On this day in 1863, that’s 150 years ago, the first section of the London underground opened in the form of the Metropolitian line between Paddington Station and Farrington. The reason the the line was built in the first place is that there were a series of main lines that terminated at what was then the edge of the city and a combination of property prices and local laws prevented them from being linked up on the surface. Going under the road corridors was a way around this problem and the first tunnels were built using cut and cover methods. Over the 150 years since that time, new lines and extensions have turned the system into what exists today along the way becoming one of the most famous systems in the world.
Crucially thought those original tunnels are still in use today which is not only impressive but also shows how long the benefit of this type of infrastructure lasts. It probably provides a hell of a lot more economic benefit to the city now than it did even 30 year after it was built. This is especially important as we debate projects like the CRL as it will have a very very long lasting impact on the city yet the current assessment guidelines only look it giving benefits over a 30 year period.
The issue of road pricing comes up quite frequently in the comments on this blog and it’s certainly not something we’ve shied away from in the past – though I find myself a bit frustrated by how polarised arguments over road pricing become:
Its advocates think it’ll solve all transport issues, tend to ignore its potential negative side effects and think we should do it tomorrow if only the politicians had some guts.
Its detractors think it’s the worst thing ever, will price the poor off the road and forces us to pay for roads we’ve already paid for.
Both sides miss the point I think. Let’s start with the arguments in favour of road pricing, which are nicely summarised in this TEDx video from Jonas Eliasson:
I like the points made around how a relatively small change in the number of vehicles along a certain route can make a big difference to its level of congestion and how often we just need to accept that an issue (like transport) is really really complicated and instead of coming up with a grand plan to “solve it” we should rely upon little incentives and nudges that can lead to better outcomes. It’s also very clear that road pricing is very effective at reducing congestion.
What I always find interesting though in road pricing debates is to look at the cities where schemes have been successfully implement, and to think about their existing public transport (especially rail) systems at the time of implementation. Let’s take Stockholm for example, which has the excellent Tunnelbana system:
Or the London Underground, providing a part of the PT system that enables around 95% of people entering the “congestion charging zone” to not actually have to pay for it because they’re not driving.
The situation in Singapore is similar as well, with excellent public transport alternatives to driving available throughout the city-state.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that cities which have successfully implemented road pricing schemes also have superb underground rail systems, but I tend to think that’s not the case. I don’t know whether it’s because the population looks more kindly on road pricing schemes when they know there are high quality alternatives, or whether it’s because those adversely affected are a pretty tiny minority or whether the presence of the underground rail system meant – in more of a technical than political sense – the alternatives exist to enable the scheme to be implemented in a way that doesn’t generate a lot of negative consequences.
Because of this, I do tend to think that the chances, or even the merits, of introducing a road pricing scheme to Auckland before the CRL is in place, is a risky business. Particularly a scheme which created some sort of cordon around the city centre like what’s been done in London and Stockholm. So perhaps overall my feeling is that road pricing is a good idea, once we’ve got the good alternatives in place.
In an upcoming issue of Urban Studies, researchers Zhan Guo and Shuai Ren of the Rudin Centre for Transport Policy and Management at NYU consider two core questions when it comes to London’s reform. First, does the parking minimum truly create more parking than people want? Second, is a parking maximum necessary to promote sustainable transport, or will the market alone take care of it?
On the first question, Guo and Ren returned a pretty definitive yes. They examined parking supply at 216 residential developments in London approved from 1997 to 2000, when the parking minimum was in effect, and then roughly 8,250 developments approved from 2004 to 2010, after the minimum was removed and the maximum imposed. Before parking reform, developers created 94 percent of the required minimum; after it, they created just 52 percent of the old minimum.
In other words, parking reform reduced the parking supply roughly 42 percent, the researchers report. Additionally, about two-thirds of developers provided a supply below the old minimum — further evidence that the minimum encouraged the construction of excessive parking spaces. Guo and Ren conclude that 98 percent of the reduced parking supply came from removing the parking minimum.
While London is certainly a different world to Auckland when it comes to urban form and transport, what the study really highlighted was how interested developers were in cutting the number of parking spaces they provided, once they had the opportunity. Furthermore, the removal of minimums seems to have been much more important than the application of maximum parking requirements – I guess because the market wanted to provide the lower number already. The Atlantic Cities article also pontificates whether the maximum rates were a bit too generous.
What’s perhaps a bit more surprising is the second finding of the study, which looked in more detail at where the removal of minimum parking requirements had resulted in the biggest changes to the level of parking provision:
Onto question number two: the effectiveness of the new maximums. Since the purpose of London’s parking reform was to promote alternative transportation, the researchers looked at how parking supply fluctuated in areas with high density and transit access after 2004. What they found is that that the actual parking supplied was higher in Central London, where density and access are greatest, compared to adjacent outer areas.
Guo and Ren call this finding “unexpected.” They suspect that local authorities may want to keep a high maximum (and therefore allow more spaces) to avoid a parking spillover onto already crowded streets in Central London. Another explanation is that the market simply wants more spaces there: people who can afford to live downtown are willing to pay a premium for parking.
What the second finding highlights to me is that perhaps the removal of minimum parking requirements will have benefits in the places we don’t quite expect (lower density places with less access to public transport), potentially (and this time it’s me pontificating a bit) in places where the provision of affordable housing is assisted by the removal of minimums. This reinforces that ultimately we should get rid of minimums everywhere, because it really does make a positive difference.
In transport planning there’s a lot of talk about ‘cost-benefit analyses’, leading to a “BCR” (benefit cost ratio) for a particular project. Projects with a BCR of greater than 1.0 deliver more benefits than the money expended upon them (and any disbenefits the project generates) and are therefore worth considering spending money upon. In terms of transport projects, the BCR is used to measure a project’s “efficiency” – which together with an analysis of “strategic fit” and “effectiveness” determines whether that project should happen or not. BCRs of between 1 and 2 get a “low” ranking, 2-4 for a “medium” and above 4 for a “high”.
To calculate a benefit-cost ratio there are obviously two things you need to know – one is fairly easy, being the costs. The other, the benefits, is much more complex. Economic theory says that the best cost-benefit analyses capture as many costs and benefits relating to an intervention as possible, but when it comes to transport matters things are a bit narrower.
The “Economic Evaluation Manual” – an incredibly long and complex document, is used for this process. The EEM outlines which benefits are relevant for measurement and how one goes about measuring them. The main benefits are typically the following:
Travel time savings
Vehicle operating cost reductions
Travel reliability benefits
For public transport projects, benefits are split into those enjoyed by the PT users themselves and those enjoyed by other people as a result of a PT improvement (people changing mode from driving will mean everyone else can drive a little bit faster). In recent times a lot of thinking has gone into analysing “wider economic benefits” of transport projects – with “agglomeration benefits” (being the benefit arising from economic activity being more closely located) now able to be included in the EEM calculation of any project’s benefit. Agglomeration benefits are usually calculated as a proportion of the travel time savings benefits, with that portion dependent on the type of project being considered.
While a fairly wide range of benefits are outlined above, in the calculation process they are certainly not all considered equally. For most projects, the vast majority of benefit arises in the form of travel time savings – an extrapolation of the old saying “time in money”. A transport project that makes it quicker to get from A to B is said to generate a dollar benefit. This benefit varies depending on whether the trip is for business, commuting or “other” purposes. Add up all the minutes saved, multiply by the dollar amount and you have a project justified.
The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it does not properly capture many other benefits and costs. Widening a road to shift traffic faster not only comes at the cost of construction, but also at the cost of a street that’s now probably less friendly for pedestrians and cyclists and has less general amenity. This amenity loss is likely to only show up in analysis of the impact of a project on property values, but that’s not something able to be captured in the evaluation process.
Similarly, a project which slows traffic down to improve things for pedestrians, cyclists and to boost the attractiveness of an area will come out of this process with a negative BCR (not just below 1, but actually below zero) because it slows vehicles down – even if it generates a whole pile of other benefits. This is why NZTA makes no contribution to footpaths, why it is so often extremely difficult to get additional traffic signals put in place for pedestrians and why we end up with horrible roads like Mayoral Drive, Hobson and Nelson streets: because vehicle speed is valued above everything else.
Creating this road would have had a fantastic BCR, but was it worth it?
Let us think for a minute what the real benefits of something like the London Underground of New York Subway really are. It’s not in the reduction of congestion: the roads are still full of traffic. It’s not in making traffic go faster: as I said, the roads are still full of traffic. But rather, the real benefit of both projects is that they have enabled each city to grow far bigger and far more prosperous than would have ever been possible without that infrastructure being in place. These underground rail systems enable a simply huge number of people to travel around the cities without destroying the fabric and attractiveness of those cities and without requiring utterly incomprehensibly large amount of space for parking.
These are a different kind of transport benefit from what we’ve measured in the past, and really get to the crux of transport being a “means to an ends” rather than an ends in and of itself. While roading projects could very well be measured in the same way, for some reason they’re not – perhaps because they’d perform rather badly in comparison (they require such a huge amount of space for the benefit they bring).
The crux of this issue is that when the government says that various public transport projects don’t “stack up”, it’s largely because they are being assessed against a system that is flawed and misses out so many of the most significant benefits that something like the City Rail Link would bring. Where’s the assessment of the benefit provided by Auckland’s city centre being able to double in employment count? Where’s the assessment of the benefit from not needing to waste so much space on tens of thousands of carparks? Where’s the assessment of the benefit to property values – not just in the city centre, but also along all the rail corridors?
After a link to this series of videos was posted on the CBT forums, I’ve spent much of the last few days enjoying this detailed insight into the operation and improvements being made to the London Underground. The series is from 2012, so right up to date too:
On Tuesday night Patrick, myself and a number of readers attended the Auckland Conversations event about transport. The guest speaker was Daniel Moylan who was the deputy chair of Transport for London (TfL) and he was talking about how effective transport has transformed London, he was a great speaker and it was a really interesting talk. It was also pleasing that many of the things that he said that are needed for a good PT system are the same things we talk about on here about frequently and are also things that we know AT want to implement as well. One thing that I think is important to remember is that Daniel is a conservative which reinforces to me my belief that good transport solutions should cross the political divide, I would love for the debate in NZ to move above the petty levels it seems stuck at.
Click on the images to bring up the videos (sorry they can’t be embedded). Video 1 is 41 minutes long and is his talk and Video 2 is 30 minutes and the part where he answers questions. Also some comments from a few readers that also attended are in the link above.
Following on from yesterday’s post about possible future projects that would make up Auckland’s rail network, in this post I’m going to put them all together to give us an idea about what infrastructure there would/could be. I’m then going to start looking, only conceptually for now, at the kind of service patterns we could run on this future network. As always, I don’t know the answer, I don’t have a perfect future network laid out in my mind – I’m just trying to stimulate discussion, debate and perhaps at the end of it all have some kind of future network that is generally agreed upon as the way forward. Of course that’s probably quite unrealistic to expect agreement, but one can always hope!
In the comments thread of yesterday’s post there seemed to be general agreement that the series of projects I had come up with was a pretty comprehensive list. There was a fair discussion about whether some would be built as busways or rail – both making up rapid transit, and this is a fair point as we have not yet even built either the AMETI Busway or the Northwest Busway, so it seems vastly premature to be thinking of the day when those busways may need upgrading to rail! Putting together projects listed in the Auckland Plan and you end up with rail infrastructure shown in black and busway infrastructure shown in blue (I’ve taken a few minor liberties):
The above map, of course, creates more questions than answers – how to connect the southeast leg of the Airport Line with the Southern Line? How to get North Shore trains through the city centre? What to do to service Takapuna? How do you get the Avondale-Southdown Line to link up with the Southern Line? How many connecting options do you provide at Onehunga? So, a whole pile of questions around those connection points – something that I may need to work through one by one in future posts: A particularly interesting question is if you ever did upgrade the Northwest Busway to rail, would you want to somehow join it with the Western Line by way of a (probably tunnelled) connection around St Lukes Road? Or do you run a fairly close parallel route to the north of the Western Line?
Now if we shift onto looking at how we might use this infrastructure to provide a really top quality rail network, I think a good place to start is by looking overseas. There are plenty of possibilities: run a whole pile of circular routes, run many different point to point routes, run a pile of branches that come together in the central area then branch out on the other side of the city, and so on. The Outer Link discussion makes me think that loop routes are perhaps to be avoided for operational purposes, so let’s leave aside the whole pile of circular options for now. The next step is to look at how this is done internationally with the kind of commuter/metro hybrid system that Auckland’s rail network is.
RER A & B in Paris: The BART System in San Francisco:
One thing common to all these maps, all these lines and all these systems, is the way in which you have effectively one main line which splits out at each end, running through the centre city. Even many lines in Metro systems do this – the Piccadilly and District Lines in London, many of the routing groups on the New York subway, even the often discussed Canada Line in the Vancouver Skytrain system splits at its southern end. The reason behind this approach seems fairly obvious – demand is always likely to be highest in the inner parts of the system so you want to have high frequencies there, which you can achieve by effectively bringing together a pile of branches to offer that frequency. In the more outer areas you typically want your service to reach a lot of places, but those places are less likely to provide sufficient demand to justify the kind of frequencies available on the inner part of the network.
We already see this approach a bit in Auckland, although more in terms of where the trains begin/end their run rather than through branching. Western Line trains begin/end their run at Henderson, Swanson or Waitakere – because there’s less need further out to offer such a high frequency of service.
In the longer term, I can’t see Auckland being able to cope with the BART-like system, which is basically just a single line with a splits at each end. It seems like we’re likely to need/want a general ‘north-south’ line and a general ‘east-west’ one. Previously a lot of options proposed on this blog have looked at west-south and east-Onehunga/Airport routings, but those typically seem to work best only without the North Shore being thrown into the mix. Here’s a possible north-south route grouping: Within this grouping there’s obviously a couple of service patterns. To ensure that neither are too long, I’d say the obvious two services are Papakura/Pukekohe to Takapuna and Albany to the Airport, with both services overlapping between Penrose and Akoranga on the core part of the north-south network. How this gets through the city centre is, of course, a very interesting question – something to come back to in a future post I would think.
East-West route groupings are a little more complicated, especially if we want to include a SH16 Northwest route linking into the Western Line. Heading east we obviously have the existing eastern line and then a southeast line (if it doesn’t stay as a busway in the longer term). This creates the following ‘east-west’ network: To ensure the system is not too “CBD focused” there are a couple of obvious “cross-town” routes that join together key metropolitan centres – with the northwest one probably being a busway: In my next post I’ll look at putting all of this together into some kind of future service plan – as well as a progression plan towards the final plan.
The Department of Transport published last January, with no publicity, its latest National Road Traffic Forecasts. This is an output of the National Transport Model. Although traffic levels have levelled off in recent years, the projection is for a 44% increase by 2035, even though population growth is assumed to be only 18%.
Car traffic in London is projected to grow by 36% by 2035, even though the number of car trips (driver and passenger) has held constant at about 10m a day since 1993, according to data from Transport for London. This finding suggests that road capacity is limiting car use, taking account of the impact of parking restrictions, bus lanes, traffic signals and the congestion charging zone. So it is hard to see how the DfT projected traffic growth could be fitted in.
My view is that DfT, having built a national transport model at considerable effort, are reluctant to question the behavioural assumptions underlying the inputs and the face validity of the outputs. Doubtless it suites the Department to project substantial traffic growth when bidding for funding from the Treasury.
The last sentence is critical. I’m yet to work out whether this whole denial of stalled traffic volumes in both the UK and New Zealand is simply institutional inertia or whether it’s something far more sinister.
The excellent Pedestrian Observations blog has a fascinating post up about the experience of being a pedestrian in Central London. We often think of London as a pretty good example of what to aim for in transport terms: an extremely comprehensive network of trains, buses, an increasing network of cycle lanes and of course the famous congestion charging scheme. However, as Alon Levy’s post highlights, that doesn’t necessarily mean Central London is a particularly friendly environment for pedestrians:
As I got off the Underground, I was greeted by a fenced roadway without easy crossings. I found the way around a roundabout and started to walk toward the hotel where I was to meet my family, on the wrong side of the street. Although traffic was relatively light and the street was not very wide by New York standards, a fenced median required me to cross at one crosswalk, a Z-crossing with beg buttons and different pedestrian signal phasing for the two halves of the road. About five minutes after I first emerged above ground in London on foot, I realized: this city hates pedestrians.
The interesting thing about London is that you certainly don’t think it’s a deliberate effort to make life crap for pedestrians – at least not in the way that Auckland seems to go out of its way to treat pedestrians like scum, even in very busy parts of the city. Yet somehow there’s an over-riding, almost subconscious, sidelining of pedestrians in Central London. Alon’s post explores the thinking behind this situation:
None of this comes from a deliberate attempt to destroy alternative transportation; it’s just an unintended consequence of modernist planning.
In the view of the modernist planner, pedestrians and cars should always be strictly separated with fences if necessary, all crosswalks must be signalized, and it should be impossible to have any spontaneous crossings, or spontaneous anything for that matter. Ideally, crossings should be in pedestrian underpasses or overpasses, to eliminate all conflict. There can be delineated zones for pedestrians – side streets or some busy pedestrian malls, such as Covent Garden – but those should be placed away from the main streets.
A classic outcome is shown in the picture below (photo credit to Alon): I imagine if you talked to most traffic planners, they would think that most of these pedestrian measures are good things, to ensure safety, to provide pedestrians with car-free areas, in short – to separate what they see as largely incompatible uses of street-space: people and cars. However, inevitably this turns into a “how can we ensure pedestrians don’t get in the way of cars” approach. Alon contrasts how London approaches this matter with what’s done in Paris and New York:
This contrast between New York and London’s style of planning is jarring. New York’s grids are meticulously planned, without much variation except in the parts of Brooklyn and Queens where two separate grids meet. London is nothing like that – its street network is famously labyrinthine, and walking there with one’s roaming function turned off in order to save money requires hopping from one public map to another. But on the level of the individual street, this situation is reversed: London’s streets are meticulously traffic-engineered, while New York’s avenues are chaotic. It’s true even on the level of stereotypical cabbie behavior: for one, London’s cab drivers tend to obey traffic laws.
More fundamentally, it shows just why car-centric planning is so incompatible with urbanism: it tries to impose order on something that resists it. According to Christopher Alexander and the rest of the traditional urbanists, I’m supposed to shun the mechanistic design of New York (or Paris, which is as planned) and gravitate toward the traditionalism of London. In reality, my reaction is the exact opposite – on the micro level, New York is much more emergent and chaotic, and, at the level that is relevant to a local who doesn’t feel the need to constantly look up, vastly more human-scaled. London may appear to succeed on grand urban design principles on a map and in diagrams, but on little things that matter, it fails. It may have little pockets of success, and enough activity on the streets that I’m willing to spend 3 minutes crossing them when necessary, but it has nothing on its peer Western megacities.
Perhaps what I most like about aspects of the City Centre Master Plan is the way in which it takes the direct opposite approach to the handling of pedestrians to the traditional ‘modernist’ ideology that still rules in London. You can see this in what’s proposed for many streets, from Fanshawe to Queen to High. It is the chaotic nature of cities that makes them so interesting and attractive, and we shouldn’t try to regulate this chaotic nature away (as is the way of the modernist approach to traffic planning) but rather embrace and celebrate it. Let’s mix uses, let’s mix pedestrians and vehicles (in a way that’s safe), let’s narrow streets down so there’s more “friction” between different users of the space, let’s let our cities be cities.
Quite a few people I have met up with in person recently have asked how things are going with the little girl we had a few weeks back. Well here she is in a pretty inevitable hat – thanks to Auntie Bernice who did an excellent shop at the London Transport museum when she was there a few weeks ago: While she was five weeks early, and we needed to stay in the hospital for the first couple of weeks, little Adele Ophelia Clare is now doing great. If only she wasn’t always so awake at 11pm each night!