significant time savings that it’s worth going out of your way to make the ferry work.
And on that last point there are some situations in Auckland where ferries really do offer a compelling advantage over anything else. Waiheke is the obvious example because there really isn’t an alternative, while Devonport comes to mind as the other immediately obvious location where ferries will always make sense – simply because of this:
These two locations really dominate ferry patronage, as shown in the screenline survey for trips to the CBD in the AM peak period, making up nearly half of trips:
The relatively slow growth since 2006 seems to indicate that we’ve probably squeezed close to as much out of those two routes as possible.
So how can we make the most out of the potential of the ferry system? I guess there are a few different options:
- Add more routes from new locations – Te Atatu, Mission Bay, Browns Bay, Howick, Takapuna and various other points around the harbour (including a cross Manukau service) are often mentioned.
- Build more park and ride spots so that more people can drive to ferry terminals.
- Continue to invest in current services by offering better frequencies and bringing ferries into the proposed zone based ticketing system so that fares (at least for regular users are cheaper).
- Improve bus/ferry integration (fares being a critical part of this) so that ferries are used in a similar way to trains and the busway: as a fairly rapid part of the PT network which avoids congestion on the road system completely.
There are possibly other ways in which we can improve ferries, but generally I think the last two bullet points above are what we should focus on – particularly ahead of continuing to look for new routes – no matter how attractive that seems to local politicians.
Let’s take the new Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry for example – while there’s much excitement about this at the end of the day the service provided is pretty rubbish: barely a handful of sailings and only on weekdays. No off-peak service, no weekend service, eye-wateringly high fares. Too bad if you want to use the ferry to check out Hobsonville on a sunny Saturday – the ferries don’t run. Too bad if you’re a university student living in Hobsonville and want to stay late – the ferries don’t run after a 6:10pm sailing. Too bad if you don’t want to live your life around a timetable: even at peak times it’s over an hour between sailings and 8.05am is the last sailing from Hobsonville to get you into the city in the morning.
Many other ferry timetables are similar. The Gulf Harbour Ferry also only runs a couple of trips a day – though at least it also has a middle of the day service for day-trippers up to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Tickets are only again pretty steep at $27 return for an adult. The Half Moon Bay ferry, which I think has huge potential as it bypasses a hugely congested stretch of Auckland’s transport network, similarly has rubbish frequencies with one service every two hour outside the peak (I guess at least there are off-peak services?)
In terms of improving access to the ferries, I think we’d do well to think of them as being somewhat similar to the rapid transit network. A fairly sparse (in terms of walk up catchment) but pleasant and (theoretically) fast and reliable service because it avoids traffic congestion on the roading network. So bus integration, including free transfers between buses and ferries, becomes absolutely critical here in opening up the catchment of the ferries far wider than otherwise possible. If Half Moon Bay ferries were far more frequent we could have most buses from Bucklands Beach and that northern portion of “southeast Auckland” feeding into the ferry network as much as it feeds into Panmure station and the rail network or Botany town centre and the future busway along Ti Rakau Drive. Park and ride will always be difficult to provide for at ferry terminals – due to their inherent location in high amenity waterfront areas.
So perhaps next time someone comes up with a “we should add this ferry route” argument we might also think about whether that’s really the best use of funds or whether we should focus on improving what we already have – because it seems like there’s a lot of untapped potential in the routes that already exist. But I guess that’s just not quite as sexy as pushing for new routes – regardless of the quality of service which ends up being provided and the rather high capital cost in providing for just a handful of trips every weekday.
I had the opportunity to go to the opening of the Beach Haven and Hobsonville ferry wharfs today. While readers my know I have had my doubts on the services, primarily due to the limited sailings and steep prices, I do think that the infrastructure put in place does look good and of course cruising up the harbour on a ferry can be a pretty nice way to get to/from work. Our first stop on the ferry was at Beach haven for a quick ribbon cutting ceremony. Local board chair Lindsay Waugh gave a short speech about the project and at one point got a cheer when she said that the ferry will enable people to get to town and connect to the rest of Auckland using the CRL.
Beach Haven wharf with Hobsonville in the background
The Beach Haven wharf waiting area
After that it was time for a quick hop across to Hobsonville to open that wharf. We did get a little delayed though after having to turn back to Beach Haven due to leaving Len Brown behind. The Hobsonville wharf is quite nice, the waiting area is similar to above, albeit a bit larger. It is reached by a wonderful walkway which is lined with boards that talking about the areas natural and human history.
Hobsonville Wharf walkway
One thing I quite like is there is a bus stop just behind where I was standing meaning it is only a short transfer to the ferry.
Lots of people turned up for the opening
After the ribbon cutting it was time for more speeches which actually turned out to be interesting and a little bit insightful. First up we had Auckland Transports new chairman Lester Levy who gave a superb speech. He talked about the terminal but also how AT had to become better at customer service. He also covered off something I have been thinking about (and have mentioned in a few places), talking about how much of a change is happening to transport over the next few years. He is from a medical background and so used some medical examples, he said we weren’t just having a cosmetic peel that would make the skin look better for a while but that would eventually end up looking just the same, instead he said we were having major re-constructive surgery that will profoundly improve the quality of our lives. Some people may just think this is just talk but I have now met Lester a few times and I do think he is genuinely wants to improve transport in Auckland which is excellent and just what we need.
Next up was John Key who along with Len Brown opened the wharf. Perhaps the most interesting thing he talked about, and he mentioned this over at Beach Haven too, was how his son was starting at Auckland Uni this year. He mentioned about how there isn’t a heap of parking at the uni which makes it fairly expensive to park there. He said any student who drives in will soon become a very poor student due to those parking charges so it is important that options like PT still enable connectivity. It was good to hear him say this but I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t just another take on the old attitude that PT is just for students, poor people or the elderly. Lets just hope that his son becomes enlightened on urban issues and is able to pass his thoughts on to his father.
Bit hard to get a good photo due to the light sorry
Len Brown spoke next and most of the stuff he talked about is probably similar to stuff he has said before so I’m not really going cover it in this post. Last up we had Adrienne Young-Cooper who is the chair of the Hobsonville Land Company, the organisation doing the development of the area. Perhaps the key thing she talked about was about how they hoped the development would enable people to live with one less car. She talked about how the costs of owning a car can easily be more than $8,000 per year and how enabling people to have one car instead or two, or two instead of three is something that can really help improve affordability. That is something this blog really supports and something I think is a key reason why we need to improve our PT system. Hopefully she is also pushing that same message to some of the other boards she is on as amongst others, she is currently also on the board of the NZTA.
All up it was a really good day and there was quite a large number of people that turned up from the local community. If we could get even a quarter of them using the services then it will be a pretty outstanding success.
Auckland transport have released the timetable for the new Hobsonville and Beach Haven ferry services that start next week. As we found out a month ago, there are only two services in the morning and three in the afternoon. The biggest issue is the cost of the services, adult passengers will pay a cash fare of $12 from Hobsonville and $8 from Beach haven with HOP fares a little less at $9.20 and $6.40 respectively. One thing I do like is that the buses that will connect to the Hobsonville ferry wharf appear to have been timed to meet the boats however with passengers having to pay an additional bus fare it isn’t likely to be popular.
Yesterday Auckland Transport announced that a date had been set for the start of ferry services to Hobsonville and Beach Haven.
Auckland’s latest ferry service, connecting Hobsonville Point in Upper Harbour and Beach Haven in Kaipatiki with the Downtown Ferry Terminal and the Britomart transport hub, will start on Monday 4 February.
The service will be operated by 360 Discovery Ltd and will run on weekdays between Hobsonville Point and Auckland’s Downtown Ferry Terminal.
Auckland Transport’s Manager, Public Transport Services, Mark Lambert, says, “It is very gratifying providing ferry services, with our operator, 360 Discovery, for the major new housing development being built at Hobsonville Point. The services will be useful for work, school and leisure, offering an easy and pleasant link between Hobsonville, Beach Haven and the city.
“The vessel is Discovery II an 80 seat catamaran which is currently undergoing refurbishment ready for the start date”.
Hobsonville Land Company Chief Executive, Chris Aiken says; “The launch of the ferry service is the result of our vision, shared by Auckland Transport, to provide our residents with a fast and pleasant way to travel into Downtown Auckland. We are extremely pleased with the design of the new wharf which adds character and interest to our beautiful waterfront area”.
Mr Lambert says, “Two morning and three afternoon services will operate each week day. Morning services will operate from Beach Haven from 6.50am and will end in Hobsonville at 6.45pm. Adult ticket prices for Hobsonville Point will cost $12 cash fare one way or $9.20 with an AT HOP card. Child fares will cost $7.20 cash fare or $6.48 with an AT HOP card.
“Adult ticket prices for Beach Haven to Auckland will cost $8.00 cash fare or $6.40 with an AT HOP card. Child fares will cost $4.80 cash fare or $4.32 with an AT HOP card”.
Mr Lambert says, “Both Hobsonville Point and Beach Haven will have brand new ferry wharves. Hobsonville at a cost of $3.2 million with a $900,000 contribution from the Hobsonville Land Company and Beach Haven will cost $1.2m.
Mayor Len Brown is confident of strong public support for the new services. “Aucklanders are looking for alternatives. These services will provide commuters from Upper Harbour and Kaipatiki with a convenient and very pleasant alternative to motorway gridlock. It’s all part of our plan to provide transport choices for Aucklanders as part of our integrated transport plan.
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse says, “Good public transport in new developments is a top priority for Auckland Council, so we are delighted with Hobsonville Land Company’s and Auckland Transport’s investment and work in this regard”.
The service from Hobsonville Point to down will take 30 minutes. The service from Beach Haven takes 40 minutes.
The Chairs of the Kaipatiki and Upper Harbour are also right behind the new service.
Construction work at Beach Haven means access to the boat ramp there may be restricted or closed during January.
Fare and timetable information will be available on the Auckland Transport website from early next year.
Now I like hearing about new PT services but the details perhaps show some of the complexities of providing ferry services compared to buses. Initially there will only be two sailings in the morning and 3 in the evening, that doesn’t leave a lot of options and means for that many, it will simply not be a convenient enough service. As an example, only working half a day, well you will likely either have to wait for a few hours in town or find another way home. Want to stay for a few drinks or dinner after work would have the same result. I worry that this will struggle to get on going patronage, especially when you also consider the fares that are going to be charged.
Cash fares from Hobsonville of $12 and $8 from Birkenhead with HOP users paying $9.20 or $6.40 respectively. Those are some pretty hefty fares when you consider that the respective fares on HOP for catching a bus would be $6.12 and $5.04. At Beach Haven at least there is also a bus that travels from the wharf all the way to the city with a number of other routes nearby which combined provide quite a high frequency. Even odder is that those from Beach Haven pay less than the Hobsonville folk even though they have a longer trip, perhaps an acknowledgement that there are more bus services to compete with. Based on the press release it appears that the trip from Beach Haven may even end up slower than some of the bus routes as the 972 for example is scheduled to take about 35 minutes vs 40 on the ferry.
I counted at least 10 buses leaving at Beach Haven between 7-8am on AT’s journey planner
I know some people would much prefer catching a ferry to a bus but I guess the question is how many are prepared to do so given the cost, infrequent service and potentially longer trip time. Perhaps it will attract a few people who wouldn’t catch PT otherwise but I really wonder if we are getting good value for money with this. Hopefully I’m proven wrong and the service is a success along with the likely less subsided buses not being impacted.