Sunday Reading 12 February 2017

Welcome back to Sunday reading.

From the Devonport Ferry. If your commute has tourists taking selfies on it then I’d say it’s probably pretty good:

Devonport Ferry ©Patrick Reynolds 2017

Here is a clipping from yesterday’s Herald Commercial Property section. It neatly encapsulates the value of sorting out planning restrictions [Unitary Plan] and making high quality Transit investments [City Rail Link], naturally, given the context, through a property value lens:

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the salesman’s boosterism in the second paragraph, as the main point is that the only way for tatty low value (in the broadest sense) parts of the city, like the current low rise commercial city fringe, to attract investment and therefore improvement is through value uplift. Outside of large scale direct public investment, that is, which is no straight forward business in these kinds of areas. This is happening in other parts of the city, Tamaki etc, but it is very hard to do everywhere, and anyway is probably not desirable as the only means of development anyway. There is a good role for the private sector in city building. The city and its citizens are winners through either this process, after all no one can live in an apartment that doesn’t get built, nor use or work in a retail or commercial property that isn’t there, so more is certainly more in a thriving city.

All transport infrastructure investments provide opportunities for different groups, and after 65 years of only rewarding ex-urban land bankers and detached house volume builders with tax funded transport investments (motorways) it is good to see a better and more efficient urban form being incentivised here.

And particularly good to see both levers, planning code and Transit investment, being pulled at once, and in the same direction. This is absolutely something that Auckland is getting right. Those interested in these city shaping issues globally will know that it is surprisingly difficult to achieve such obvious coordination. The main barriers to this are fractured governance in cities, so we can put this success down to the amalgamation of Auckland’s previously hopelessly squabbling and disunited political organisation, and subsequent weakness in the city’s dealings with the much more powerful central government.

April sees the Waterview tunnels open. Print media is starting to look forward to the project. I see NZTA are already trying to play down expectations of congestion reduction. As well they might:

It is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world,” Gliddon [NZTA] said.

Perhaps we should be expecting them to spend our money in smarter ways, like on actual alternatives to everyone always driving for example, then?

Plus some thoughts from this fellow:

Here’s a ripper from the ‘surprising things that generate big efficiencies’ department, here:

UPS drivers don’t turn left—and it saves them 10 million gallons of gas a year

If there is one thing I do like about American traffic management in cities is their enthusiasm to restrict cross traffic turning. Left in their case, right in ours. Our agencies seem obsessed with making horrible oversized intersections with individual lanes and light phases for every possible turn, including the most lethal and disruptive of them all; cross traffic ones. I have long called for the removal of right hand turns into and out of most Queen St intersections for both safety and efficiency reasons. And we all know that AT are just plain wrong on this issue in Mt Albert. Note to traffic engineers; heritage isn’t a thing in your profession; just cos you’ve always done it one way it doesn’t you should keep forcing it on us (actually almost certainly the reverse is true).

UPS have moved away from trying to find the shortest route and now look at other criteria to optimize the journey. One of their methods is to try and avoid turning through oncoming traffic at a junction. Although this might be going in the opposite direction of the final destination, it reduces the chances of an accident and cuts delays caused by waiting for a gap in the traffic, which would also waste fuel.

So now there’s evidence that Traffic Engineering has been wrong all along anyway, as the standard argument for keeping dangerous and delaying right hand turns is that to remove any decreases vehicle efficiency. Busted again Traffic Engineering: I sometimes wonder if there is a discipline with less intellectual curiosity about its habits than this branch of engineering?

Note to AT: MacKelvie St/Ponsonby Rd. So often there is broken glass here, being so close to the Richmond Rd intersection right turning both into and out of this street are seriously disruptive, dangerous, especially with the volume of other road users in this busy retail area (and the bus stop). Stop the right -hand turns and the very wide MacKelvie could be narrowed with widened footpaths and street trees on the southern, sunny side, and the road space on Ponsonby currently as a wide painted median for this manoeuvre used more productively.

This is undeniably true: Decisions about transport investments are really about what kind of future city we desire. For a quick overview, with lots of links, of this claim head to this CityMetric article.

The article questions reliance on cost benefit analysis, where as I think that they are an important part of the evaluation process. I guess the issue really is one of balance. For example we have for many decades had far too much priority given to the results of traffic modelling, whereas these outputs should be of a secondary value in city design, not primary. Because if we build for traffic first, all we get is traffic, and much less city.

Thinking City has a nice post up on cultural representations of cities.

Breaking Bad is amazingly powerful drama, but who thought it would also turn out to be positive for Albuquerque? Not the local authorities, for one. But there were wrong:

The funny thing is, even when a place is portrayed in a negative light, it can actually end up having a positive impact on that area. Take the US city of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest metropolis, home to roughly half a million people. It is also home to the fictional characters in the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, about a teacher with cancer who turns to drug dealing. Following the success of the show, tourism to the New Mexico city was massively boosted – turning around struggling businesses, generating new ones and contributing hugely to the local and state economy.

From the ‘the whole world is an integrated economy’ file, Bloomberg has the fascinating tale of one tiny widget in a nice interactive, click though to the the link for the full experience:

 

Related:

I have always like the line: ‘California must exist for even America needs an America’.

Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future?

So it’s interesting to read an article calling California as showing the direction the rest of the US will follow. Is California just America’s dream of its own future? After all in the long run everything follows demographics; economics, politics…

Thank’s for reading, see you next week…

50 Years of waiting for an Auckland Rapid Transit system.

Ian Reynolds 1946 by Brian Brake

My father, Ian Reynolds 1922-2005, was an architect (as was my mother). He was also a what was then called a Town and Country Planner. After returning from working in England after the war he spent the rest of his career as partner in a big multidisciplinary practice in Auckland (missing the city of his youth: Wellington. Office in Wakefield St, where the AUT business school is now). There he was responsible for a chunk of our post-war modernist heritage, as well as a lot of planning work. Especially at the University of Auckland, master-planning the campuses and involved in the campaign to retain the city one, which thankfully won out. Notable design work includes the School of Engineering and the Thomas Building both on Princess St, his practice also designed the School of Architecture while he was head of the architectural division.

In 1967, which is of course now 50 years ago, he was interviewed by the Herald about transport in Auckland (in full below). And it makes for a pretty interesting read, surprisingly relevant still, perhaps alarmingly so. I’m pretty sure his 1967 self would be very surprised that we are only now getting round to building the Rapid Transit Network he describes from the De Leuw Cather report. Although later of course he witnessed the defeat of Robbie’s Rail, and much else that should have given life to the 1960s plans for balanced transport networks. The interview shows a clear vision of that possibility, and how that would have led to a different more urban pattern of development for Auckland than we currently have:

Readers will no doubt feel that indeed; some apples don’t fall very far from the tree, yet re-reading this I am amazed now at how little I ever discussed these issues with Ian. I think on his side that was because of a sorrow felt by the idealistic modernists of his generation about the development of Auckland in the later part of the last century. Interestingly for many there was a move into environmentalism from urbanism (not that either phrase were current at the time) as centrally directed motorways and private land speculation took over completely from state planning and housing investment. Perhaps that is where this generation’s lasting legacy can be seen. Especially evident in the careers of two of Ian’s colleagues; captured perfectly in this obituary of planner FWO Jones (known even to us kids as ‘Fwo’) and the just recently deceased KRTA partner Dave Thom, who was very active in the national parks programme, and in making the theoretical case for environmentalism as a core practice of engineering internationally.

But it must be remembered that the denser city was always considered the necessary corollary to the protected wilderness, as this keeps the city from spreading so much into the country. The term sprawl is after all the shortened version of urban sprawl. His generation did achieve much in protecting key wild places, but I think Ian keenly felt that on urban form they suffered a life long defeat. So it would be good to show him Auckland now, the last ten years since his death have seen a profound change. I think he would be gratified by many of the trends; the full return of the university to the city, the strong revival of inner city living (though not so much the design of many of the buildings), the rail revival (he was a dedicated train user; taking the overnight train to Wellington regularly instead of flying, which he loathed, he was also an equally dedicated pipe smoker; which got him in the end).

There is so much that is still accurate in the document, both happily and otherwise, I think he is right both about our relative lack of corruption and waste, but also the dominance of political expediency over good policy in transport and urban form:

Here he refers to the ‘Morningside Deviation’ the 1940s version of the CRL suffering the same fate (see here for earlier schemes):

It is important to remember that at the time of the interview the population of Auckland was around half a million, so the arguments then are even more pressing now there’s another million souls living here. And some concerns have disappeared completely, such ‘inner city decline’. Of course had the described bus/rail system been developed alongside the motorways the pattern of the city’s development would be different; less sprawl, more complexity, not radically different just less monotone. A city of greater variety and one less entirely dominated by traffic. One that pushes less aggressively into the surrounding countryside… Instead we have built one network entirely, the motorway system, and largely one developmental typology, low density dispersal, and the city is poorer for it. And now we must urgently add the missing complementary Rapid Transit Network, as those 1960s planners quite correctly foresaw would be required to prevent a road only system choking to death on its own overuse. At least as the city is three times the size it is so the cost is now affordable; if only we would stop so expensively adding to the one now complete system….

Sketching in Kendal 1950

City Centre Streets for the 21st Century

Santiago de Chile is home to some 6m+ souls, its origins date back to the 16th Century, and it has south American largest, and still expanding, Metro system. But, like almost all cities coming out of the 20th Century, its city centre streets have been allowed to be dominated by vehicles, with all of the disbenefits this brings. Happily, this is now changing, and attracting a lot of positive attention, as this Streetfilms film describes:

This is a great model for the Auckland City Centre, where it will be even easier to achieve, and is in fact already underway, as the current trends in both declining vehicle mode-share and rising Transit and Active mode-share show. We have so far sort of bumbled into this success, with some parts of local government leading it and some resisting it. And the time is now perfect for the city to at last make this a conscious and consistently worked towards process.

In my view it is past time to implement clear policy to support the already reducing vehicle numbers using city streets, in order to allow their re-purposing to higher value and higher capacity uses; walking, cycling, and Transit. And as for place quality as well, as streets, now more than ever, offer greater value as more than just movement engines, or just as car storage facilities, but to support the all important urban services and travel economy.

This of course needs to be executed at detail and over time, by highly skilled urban designers and transportation professionals, with skill, sensitivity, and rational analysis. For as in every city all streets have competing uses, and these must be balanced and prioritised cleverly.

But the is nothing about that process that obviates the need for clear and conscious over-arching policy to guide these decisions. And that policy must be to build the successful city for this age: The more prosperous, people-focussed, greener, and more equitable 21st Century walkable transit rich city.

Unitary Plan reinforces need for focus on PT

The Unitary Plan is a crucial document for improving housing in Auckland, by enabling a lot more of it. As we’ve discussed, the Independent Hearing Panel’s (IHP) Recommended Unitary Plan enables almost double the “feasible” capacity from what the originally Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) did – from 213k dwellings to 422k dwellings. We also know that of those 422k additional dwellings, around 270k of them are expected to be within the existing urban area.

It’s worth pointing out some of the comments/decisions from the IHP. As part of the process the panel have examined and then agreed to the Auckland Plan’s development strategy of a quality, compact city with development focused around centres and transport corridors. In the overview report they say this:

The Panel has been careful to recommend a spatial pattern of capacity that promotes the centres and corridors strategy and a more compact urban form. This pattern is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.

….

As mentioned above, this clustering of capacity is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.

Further, as part of the justification for their views on parking provisions they say:

This overall approach is expected to improve development opportunities and support public transport and alternative modes of transport in and around centres rather than commit resources to potentially inefficient use as car parking, while retaining parking requirements outside of centres to ensure that the amenity values of those areas are maintained.

Those are some fairly significant comments in support of how the city should develop and a recognition of the importance of proximity to jobs, local amenities and social interaction. The aim being so that it’s possible to live without driving being the only realistic option all of the time, which in turn means less space needs to be dedicated to transport along with other benefits too.

I’ve already seen some asking what is being done to ensure the city doesn’t descend into gridlock as a lot more people in Auckland makes it even more important we work to fix our already struggling transport networks. It’s important because as the sayings go: “transport and land use are two sides of the same coin” and “the best transport policy is a good land use policy” (and vice versa).

As you likely know, over the last year the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been running with the aim of developing a preferred approach to Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years. We’ve already seen the:

  • Foundation Report which saw the parties involved agree on the assumptions to be used and analyse the current transport plans – finding them lacking.
  • Interim Report which looks at and analyses a range of possible alternative plans to help identify ways to improve the final plan

At the end of August (likely public in September) the final report is due which should come out with the recommended plan and the politicians aren’t allowing for that timeframe to change. While it will likely be fairly broad in many areas with more analysis needed on the exact timing of projects, it is likely to give us a good indication as to what will be needed, especially over the next decade. To do this, ATAP relies heavily on modelling to try and predict future transport demand based on a range of factors and one of the big ones is predicted land use.

With the IHP so significantly increasing the feasible capacity that immediately raises alarm bells as to just how valuable ATAP will be. It also happens I asked a question about this at the release of the Interim Report in June as my understanding of the complexity of the modelling rules out the option of assessing everything again with the IHP’s recommendations. We were told that the ATAP team will likely only have enough time to do some light analysis based on the recommended changes while providing a professional opinion as to what impact any significant changes could have. As an example, some of the substantial increase in capacity on the isthmus – like has happened – likely strengthens for light rail to be approved and built sooner.

So I thought I’d take a look at the ATAP Interim Report to see what it said about this, and it turns out the document is fairly useful in this regard. A page appropriately titled “Land Use Assumptions”. They say they’ve assumed substantial household growth will occur throughout Auckland and that includes the inner parts of the urban area. On growth uncertainty they say:

  • Where and when growth occurs is subject to a wide variety of factors including the extent to which it is enabled by planning documents, infrastructure provision and market attractiveness. This leads to unavoidable uncertainty about future growth assumptions.
  • There are some substantial differences between the growth assumptions used in this project and what is enabled by the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP). This is particularly true in the balance between inner urban and outer urban household growth with the PAUP providing feasible capacity for approximately 50,000 fewer dwellings on the Auckland isthmus than the growth assumptions used in this project.
  • Where and when growth occurs affects the timing and priority of transport investments as well as the overall size of the transport challenge faced by Auckland. Depending on the outcome of the Unitary Plan, a greater balance of growth towards outer areas will need to be reflected in the prioritisation of investment.

The middle of those three points is the most important showing that ATAP has allowed for around 50k more dwellings on the isthmus alone. That would likely put the numbers used in ATAP much closer to the IHP recommendations than the PAUP. Given some of the earlier comments from the IHP it made a lot of sense to expect zoning to increase in many areas, especially on the isthmus and it looks like a good thing they did that – although perhaps not by far enough.

The difference between what is being used for ATAP and the PAUP is shown below. It can be a bit hard to tell but one area you can see a bit more development allowed is in the western isthmus and that was matched to some degree by the IHP’s recommended plan.

ATAP Growth Pattern vs PAUP

As a comparison he’s the heat map from the IHP’s version which goes further again.

Recomended UP - Recomended Feasible Capacity

But what impact will all of this have? It’s hard to tell exactly but my hunch is that if the recommended plan is passed by the council it will only make investments in many of the key PT projects even more crucial. In particular the Rapid Transit projects such as AMETI + Pakuranga Rd, Light Rail on the isthmus and to the airport, the NW Busway, rail to the North Shore are going to be vital to providing enough capacity for people to be able to get around the city free of congestion. For those local hotspots it will also likely represent AT needing to focus to ensure there are quality walking and cycling networks so that residents can access amenities in the immediate area easily without having to drive.

What impact do you think the recommended Unitary Plan should have on Transport and importantly, would the government agree?

Sylvia Park growth plans

Sylvia Park is already Auckland’s largest shopping centre, but it’s likely to get even bigger in the next few years. Kiwi Property, who own the centre, have plans to expand the retail offering, as well as adding office buildings. In the long term, even things like apartments or hotels could be added, although those aren’t part of the current plans.

A recent Kiwi Property presentation shows what’s planned for the ground floor of the centre:

Sylvia Park 1

On the ground floor, H&M and Zara are already under construction, but there are plans for a major new office building of 11,200 square metres (about half the size of ASB North Wharf, or a little smaller than the new Fonterra building). The building will be next to the “dining lane” area which will also be given a makeover – perhaps something like the new Brickworks precinct at Lynnmall, also owned by Kiwi Property.

The office building could get underway as early as late 2016, wrapping up in 2018.

From the same presentation, showing the upper floor:

Sylvia Park 2

This is a major retail expansion, with 20,000 square metres – adding another 25% to the existing mall. Next to it, there are plans for a multi-deck carpark, adding another 500 parks to the current 3,900. Multi-level retail has had a pretty mixed history in New Zealand, and there aren’t that many examples where it’s been successful (St Lukes is one). Kiwi Property will be hoping that they can support the new upstairs shops by connecting them to the new carparks, and I’d expect that those two developments would happen at the same time.

Although the total number of carparks is increasing, Kiwi Property is adding many fewer parking spaces than would have been required under the old Auckland isthmus plan. The mall expansion will add one new carpark for every additional 40 square metres of retail space.

By contrast, Section 12 of the old Auckland isthmus district plan, which dealt with parking requirements, required one parking space for every 17 square metres of retail space:

Auckland isthmus district plan MPR for retail

Before the Unitary Plan, which will remove MPRs from major retail centres like Sylvia Park (assuming the hearings panel approves the change), Sylvia Park basically hewed to those ratios. At present, it’s got one parking space per 18.5 square metres of retail space.

The Unitary Plan seems to have changed that – Kiwi Property is planning to expand retail space while providing less than half as much parking as would have been required under the previous district plan. This isn’t a case of maximum parking rules restraining development, either. The proposed Unitary Plan sets a maximum parking rate of one carpark per 20 square metres – a lot more parking than Kiwi Property is planning on building.

The irony is that Kiwi Property was among the major retailers arguing against the removal of MPRs from retail centres in Unitary Plan hearings. In their corporate submission and in their planning evidence, they argued that removal of MPRs would make it difficult for retailers to invest in centres:

Kiwi Property Group planning submission PAUP 1

Consequently, they proposed a minimum requirement of one carpark per 30 square metres of retail space – i.e. a higher ratio than what they’re now planning to build, although the centre as a whole will still fall within these ratios:

Kiwi Property Group planning submission PAUP 2

Now, it looks as though Kiwi Property – and their customers – stand to be among the first big beneficiaries of a policy change that they opposed. But while that’s ironic, this is an excellent development. It’s a perfect illustration of the benefits of a more light-handed approach to parking policies – and of the benefits of providing good transport choices to retail centres.

Sylvia Park is lucky enough to have a train station right next door, and bus links which are likely to get a boost in the next few years. As the centre keeps growing and public transport keeps improving, Sylvia Park will increasingly rely on its transit links to support its growth. Other retail centres are likely to follow the same pattern as Auckland rolls out its new bus network and continues integrating rapid transit into the city fabric.

Locked Out

6:45pm tonight at the AMI Netball Centre Northcote there is a housing affordability debate with some interesting speakers, head along:

Locked-Out-twitter-image

 

Submit on Transport Networks for Auckland’s Future Urban Areas

Today is the last day to submit on the consultation by Auckland Transport and the NZTA on what the call Transport for Future Urban Growth. Around two Hamilton’s worth of people/homes are expected to be added to Auckland’s fringes in the North, Northwest and South over the next 30 years as part of the council’s Future Urban Land Supply Strategy. To accommodate that there will need to be significant public investment all forms of infrastructure and the two transport agencies say they are trying to work out what high level transport infrastructure will be needed now so it can be used as part of their planning and funding processes.

If you haven’t already I’d suggest putting a submission in. At a high level my views

  1. It’s good that the networks generally have strong PT components in the three main areas of North, Northwest and South. The place shaping role of rapid transit is critical in these areas and early investment must go on rapid transit. If we don’t we’ll be encouraging these areas to develop in ways that make it much harder to retrofit good quality PT later and this new growth will be very auto-centric as a result.
  2. The roading networks are over the top and unnecessarily excessive. Peripheral areas are never going to have perfect transport conditions but it seems like the networks are aiming for that.

One thing this process does is highlight just how expensive greenfield development can be. Suggestions are that just these high level projects could cost around $8 billion all up or about $70,000 per dwelling and that doesn’t take into account the cost of local roads or other infrastructure that is needed to support development.

 

Below is a copy of my earlier post on the consultation (although the videos are new)

The websites for each of the three main areas also gives a little bit of information as to how they’ve responded to the feedback received and for each of the key areas there is also a more detailed map which is on the AT website. In all of the maps below the mode/intervention uses the same colour scheme, Red = Rail, Green = Bus, Blue = Road, Gold = Safety improvements.

South

In the south it’s good to see AT specifically mention electrification to Pukekohe as that was something no mention was made of in the earlier consultation. It’s something we can only hope gets the go ahead soon as it seems fairly critical to some of the other parts of the plan for the South including a bunch of new stations and better services. On the roads the massive Mill Rd corridor is set to march on all the way to Pukekohe. The biggest omission from compared to the first consultation seems to be an east-west route from Pukekohe to SH1.

In this transport network, a key focus is increasing access to public transport, with more capacity and a well-connected rapid transit network at its heart. This would include electric trains to Pukekohe, express trains, new stations and rapid transit links, for example between the airport, Manukau, Flat Bush and Botany and a high frequency bus route between Drury and Manukau.

The plan focuses on great access to jobs, town centres and recreation within south Auckland and links to the wider region.

Another key focus for the south would be an extension of the Mill Road corridor from Manukau to Papakura and Drury. This would help improve safety, provide improved access to new growth areas and provide an additional north-south route. Connected to the Mill Road corridor is a new route to Pukekohe to improve safety or reduce congestion on SH22. An interchange with SH1 will also be further investigated at Drury South.

We’ve also identified further work is needed on how better connections between Waikato and Auckland can be provided.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

North

The North looks like a much bigger roads fest compared to the with almost all of the proposed roads from the earlier consultation included in this consultation. For PT the busway will be the heart of the system in the area and s being both physically extended by going to Grand Dr but also and with more stations too.

At the heart of the network is the extension of the rapid transit network (RTN) by linking Albany to Dairy Flat, Silverdale, Wainui and Grand Drive.

Additional stations along the RTN would become hubs for extended public transport services into the growth areas and Orewa, providing fast and efficient access to employment, town centres and residential areas.

Dedicated walking and cycling networks linking to public transport hubs would provide a range of options to get to work or for leisure. New and upgraded arterial roads running both eastwest and north-south would improve connections and safety through the area as well.

Capacity would also be increased on State Highway 1 (SH1). An interchange incorporating both Dairy Flat and Penlink will be investigated to see if it would alleviate access from bottlenecks at Silverdale further north.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - North

Northwest

Like the others it appears that almost all of projects from the earlier consultation have made it through to this round. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is AT say they’ll do some more to look at the costs and benefits of extending rail to Huapai – although the website also suggests it could be compared to electric rail.

A key focus of the draft network is on providing high capacity public transport networks to move people efficiently and reliably between the places they want to go. This includes a rapid transport network (RTN) adjacent to the SH16 and SH18 to and from Kumeu, Westgate through to the city and the North Shore. Park and ride facilities are also identified to provide access to these services.

Further investigations are proposed on the extension of electric trains to Huapai to assess benefits and costs. Initial work shows a RTN along SH16 will have faster journey times and serve a wider catchment.

Another key focus is improving the safety and capacity of SH16 north of Westgate and the major arterials that intersect it. To help address congestion as the area grows and keep the Kumeu and Huapai centres as safe, local community-focused environments, an alternative through-route to SH16 is proposed.

A direct motorway to motorway connection between SH16 and SH18, improvements to Brigham Creek Road, and upgrade to the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway and arterial road networks in Whenuapai and Red Hills are also identified. The feasibility of a range of different types of interchanges at Northside Drive and Squadron Drive will also be investigated. Dedicated walking and cycling paths connecting to public transport and existing cycle routes also feature.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - Northwest

Consultation closes at 4pm today.

Western Springs Precinct

This is a Guest Post by David Shearer MP.

NB we welcome guest posts from anyone, all are judged on their individual merits and relevance. It is always good to hear what politicians of all flavours would like to see happen in our cities, especially when they are neither campaigning nor just complaining.

Western Springs through new eyes
MP David Shearer

Recent talk of a stadium on Auckland’s waterfront costing hundreds of millions is all very well, but how about seeing an old treasure through new eyes and planning for the future of Western Springs. With the amount of use the area gets, I can’t think of better bang for the ratepayer buck.

At the moment Western Springs is a collection of disparate elements – but it could be a beautifully-designed whole. It’s crying out for it. Think about what’s currently there:

The Auckland Zoo is in the middle of a $120million overhaul, projected to attract a million visitors per year within the decade – and it’s already pulling in 700,000.

MOTAT has new leadership, great ideas, 250,000 visitors a year and an abundance of prime land. It also has a bold architectural plan, conceived by the late Ian Athfield, awaiting funding and action.

There’s the speedway, the Western Springs soccer club, the Ponsonby Rugby Club, and the Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) – each one a drawcard in its own right.

Add to that Pasifika, Auckland City Limits and other concerts, not to mention the thousands of families of all ethnicities who stroll around Western Springs Park on weekends, enjoying the special ecological features and Meola Creek.

Taken together, it’s a huge chunk of urban land, possibly the most-used in Auckland. Eden Park gets much more attention and has far fewer people using it.

As Auckland’s population increases, our open spaces will become increasingly more precious. Preparing for that means seeing and treating Western Springs as a destination.

Part of that is understanding the area as an ecological whole. To the west of Meola reef is a volcanic lava flow that extends right out into the harbour. In the other direction it extends across Meola Rd into Western Springs. Its waterways flow through to Chamberlain Park and beyond. Together, it’s a wide greenbelt, an environmental treasure that could do with the kind of design that will help Aucklanders really use and enjoy it from one end to the other.

I’m a fan of living bridges linking our green spaces. A cycle and pedestrian bridge across Meola Road could link these two parts. Another to cross the multiple road lanes of Great North Road and the North-western Motorway into Chamberlain Park would enable an uninterrupted ‘green ride’ through these landscapes.

Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links

Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links

At the moment, every big event within Western Springs needs a special transport plan. The place buzzes – yet it can be inconvenient and inefficient to get to resulting in congestion and parking chaos.

Surely it qualifies for smart modern infrastructure and transport. In the short term, at the very least, the Great North Rd bus route should be upgraded, with expanded timetables servicing Western Springs, the zoo and MOTAT.

The area is actually handy to trains, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it. Baldwin Ave Station is close and an improved pedestrian/bike route between Western Springs and the golf course would connect people to it and go a long way to addressing the access problems that now exist.

Meanwhile, the Zoo, MOTAT, TAPAC and other parts are currently atomised, focusing on their own individual development, simply because there’s no big-picture plan for them to work within. Could light rail help? What about a pedestrian/cycleway underpass at St Lukes? Could the vintage tram route be expanded to make the trams truly functional and useful?

Our waterways – like Meola Creekhave been taken for granted over decades, parts of them neglected and built-over, but they’re still there, waiting to be rediscovered and cherished by a new generation of Aucklanders.

The waterways are the living link between all these areas: Chamberlain Park, Western Springs and the Harbour. The water runs down from one of our precious maunga, Mt Owairaka to the sea.

I’d like to see urban designers grappling with these issues: pulling the disparate parts together into a modern, user-friendly precinct.

The natural environment is unique and should be preserved and enhanced: cycle ways, pedestrian paths, water flows and thoughtful, effective public transport.

The local communities, and the many using this space are passionate about it and should have a big say in the form of the design. That enthusiasm was able to save the Pohutukawa grove on Great North Road opposite MOTAT last year. It was a lesson in how well-loved the area is, and how invested locals rightly are in it. They are best insurance against lazy design.

With the City Rail Link on its way and a safe network of cycle lanes slowly taking shape, it feels like Auckland is growing up.

But perhaps – in reaching for more big, expensive projects – we’re at risk of overlooking some of the beauty that’s already here.

I think it’s time for Auckland’s planners to look at Western Springs with fresh eyes and deliver us a precinct that will be another jewel in Auckland’s crown.

BALWIN AVE new routes

Possible cycle and walking connections to Baldwin Ave Station. Existing NW cycleway in blue, Potential links across the golf course and bridge across SH16 and Gt Nth Rd, purple, and Linwood Ave and St Lukes Rd in red.

Postscript: The purple routes above are consistent with the masterplan the Albert Eden Local Board published recently, below, among other things these would improve the walk/ride potential for Western Springs College and Pasadena Intermediate enormously. The red route, which needs upgrading, is the obvious way to connect the train network to both the permanent attractions of MOTAT and events at the Park, although then the problem that AT/NZTA designed the new supersized St Lukes bridge with only half a thought for any user not in a vehicle then does come even more glaring than ever:

Chamberlain Golf Course scenario 4

 

Photo of The Day: Signs of a Better Auckland on its Way

Cranes. Lots of cranes on the Auckland skyline at the moment. Many of them are building apartment projects, especially in the shot below.

THE DYLAN_1248

I particularly like this view because it shows that an area that long been dominated by one type of dwelling; detached Victorian houses, is now getting this resource complemented by a good volume of a different kind of dwelling. This is especially important as these old buildings have recently become extremely expensive through both further investment [massive upgrades] and good old fashioned scarcity plus neighbourhood desirability. So more people and different kinds of households are now entering this lovely neighbourhood with its existing infrastructure and great proximity to the city.

While the prices of the apartments reflect these qualities of the location [naturally] and therefore are not as cheap as those out at the end of the motorways, they are still easily under half the price of the surrounding done-up detached houses, and even many that are entirely uninhabitable. And therefore will help to add to the range of price points in the local market as well as the total number of dwellings.

Additionally, and something that’s dear to my heart as an existing resident of the area, all these additional locals mean new and better local amenity; more cafes, restaurants, and employment opportunities as more businesses move in to serve them [all three of my children work locally]; essentially more choice and vibrancy, because there’s simply more people on the streets. And it means that our neighbourhood will earn the right to better social services too, like more frequent bus services, street and park upgrades, and more funding for cultural events. In particular the new intensity along Great North Road is making a strong case for this route to both to be upgraded to a real boulevard, and to one day perhaps providing sufficient demand for the transit route west here to be upgraded to Light Rail.

It is especially pleasing too that these new apartment buildings are clearly better designed and built than those of the last boom in the mid-2000s. And what are they displacing? Car yards. Low land value, slow turnover carparks; what could be better?

This is picture that makes me a very happy urbanist and an even more happy local.

TFUG consultation results

You may recall recently the consultation that took place for the piece of work AT/NZTA call Transport for Urban Growth (TFUG). Essentially over 2 Hamilton’s worth of people/homes are expected to be added to the fringes of Auckland in the North, North-west and South over the coming ~30 years. To accommodate that there will need to be significant public investment all forms of infrastructure and the two transport agencies say they are trying to work out what high level transport infrastructure will be needed now so it can be used for future planning and funding processes.

Today the Council’s Development Committee has an item on its agenda looking at the results from the initial consultations. Supposedly this has been fed into the next more detailed stage of consultation due to start tomorrow – but there are no details for that yet. Given how long it normally seems to take for AT to respond to consultation feedback, the whole process has a bit of a pre-determined feel to it.

There are over 160 pages in the consultation report so I’m only going to stick to the high level results. There is a very clear theme throughout the results of people really wanting much of the focus on public transport.

The South

In the South a lot of the focus included the level of use of the rail network and extending Mill Rd potentially all the way to Pukekohe as an alternative North/South road corridor.

TFUG Potential Projects South Auckland

From the 98 submissions there was a strong support for various improvements to PT in the area.

  • Improvements to public transport services in the area were considered highly desirable. In particular there was a call for improvements in rail services, including introduction of express services, extension of the rail network beyond Pukekohe, additional stations along the existing route (eg. at Paerata), further electrification of the network through to Pukekohe and beyond and more park and ride facilities. There was a clear preference to spend money and invest on public transport in the area and rail, rather than bus services, was seen as the key focus.
  • Support for improvements to public transport services came from both residents and businesses.
  • There was also support for improved road connections to reduce congestion on the Southern Motorway, such as by providing an alternative north-south route (eg. to the airport and the west via Weymouth and/or extension of the Mill Road corridor), or widening of the existing Southern Motorway. Reducing travel times was considered the highest priority and an alternative route was preferred as the best way to improve roads to achieve this. Others suggested that increasing rail freight services in the area would reduce the number of trucks needed to move freight by road and in the area, therefore helping to address congestion.
  • While most comments and most comments and feedback focussed on public transport and road networks, there was a small number of comments regarding improvements to walking and cycling facilities in the area, including pedestrian and cycle access and connections to railway stations.
  • Many participants were sceptical that only 20% of morning peak work trips would be further north than Manukau and the Airport trip data collected as part of the consultation suggested the Auckland CBD is a key destination for those living in the south.

One of the interesting features about the consultations was the use of a wallet that allowed people to divvy up $100 of spending across each of the proposed projects. Here are the results.

TFUG Feedback - Spend - South

The North (Silverdale,Wainui), Dairy Flat)

In the north the focus was also on North/South routes with a number suggested along with extending the busway to Silverdale and possibly beyond.

TFUG Potential Network - Dairy Flat-Millwater

Again public transport improvements received the most support from the 100 submissions received. A summary is below.

  • There was a call for improvements to public transport services the area, particularly to bus services. Many people living in the area would prefer to travel by bus and wanted to see bus that were efficient, affordable and well-connected. Specific improvements included more frequent and express services, separate busways and bus lanes, extension of the Northern Busway and local bus feeder services. Increasing at park and ride facilities was identified as a key issue There was a desire to see heavy or light rail in the area and increased ferry services.
  • There was a sense that many participants felt transport networks and infrastructure were behind housing growth and development the area, further contributing to existing traffic issues. Improvements to public transport were seen as key to alleviating some of the current congestion.
  • Recommendations for improvements to road networks focussed on improvements to routes (eg widening State Highway 1, additional on/off-ramps), as well as east-west routes such as Penlink. Safety was also highlighted as an issue on roads in the Dairy Flat area. Strong links to through roads and motorways was considered a key focus for business areas.
  • The Auckland CBD and Albany were key destinations tor people Wing in the Silverdale, Wainui and Dairy Flat areas.
  • There was notable support for improvements to walking and cycling facilities in the area, such as separate cycle lanes and widening of roads to make them safer for cyclists and footpaths in places where people are currently forced to walk along main highways

And the spending priorities:

TFUG Feedback - Spend - North

The North (Warkworth)

In Warkworth the focus of the consultation was almost exclusively on a range of roading projects.

TFUG Potential Network - Warkworth

Warkworth bucked the trend of the other consultations and was the only one where people wanted the biggest focus to be on road improvements. Given the town is much more disconnected from Auckland than say Pukekohe, this isn’t all that surprising. A summary of the findings from the 169 submissions received.

  • For this part of north, improvements to roads in the area was the highest priority, In particular. participants wanted to see improvements to the Hill Street and reduced congestion generally, particularly in Warkworth itself and on Matakana Road. Addressing particularly around the Hill Street intersection. was considered a matter of urgency and one of the main ways to make the area a great place to live. This was considered a priority by both residents and businesses. East-west were considered a lower priority.
  • Recommendations to address in the area Western Collector bypass, the Matakana Link to access to Elizabeth Street, changes to traffic light phasing and/or the intersection a roundabout instead. A Matakana Link Road extension in particular had a hotel level of support from locals in this part of the north.
  • Public transport improvements were considered a priority, but secondary to improvements to road networks. Primarily, residents called tor improvements to bus services (such as regular bus services, new bus stations and bus service connections to the Northern Busway) and adequate park and facilities.
  • Good walking and connections were also desired by participants. This included provision of footpaths in areas not currently served by them, wider and better quality footpaths and cycle paths.
  • The Auckland CBD is a key destination for those living in the Warkworth area, followed by local trips within Warkworth and Abany. There was a preference for making journeys by car or bus.

And the spending priorities:

TFUG Feedback - Spend - Warkworth

The North-West

The Northwest was different to the others in that it presented quite a few potential PT options and of course some road upgrades too to SH16 beyond Westgate.

TFUG Potential Network - Northwest

Like in the South and around Silverdale, the biggest response from the 254 submitters was for better PT as the highest priority. That trains to Huapai came out as the top request doesn’t surprise me as it’s something that sounds good as a soundbite.

  • Public transport improvements are considered the key priority in the north west. In particular, participants called for re-introduction of a commuter train service from Kumeu/Huapai (and potentially as far as Waimauku and Helensville) to the CBD. Participants wanted to see a train service that was frequent, reliable and fast, with a timetable that met resident needs (eg. at convenient times tor commuters to the CBD). There was also considerable support for improved bus services, including express bus services and shorter journey times, separate busways and bus lanes, extension of the Northwestern busway to Kumeu/Huapai and bus services to locations such as Riverhead. Re-introduction of rail and improvements to public transport generally received support from both residents and businesses.
  • Alongside public transport improvements, participants wanted to see accompanying park and ride facilities with sufficient capacity.
  • Secondary to public transport improvements, improvements to road networks in the area was considered a priority to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow.
    Recommendations included extending the North Western Motorway, widening the motorway and/or State Highway 16, bypassing Kumeu/Huapai, a direct connection between State Highway 16 and State 18 and improvements to intersections (eg. at the Coatseville-Riverhead Highway) to reduce congestion and improve safety.
  • Many participants mentioned that improvements to in the area needed to happen urgently, given that infrastructure is already to cope and the population the area is to grow
  • Improvements to walking and cycling facilities, particularly in the Whenuapai area.
  • The Auckland CBD was the key in the area, followed by Albany and Westgate/North West Mall. There was a preference for wanting to make journeys by train or bus

And the spending priorities:

TFUG Feedback - Spend - North-west

It’ll be interesting to see what the next stage of consultation includes.