Starting this week I’m trying out a new feature: a midweek post rounding up some new articles on transport and urbanism. (Time for writing more substantive posts has been a bit tight lately.) The themes will be familiar to regular readers.
Let’s start with congestion pricing – a perennial topic of fascination for economists. Congestion pricing is mainly seen as a policy to improve the efficiency of road networks by “pricing in” the cost of delay that motorists impose on each other. But, based on London’s experience with a cordon charge, it may also improve road safety for all users. Charles Komanoff at Streetsblog NYC reports on some new data:
Evidence keeps mounting that congestion pricing can catalyze major reductions in traffic crashes. A year ago I reported on research that vehicle crashes in central London fell as much as 40 percent since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge. The same researchers are now expressing the safety dividend in terms of falling per-mile crash rates, and the figures are even more impressive.
The researchers — economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University in northern England — compared crashes within and near the London charging zone against 20 other U.K. cities, before and after 2003. Their conclusion: Since the onset of congestion charging, crashes in central London fell at a faster rate than the decrease in traffic volumes. As important as the reduction in traffic has been for safety, at least as much improvement is due to the lower crash frequency per mile driven.
In short, driving in the London charging zone isn’t just smoother and more predictable, it’s safer. And safer for cyclists as well as drivers, with the number of people on bikes expanding considerably as car volumes have fallen.
And on that note, a reminder that the best way to improve the safety of cycling is to increase the number of cyclists on the road (or better yet, cycleway):
But that’s the big smoke. It couldn’t happen here, in small, rural New Zealand, could it?
Maybe not. “Town Proper”, an urban design and transport blog, points out that we often get it wrong when thinking about the rural-urban balance in our society. (Riffing off a post I wrote a while back.) We tend to “mistake want as demand“:
Purportedly New Zealanders value open space, ball games and big houses. That does not hold up to our litmus test though. As reported above, most of New Zealanders have chosen to forgo big houses, large and open (private) spaces in exchange for the vitality of a denser area.
It is not like there is a critical shortage of open land in New Zealand – you can easily buy a dozen or so hectares with a big house for below Auckland’s average house price. Rather, people do not want to live there.
When you have multiple wants, you must make a choice as to the prioritization of your wants. It seems that while New Zealanders might want the rural lifestyle they have decided to choose the urban lifestyle over it. This is where so many commentators make a mistake, they confuse wants for demand. Demand is when you not only have the want for something, but also the ability (and the willingness to expend that ability) to obtain it.
There is little demand to live in rural areas (only 20% of Kiwis live in rural areas, and most of them in “rural centers”), why? I propose that generally Kiwis value the advantages of an urban area above the disadvantages.
Indeed. When planning cities, it’s important to take into account people’s needs and the real choices that they face, not just a hypothetical idealised notion of how people should live.
Which brings us to California. The land of technological disruption is steadfastly refusing to allow its housing market to change. And so demand for urban space – particularly the dense, connected urban space of San Francisco – is colliding with scarcity. TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler puts the issue in historical perspective: “A Long Game“:
I believe we’re hitting another major juncture, although I don’t know when it will deteriorate to the point that it forces real reform. California’s fragmented, post-war suburban model, which was created for a more even wage distribution in a mass industrial economy, is clearly becoming more dysfunctional by the year for a knowledge-and-services economy with a wider level of income stratification.
Not only are we not building enough housing overall, we have scarce sources of funding for supporting those on the lower-earning ends of a rapidly widening income spectrum. So we end up politicizing and extracting funds out of new construction even though we are 40 years deep into a largely self-imposed housing shortage.
There are a couple of disturbing trends showing up in the data. If you look across the state’s workforce, Californians born in 1990 are on average spending 50 percent of their income on housing. That’s way above the 30-percent-of-income level that is generally considered to be the threshold of whether housing is affordable or not in public policy conversations.
This is troubling because commute time is one of the strongest predictive factors in determining a child’s chances of climbing from the lowest income quintile to the highest-earning one. That morning and evening time between parents and children that is taken up by commuting is invaluable for bonding and child development.
The data on the length of commutes is incredibly important. As I found when I looked at Auckland’s commuting patterns, lower-income households can access lower rents by living further out, but the gains tend to be erased by added commuting costs. If there are also additional social costs from long commutes, it reinforces the importance of giving people the option to live closer in.
The following map shows existing street trees in Frankton Central. Viewed in terms of ecological function, Frankton Central’s street trees represent an incomplete system with gaps. Although the mapping of street trees points towards a substantial number of trees in the Frankton, these have only limited impact on the experience of green in the wider area.
There are a number of streets with sporadic tree canopies as seen in the map above. The green network created by street trees varies widely in quality. Both ends of Commerce St have thriving street tree corridors that give those areas a distinct character. The interesting trees contribute an artistic flair to the retail part of Commerce St.
There are new plantings throughout the town, particularly in south-eastern streets, but the ecological, architectural, and urban quality benefits of these trees are not yet evident. The current town green network has gaps and there are sections of the Frankton that do not have any real trees.
It would be interesting to see some similar maps for different parts of Auckland. I wonder if Auckland Transport maintains a database of street trees in its road reserves?
Many of you are due to head back to work tomorrow. If you’re looking for something to keep you entertained for a few hours before doing that, this series on the construction of London’s CrossRail might just fit the bill. It also gives an idea of some of the challenges Auckland Transport face in the construction of the CRL.
Every now and then you see comments that make you want to laugh, cry or just bang your head against a wall at the stupidity of them. Yesterday there were a couple of such comments from Judith Collins in an opinion piece talking about the Auckland mayoralty. They aren’t really the key part of her opinion but present a good opportunity to bust a few urban myths and concern trolling.
First up one of those old urban legends.
A sprawling city the size of London with a population the size of Perth’s.
There’s couple of interesting aspects to this statement in the comparison of London and Perth.
I’m not quite sure where the comparison with London came about, possibly it was one of those ones from the 50’s and 60’s that was used to justify investing in roads and not in public transport. Regardless of its origin it’s false and presumably only came about by including much of Auckland’s rural hinterland. If we’re talking about cities then we should be comparing the urban area and in that regard London at around 1,738km² is over three times the size of Auckland at 559km². You can clearly see the difference in the image below which shows the two cities at the same scale.
Auckland is a long relatively narrow city due to its geography and would look considerably smaller if it too was on a river plain.
It’s also odd that she chose Perth to compare Auckland too. Perth’s population is now estimated to be over 2 million, a level Auckland is not expected to reach for roughly another 15 years. Of course we’ve already kind of been following Perth for some time when it comes to transport, not least of which included using their old rolling stock until we too electrified our rail network. If we want to continue to follow Perth then more investment in our public transport network and in particular rail will be needed which brings us to the second comment of hers.
Auckland needs roads first and foremost. The Central Rail Link is a good idea and would be a lot better if it included stations at the University of Auckland and AUT. The fact that it won’t include Auckland City Hospital is a lost opportunity. But, then again, Auckland’s hills and gullies make this extremely expensive. Therein lies one of the other issues that London, for example, doesn’t face. Auckland is not flat. It’s built around 60 volcanic cones after all.
The good news for Judith is we have done exactly what she suggests. We’ve spent decades building roads first and foremost and with the exception of a few bits here and there, our road network is largely complete. Once Waterview opens little over a year there will not be any significant gaps in our roading network and all projects after that are tinkering with what we already have. That means for Auckland to move into the future it needs to start focusing on its missing modes, its high quality public transport and active modes networks.
It’s the comment about the CRL not including the Universities and the Hospital that is what really drove me to write this post. It’s classic white anting and the suggestion the CRL route be changed to include these two locations along with Wynyard has been pushed by the NZCID for some time – they are also pushing for a longer and more expensive road tunnel under the harbour. It all reminded me of a document I received from an OIA request over a year ago but never posted. The document is a presentation by the then Minister of Transport to the Cabinet Strategy Committee and is dated 23 August 2013 and I assume Collins was on that committee while she was a minister.
In explaining the CRL it states the CRL is Key infrastructure project for meeting forecast growth in demand for access to Auckland’s city centre It also notes that 14 options for route alignment, number and location of stations were considered in the Options Evaluation Study before determining the preferred route and that the preferred route was endorsed by Auckland Transport, Kiwirail and Auckland Council.
It says the confirmed route is 3.4km long and has the old cost of $2.86 billion.
Fairly straight alignment, consistent with rail planning principles
Central route covers both sides of CBD
Significant travel time savings for Western Line passengers.
It then looks at the NZCID route. Notice it is about 800m longer and costs about $800 million more
The stations proposed would obviously have an impact on patronage, the page below doesn’t show the Hospital or Wynyard but as you can see there is little difference in how many people would use alternative route for the Universities.
Modelling of the overall impact of PT patronage out to 2041 shows that in the AM peak there would be a difference of just 150 trips. This is likely because the longer less direct route for some journeys will put a number of people off using PT.
If the small difference in patronage wasn’t bad enough it also turns out the route isn’t feasible as it would require a 9% grade when the maximum for trains is 3.5%. Just eyeballing the graphics also suggests that it would involve some very deep stations.
As for connecting Wynyard, they say AT modelling suggests that on its own it isn’t enough to serve with rail. It doesn’t mention it but to me Wynyard seems much more suited to being a station on a route that connects to the North Shore.
The presentation notes the following conclusions
And the last part of her comment
And we Aucklanders love our cars. Many Aucklanders work in south Auckland and live in west Auckland. That’s the nature of Auckland. Buses travel on roads. Rail is useful and needed but it’s not the only solution.
As I’ve said in the past Auckland’s love affair with cars is more of an arranged marriage due to a lack of quality options.
Yes many people do live in West Auckland and travel to South Auckland for work. However have a play with Statistics NZ interactive commuter map and you’ll see it’s not super significant numbers. Once the new network is in place it will be easier than ever to commute between the two areas. For those that want to drive – which is likely to remain the fastest option – if only there was a road that would let them bypass having to travel through the city to get to the south. Perhaps we could call the road the Western Ring Road. The example below is of commute patterns to the area unit that includes the Airport. Around 1,200 of the nearly 16,000 people who commuted there came from West Auckland
Lastly of course buses travel on roads but they generally do so on local roads, not state highways like the government is prioritising. I look forward to seeing Collins tell us all what roads for buses she is proposing be built.
Wouldn’t it be great if Auckland Transport released HOP data in a similar way so something similar could be done here. I imagine that among other things it would great for seeing where the system is being used.
As the CRL inches closer to reality we’re bound to see a lot more of the general public start to get involved and as such discussion about it is only likely to intensify. This isn’t a bad thing as the more people that learn about the massively positive benefits the project brings the more support the project will have. Penny Hulse has come up with an idea to help push the discussion along which has been highlighted by Metro Magazine.
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse wants to paint some lines on Albert St. And put up some signs. Why? Because she wants to show people where the City Rail Link will go. Railway lines, geddit?
Do that, she argues, and the abstract economic burden of our proposed underground railway will become a really-happening-now project, a talking point, a springboard for the imagination. A mechanism for us to start thinking seriously about what the downtown city might become when tens of thousands of workers and shoppers and students spill every day out of a subway station underneath the intersection of Albert and Victoria streets.
It’s a brilliant idea. Cheap and powerful. They could build on it, too. As the work starts — next year is likely, and it will be disruptive cut-and-cover, not a tunnel — how about they turn it into an “imagine Auckland” project? Use the walls they will put up to keep us out as a giant, ongoing canvas on which people can post their ideas for the city — in words, in pictures, hell, in 3-D installations. Aucklander Stuart Houghton has been posting his “100 ideas for a better Auckland”, a set of beautifully whimsical illustrations, at 100daysproject.co.nz (one of them is shown above), and they’re a terrific provocation. Put some of them up and invite everyone to contribute more.
Penny Hulse wants to lay down the painted tracks because she wants to generate more public engagement with the changing city. She wants us to feel part of what the council is up to. But guess what? She says she can’t get people at council to support her idea. Why not?
I think painting some tracks down Albert St is a great idea but why stop there.
London has long considered the building of full sized mock ups of tube stations a crucial part of the design process to ensure they get the stations right.
Crossrail Station Mockup
Now with just two underground stations – Aotea and K Rd – perhaps AT should do a similar exercise, firstly to ensure they get the design right but if they were also in a publicly accessible location such as AT’s Bledisloe carpark for the Aotea one, they could also be a great tool for further public engagement.
However both of these ideas are focused centrally and unfortunately don’t help address the incorrect assumption of some that the CRL is just about benefits to the CBD. More needs to be done by AT to highlight the benefits the CRL provides to the region and it is something highlighted in the latest newsletter from the AA. They note:
Perhaps for the first time, chinks in the broad support for the City Rail Link (CRL) are also visible. Many Auckland Members believe that the project will only benefit a small proportion of the population (those who live or work in the central city).
Awareness of the network-wide benefits that the CRL could offer is minimal – instead, it is commonly assumed that the project is only about intra-CBD travel.
As a result, support for the project is surprisingly low: only one-third of Auckland Members believe investment in the CRL would be money well spent.
And in their recommendations they say AT needs to de-mystify the CRL
At present, Auckland’s flagship project is poorly understood, and risks becoming the focal point for public concerns about cost.
Politicisation of the CRL has stood in the way of a conversation about its substance.
Much more needs to be done to develop public understanding of what the project is, and how it could benefit all of Auckland.
Again, the story needs to be told in terms of concrete outcomes – economic growth, travel time savings, and de-congestion.
I think the AA are absolutely correct with this and importantly they’re not saying no to the project but just that more information is needed so the public better understand the need for it.
In my view just having a few open days or putting up some posters isn’t likely to be effective so what are some ideas for getting more public engagement in other parts of Auckland?
Film distributors Madman Entertainment have kindly sent us four DVDs of the BBC documentary on the London Underground: The Underground:
Narrated by Julian Barrett of Mighty Boosh fame, each of the six episodes is an incredibly in-depth and unblinking look at what it takes to keep Four Million people moving under the streets of London everyday. Full of characters and extraordinary information from this unseen world.
Produced for the BBC, THE UNDERGROUND goes behind the scenes of the world’s oldest, biggest and busiest underground train network, during the biggest overhaul in its 150 year history.
The series follows key members of the Tube’s 19,000 staff – from the chief operating officer down to the litter pickers who walk miles of track every night collecting rubbish. Drivers, station staff and emergency response workers all reveal their unique perspective on the passengers. From tourists to suburban commuters to drunks getting the last train home, we capture the life of the Tube in all its guises.
To win a copy just add a comment to this post with the sentence or soundbite that you think should be used to promote Auckland’s own [but of course much smaller] version of underground; the CRL. We will choose the four best ones and send them each a copy. As well as seriously suggest to Auckland Transport that they use one of them!
As I discussed yesterday the debate on big urban issues of housing and transport far too frequently descends into left/right debates and today I’m looking at transport.
One of the reasons this has come up is that we’ve had some interesting conversations on Twitter in the last few days with a couple of Nationals MPs, which apart from highlighting a scary lack of understanding about transport, inevitably touched on the issue about whether the transport policy that we generally advocate on this blog fits into the traditional “left-right” political spectrum. Here’s what the fairly new National MP Paul Foster-Bell said on Twitter:
@sudhvir@WoodhouseMP never said it was partisan. But I do see an anti-roading pro-rail/cycle bias which suggests left worldview.
We have a fairly diverse range of bloggers on this site: a couple of economists, a transport planner, an urban designer, an architectural photographer, a planning student etc and of course myself who most recently working in banking and from our discussions I think we have some reasonably broad political viewpoints.
Furthermore, many of the key changes to transport and planning policy that we have advocated for strongest over the past few years hardly align with any traditional definition of a “left worldview”. Let’s take a look a few of our most common arguments:
Cut back or cancel some of the Roads of National Significance that do not provide value for money. This seems to me like basic fiscal conservatism – as some of the RoNS projects are simply a huge amount of money being spent on a problem that really doesn’t warrant such high investment. Puhoi-Wellsford could be replaced by Operation Lifesaver, Transmission Gully is just overkill for a city that’s hardly growing in population, the Kapiti Expressway has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.2, the Hamilton bypass will carry fewer vehicles in 20 years time than the Kopu bridge did when it was a single lane… and so on. This seems like cutting wasteful spending, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they want to do?
Built the Congestion Free Network instead of the Integrated Transport Programme. Ultimately the CFN proposal is at least $10 billion cheaper than the current transport programme for Auckland. It probably has a much higher chance of achieving the many targets that Auckland has set for its future transport outcomes than the ITP is able to meet (although that’s not hard as the ITP failed to achieve just about any of its targets). Similarly to above, this is achieved through chopping out an enormous amount of wasteful spending on unnecessary projects (both road and rail) – yet again, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they support?
Built complete Streets. Democracy equality and choice are meant to be good things aren’t they? Most of our roads focus solely on the task of moving as many vehicles as possible and give scant regard for anyone not in a car. Building complete streets that treat each user equally and allow people to have a real choice in how they get around is the ultimate form of transport democracy.
Improve walkability. We’ve seen both locally and internationally that when there is a focus on improving the walkability and the pedestrian environment (that includes wheeled pedestrians) a couple of significant things happen. One is that people shop more boosting local retail, perhaps the best example of this is the upgrade of Fort St to a shared space which has seen the hospitality retailers revenue increase by a staggering 400%. The second thing is that people walking (and cycling) more is good for them, improving health and therefore reducing long term costs to the health system. This is further enhanced as often these improvements also see a reduction in traffic crashes. So once again we see a case where we can lower costs while also increasing revenue and therefore tax at the same time.
Get rid of Minimum Parking Requirements. This key proposal is to get rid of a current regulation that causes more harm than good, that adds significant cost onto developers (thereby discouraging development and growth) and often just adds regulatory churn cost for no gain (as it seems most applications for parking waivers appear to be granted). I would have thought this aligns quite well with a “right of centre” political ideology where reducing regulation (especially regulation that harms economic activity and growth) is a very very good thing.
Relax Planning Rules to give people more Housing Choice. This was covered yesterday but worth repeating again. Most planning rules limit development potential in existing urban areas: whether that’s through height limits, yard setbacks, density controls, parking requirements, minimum unit sizes or whatever. Through the Unitary Plan process we have advocated for (and will continue to do so) the relaxation of planning controls – particularly in areas where it makes good sense to allow high density developments to make best use of existing infrastructure. Similarly to parking controls, this is a relaxation of current regulation that significantly limits development potential and the prospects of economic growth through making better use of inner parts of the city. The relaxation/elimination of economically damaging regulation should be music to a right-wingers ears you’d think.
There are probably many more examples than above, but they give a good overview of why transport policy (and land-use policy) really doesn’t fit well into a traditional “left-right” ideological spectrum. We could easily point out how bizarre it is that our current supposedly centre-right government has significantly increased petrol taxes to spend on a series of very dubious mega-projects in the form of the RoNS. That seems rather more “tax and spend” than fiscal conservatism.
Furthermore, if you look internationally there are many examples of centre-right political parties taking public transport seriously. In Britain, the current Conservative government is making a big contribution to the £15.9 billion Crossrail project in London and is also likely to spend even more money on the High Speed 2 rail project. That government seems to understand the economic importance of having good rail infrastructure. For example, Crossrail massively increases the residential catchment of the Canary Wharf employment area – somewhat similar to how the CRL vastly increases the residential catchment of the city centre. London Mayor Boris Johnson is a big champion of not only Crossrail but also getting more people to ride a bike and is planning to invest huge amounts of money in cycle infrastructure. In Australia, the centre-right New South Wales government is championing and making a massive funding contribution to the North West Rail Link project. Even in Auckland we have business groups who politically are considered “right of centre” supporting projects like the City Rail Link and improved cycling infrastructure.
It’s interesting to try to understand this political divide through other lenses than a traditional “left-right” spectrum. Pro-urban and suburban/anti-urban is perhaps a better lens in my opinion – particularly because it seems to explain better why some right-wing parties (like the Republicans in the USA, the current Liberal Government in Australia and the National government here in NZ) appear to be sceptical at best about public transport, while others (e.g. NSW government and UK government) seem to really understand the importance of public transport.
Perhaps this “pro-urban” and “suburban/anti-urban” divide even exists within the current National Party. It was interesting that John Key (an Aucklander who has lived in big overseas cities for much of his life) was the person who changed the government’s position on City Rail Link while Steven Joyce (grew up in New Plymouth and now lives on a lifestyle block in Auckland) and Gerry Brownlee (from Christchurch) were apparently the biggest opponents of that change. Or how we get current Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse saying this on auto-dependency:
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.