One million, five months

I highlighted this yesterday and now Auckland Transport have officially announced that rail patronage has passed 13 million trips which is up from 11 million in March last year. By my calculation that puts patronage for Feb at about 1.2 million trips although unfortunately AT say they don’t have the exact numbers yet as are validating data from the likes of event travel suggesting the results could go even higher.

Patronage vs Target - Feb 15 (2)


In a separate press release from Mayor Len Brown he highlighted that it’s only taken 5 months to go from 12m to 13 million trips. Below shows how long it’s taken to reach other patronage milestones and as you can see, with the exception of the 11 million figure – which was partly impacted by the RWC and change to HOP – there’s been a downward trend meaning that in general it’s taking a shorter and shorter amount of time for new milestones to be reached. There’s obviously a limit to that at some point and it’ll be interesting to see just how low that goes.

Months to Milestones

At 5 months for the next million trips it suggests we’re going to hit 14 million at around July which seems eminently likely considering that AT say more six-car trains have started rolling out on the eastern line from this week with more coming soon and Len’s press release it notes

… and that will continue to increase with the Southern Line roll-out complete by the end of this month and the Western Line roll-out completing the transition to electric trains by the middle of the year

I certainly can’t wait for them to be rolled out – although I’m getting increasingly concerned that for the Western Line in particular that it simply won’t be enough until AT eventually get around to putting 10 minute frequencies on the line – something that was promised way back in 2010 and has yet to happen.

Along with that headline figure they also highlighted a few other stats, in particular that the average patronage on a weekday in Feb was 51,500, up 10,000 on Feb last year. In addition, now during the morning peak 12,500 people are using trains to get around. I’m not quite sure how many of them are going to Britomart but likely more than half of them.

The electric trains are definitely driving a lot of patronage. AT say that the number of people using trains from stations with fully electric train services is up 50%. At Panmure patronage has doubled and at Manukau it is up a whopping 176% (from a low base). As a comparison patronage at New Lynn which hasn’t seen any real change in services for years was also up strongly on last year at 24%

However while AT and the mayor are celebrating the rail result – and rightly so given the focus on the CRL – they in some ways have buried the lead a bit. In the very last sentence of their release they say:

Overall total public transport boardings have increased by more than 9% for the twelve months to the end of February, an additional 6.6 million boardings taking the annual total to 77 million.

I suspect most cities would think that a 9% growth in patronage across the entire system is a crazy level of increase. Perhaps more impressively total patronage for the previous 12 months at the end of November just passed 75 million trips and here we are 3 months later and the result is 2 million trips higher. In addition it also suggests we’ve now once again reached the (low) level of 50 trips per person per year. The last time Aucklanders each took an average of over 50 trips on PT was in the late 1980’s (as a comparison Wellington has 74 trips per person).

Auckland total patronage & per capita 1920-2014

I’m quite interested to see what our reader’s views are for when we will hit the next milestones. My guess is July and December for rail patronage and maybe we’ll see total patronage top 80 million in the next few months. Put your guesses in the comments.


Rudman on Light Rail

Brian Rudman has an opinion piece in today’s Herald looking at Auckland Transport’s recent light-rail announcement and hoping that the Mayor jumps on board to support the idea a bit more than he has so far.

The mayor is struggling to put together a budget that will accommodate his magnificent obsession, the $2.5 billion underground City Rail Link (CRL), without triggering a ratepayer revolt, so his testiness over Dr Levy’s light rail proposal is understandable.

But if Mr Brown wants to be remembered as the mayor who solved Auckland’s transport congestion problems, he should be embracing the light rail proposal as though it was his idea.

His single-mindedness over the CRL is admirable. Such projects need a 24-hour-a-day champion. But it shouldn’t blind him to the bigger picture – that the heavy rail network, while vital, is only a small part of the city’s overall transport system, and that regardless of how much money is thrown at roads and buses, which the majority of commuters use, increasing congestion will inevitably induce cardiac arrest.

The mayor’s attitude towards the project so far perhaps has more to do with his surprise that Auckland Transport had undertaken such a major piece of work without him knowing the details, as well as the risk that some CRL opponents may jump on light-rail as an alternative to CRL (I explained how they do very different tasks here). However, as there is clearly merit in the proposal, Rudman is right in suggesting that the mayor jump on board – at least in terms of supporting full investigation.

Draft RLTP LRT Routes

The potential Light Rail network?


Rudman also points out that we should not be surprised to see Auckland Transport come up with some big new ideas for how to solve future transport challenges, because the existing/previous plans tend to show things getting worse – regardless of how much extra funding is raised for transport:

This was spelt out in March 2013 when Auckland Transport (AT) revealed its Integrated Transport Programme, with the dire warning that even if the $34 billion allocated to transport in the city’s proposed 30-year plan was spent as planned, the end result would be gridlock.

Worse, AT admitted that even if the city funded the alternative $59 billion gold-plated plan the transport boffins wanted, the outcome would still be dire.

“Even with the fully funded programme,” admitted the report authors, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.

It was all self-explanatory. The mayor’s vision of squeezing 700,000 to 1 million people into the compact isthmus city by 2041 was going to put an unsustainable pressure on the roading network. There wouldn’t be room for the extra cars and buses.

The main arterial roads, such as Symonds St and Albert St, would be jammed with buses.

At the time, the mayor refused to see the futility of pursuing this inevitable endgame. He still doesn’t. Instead he appointed a “consensus building group” to select ways of extracting another $12 billion from Aucklanders through fuel taxes or road tolls, to help fund the gold-plated scenario.

The group proposes the inevitable mix of taxes, all of which the Government has indicated it won’t allow. Yet the mayor won’t budge.

Thankfully, AT now acknowledges the flaw in its earlier 30-year plan, and is suggesting a solution employed by liveable cities all around the world. Modern trams.

While we are yet to see all the details of the light-rail project, especially in terms of its cost and the extent to which it resolves future transport challenges, at first blush there is some compelling logic to the scheme in providing high quality PT to a part of Auckland that has huge existing patronage and will never be served by rapid transit.

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Perhaps the issue here is more about the ideal timing and priority of light-rail, compared to all the other projects Auckland is planning in the coming years. For example, there is a lot of investment required to enable the new bus network to be successfully implemented, there are huge areas of northwest and southeast Auckland with extremely poor public transport and there is an under-utilised rail network because of the Britomart bottleneck (which CRL resolves).

However, timing and priority issues aside, the mayor should be congratulating Auckland Transport for coming up with new ideas and finally accepting that their previous plans just weren’t adequate to meet Auckland’s transport needs for the next 30 years. Rudman is right in pointing this out.

With Mr Brown hanging his legacy – and his re-election hopes – on fast-tracking the central city rail tunnel, he obviously sees light rail as an unneeded distraction. That ignores the fact that the existing 30-year transport grand plan is designed to fail for the majority of commuters forced to travel by car or bus – even if we could afford to build it.

The light rail proposal is the chance to go back to the drawing board. No one’s suggesting trams should displace the CRL. They’re just a possible missing link in the earlier flawed integrated transport plan.

And while they’re fitting trams into the new model would be a good time to shave the unaffordable $12 billion blowout off the overall budget.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could compare the merits of this light-rail scheme (or the many other important projects on AT’s list) against the marginal state highway projects the government is throwing billions at over the next few years?

Grafton Gully Opening

I made my way to town this morning for the official opening of the Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways. Perhaps because we’re only two weeks out from the election the government pulled out the big guns with John Key turning up to cut the ribbon along with Len Brown and Barb Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland. The ceremony itself took place under the Wellesley St underpass which was presumably a precaution from the rain that threatened but which thankfully didn’t eventuate.

There were four speakers who spoke about the project, Ernst Zöllner – the regional director for Northland and Auckland, John Key, Len Brown and Barbara Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland. I managed to get a recording of most of them so rather than repeat what they said they are below.

Ernst Zöllner

I missed recording the start of his speech but it was about how the Grafton Gully project came up very highly on all of the NZTA’s criteria.

John Key

There were quite a few interesting comments from the Prime Minister. He said the NZTA were ahead of the politicians on cycling issued and have driven them to do more for cycling. He talked about the Dutch experience and how they haven’t always been such a cycling friendly place and the big one I thought was him stating his support for Skypath

Len Brown

Like Ernst I just missed the start of Len’s speech however he started by talking about how views on transport in Auckland were changing rapidly and referenced the recent poll and was talking about how a huge percentage of people now want investment prioritised around PT and active modes.

Barbara Cuthbert

Speeches over and it was time to cut the ribbon to officially open the route.

Grafton Gully Opening - Ribbon Cutting

and a quick photo op ride along the cycleway.

Grafton Gully Opening - John and Len Riding

It was then time for us to get our bikes and have a go. Of course being a cycling event a ton of people turned up with their bikes and the bike racks for guests were overflowing.

Grafton Gully Opening - Bike Rack

I’ll do a separate post looking at the cycleway itself including photos and video.

Send a message to Len Brown about Auckland’s Long Term Plan

This Thursday the mayor is releasing his first proposal for Auckland’s Long Term Plan, the 10 year budget for the city. Last week I blogged about the budgetary pressures the council is facing, and the risk of large cuts in public transport investment. However there is still potential for Auckland to progress the Congestion Free Network and important cycling investments in a rates constrained environment if we prioritise those projects and push back some of the very expensive roading projects with limited benefits like Penlink.

Generation Zero are running a mini campaign this week to encourage people send Len Brown a message that the budget needs to invest in public transport and cycling. Their email ask is at down below, and you can send an email to Len Brown using a simple online tool here:



Hey, all the work we’ve done together to push for separated bike lanes, the Congestion Free Network, and the frequent bus network all hinges on one big decision this Thursday.

Mayor Len Brown is right this moment making up his mind about what projects get prioritised in Auckland’s 10 year budget known as the Long Term Plan.

Tell him now to: make the CRL the number one priority; prioritise the city wide rapid transport network; triple the cycling budget; and not proceed with expensive projects with little regional benefit.

There’s real pressure on the Mayor to hold rate increases in his budget to between 2.5% to 3.5%. Transport infrastructure represents nearly 50% of the budget so this funding is the most at risk. This means as a city we need to make some serious decisions about what we prioritise to fund over the next 10 years.

The choice has been made simple for him by his advisors. He’s been advised that he can not deliver all the projects in the Auckland Plan, therefore he needs to find a middle ground.1

That middle ground is the Congestion Free Network.

The Mayor therefore needs to do four things with the Long Term Plan:

  • Make funding for the City Rail Link his number one priority.
  • Prioritise the construction of the city wide rapid transport network including new busways and rail links as seen in the Congestion Free Network.
  • Ensure there is a tripling in the funding for cycling to $30 million a year so Auckland Transport can complete the City Cycling Network.
  • Make sure only road projects with large regional benefits proceed by excluding expensive projects such as Penlink and Mill Road.

Click here to send a message to Mayor Len Brown right now urging him to follow our four recommendations.

The long term effects of a lack of investment would lead to ever increasing congestion and ineffective public transport, exacerbating the many problems our city already faces with transport.

Truly transforming our public transport network over the next 10 years means moving forward with the City Rail Link, North Western, Upper Harbour and South-Eastern Busways and Rail to Roskill, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

On the other hand low value roading projects like Penlink2 have nothing to do with an outstanding public transport network.

Excluding these low value roading projects and prioritising an outstanding public transport network would help us get the right outcomes.

The choice is simple. The Council has already put in writing that their objectives over the next 10 years are to move to outstanding public transport within one network, and to radically improve the quality of urban living.

If Auckland wants to truly transform itself into a liveable low-carbon city it needs to prioritise high value projects that deliver on the Council’s own objectives.

Send a message now to tell the council to deliver on it’s own objectives:

The future of our city is in our hands.


Has Len gone loopy?

A statement you won’t often hear on this blog is “I agree with Cameron Brewer” but you will hear it today. It’s in response to an his statements in this article in the Manukau Courier:

Public transport could get another boost if mayor Len Brown’s light rail loop for Manukau gets the green light.

“We want to run light rail from Manukau up through Clover Park, all along Te Irirangi Drive, up to Highland Park, up Panmure Highway and back to Manukau,” he says.

“The idea of getting mass transit into suburban areas is to give commuters flexibility.

“The key thing about running rail down Te Irirangi Drive is that people already complain about the traffic lights holding them up.

“The trains would run down the median strip in the road and they would take priority over cars.”

Light rail costs about an eighth as much as heavy rail to install, he says.

The trains would have a tighter turning circle and carry fewer people than the city’s new electric trains.

“Right now they are in the investigation stage. We really want to do a loop like that in Sydney.”

Brown is keen to get the project done quickly but says there are still many unknowns so no cost has been given.

He’s also keen to get smaller 20-person electric buses running between Manukau and Middlemore Hospital.

“It would also be great to build them here in Auckland and get the investment having a positive economic impact throughout the whole project.”

If I am reading things correctly it would be something like this.

Len Eastern Light Rail proposal

The section from Panmure to Manukau would not be able to use the existing rail lines due to the gauge of the tracks and the fact that the tracks are/will be full with existing passenger and freight trains. It would also be pointless to duplicate that when it has a considerable amount of capacity in it for quite some time. As for the rest of the proposal, breaking it down the section from Panmure to Highland Park is quite useful due to the huge amount of people living in the area however it does stop short of going a bit further to Howick. Similarly I think the North/South route, particularly the part from Botany to Manukau is useful and is actually listed as eventually being part of the rapid transit network. The median strip along Te Irirangi Dr is huge and supposedly was intended to be used exactly the purpose of running light rail down it.

Te Irirangi Median

and from above where you can see it’s wider than the two lanes either side of it.

Te Irirangi Median above

However while those two routes are useful I’m not sure how well they go together. For someone going from Botany to Panmure that’s quite a detour unless Len is intending this to be on top of the existing investment that is meant to be going in to the AMETI busway. It seems hard enough getting funding for that let alone this which at about 20km in length would surely be at least $300 million, probably more. Not only that it distracts focus from what are in my opinion much higher priorities like getting the CRL funded and getting the new network bus implemented properly – by which I mean with fully supported infrastructure like bus lanes and upgraded stops and interchanges. And it’s for this reason I agree with Cameron Brewer.

Councillor Cameron Brewer says the city’s bus infrastructure needs improvement before any light rail projects can get the go-ahead.

“I think the mayor needs to focus on getting the money for the $2.8 billion City Rail Link. This additional project is just not feasible in the foreseeable future.”

I view the mayor’s proposal as kind of like trying to run before you can walk. The other useful thing about getting the bus network sorted first is that it can start building up patronage which would make any future light rail network more successful. It’s also worth considering what the new network proposes for the area which is effectively the red and purple routes (the green route from Otara to Botany was upgraded to a frequent following the southern network consultation).

New Netowrk East

It’s also worth pointing out what we’ve proposed for the area as part of the Congestion Free Network.

CFN East

We’ve proposed these be busways like what is going to be done as part of AMETI as to us the most important thing is getting the quality of the service in as fast as possible. One of the great things about doing this with bus infrastructure first is that it doesn’t preclude light rail in the future but allows us to start getting benefits from congestion free PT corridors quicker and cheaper. So yes perhaps light rail in the area would be great in the future however the priority now is getting some basics done properly. In my opinion this suggestion from Len is an unneeded distraction at this time.

Next batch of special housing areas announced

Yesterday the council (and Nick Smith) announced the third and largest group of Special Housing Areas (SHAs) – the locations where the council will fast tract resource consents in a bid to get more dwellings built. In addition the SHAs also pick up the planning rules currently proposed in the Unitary Plan. Here’s the first part of the press release:

A third tranche of 41 Special Housing Areas (SHAs) that would yield 18,000 new homes across Auckland was today announced by Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith and Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

“The Auckland Housing Accord is continuing to gain momentum in enabling thousands more sections to be developed and thousands more homes to be built. The first tranche in October provided for 11 Special Housing Areas and 6000 homes, and the second a further 11 SHAs and 9500 homes. This third tranche brings the total to 63 Special Housing Areas and 33,500 homes and is the scale we need to address the section and house shortage in Auckland,” Dr Smith says.

“This latest batch of Special Housing Areas includes seven strategic areas that have been identified by the council as having good transport links and access to other infrastructure. These are larger areas where we don’t yet have developers with proposals, but where we are signalling to the market that we want to encourage growth,” Mr Brown says.

“In addition, many of the Special Housing Areas announced today are significantly larger than those in the first two tranches, and include 34 direct requests from private landowners or developers as well as extensions to three existing Special Housing Areas. I have every expectation of rapid development of these sites into new homes and sections.

“The housing market continues to be hugely challenging in Auckland, particularly for first-home buyers. However, through our partnership with central government we are making strong progress to deliver more housing choices sooner for Aucklanders.

“The work we are doing will help to bring forward more new affordable homes, but we also need to see further action on the cost of building materials, labour shortages and support for first-time buyers.”

The most interesting part of the announcement was that the council included seven “strategic” SHA’s which basically appear to apply to an area rather than a specific set of sites proposed by a developer which is what the rest of the SHA’s are/have been. The seven strategic SHAs are:

1. The Gt North Rd ridge

Up to 1,000 new dwellings over 18.9 ha

Grey Lynn Stragetic Area

2. Otahuhu Coast

Up to 1000 new dwellings over 635.9 ha

Otahuhu Coast Stragetic Area

3. Flat Bush

4470 dwellings over 490.5 ha

Flat Bush Stragetic Area

4. Northcote Rd

700 Dwellings over 62 ha

Northcote Stragetic Area

5. Albany

360 dwellings over 105 ha

Albany Stragetic Area

6. Takanini

1770 dwellings over 251.8 ha

Takanini Stragetic Area

7. New Lynn

1588 dwellings over 284.9 ha

New Lynn Stragetic Area

In addition are the individual site/developer SHAs are:

  • 8 – Akepiro Street, Mount Eden – 18 dwellings
  • 9 – Haverstock Road, Sandringham – 33 dwellings
  • 10 – St Marks Road, Remuera – 63 dwellings
  • 11 – Northcote Road, Takapuna – 263 dwellings (this is separate to the one above)
  • 12 – Albany Highway, Albany – 112 dwellings
  • 13 – Whenuapai Village, Whenuapai – 1500 dwellings
  • 14 – Walmsley Road, Mangere – 1500 dwellings
  • 15 – Oruarangi Road, Mangere – 520 dwellings
  • 16 – Hulme Place, Henderson – 56 dwellings
  • 17 – Wilsher Village, Henderson – 179 dwellings
  • 18 – Fred Taylor Drive, Massey – 1000 dwellings
  • 19 – Sandy Lane, Avondale – 28 dwellings
  • 20 – Glendale Road, Glen Eden – 12 dwellings
  • 21 – Crows Road, Swanson – 277 dwellings
  • 22 – Kohimarama Road, Kohimarama – 132 dwellings
  • 23 – Burns Lane, Kumeu – 247 dwellings
  • 24- Rautawhiri Road, Helensville – 60 dwellings
  • 25 – Asquith Avenue, Mt Albert – 10 dwellings
  • 26 – Waterview cluster – 172 dwellings
  • 27 – Mt Albert cluster – 31 dwellings
  • 28 – Pt Chevalier Road, Pt Chevalier – 30 dwellings
  • 29 – Jordan Avenue, Onehunga – 202 dwellings
  • 30 – Tuata Street, One Tree Hill – 46 dwellings
  • 31 – Meadowbank cluster – 36 dwellings
  • 32 – Orakei cluster – 115 dwellings
  • 33 – Mt Roskill cluster – 20 dwellings
  • 34 – Bristol Road, Mt Roskill – 10 dwellings
  • 35 – Bedford Street, Parnell – 132 dwellings
  • 36 – Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn – 28 dwellings
  • 37 – Beach Haven cluster – 30 dwellings
  • 38 – Massey cluster – 102 dwellings
  • 39 – Coburg Street, Henderson – 24 dwellings
  • 40- Denver Avenue, Henderson – 22 dwellings
  • 41 – New Windsor cluster – 50 dwellings

The council is also extending three SHAs from the previous bunches being,

  • Orakei, Ngati Whatua – extra 75 dwellings
  • Wesley College – extra 50 dwellings
  • Alexander Crescent – extra 30 dwellings

They are all shown in the map below and you can get the detailed maps for them here.

Tranche 3 Map

What’s striking about these is that while few in number, there are some fairly large sprawly developments that the council is agreeing to rubber stamp that make up about 50% of all SHA’s approved in the latest group. Developments that in some cases have appear to have absolutely no amenity associated and will result in typical car based sprawl. A good example of this is #23 which is in Kumeu and as there is no developed land anywhere near the site so the only option to get anywhere will be with a car.

Burns Lane Kumeu SHA

In addition the other the development above there is already a heap of other planned developments in the North West including at Huapai, Westgate, Whenuapai and Hobsonville. All of these developments are going to put increasing pressure on an already congested SH16 corridor. This means there is a need for a Northwest busway now more than ever.

The really sad thing about all of this is the council has talked for so long about the need for a compact city but when it’s come time to actually put plans into action we once again have a SHA that has more greenfield development in it than brownfield (even if some of it is within previous urban boundaries). It sometimes seems like the council has simply ignored everything it has said and promised for the past 4 years in order to keep the government happy. In other words it seems more business as usual for Auckland.

One ingeresting announcement however is that the council will be holding a design competition in conjunction with Ockham Residential who has also built the Issac and Turing buildings amongst others.

“This competition will be open to an architect, or architectural practice that will compete to design and document a high-quality medium density residential housing development on the land. Architects will be offered the chance to propose medium density housing prototypes that illustrate the possibilities and advantages of urban living, in recognition of the excellent opportunity that the Accord offers to create more modern housing options in Auckland,” Mr Brown says.

The competition will open on 21 May with details soon to be posted on the NZIA website at

Hopefully this will get both architects and developers interested in what kinds of quality urban developments can actually be built and spur them to do more.

Getting on with the CRL

There seems to have been a bit of a “passive aggressive ding dong” going on between Mayor Len Brown and Prime Minister John Key over the City Rail Link in recent months. Back in February, Mayor Brown proposed to “kick start” the CRL by building the first section under the downtown shopping mall and some way up Albert Street. Then shortly after the Elliott Street tower was announced, bringing further pressure on starting the project sooner rather than later.

Yet so far it seems the government hasn’t taken the bait, although critically in the PM’s official response to an earlier start he noted the following:

Your letter also outlined some projects, many being undertaken by the private sector that could be affected by the City Rail Link and raised the question of whether an opportunity existed to reduce disruption to the CBD and some of these projects.

I indicated in the meeting with you that I would be getting some advice on the issues you raise. I am in the process of receiving advice including on the possible impact on some of the projects you cite.

That seems like a fairly deliberate effort on behalf of the PM to leave the door slightly ajar for a change of heart. So let’s look at the major issue, which is the relationship between the timing of any redevelopment of the current Downtown Shopping Mall and the CRL project. Originally Auckland Transport was to buy this site, because construction of the CRL requires the demolition of the entire shopping mall as it passes through the area as a “cut and cover” tunnel. However, a deal was done between Auckland Transport and the site owners – Precinct Properties – so that the site wouldn’t need to be acquired, there’d just be some good co-ordination so that the tunnels could be built and Precinct’s redevelopment could occur.

The map below shows how the CRL tunnels pass directly underneath Precinct’s site, with the area shaded red indicating where a consented high-rise tower is proposed:

downtown-mall-siteIt doesn’t take a genius to work out that the tunnels need to be built before any development can take place. It seems simply impossible to build the tunnels without completely destroying everything on the site above – which means that essentially any redevelopment is delayed until the tunnels are completed. Let’s just say if I were Precinct Properties I’d be pretty pissed off with the government’s attitude at the moment.

So what’s a way to work around this issue? As proposed by the Mayor in February, it seemed like the Council’s plan was to fully fund the initial section of the project (potentially including going under Customs Street perhaps?) at a cost of around $250 million. Given the Council plans to spend close to $200m on CRL in the 2014/15 year it appear like such an outlay is fairly affordable. The government doesn’t want to spend money on CRL until 2020, but it’s not like they’re being asked to in this plan so I struggle to see the problem.

Perhaps the Mayor is concerned that government’s rough promise of a “50/50 split” in the cost of the project only applies to any money spent after 2020 – as that’s when they think the project is required. The risk of building the first section without government support seems to be a worry that they don’t front up with their $125 million come 2020, which is an understandable concern. But surely a bit of clever negotiation could resolve this and both parties can come away happy – Len Brown because he’s finally put a spade in the ground and started his flagship project, and the government because they don’t hold up a major redevelopment, don’t have to spend any money yet and bask in a bit of election year good press over not standing in the way of a very popular project.

Everyone wins. Let’s just get on with it.

Len Brown’s focus for the city’s economy

It seems Len Brown is trying to rebuild his image in part by being a man of action and getting things done. Now that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if focused in the right direction and while Len is pushing some things well, like the City Rail Link, in other areas I think he seems almost desperate to do something that he could end up doing more harm than good. His “Transforming Auckland’s Economy: State of Auckland” speech this morning had a number of interesting points, some I thought were good, others not so. Bob Dey has the full speech here.

Thirdly, we need to build a reputation as a modern, wired city. In this regard, there have been too many excuses & delays in rolling out ultra-fast broadband and providing decent wi-fi.

Auckland Council will be developing a Digital Auckland – kick start programme so we are playing an active role in picking up the pace in this area. My intention is that this will include working with business partners to roll out free wi-fi in public places & public transport and finding commercial partners to help expedite the rollout of ultrafast broadband.

I see connectivity is increasingly important and rolling out wi-fi to more areas, especially in public areas and on PT is a good idea. Already increased communication is being seen as a critical element in some of the changes we are seeing with transport as young people who want to spend more time online can do that on a bus/train much easier than they can behind the wheel and was cleverly picked up for this AT ad.

Moving on

Fourthly, we need to begin to make public-private partnerships part of how we deliver largescale projects. At the end of last year the council & I agreed a way forward for the SkyPath project – a walk & cycleway across Auckland’s harbour bridge.

The SkyPath will be Auckland’s first PPP, and will eventually enable a great vision – a cycle & walking path stretching from St Heliers to Devonport. This will act as a real game changer for building pedestrian & cycleways around our city. This is a chance to cut our teeth on PPPs and show that we can deliver real value for money and better outcomes for ratepayers.

PPPs are not a free ticket to be clipped by the private sector. We need to use our considerable scale & position to nail down the best possible deals for Aucklanders, learning the lessons from international experience and retaining public ownership.

Beyond the SkyPath, there will be major opportunities for transport projects, including the city rail link, better waste management & other major transport projects.

This is where I have the biggest concern with Lens push. Many of the projects he’s talking about like Skypath and the City Rail Link are critical but the reality is most of the funding shortfall is going to require additional funding sources is being created other large roading projects. Just because you could build them as a PPP doesn’t suddenly make them a better project. That’s one of the reasons behind why we are so focused on the Congestion Free Network. Before we consider how we fund projects it’s important that we go through a process and actually work out what we need to build i.e. what will work. After we have done that we can start looking at how to fund stuff and PPPs might be part of that. In fact of all of the projects on the list perhaps the one most likely to succeed as a PPP would be the CRL as it does allow private business to work in with the construction through activities like additional retail.

In all of this it is pleasing to see Len becoming increasingly positive about Skypath, something he had been a bit quite on for a while.

Len trying to kick-start the CRL

News today that Len Brown is pushing for an earlier start on part of the CRL.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is offering $250 million of the city’s money to kick-start the $2.86 billion underground rail project before the Government starts contributing.

He has told Prime Minister John Key his council will pay for an “early works” programme from next year to get the project out of its starting blocks at Britomart and under much of Albert St.

The council, through Auckland Transport, has already spent more than $100 million on property purchases and other route preparation work, and has included $193 million for the “transformational” project in its draft budget for 2014-15.

This is exactly what I have predicted might happen for some time and I first suggested it might have been a good idea back in July last year when it was announced that Precinct Properties were planning to get started on redeveloping the Downtown Shopping Centre and that they would build the section of tunnel under their site at the same time. The reasons the council/AT might want to carry on with the CRL work are simple in that there are a huge amount of public and private sector projects, both announced and unannounced that are currently being worked on. All of them would benefit from the construction of the most disruptive elements of the CRL being completed earlier. It’s the private sector ones that Len is rightly focusing on as they are the ones most likely to get the governments attention.

In his letter to Mr Key, he listed a string of private sector projects likely to be affected by construction of the 3.5km rail link from Britomart to Mt Eden.

They included a $300 million-plus redevelopment of the Downtown shopping centre above the route, and the convention centre which Sky City intends building for the Government in return for being allowed to install extra gambling machines.

Mr Brown said an early start to the rail project would minimise disruption and provide “a more effective and investment-friendly approach to the overall development of Auckland’s CBD”.

Precinct Properties wants to start rebuilding the Downtown centre next year into a possible 41-storey tower. It will co-ordinate foundation work with excavations for a “cut and cover” section of two rail tunnels between Britomart and a new underground station near Aotea Square.

Mr Brown said Aucklanders had shown overwhelming support for the rail project, and the private sector was making investment plans around it.

“We are saying to the Government, there is a big head of wind coming in behind this project from the private sector, and do we want to hold them up while we continue to dally, or do we want to move.”

As mentioned earlier it is more than just Precinct Properties that have plans in motion, many of which aren’t public knowledge yet and I doubt none of the private developers want to have just completed a massive investment and have their gleaming new buildings almost inaccessible due to the CRL construction just getting under way. I wonder how many jobs all of the planned projects would enable and interestingly how much they would contribute towards achieving the government’s condition of a 25% increase in CBD employment to agree to an early start to the project as a whole.

There are also a number of council projects dependant (or at least very much affected) by the need for the CBD parts of the CRL to be completed. These include:

  • Quay St Upgrade – Quay St will probably need to be available to handle Customs St traffic while the tunnel is built under the Customs St/Albert St intersection.
  • Customs St – We’re likely to need a proper bus priority on Customs St but that can’t happen until the CRL tunnel disruption has been completed.
  • Victoria St Linear Park – Again while some parts of it can be built without the CRL, some of the key parts can only happen once the CRL has been built under Victoria St
  • Wellesley St – The Victoria St linear park will reduce Victoria St to one lane each way and so all buses through the middle of the CBD are likely to shift to Wellesley St which will require proper bus priority, probably even a full busway.

There are a number of other potential street upgrades in the CBD that will be on hold they will be needed to help handle the disruption caused by the CRL construction. We know Len really likes focussing on the big projects but the reality is that without the most disruptive elements of the CRL construction being completed then many of the smaller but vital projects to make Auckland a more liveable city simply can’t happen.

So the interesting question is how much will $250 million get us? Well because much of the property acquisition and design has already taken place then it will get us quite a bit really. Here are the project costs from the original business case in 2010 (so they are bound to be slightly different now).


It can be a bit hard to read but the Britomart to Aotea section of cut and cover tunnel is costed at just ~$81 million while the Aotea station itself is costed at ~$138 million, about $220 million all up (not including rails or other fit out costs). It’s these two parts of the project that will be most disruption to the CBD and $250 million would get them out of the way. Here in orange the section that AT have been seeking a surface designation for to allow for the cut and cover tunnels (as opposed to a sub-strata designation where the bored tunnels will be in blue to the upper right hand part of the image).

CRL Cut and Cover section

And here’s how the cut and cover section would be built.

I’m not sure if this would allow for the Aotea Station to be used by trains or not. If it did it might crucially allow for a couple of extra services on the network during peak times giving some crucial extra capacity earlier than planned.

It will be interesting to see how the government responds.

Cycling, Liveability, and the ‘Culture of Fear’

Here’s a really thought provoking and very funny talk by Mikael Colville-Andersen, who tweets as @copenhagenize. It looks initially at how cycling has a potentially very significant role in achieving improved liveability – which after all is the vision of the Auckland Plan – before going on to analyse how a ‘culture of fear’ undermines trying to achieve these goals:

I think it’s pretty clear there’s a step-change happening at the moment in the way we think about cycling – as shown by the various responses to the tragic death on Stanley Street earlier this year, not all of it good of course, but even the thoughtless reactions were indeed that; reactions, which is new for cycling in Auckland. This Listener editorial is fairly typical of a number of media articles in recent times:

First, we must aggressively add cycle lanes to the main thoroughfares of our cities and complete the half-finished ones we have. The gold standard in cycle-lane design comes from Copenhagen. Lanes should be bidirectional, separated from cars and inside parking spaces, so as not to have cyclists fall prey to cars pulling out or doors being opened unawares. Narrow or convert car lanes, move parking spaces to side roads, slim those wide centre strips. Take out berms if you have to. The faster the vehicle speed limit, the better the separation needed, through painted lanes, grade-differentiation or dividers on slower streets to full-on median barriers for motorways. Bus lanes are not bike lanes: the two do not mix.

The key point here seems to be a growing recognition that cars and cycling don’t mix – especially not if we want to get more than a tiny fraction of the population cycling. We need to tackle the ‘culture of fear’ around cycling by making it safe and by making it feel safe. People need to feel like they could let their kids go for a bike in the local area, people need to feel safe and comfortable cycling around in their normal clothes, people need to feel that cycling is something easy to do – not something that you need to attend a myriad of “courses” in order to participate. Clearly this means, more than anything else, a big investment in infrastructure is required. Not just green paint on a road, but the proper cycling infrastructure described in the Listener editorial.

But not only that but also that it is clear that for the good of all of society this is something we must do. The advantages for us all in the bike-able city are countless. In many ways the degree to which a place is rideable is synonymous with its liveability. Cycling is the canary in the coal mine of city building.

Fortunately, a charitable interpretation of the Mayor’s appearance on Campbell Live last week could be that he sees the need for around $30 million a year in spending on cycling – compared to the current $10 million that would be a gigantic improvement. But there will also need to be tough decisions around the allocation of street space – as referred to by the Listener. If Auckland wants to take cycling seriously that means in places we will lose median strips, it means we will lose on-street parking, it means we will have to narrow lanes.

Analysis published in the The Journal of Transport Studies on cycling rates across all cultures, geographies, and weather patterns concludes with this simple summary:

“The presence of off-road and on-street bike lanes are, by far, the biggest determinant of cycling rates in cities.”

As they have a handy knack for, Generation Zero sums up the required step-change that’s becoming increasingly clear in a single image:



For small selection of previous discussions of what’s holding Auckland back from this urgent and relatively inexpensive improvement see these posts on Tamaki Drive, Ponsonby Rd, and the Harbour Bridge.

Late addition: This article showing that US business is now behind the cycling revolution because it adds more value than auto-dependency:

Cities are driving the US economic recovery, and as they do, Americans are getting on their bikes. In 85 of the 100 largest metro areas cycling is increasing. All part of a deeply healthy – and profitable – reshaping of urban economies.”