Station HOP Data 2015 v 2014

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.

BRITOMART JULY 15_3388

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.

AT HOP Station Data 2014-2015

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.

STATION BOARDINGS 2015

 

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].

PANMURE_8614-2

What else can we learn from these data?

 

Will the proposed Waitemata Harbour Crossing be good for drivers?

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.

I-10 Katy Freeway

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.

Sydney Harbour am peak

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:

AWHC - Induced Demand

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.

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.

Light Metro North & Northwest

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?:

CRL Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern

Photo of the Day: Mere Kirihimete

Christmas trees and the changing city:

37 ANZAC_5494

HOPETOUN_6106

HOPETOUN_6026

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!

 

 

 

2015 – Auckland’s Watershed Year

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.

HOPETOUN_6234

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
  • Transport
  • Development
  • Economy
  • Politics

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.

Auckland LB Population Change - 2015 2And 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.

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

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:

2015-11 - Rail Patronage

BRITOMART JULY 15_3388

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.

2015-10 - Total Patronage

HOP card use also became strongly embedded this year [except on the ferries] which is another sign of a maturing system.

2015-09 - HOP Use

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.

2014 VKT - AKL VKT + Pop

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:

2014 VKT - AKL Econ 2

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:

LightPath_5971

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:

Auckland Dwelling Consents to Sep 2015

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

GDP Growth Dec 2015 AKL

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
  • ATAP
  • 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…

WIRI DEPOT JULY 15_6623

ProdCom calls for Submissions on Urban Planning

The Productivity Commission has put out a paper calling for submissions on Urban Planning, here. It’s a very wide ranging, going right back to first principles where they have discovered that:

Yet even among planners, there appears to be no agreed definition of “planning” or “urban planning”, and writers have struggled with whether a definition can be provided.

Despite this lack of theoretical certainty I think we all know urban planning when we see it, or perhaps more accurately its outcomes. Pleasingly the paper begins with a short history of Petone which is used to illustrate the accretive and accidental nature of city forming:

PETONE

 

  1. The changing nature of urban areas

    Urban areas are dynamic, complex places. Land uses and neighbourhoods can change dramatically in response to economic, technological and demographic forces.

    One example of this evolution comes from Easterly, Freschi and Pennings (2015), who explored how a single stretch of a New York City street changed over four centuries of development. Easterly, Freschi and Pennings concluded that it is “difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation.” (p. 1)

    The town of Petone in Lower Hutt illustrates the diversity of influences that shape urban areas. [Below] provides an outline of its history, although inevitably many important details and events are overlooked. The transition of Petone – from a Māori village, to the intended site of a major colonial settlement, to a working-class industrial area, a run-down town, at various times a retail destination, and a desirable residential neighbourhood – show how unpredictable the evolution of our urban areas can be.

Given this surely accurate observation, shouldn’t any attempts at controlling the form of our cities in fact shy away from control but instead aim for incentivisation? Won’t nudging the direction of individual impulses be likely to be more effective that prescriptive programmes? And much less likely to result in unwanted unintended consequences, like out of control dwelling inflation. After all it appears that even the most egregious of city ordinances are well meant, no matter how much damage they do either indirectly or to other aims. And city building is full of contradictory impulses; for example nothing allows more retention [if not preservation] of older building than economic stagnation, yet surely it is fair to say there are few if any councils that would consciously pursue policies of economic ruin in order to bolster their worthy desire to preserve their city’s built fabric?

Another example is the whole history of auto-priority of the last 60 years across the developed world; so often expensive road and parking infrastructure was built with the very aim of reviving or maintaining the economic life of places, yes these investments simply reinforced their decline and unsuitability of these places for the brave new world of driving focussed city. For example Auckland’s City Centre only really began to recover from the flight of the motorway/sprawl era once Minimum Parking Regs were inverted- replaced with Maximums instead. Thereby nudging development and use of the city towards walkable proximate-focussed more intense land use. In fact MPRs must rank very high up the list of the most destructive yet well meant influences on city development, see this disastrous example from the sadly much governance-abused city of Christchurch; so prioritising ease of parking that the actual destination become untenable and disappears. Mandated parking oversupply is a form of urban self-harm so ubiquitous in mediocre conurbations that it’s become invisible: it’s the teenage cutting of city-management.

The question next becomes what scale of nudge is required to incentivise more productive city building and city using; nudge or shove? Denmark for example, has a 180% tax on new cars and one the highest bicycle usage rates in the world. These two things are surely not unrelated [see here for context, however]. Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong all have the most widespread and financially successful urban, and in Japan’s case, inter city, Transit networks and all also have significant barriers to car ownership and use, as well as planning rules that enable more efficient land use. See here.

Here is the ProdComm’s quick history of the urban development of Petone:

The evolution of Petone

Prior to European settlement there was a large Te Āti Awa Pa at Pito-one. The New Zealand Company’s surveyor, Captain William Mein Smith chose the Heretaunga (Hutt) river valley for the site of their planned settlement “Britannia”, and the Company ships began arriving in January 1840. Relations between Māori and the settlers were positive in large part due to the hospitality and mana of local chief Te Puni. The grid street plan drawn up in England was soon abandoned. In March the river flooded the settlement, and a fire and earthquake followed in May. Britannia was largely abandoned by the end of 1840, with the settlers having moved to Pipitea/Thorndon, which Colonel Wakefield had long favoured for the settlement.

In 1847 there were probably no more than 20 settler households left, and it remained almost wholly deserted until 1875. The land was poor quality for grazing, and the Hutt River flooded at least annually. Pito-one Pa, with a population of 136, remained the largest and best-fortified pa in the Wellington area. In 1855 a major earthquake lifted the area, draining a portion of the lower valley.

In 1874 the Wellington-Wairarapa train line opened. A large railway workshop was built in Petone. That same year a butcher, James Gear, began to purchase and lease land around the Petone foreshore for a slaughterhouse. It was attractive for the cheap flat land, proximity to the harbour and railway line, and the small size of the local population to be offended by the waste and smell of the facility. In 1883 the company built a 380m long wharf, demolished in 1901. A large wool mill was established in 1886.

Petone grew rapidly, and was gazetted as a town in 1881. A series of factories and breweries were built. Schools, churches, newspapers, sports and social clubs were established in the 1880s, many of which survive today.

A local farmer, Edwin Jackson, sold portions of his land piecemeal with unsurveyed rights- of-way. The result was that by 1885 there was local concern that Jackson Street was an embarrassing series of dog-legs, of varying width along its length. Jackson Street was extended when the land was bought by the borough solicitor on behalf of the Crown in 1888. Blood and offal went straight into the harbour, attracting sharks, so Jackson built a swimming bath near the waterfront. Plans for a gasworks were abandoned in 1897, and the land that had been earmarked for this use was purchased by the council as a recreation ground. But the council declined to buy Jackson’s baths, and a ratepayers poll in 1901 also decided against a purchase, so they were closed.

By the early 1900s Jackson Street was the hub of Hutt Valley commercial activity, with notable stores such as McKenzies, McDuffs and Liebezeits. The Grand Theatre opened in 1916. But Jackson Street’s haphazard alignment was still a problem and between 1927 and 1938 the council widened and straightened Jackson Street, with buildings shifted back on rails or demolished.

New Zealand’s earliest state houses were built in Patrick Street from 1906, although they were sold in the 1930s. Council chambers were built in 1903 and a town clock in 1913. A new wharf was constructed in 1907. Industrialisation continued: Lever Brothers factory opened in 1919, Sunlight Factory in 1924, and a number of car plants in the 1920s and 1930s. Three out of every four cars in New Zealand were said to come from Petone up until the 1950s. The town produced many successful sportspeople and the Petone Rugby Club numerous All Blacks.

Petone, by local standards, was densely populated and heavily industrialised, ugly, grimy, lively and close-knit, more like an English industrial town than a New Zealand one. (Butterworth, 1988, p. 13)

But from the 1950s the area began to decline, as some industries closed and residents moved to the new suburbs of the Hutt Valley. A number of state housing flats were built from the 1950s to the 1970s on the eastern part of Jackson Street. The Borough Council designated an area north of Jackson Street as an industrial zone, and

[t]he result of this was that no one was allowed to improve their properties, which meant many fell into disrepair and were sold off to developers. It was impossible for young Petone people to get a loan to buy property in their hometown so many left for Wainuiomata or Upper Hutt. The town become a place of rented properties owned by absentee landlords. By the mid seventies and eighties Jackson Street was pretty much derelict. (Johnston, 2015, pp. 93-95)

The Council proposed building a ring road around central Jackson Street, to create a mall in the centre of town at a cost of $10 million and the demolition of 80 houses. But significant local opposition stopped the project, and many councillors were voted out.

Petone wharf took its last cargo in 1976. The Gear meatworks closed in 1981. Long- established stores closed and the council chambers were demolished in 1986. Deregulation of the New Zealand economy resulted in many of the remaining factories closing. Developers who were demolishing and rebuilding in Wellington regarded Jackson Street as a place of little commercial potential, so its old buildings were left untended. In turn, “this stagnation ironically preserved the historic CBD as a desirable social and economic centre” (Johnston, 2015, p. 177). Petone recovered in the 1990s as industrial land uses gave way to big box retailing in the west of Jackson Street. Petone again became a retail destination, and this benefited the smaller shops along Jackson Street. A burgeoning bar, café, gallery, and retail sector followed. In 1996 the Historic Places Trust recognised Jackson Street as an Historic Area, but this had no regulatory force. There were a number of battles between local heritage groups, developers and the council over the next decade.

The “character homes” of Petone and its proximity and transport links to Wellington made Petone a desirable residential neighbourhood. A number of apartments were built or converted, consistent with council design guidelines. In 2014 it was announced that many of the state housing flats on the eastern part of Jackson Street were to be demolished, but the Patrick Street cottages survive and are protected. The Grand Theatre, which closed in 1964, was used as an electrical shop, furniture business, and in the 1990s was converted to an apartment complex with boutique shops below. Today, the site of the Gear meatworks is a supermarket, and Petone wharf is a popular fishing location, with fewer sharks than in the past.

Source: Butterworth, 1988; Johnston, 1999, 2009, 2015.

Photo of the Day: ‘The Model Demonstrates…’

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

Land use and Transport

Indeed.

Thanks to our London branch.

Apartments and Housing Affordability

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

North Melbourne development

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

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

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

Australia-resi-high-rise-approvals

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

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

Australia-inner-city-price-growth-and-rents

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

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

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

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

Auckland Dwelling Consents

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

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

Photo of the Day: Our Beautifully Constrained City

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

AKL from space

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

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

Where does top down meet bottom up?

This is a guest post from Brendon Harre

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

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

Brasilia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia

Indonesia Kampongs

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

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

Indonesia Kampong land use

Vietnamese vertical urban villages

Vietnam Vertical Village

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

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

Shenzhen China

Shenzhen

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

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

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

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

Shenzhen street

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

Alain Bertaud believes (P.2, 3);

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

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

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

Figure 3.2 Crowded households (2013)

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

NZ Household Crowding

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from Sydney: Light Rail

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

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

SYDNEY_5792

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

SYDNEY_5801

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

SYDNEY_5812

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

SYDNEY_5824

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

SYDNEY_5829

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

SYDNEY_5835

SYDNEY_5839

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

SYDNEY_5842

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

SYDNEY_5783

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

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

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

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

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

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

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