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
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 Creek – have 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.
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:
Cranes. Lots of cranes on the Auckland skyline at the moment. Many of them are building apartment projects, especially in the shot below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The North (Warkworth)
In Warkworth the focus of the consultation was almost exclusively on a range of roading projects.
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:
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.
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:
It’ll be interesting to see what the next stage of consultation includes.
The third and final consultation on Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG) has kicked off today and this time it’s the turn of the North-west. The intention of this work is to start working out what major transport infrastructure is going to be needed to support around 110,000 houses on undeveloped land in three main areas on the edge of Auckland. The first consultation was in the South and last week they kicked off the consultation for the North.
In the Northwest they expect that over the next 30 years there’ll be around 30,000 new homes housing 75,000 people. There’ll also be around 13,000 new jobs which suggests the area will continue to have very high commuter flows.
The development is expected to mainly be in two clusters, one around Westgate/Whenuapai/Hobsonville and a second around Huapai/Kumeu. This is shown below along with some of the transport projects already being planned
One question I continue to have is why AT are thinking of widening Hobsonville Rd when we’ve just built a parallel motorway. As someone who travels the road regularly (when riding home like I’ll be doing this afternoon) the road is has fairly light traffic volumes and is certainly not a priority to widen.
The main transport issues are listed as:
- Safety of State Highway 16
- Communities along State Highway 16, such as Kumeu and Huapai, have only single road access in and out, limiting travel options
- Severance caused by State Highway 16 and the rail corridor
- No rapid public transport connections between the north west and large employment areas.
When it comes to the list of potential options for the North-west there are quite a few.
- Alternative corridor parallel to SH16.
- Extend commuter rail services to Huapai.
- Improved east-west connections to Redhills.
- Extend the northwestern busway to Kumeu/Huapai (and future proof for light rail).
- Direct north west to North Shore connection between SH16 and SH18.
- Improved connections to Coatesville, Riverhead and North Shore.
- Westgate to Albany busway.
- Increased frequencies on Hobsonville and West Harbour ferry services.
- Improve safety and/or capacity on SH16.
- New north-south connection.
- Whenuapai new connections.
There are immediately a few quite interesting aspects but I’ll cover them further below as they are looked at in more detail in options for the individual areas.
In the Red Hills/Westgate/Whenuapai area a lot of growth is already under way. They say the housing is sequenced to happen around Whenuapai from 2017-2021 while the housing around the area around Red Hills will be between 2022-2026.
AT/NZTA say planning is already underway for the NW busway as far as Westgate but they also want to know whether it should be carried on to Kumeu (yes) or done via just bus lanes. They also want to know if a busway or bus priority should go over SH18 to Constellation.
NZTA also obviously want to give better north/east motorway connections which weren’t built as part of the motorway works finished about 5 years ago. It would be interesting to see just how much those connections will cost.
Looking further northwest at Huapai/Kumeu there are a few additional options. Along with the busway/bus priority there’s also the possibility of upgrading the existing rail line from Swanson. I think the busway/light rail wins hands down as the rail line is simply too indirect and not many travel from the area to stations along the western line – a trend that isn’t likely to change. Even without a full busway, improving services is something AT could be putting in place fairly quickly if they wanted. I also suspect that getting SH16 out of the Huapai/Kumeu town centre is almost certainly going to be needed as the area develops.
There is also a question as to whether SH16 should be improved through the town centre or if the town centre should be bypassed by a new road. If the goal is to make the area more like a town centre – like I think we should be aiming for – then a bypass is going to be a better option.
This consultation is open for two weeks while the consultation for the North finishes next week. Following this consultation, the team/s working on it will come up with a suggested package of projects for further consultation in April.
Last week Auckland Transport and the NZTA kicked off consultation they call Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG). This is looking at what high level strategic transport networks may be needed over the next 30 years to support over two Hamilton’s worth of population outside the existing urban area – concentrated in three areas, North (including Warkworth), Northwest and South. All up they think these transport networks could cost in excess of $10 billion. There’s more on the process in the original post linked above.
The consultation is lasting over four weeks with each of the three areas getting two weeks – that means you only have one week left to submit on the proposals for the South. Today starts the consultation for the North. The Dairy Flat-Millwater area is expected to get 30,000 new dwellings and 13,000 new jobs.
The future urban strategy basically sees a whole lot of development to the west of the motorway as shown below in the light yellow (residential) and light blue (commercial)
Transport issues in the Dairy Flat-Millwater area are listed as:
- Maintaining State Highway efficiency for inter-regional travel
- Significant transport infrastructure will need to be planned, designated and built to support these new communities, which could take up to 20 years to be in place
- Ensuring the transport sector works closely with other utilities designating and building at the same time
- Developing a significant public transport network to service commuters and local employment opportunities.
The potential network for the Dairy Flat-Millwater area is shown below and as you can see it’s potentially quite busy.
They ask if there should be a new north-south route and/or if there should be improvements to Dairy Flat Rd and East Coast Rd. At the very least upgrading East Coast Rd seems a bit odd when all of the development is to the west of the motorway.
They also want to know about extending the busway (and future proofed for light rail). They ask two questions, should it be extended to Orewa (yes) and should it run along SH1 like the rest of the Northern Busway or should it divert into the development area to the west of the motorway. The latter might provide greater walking and cycling coverage but would also slow down bus trips, a good old fashion trade-off between speed and coverage.
Linking the north-south routes they want to know where east-west routes should be included too. Some potential ones include
- Wainui Road connection
- Millwater South connection
- Pine Valley Road connection
- Spur Road connection
- Wilks Road/Kahikatea Flat Rd Flat Road connection
- Penlink western connection
- Bawden Road connection
Lastly they want to know about SH1 and whether there should be a focus on adding capacity or on providing better access to or from it.
Along with the Dairy Flat-Millwater area the North consultation also includes Warkworth where about 7,900 new dwellings and 4,000 new jobs are expected.
The government are obviously committed to building Puhoi to Warkworth and the issues are around what impacts that has on transport within Warkworth. Along with that is ensuring SH1 works well and that there are alternative local roads
Potential options include
- The Matakana Link Rd which is intended to run from the end of the motorway and avoid traffic heading to holiday spots from having to go through Warkworth. I understand the NZTA want this completed at the same time as the motorway.
- The Western Corridor which was meant to be a bypass of Warkworth till the government plucked the motorway out of thin air as a priority.
- New east-west routes
- Potential Park & Ride and bus services to further turn Warkworth into a satellite commuter town.
What do you think should be the priorities for transport in these new greenfield areas in the North?
While debate rages on about allowing more housing within the existing urban area, the other side of the development coin is also being progressed with the council planning for over two Hamilton’s to added to our urban fringes in the North, Northwest and South. This is shown in the video below with both already approved special housing areas and the other future urban areas highlighted. All up AT say 110,000 dwellings and 50,000 jobs will be accommodated for in these new greenfield areas which is about one quarter of the growth expected in the region.
The growth is based on the Future Urban Land Supply Strategy which was adopted last year.
Providing all of the infrastructure needed to support these developments isn’t something that can be done quickly or cheaply. One of the key pieces of infrastructure to get right early will be transport so we’re not adding to the areas that we have to go back and retrofit at even greater expense decades later.
As such the Council, Auckland Transport and the NZTA want to start planning for what transport these future urban areas will need and over the next month the Council, Auckland Transport and the NZTA will be conducting consultation about it. They say they want a range of views and not just those who live in these areas now – after all with over 100,000 dwellings most people living in them will be moving into the area. Each of the three main areas will have two weeks of consultation during that time, the dates for each of them are below.
- Southern Auckland consultation – 18 February to 3 March
- Warkworth and Silverdale/Dairy Flat consultation – 25 February to 10 March
- Northwest Auckland consultation – 3 to 17 March.
The consultation is at a high level looking at just the big pieces of transport infrastructure that might be needed to enable these developments to proceed. The consultation starts today and will be followed by a more detailed consultation on costs, routes and options in April. This work will also be feed in to the Auckland Transport Alignment Process currently under way between Auckland and the government. Until the exact options are sorted out we won’t know how much it will cost however it was suggested that just the major projects needed could reach $10 billion and that doesn’t include all of the smaller local and arterial roads that would be needed. If that figure turns out to be correct it would equate to around $91k per dwelling and that’s before all of the other road costs and the costs of other infrastructure (e.g. water, schools etc.).
The information below is just for the South Auckland consultation. The details for the other two will be released when those consultations start.
The map below is a bit more detailed version of the greenfield growth that is planned for South Auckland along with some of the key projects already underway. These new areas are predicted to have about 50,000 new dwellings, 120,000 people and 13,000 new jobs.
They say the key transport issues are:
- It is predicted that 80% of morning work trip destinations will be no further north than Manukau and the Airport
- The scale of growth will mean there is a need for stronger north-south connections
- Lack of east-west connections in the Takanini and Drury areas.
I personally think the suggestion that 80% will travel no further north than Manukau for work very wishful thinking.
Next is a list of potential projects over the whole area. The rail line is obviously already in place which is good but does need electrifying. For major roads, if you combine some of the suggestions there would be an extension of Mill Rd through to Drury and then potentially via a new State Highway all the way to Pukekohe, that’s essentially a parallel motorway or near motorway all the way to Manukau.
Looking a little closer at a few main areas.
They list the key issues as
- Safety of rail crossings
- Connectivity to rail and State Highway 1
- Providing north-south and east-west connections
- Issues with ground stability a challenge to providing integrated transport and storm water solutions.
Some of the key options suggested are
- Extend Mill Rd south to Drury
- Upgrade the three routes to provide east-west connections along with grade separating them with the rail network. One of these, Rangi Rd, they suggest tying in with Mahia Rd on to the West of the motorway.
- A new rail station at Tironui – There had been suggestions in the past of a new station at Walters Rd next to a commercial development – potentially as a replacement for Takanini but AT decided back in 2014 that the preferred option was one at Tironui
Drury & Opaheke
Moving south to Drury and Opaheke the issues listed are all about providing alternative routes and not stuffing up traffic travelling to/from the Waikato.
The key options suggested are:
- Should there be one or more new North-South corridors.
- Which of the two locations shown on the map would be best for a new train station serving these areas
- Should the focus be on upgrading SH22 or a new state highway linked in with Mill Rd and SH22 becoming effectively a local road.
- Should the widening of SH1 be carried on past Papakura to Drury. They ask “What is most important for these improvements? Focus on travel times, reliability, safety, access or other?”
Pukekohe and Paerata
Lastly Pukekohe and Paerata where they say the key issues are:
- Providing strong connections to Waikato
- Managing increasing pressure on State Highway 22
- Increasing capacity and efficiency of the passenger rail network
- Improving access to this area without making long distance travel between Auckland and Waikato worse.
The key options suggested are:
- How important is a station at Paerata
- Does Pukekohe need an east-west bypass and an upgrade to the connection to SH1
- Where should east-west grade separated crossings of the rail line at Paerata be.
- As with above should the focus be on SH22 or a new SH corridor
- Should rail or bus services be extended further past Pukekohe
The growth areas of the South have a big advantage over those in the North and North west in that while it needs upgrading, the rail line already exists. With the amount of development planned and the number of services that would be needed I’m guessing it will be likely that we’ll need at least a third main though the area if not more and we’ll definitely need those done north of Papakura. That would allow more capacity for freight and at times faster services to Britomart (once the CRL frees up space on the network).
On the road side of things upgrades to SH22 and Pukekohe East Rd seem like they would be the most appropriate rather than building what would probably end being a new motorway from Drury to Pukekohe.
Submissions on these future transport options should now be open.
To me one of the things this process is highlighting is that for once we might get a true grasp on the cost of greenfield development. Given how expensive it is appearing to be I suspect that it could have long term planning implications for Auckland and other cities. I think it also raises a lot of equity and timing issues. The same level of investment needed to support these new greenfield areas would also likely go a very long way to addressing transport issues within the existing urban area. That would not only benefit new dwellings enabled by those improvements (if they’re allowed) but would also benefit existing residents who would have better/more options.
What do you think should be the priorities for transport in these new greenfield areas South Auckland.
AT have kindly sent us the Train Station HOP data for for the last two calendar years. Note that these data are incomplete, not including those travelling on legacy paper tickets, transferring, or on special event services. See here for Matt’s mid year post where on these data were then.
As expected these are great numbers; there’s spectacular growth across the network. Highlights include:
- Manukau City takes off now MIT is open: 118% growth jumping in rank from 24th to 13th. Strong growth is likely to continue once the Bus Interchange there opens.
- Panmure is the next big mover, leaping up 52%, from 12th to 5th. I guess we can expect a similar burst at Otahuhu too once the new Interchange is up and running.
- Britomart adds a million new movements each way. The top 10 stations are now over 400k, last year only 3 were.
- Next year should see Britomart over 5mil, Newmarket 1 mil, and most of the rest of the top 10 over 500k.
- Grafton still the most asymmetrical station other than Britomart; 69k more alightings than boardings, showing that downhilling is still strong there. This is people heading to the city via Grafton but returning via another route, many likely using Britomart, which shows more some 169k more boardings than alightings.
Here’s the top 15 ranked by 2015 boardings. The positive movers are all on the Eastern Line, which has had the new trains the longest, and biggest upgrade in frequency. And the biggest two movers have shiny new stations: Manukau City with the new MIT above, and Panmure with a new bus interchange. The Eastern Line also has very good bones; it has no level crossings, is fast, straight and direct and now some good attractors to unlock those advantages. As well as the two stations mentioned above, the mall at Sylvia Park is clearly drawing customers by train, which adds to the long strong destinations of Papatoetoe, Middlemore, and GI. Even the minor stations on the line improve well over the year: Puhinui the 3rd highest proportionate change at 43.9%, Meadowbank; 5th, 33.0%, and Papatoetoe, by no means minor; 6th, 31.3%. Papatoetoe still the forth busiest station in 2015, but will it be overtaken by Panmure this year? Which would be impressive as Papatoetoe has twice the number of services. It is clearly time that businesses took advantage of all those people at Panmure station; it’s still sitting in a land-use desert.
It’s pretty clear what works; investment in stations and interchanges [Panmure], alignment with land use [Manukau City], and improved service. I think it is likely that the Eastern Line still has more growth in it, as the results of improvements to frequency and capacity on the Western Line planned for this year may not fully come through until next year. If we have learnt nothing else from the changes to places like Sylvia Part and Manukau City is that it can take a little while for these changes to be reflected in pax numbers. Although the lower growth percentages from Western Line stations does suggest they are being held back by capacity and frequency constraint [exception: Avondale; jumping 29.3% up one place to 16th busiest].
What else can we learn from these data?
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
Christmas trees and the changing city:
Two of my favourite things; a more dynamic city and Pohutukawa trees. Have a great day and we’ll see you for an even more urban 2016!
The more I look at the events and data of 2015 the clearer it becomes that this has been a profoundly significant year for Auckland. It is my contention that this year the city reached a critical turning point in its multi-year evolution back to true city pattern. I have discussed this change many times before on this forum, most notably here, as it is, I believe, an observable process that has been building for years. Generally it has been gradual enough, like the growth of a familiar tree, as to easily pass unobserved, but now I think it has passed a into a new phase of higher visibility. The group who see it most clearly are people returning from a few years overseas. Many ex-pats express surprise and wonderment at the myriad of changes in quantity and quality they find here on returning.
Changing City: New apartments with views over the city and harbour, a Victorian school and park, 20thC motorways, and the new LigthPath.
Below is a summary of evidence for 2015 being the year Auckland returned as a city, in fact the year it crossed the Rubicon onto an unstoppable properly re-urbanising path. Later I will add another post on how 2016 and beyond is certain to see the city double-down on these trends, and why this is very good news. This transformation is observable in all five keys areas:
DEMOGRAPHICS. New Zealanders returning in big numbers are one of the key metrics of 2015. Along with new migrants and natural growth, the other change driving Auckland’s demographic strength is fewer people leaving, all of which, of course, are a vote of confidence in the city as a place to want to live and to likely fulfil people’s hopes for a better future. Population growth for the year was at 2.9%, the strongest rate since 2003, the strongest in the nation, and biggest raw number on record. See here for Matt’s [Population Growth in 2015] and Peter’s [Why is Auckland Growing?] posts on these issues.
And importantly for my thesis many more people are moving into the centre, particularly into new apartments. This is a evidence that the The Great Inversion is happening in Auckland as it is all over the developed world; the return of vitality to centre cities all over. Auckland’s urban form is reverting to a centred pattern; with proximity to a dense centre as a key determinant of value.
TRANSPORT. The huge and sustained boom in rail ridership way in advance of population growth is the headline transport news of 2015, and is the result of the upgrade in quality, frequency, and reliability of the service brought by the new electric trains. Sustained growth of over 20% is very strong; this year every four months an additional million trips have been added to the running annual total; 13 million in March, 14 million in July, 15 million in November. I am not overstating it to say that these numbers change a great deal: They change the argument for further investment in rail systems in Auckland, and significantly they change growth and development patterns across the city:
Elsewhere on our Public Transport systems the news is great too; The New Bus Network is just beginning, and is already showing huge growth in the few areas it is in effect. This year we have also seen new ferry services, including a new private Waiheke service that means there is much more like a real turn-up-and-go service there [started late 2014]. Ferry modeshare is holding its own at 7% which is a strong showing given the explosion in rail and bus numbers.
Importantly AT is now routinely rolling out long overdue bus lanes across the city. And now that they are doing this confidently and more consistently, surprise and anguish about this more efficient re-purposing of roadspace by car drivers has fallen away to nothing- there surely is a lesson there.
So total PT ridership cleared 80 million annual trips this year, for an overall growth of 8.1%, a rate running at nearly 3x population growth, evidence of a strong shift to public transport at the margin. Growth that is certain to continue despite capacity issues becoming pressing at peak times on both buses and trains.
HOP card use also became strongly embedded this year [except on the ferries] which is another sign of a maturing system.
More population and a growing economy of course means more vehicles and more driving on our roads, [see: What’s Happening to VKT?] but because of the powerful trend to Transit outlined above the per capita number is flat to falling. This is a historic shift from last century when the two tended to move strongly in lockstep.
Another discontinuity from last century is that GDP and employment growth have also separated from driving VKT, as shown in the following chart from Matt’s post linked to above. Another sign that the economy too is shifting on the back of public transport, and not driving as much as it was last century:
So whereas investment in the rail network has been answered by an extraordinary boom in uptake the multi-year many billion dollar sustained investment in driving amenity has not led to massive uptake. It is hard to not conclude from this that 1. We are far from discovering the latent demand ceiling for quality Transit; only the degree of investment will limit it. And 2. Driving demand in Auckland is saturated; this mode is mature, well served and not the area to invest in for new efficiencies or growth.
2015 also saw the launch of the Urban Cycleways programme; a multiyear government led investment in infrastructure for walking and cycling. This, like the Transit boom is another shape changing departure from the past. Although the active modes are not well counted [what a culture counts shows what it values] it is clear that the shift back to the centre is also accompanied by a growth in active mode transport. This is one of the great powers of Proximity; the best trip is the one that isn’t need because the potential traveller is already there, or near enough to use their own steam:
DEVELOPMENT. All over the city investment is going into building projects of various kinds, the retirement sector is particularly strong, as is terrace house and apartment buildings, all three at levels not seen for a decade and together support the argument that Auckland is not just growing but also changing shape into a more more city-like pattern, as John Polkinghorn has kept us up to speed on all year on the Development Tracker:
Significantly there is also renewed investment into commercial projects especially in the City Centre, led by Precinct Property’s 600 million plus Downtown rebuild and tower, and Sky City’s massive Convention Centre and Hotel project between Hobson and Nelson. Additionally Wynyard Quarter is also moving to a new level soon with a mix of Hotel, Residential, and Commercial buildings. Somewhere in the region of 10 billion dollars of projects are underway or close to be in the City Centre. And as Peter clearly illustrated recently this is in no small part due to improved regulatory conditions [The High Cost of Free Parking].
ECONOMY. Cities exist simply because of the advantages for humans to be in close proximity to each other for transactions of all kinds; financial, cultural, social, sexual. And Auckland is beginning to show real possibility of opening up an agglomeration advantage over the rest of the country now that it is really intensifying. The latest data on Auckland’s performance shows a fairly consistent improvement over the last five years
POLITICS. Two major political programmes begun this year will have profound impacts on Auckland for decades to come. The first is the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. Something we haven’t discussed on the blog because we are involved in it and are awaiting the first public release of information which will be soon. Then we will certainly be discussing the details of this ongoing work. But the importance of this process is already clear; it is a reflection of a new found acceptance but the government that Auckland’s economic performance matters hugely to the nation and that transport infrastructure investment is, in turn, critical to that performance. We are of course striving to make the case for a change in the balance of that investment in Auckland away from a near total commitment to urban highways now that motorway network approaches completion [post Waterview and Western Ring Route] and that the evidence of success from recent Transit improvements, particularly to the Rapid Transit Network, is so compelling. There are hurdles here in the momentum and habits of our institutions and politics but also huge opportunities to really accelerate our cities’ performance across a range of metrics through changing how they are treated.
The other political shift is another we are yet to cover in depth but soon will, and that’s the agreement in Paris on Climate Change. This does indeed change a great deal. The city and the nation will have to ask the question of all decisions around urban form and transport how they fit with the new commitment to reduce our carbon intensity. This will clearly lead to a further push for higher density and greater emphasis on Public and Active Transport, as these are current technology and long term fixes to this global challenge. Unleashing further the urban power of proximity and agglomeration economies. So much of the conversation around New Zealand’s carbon intensity is around the agricultural issue and this tends to ignore the opportunities our cities offer, particularly Auckland, and particularly the Auckland transport systems, to this problem.
Cities are emerging as the key organising level that are most able to react to this problem as discussed here in The Urban Planner’s Guide to a Pst-COP21 World:
In many ways, Melbourne’s experience represents a coming-of-age of the urban sustainability movement. The private sector is listening to cities and responding. Now it’s up to cities and national governments to continue the conversations that began at COP21 and continue the evolution.
“The commentary for a long time has been ‘nations talk and cities act.’ We’ve been part of that dialogue too. That’s changing now,” said Seth Schultz [director of research at C40 Cities]. “National governments are coming to organizations like ours and saying ‘help us. We get it.’ I want to change the trajectory of the conversation. Cities are a vehicle and everyone should be getting in that vehicle and joining in for the ride.”
So in summary 2015 has seen:
- Completion of Electrification of the Rail Network and the New Trains
- The start of the New Network
- New Interchange Stations
- New Buslanes
- Improvements to Ferry services
- Start of the Urban Cycleways Programme
- CRL start
- Paris COP 21
I will follow this post with another looking ahead to what is going to be a huge 2016/17. Here’s a short list to start with:
- Fare Integration
- Further Interchange Stations
- Western Line frequency upgrade
- New Network rollouts
- Queen St Buslanes [so overdue]
- More Cycleways
- SkyPath underway
- CRL seriously underway
- Huge city developments begin
- ATAP concludes
- Council elections
- Progress on Light Rail [it could be closer that many expect]
For all the frustrations and compromises that we’ve highlighted over the year I think it’s very clear that there are many very hard working and dedicated people in AC, AT, NZTA, and MoT and their private sector partners and it is their collective efforts in a very fast moving and changing field go a long to making Auckland the dynamic and exciting city it is fast becoming. I am keen to acknowledge their efforts. Onward.
I also want to personally thank my colleagues here at the blog, as it has been another big year for us, Matt, Peter, Stu, Kent and John, from whom I continue to learn so much, it doesn’t look like we are going to be able to give this up anytime soon…
Also I would like to shout out to colleagues over at Bike Auckland, our sister site, they’ve had a fantastic year, so cheers to Barb, Jolisa, Max, Paul, Kirsten, Ben, Bruce and the rest.
And of course to y’all, the reader, you are what really makes this thing work, so if what we do here makes any kind of difference, ultimately that’s because of you.
Kia ora tatou…