Photo of the Day: ‘The Model Demonstrates…’

The model demonstrates that basic spatial interactions between land uses and transport infrastructure are the most powerful factors that govern the patterns of metropolitan growth.

Land use and Transport


Thanks to our London branch.

Apartments and Housing Affordability

Below is a schematic of current apartment development in a small area of Melbourne just north of the City Centre, next to the Victorian Markets. These are pretty tall; one already under construction is 88 stories.

North Melbourne development

And here is a blog post from our Melbourne friends OhYesMelbourne on another City Centre adjacent development site; Docklands. And I thought Auckland is experiencing a building boom. Well it is, and this growth is impressive, but of course Auckland is a small city by global standards, and the current boom is well in proportion. Across the world it looks like we are in a phase that is concentrating development pressure in primary cities.  So while urbanisation is widespread it seems to be especially concentrated in the cities that dominate their regions, like the Australian State capitals and Auckland in the South Pacific. It’s not just in the new world either; that classic primary city; London, is building up at a new rate too.

Aside from issues of about the balance of this growth from a nationwide perspective or architectural style [blingy is the term that springs to my mind], what is the likely impact of this kind of additional dwelling supply coming onto the market in these cities? Currently Melbourne is getting about 1500 new residents a week [1838 per week last calendar year, in fact]; which at current household sizes means there is fresh demand for about 500-1000 new residences each and every week; pretty hard work to satisfy that demand you’d think?

Well think again; the boffins at the Reserve Bank of Australia are worried about oversupply according to this report from Business Insider. Here’s the recent apartment supply growth:


So while the RBA couches this situation as a warning to financial stability, or at least risk to property developers loosing their shirts in a saturated market, isn’t this exactly the sort of quantity of new supply that overheating urban property markets need, like Auckland?

Price growth is already slowing for inner city apartments in Melbourne and Brisbane, and there are signs that activity in the Sydney property market is beginning to slow after two years of breakneck activity. Supply and demand in all three regions appears to be nearing equilibrium, with significant more supply scheduled to come. It’s clear that downside risks to prices are building.


It seems there is a lesson from the cities across the Tasman that supply/demand equilibrium in cities can be achieved most effectively by building up, although at the risk of supply overshoot. But then isn’t that always the case in any attempt to rebalance a market? So what are the barriers to this sort of solution occurring in Auckland? Is it even possible? One problem is inner city land supply, is there that much available space? Melbourne certainly has a lot of city proximate available land. Auckland is likely to need this sort of growth to also occur in metropolitan centres as well as the Central City simply from a space perspective; given how tightly bound our City centre is. But in that case we will also need to complete the Rapid Transit Network in a timely fashion to make that model function properly. But then we have to do this however we grow; or we are just planning traffic gridlock.

Then there are our planning regulations, especially height restrictions and view shafts, limiting spatial efficiency, and Minimum Parking Regulations adding unnecessary cost to construction [as well as feeding traffic congestion]. I’m sure some will argue that Aucklanders won’t live in apartments, but recent growth in inner city living shows that we have yet to find the limit of those happy to make that choice. It seems likely that out of 1.5+ million there still more willing to live this way, especially as the quality of city amenities and distractions improve [especially public transport, the cycling and pedestrian realm, street quality and waterfront spaces]:

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

And this is even more likely to be the case if new supply is sufficiently scaled to affect property price growth; then these dwellings will become even more attractive; more affordable as well as proximate. Perhaps, if the RBA’s handwringing is prescient, at the cost of one or two over-ambitious property developers’ businesses…?

Auckland Dwelling Consents

Is it happening already? Certainly all the growth in dwelling supply in the last couple of years has been in attached structures: Stand alone houses used to completely dominate Auckland’s housing supply; at three-quarters of the market four years ago to around half now.

The evidence from these nearby cities suggests that ‘up’ may well be a more immediately effective solution to rampant dwelling inflation in Auckland than distant, hard to service, and slow to deliver detached houses out on the periphery. Certainly in as much as it is a supply-side issue.

Photo of the Day: Our Beautifully Constrained City

Sometimes something as simple as looking at things from a fresh angle can help clarify an issue. Here is a wonderful image from the International Space Station that really should help people understand the profoundly real geographical constraints that bind Auckland. Beautiful blue water and rugged green ranges:

AKL from space

Anyone who claims Auckland can have or does have the same pattern as Houston, or Atlanta, or London [like MP Judith Collins did recently], needs to go back to Geography 101. The physical geography of a city’s site is always the first determinant of its urban form. Technology, culture, wealth, history and infrastructure are all important, but still secondary, to those first facts of the place and its climate. And as we try to shape it; it shapes us too.

Doesn’t the privilege of seeing our city from this distance reinforce the responsibility to take greater care with what we do build, and to leave as much of the remaining wilder parts of this limited land in as unmolested a condition as possible?

Where does top down meet bottom up?

This is a guest post from Brendon Harre

In a previous series on the rebuild of Christchurch CBD I have suggested a fundamental issue for urban design is how to increase amenity value without increasing property prices? How to return the amenity value created by the presence and enterprise of the community back to that community? I wasn’t able to give a general solution but I did propose at the time a specific option that might help –greater use of Euro-bloc urban form.

Two urban design theorists hint that the general solution may involve finding the right balance between top down state control and bottom up community initiative. Writer Charles Montgomery whose work generally focuses on increasing amenity values and former World Bank Chief Planner Alain Bertaud whose work usually focuses on improving affordability and mobility have both written on the importance of finding this balance.


Charles Montgomery in his book “Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design” has a section titled: Errors from above (P.93-95) using the process that led to –Brasilia-Itis to explain this problem.

Unfortunately, when choosing how to live or move, most of us are not as free as we think. Our options are strikingly limited, and they are defined by the planners, engineers, politicians, architects, marketers and land speculators who imprint their values on the urban landscape…….

Take the most fully realized modernist city. Architect Oscar Niemeyer’s plan for a new capital city of Brazil on a wilderness tabula rasa in the 1950s was meant to embody the country’s orderly, healthy and egalitarian future. Early sketches of Brasilia resembled an airplane or a great bird with its wings outstretched. From above, the plan was exhilarating. Niemeyer segregated functions across the dual axes of his great bird’s body. At its head, the Plaza of the Three Powers, a gargantuan square lined with blocks of government ministries and crowned with the national congress complex. Monumental avenues were paved along the bird’s spine. Identical residential super-blocks were stacked in orderly rows along its wings. The intention was to use simple geometry to free Brasilia of all the chaos of the typical Brazilian city: slums, crime and traffic jams were banished by the architect’s pen. Pedestrians were separated from cars. There was exactly 269 square feet of green space for every resident. The principle of equality ran right through the design: all residents would have similar-sized homes. Everything had its place. On paper, it was a triumph of straightforward and egalitarian central planning.

But when the first generation of residents arrived to live and work in Brasilia, the simple approached showed its weakness. People felt disorientated by the sameness of their residential complexes. They felt lost in their perfectly ordered environment and its vast, empty spaces. They missed their old, cramped market streets, places where disorder and complexity led to serendipitous encounters with sights, scents and other people. Residents even invented a new word –brasilité, or Brasilia-itis –to describe the malaise of living ‘without the pleasures –the distractions, conversations, flirtations and little rituals –of outdoor life in other Brazilian cities’. The simple, rational plan extinguished the intrinsic social benefits of messy public space and loaded the city with a psychological burden that was entirely new for its residents. (Eventually the city spilled beyond its plan, and now messy barrios spread like a tangled nest beyond the wings of the great bird.)

Alain Bertaud describes the balance of where top down should meet bottom up in the following way in his December 2014 article Housing affordability: Top-Down Design and Spontaneous Order. (Abstract, P.1, 2)

The spatial structure of large cities is a mix of top-down design and spontaneous order created by markets. Top-down design is indispensable for the construction of metropolitan- wide infrastructure, but as we move down the scale to individual neighborhoods and lots, spontaneous order must be allowed to generate the fine grain of urban shape. At what scale level should top-down planning progressively vanish to allow a spontaneous order to emerge? And what local norms are necessary for this spontaneous order to result in viable neighborhoods that are easily connected to a metropolitan-wide infrastructure? Examples from Southeast Asia show that an equilibrium between topdown designed infrastructure and neighborhoods created through spontaneous order mechanisms can be achieved. This equilibrium requires the acknowledgement by the government of the contribution of spontaneous order to the housing supply…..

Spontaneous order appears in the absence of a designer’s intervention when markets and norms regulate relationships between immediate neighbors. Most evolving natural structures, from coral reefs to starlings’ swarms, are created by spontaneous order.

Top-down design is indispensable for the construction of infrastructure that spans urban metropolitan areas. Spontaneous order cannot create a metropolitan road network or a storm drainage system. However, as we move down the scale from metropolitan area to individual neighborhoods and toward individual lots, top-down design becomes less useful and should progressively disappear to let spontaneous order generate the fine grain of urban shape. At the neighborhood level, unfortunately, top down design often usurps the role of spontaneous order in allocating land between households. This substitution of spontaneous order by top-down planning is responsible for the existence of slums in developing countries and for very high housing rents unaffordable to the lowest income population in developed countries.

Urban managers are suspicious of spontaneous order, associating it with chaos and anarchy. They try to replace it with top-down design. Top-down design could be direct and explicit as in Brasilia, or it could be indirect and take the form of detailed regulations and zoning maps, as in most of the world’s large cities……

This paper will not attempt to dispute all the aspects of the “need to plan” logic used by planners. It will only address the impact that minimum land and floor consumption regulations have on housing affordability. These regulations fix minimum sizes for lot, floor space, parking, and access street width. They also set the permissible ratio between the area of a lot and the floor space that may be built on it by setting a maximum floor area ratio…..

Because regulations usually set minimum consumption of land and floor space and not a maximum, they have a high negative impact on the poorest households who might trade-off a lower consumption to be able to settle in a preferred location. For low income households, regulations rather than consumers’ choices are therefore driving individual housing consumption…….

It can be rational to trade off space for location and affordability as Lily Duval explains from personal  experience with her 14 sqm Christchurch house. Alain Bertaud explains it is quite natural for people to make these trade-offs to best maximise their needs. (P.14, 15)

Low-income households looking for a dwelling in large cities have to make trade-offs between location, lot and floor area, width of access streets and availability of urban services. As seen above, they should not rely on government planners to make these trade- offs for them. A number of countries allow low-income households to select the set of housing standards that would maximize their welfare. In these countries, households who can only afford very low standards are not stigmatized by living in informal settlements. Governments recognize that their low standards are the result of very low income and as a consequence subsidize part of their infrastructure, instead of attempting to subsidize their entire housing consumption. Three successful examples, described below, occur in Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. In these countries, within a given perimeter, low-income settlements with no top-down regulations are organized in small condominium-like communities that set their own internal rules. The governments deal with them as communities. They have to follow government standards only for their connections to city-wide networks like water, sewer, power and refuse disposal.


Indonesia Kampongs

Kampongs constitute an invaluable stock of affordable  housing to those who cannot afford a car or are ready to trade-off the convenience of a car for the centrality of a kampong’s location. The original rights of ways for narrow lanes and footpaths have been kept intact even after significant improvements in drainage; water supply has been made available and streets have been paved. As a result, most of the houses located inside the kampongs are hardly accessible by cars. These low road standards prevent land prices from aligning themselves with those of the more traditional houses built along vehicular roads in adjacent communities. The housing stock located in kampongs constitute a parallel housing market for low-to-middle income households. Most kampongs are densely populated, centrally located and close to commercial areas and job clusters…. The lack of car access or at least the impossibility of parking a car on a residential lot makes the kampong’s population more likely to make motorcycles, electric scooters or public transit their preferred means of transport.

Kampongs are making an efficient use of land. (P.17, 18)

Indonesia Kampong land use

Vietnamese vertical urban villages

Vietnam Vertical Village

Vietnamese cities have adopted similar policies and urban development ideology as Indonesia’s kampong program (note Bertaud’s description of China’s mega-project developmental process in this 2012 article would be an apt description of Christchurch’s Crown/Fletchers CBD development). As cities expand, planners carefully avoid encroaching on existing villages while connecting them to the city-wide infrastructure network.

Within an urban village’s perimeter, no specific top down regulations are applied. Houses are mostly townhouses built on narrow plots about 3 meters wide. They are traditionally 2 or 3 levels high. But as demand for housing increases the village townhouses can often grow up to 6 or even 7 levels. The village house owner expands vertically, eventually renting rooms or apartments to new households, adapting the standards to the demand. There are no city-imposed standards in these villages, only good neighbour norms. The supply for new market-provided low cost housing is extremely elastic because of the possibility of vertical expansion compatible with local tradition. Some recent migrants rent only one room, others an entire floor or two. (P.19, 20)

Shenzhen China


Shenzhen evolved into a megacity, reaching about 15 million people in 2014, from what was in 1980 a cluster of fishing villages.

Like in Vietnam and Indonesia these villages have been given freedom to adapt from the bottom up. Alain Bertaud describes (P.21 -26) how a group of ‘handshake’ villages, 2.5 km from the centre of Shenzhen occupy an area 31 hectares and provide housing for about 100,000 people.

This extreme density has some pitfalls such as a lack of natural light -not so much of a problem for the local tropical climate. This design configuration would not be appropriate for more temperate climates such as New Zealand.

But as an example of bottom up control over urban development it has some important lessons, especially in aiding low income residents to find affordable housing. A full reading of Alain Bertaud’s article would be recommended….

Shenzhen street

Has New Zealand got the right balance between top down and bottom up? What do you think?

Alain Bertaud believes (P.2, 3);

Planners use a number of rationales to justify the extension of top down design to the micro aspects of individual consumption of land and floor space. Planners have to plan infrastructure and social services based on future population densities. Therefore, they must estimate future densities in different parts of the city. Too often, planners transform these density projections into zoning plans, which become regulations.

Estimating future density is a legitimate urban planning task. It is wrong, however to transform a planning projection into a regulation, thereby putting households into a regulatory straightjacket……. In constraining land supply planners create an artificial land scarcity resulting in high land prices and high housing prices, reducing the housing consumption of the lowest income households.

High property prices reducing housing consumption for the lowest income households is true for New Zealand too, the urban areas with the highest land costs and lowest incomes has the most overcrowding.

Figure 3.2 Crowded households (2013)

Proportion of households living in a crowded home (per cent)

NZ Household Crowding

Figure 3.2 shows the proportion of households that live in a crowded home. Auckland and Gisborne top the list. Some households are forced into living in places too small for their needs, as they cannot afford a suitable home. The cost of housing, the cost of transport, location and many other factors are among the causes. Crowding is most prevalent for people on low incomes, who are already spending a large share of their income on rent and cannot afford a larger home.

Sources: Statistics New Zealand, Generation Rent (P.82) by Shamubeel and Selena Eaqub

Should it be possible in some localised blocks within New Zealand’s high cost urban areas for communities to bypass planning rules? Perhaps if say more than two-thirds of the residents agree? Creating something like a community controlled body corporate with the purpose of becoming a small high density zone.

The community’s norms like in Indonesia, Vietnam and Shenzhen, China could govern what type of high density is allowed by setting the rules for car parking, shade, height, set-backs….. Normal planning rules would be set aside. Only the building code would apply as a top down regulation. Top down institutions –the Local Council and the Crown only taking responsibility for bringing services to the edge of the community controlled zone.

Would this sort of process help address New Zealand’s housing crisis?

Notes from Sydney: Light Rail

Last week I had some work in Sydney and while there I was able to grab a quick look at some aspects of that beautiful city. I want to start with Light Rail because Sydney has one line in operation, and is about to start another much bigger project next month, and one that is strikingly similar to what AT is proposing for Auckland. Similar in that it upgrades at capacity bus routes, links significant residential and commercial areas with the heart of the city from areas not covered by other Rapid Transit, links event locations with a major transport hub, serves some big tertiary institutions, and most importantly that it will be the catalyst for pedestrianising the main city street. For like AT’s Light Rail plan for Queen St Sydney’s also comes with the opening up of George St for pedestrians.

Below are some shots from my quick ride on the somewhat curious Dulwich Hill Line. This is mostly on the route of the old Metropolitan Goods Line, extended past the old docks of Darling Harbour for the tourist trade and terminating at the city end at at the busy Central Station. This is where I got on on a weekday morning, so heading against the flow, you’d think.


It arrives at Central on one-way loop to an elevated stop at the main concourse level of the Victorian train, Sydney’s largest. I assumed this was a built originally for Sydney’s previous trams, and so it was. The earlier system was largely about distributing into the city centre from this terminus station, but as Sydney grew a number of previously terminating lines were extended through to new underground stations in the central city and through to the bridge and across to the North Shore. The logical and very successful upgrade for a terminating city edge station, just like Britomart. In addition to the new Light Rail line they are also now planning the third underground city rail route and second rail harbour crossing: the new Sydney Metro.


The lovely CAF Urbos 3 arrived full and left full. On this evidence it looks like it could do with additional frequency.


It runs on city streets till Darling harbour then uses the impressive cuttings of the old Metropolitan Goods Line. So the route was not selected because it is necessarily the best place to run Light Rail, but because it was available. Very much like Auckland’s passenger rail network, and many new or revived urban rail systems globally [See Manchester Light Rail, and the London Overground for example].


This business of running services where there happens to be an existing route can of course lead to poor results if there isn’t a match with the surrounding land use, and this line at first did not perform as well as hoped. But that all changed with a the extension to a good anchor; Dulwich Hill rail station [opening 2014], and intensification along the route. It is now booming.


John Street Square Station with apartments and very urban open space above.



Heading back, and full again; mid morning on a week day.


Approaching Central on Hay St, crossing Pitt. Smart bit of kit.


There are obvious parallels with Auckland everywhere you look in Sydney, it is after all, pretty much just a bigger better version of a similar urban typology: a new world anglophone Pacific harbour city. It can be argued that Auckland is at a comparable point of development that Sydney was at decades ago, and while that doesn’t for a moment mean we should slavishly follow what happened there, there is much that can be learned from this city. There are a number of interesting projects underway in Sydney now, like the new Metro, which is introducing a new separate and fully automated rail system to complement the existing network. This is certainly an option for Auckland in the future, especially for upgrading Rapid Transit to our North Shore. The same universal urban forces are in play here as there, as can be seen with Light Rail in Sydney now: It is is working well simply because it delivers on the classic necessary conditions for this mode:

  • Good land-use match: intensification around stations
  • High quality right-of-way: mostly grade separate or has signal priority
  • Strong anchors at each end of the route: train stations in each case, and destinations along the way.
  • High standard of vehicle and service [sufficient frequency yet?]

The key lesson here is that if any of these conditions are missing steps must be taken to change them, as they did here. And that it is possible to exploit existing rights of way so long as there aren’t other barriers to change, especially to more intense urban land use around stations. Now that in Auckland we are well on the way to fixing the major vehicle and frequency standards on the rail network it is the development around stations that needs work. Especially as we only need to look at the improved performance of stations like Manukau City and Sylvia Park to see, yet again, how closely linked landuse and transport always are.

Looking ahead to the next Light Rail route in Sydney it is pretty certain that this will perform even better because it is designed around need not just route availability. It is hard to disagree with Alan Davies here when he writes:

There are literally hundreds of existing light rail systems in the world. The value of some is questionable, but Sydney’s proposed CBD and South East Light Rail line looks like it’ll be among the best.

And Davies, the Melburbanist, is often skeptical about high capex Transit systems, often questioning the value of ones in his own city.

I reckon that this is probably true for the proposed Auckland Light Rail programme too, with two provisos: That land around the stops is zoned for more intense use, and like in Sydney, that the through-routing of the current terminus station is at least funded and underway first. That’s the first fix.

Airport Transport Plans

Following up last week’s Mangere/Airport RTN post, reader Martin B pointed to this recent AIAL Masterplan: pdf.

Airport terminal

Here are the key Landside Transport pages:

Airport Transport

Map of the future precinct; white dotted lines indicate the rail line and the white rectangle the station:

Airport Masterplan

Good to see both northern and eastern routes are being planned for, however they are completely missing a trick by not taking the station right into the Terminal building (04). We know that AIAL are planning for the line to be cut and cover through their property so why not take it all the way to under the yet-to-be-built Terminal building? Seems pointless to insist that rail users stop just short enough from their destination to have to drag bags across a couple of roads. Interestingly this places the station with the proposed massive new parking buildings.

I have used trains to get to airports all over the world and by far the best have stations fully integrated into the terminals. Given this is a completely new integrated domestic and international terminal building surely it wouldn’t be difficult to future proof for this. Especially as they are claiming they are to reduce congestion while providing 20 000 carparks. The RTN route and service will need to be as good as possible to make sure it attracts as many users as possible to help keep those approach and local roads flowing.

After all, isn’t the plan for a streamlined seamless experience?

More on AT’s Light Rail Proposal

We have been sent more LRT details from AT. Light Rail is undergoing investigation at this point, but slowly more of their thinking is emerging:

LRT Stage 1.0

Clearly access to Wynyard is the most difficult part of this route. Queen St is so LRT ready and at last a use for that hitherto hopeless little bypass: Ian Mackinnion Drive. The intersection of New North and Dom Rd will need sorting for this too- Is there nothing that LRT doesn’t fix!

LRT Stage 1.1

They are planning for big machines, 450 pax is at the top end of LRVs around the world.

LRT Stage 1.2

At 66m, these are either the biggest ever made, or I guess more likely 2 x 33m units. 33m is a standard dimension, and enables flexibility of vehicle size.

LRT Stage 2.1

The contested road space of Dominion Rd. Light Rail will create the economic conditions for up-zonning the buildings here; apartments and offices above retail along the strip. But the city will have to make sure that the planning regulations support this. Otherwise it will be difficult to justify the investment. Something for those in the area who reflexively oppose any increase in height limits, reduction of mandated parking, or increases in density and site coverage rules to ponder. If they prefer to keep the current restrictions they need to be aware they are also choosing to reject this upgrade. More buses will be as good as it gets, and AT’s investment will have to go elsewhere. I’m not referring to the the large swathes of houses back from the arterials, no need to change these; it’s the properties along the main routes themselves that need to intensify; anyway these are the places that add the new amenity for those in the houses. And not just shops and cafes, also offices with services and employment for locals, and apartments for a variety of dwelling size and price. Real mixed-use like the world that grew up all along they original tram system city wide, before zoning laws enforced separation of all these aspects of life.

LRT Stage 2.2

City centre employment and the CRL: good news or bad?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news or if you’ve been following our Development Tracker, you’ll know that there’s a lot of new office development activity starting to happen in Auckland’s city centre. And a significant amount of it right on the CRL route:

CRL + new City Centre buildings

Image from SkyscaperCity – development along the CRL route. Includes some non-office buildings, and doesn’t show all the office buildings discussed in this post

Under construction:

  • 151 Victoria Street West, with 17,600 square metres (sqm) due for completion later this year.
  • There’s 40,000 sqm of office space going up at the southern end of Wynyard Quarter in the VXV park. This is across three buildings, Fonterra, Datacom and VXV Three, due for completion in 2016 and 2017.
  • Also, there’s 125 Queen St which is currently being refurbished. That’s 15,000 sqm of space coming back into circulation after being vacant for some years.


  • The Downtown Shopping Centre redevelopment – this will add 35,000 sqm of office space for completion in early 2019. It will get underway next year, when the City Rail Link works begin.
  • 1 Mills Lane is being developed by Mansons and will have enough space for 4,000 workers.
  • Precinct Properties is developing 48,000 sqm of office space across five buildings in Wynyard quarter. The first stage of 12,000 sqm gets underway shortly.
  • Mansons are also developing 10 Sale Street, with 10,000 sqm of space.

All up, the projects currently under construction will provide space for more than 5,000 workers. The proposed projects would accommodate at least another 10,000. This excludes developments which currently seem to be off the boil but could come to life at any time, such as Shortland Star and the Britomart Central building.

This is during a time when CBD vacancy levels are at record lows, and the city centre simply doesn’t have the office space it needs to grow employment.

So, assuming these buildings are completed more or less on schedule, and the number of jobs grows to fill the new space available – all of which seems a reasonable bet, in the current climate – these would be significant increases in employment. Nationally significant, even. By comparison, New Zealand has increased employment by just 93,000 people in the last four years. Currently, the Auckland city centre has around 90,000 employees (in the Auckland Central West/ East and Auckland Harbourside area units), or 100,000 if a slightly wider definition is used (adding in Grafton East and Newton).

City centre employment

This sounds like a “good news” story, and for the most part it is. However, the reason we’re so interested in employment numbers on TransportBlog is that the government has said it will only support an early start on the City Rail Link (CRL) if Auckland is on track to meeting two targets – one based on train patronage, and one based on city centre employment.

We’ve written extensively on these targets in the past. We don’t think the employment target is a valid way of deciding when the CRL should start, for a number of reasons. It propagates the myth that the project is all about the city centre, which it’s not. It’s also a target that has little to do with the effectiveness of the CRL. Plus, there’s the “chicken and egg” situation where the CRL is actually the project needed to dramatically improve city centre accessibility, allowing much more employment (and other) growth there.

When John Key announced the government targets for early support of the CRL, he said that city centre employment would have to increase by 25 percent. As it happened, the target was so poorly defined that the Ministry of Transport had to go away and decide exactly how it would be measured. As I’ve argued in the past, the definition they eventually decided on was rather unfair, requiring 24,000 employees to be added to the CBD between 2012 and 2020. The linked post suggests that a start date of 2006 is “more consistent with the reference to the [City Centre Future Access Study] in National’s targets”.

So, as the government currently defines the target, do these new developments put us on track to achieve growth of 25% by 2020? No. Even if all these developments go ahead – and the Precinct Properties work at Wynyard is likely to take longer to be completed – we would still be a long way off achieving the target by 2020. However if we define the target in the way that I’ve argued is more consistent, we are on track. We’ve already had growth of around 13,000 employees since 2006, and with the developments that are currently under construction or proposed, we have a very good chance of reaching the remaining 11,000 by 2020.

This would be a really good time for the Ministry of Transport to take a hard look at their targets, and reassess whether they are defining them in the most sensible way. The good thing about the target being so vague is that they’ve left themselves a lot of wriggle room to reinterpret it from the current hardline position. This would be easier politically than scrapping it altogether. If they do what I’ve suggested, it won’t be long before the Prime Minister is able to come out and say, “With strong growth in train patronage, and city centre employee numbers set to grow substantially, the CRL has met our targets for early financial support, and we will be will be full financial partners to the Auckland Council on this”. Now that would be a good news story.

Submit on Mill Rd

Julie-Anne Genter, the Transport spokesperson of the Green Party has put out the following press release on the Mill Rd project that we have written about here, and here:

Take 5 minutes and make a submission on Mill Road

Auckland Transport is proceeding with the application for the ridiculously expensive behemoth highway solution at Mill and Redoubt Roads. Submissions to the Notice of Requirement (NOR) close this Tuesday 26 May.

The project is not only another expensive 1950’s-esque solution that will do nothing to reduce car-dependence in Auckland, it also will destroy an ecologically significant and rare piece of old stand bush that should be protected by the Council.

A local group of concerned and affected residents have been fighting the proposal for several years now, and yet somehow the roading engineers are keeping it alive. Even if there is not money in the LTP for the full project, getting the NOR approved now will mean there’s still momentum to complete the project in the near future.

This could be a repeat of the Great North Road Pohutakawas and a community win for sensible transport solutions. If we get enough people expressing concern, Auckland Council may decline the NOR and force Auckland Council to take a more logical, multi-modal approach.

Michael Tavares (of the Save Our Kauri – fame) and I have written a simple submission here. You can add your name, or better yet, make your own submission online

She has also made a few quick Twitter vids here:








What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro