Northern Express delays on the way?

The NZTA have announced works that should result in an improved experience for bus users from north of Constellation Busway Station but that while it’s constructed is likely to cause delays to both bus users and car/truck drivers.

North Shore commuters are advised to allow additional journey time as work starts on the upgrade of the citybound shoulder lane on State Highway 1 leading to the Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation Drive) exit.

The temporary motorway shoulder lane closure, citybound between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway, will be in place for 10 weeks, while the shoulder is widened to take buses continuously between the two interchanges.

Providing a continuous bus shoulder between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway off-ramp will mean citybound buses no longer have to merge in and out of traffic lanes heading to the Constellation Park and Ride,” says NZ Transport Agency’s Acting Auckland and Northland Highway Manager Mieszko Iwaskow.

“These improvements, along with the upgrade of the Greville Road interchange, and the additional northbound lane between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Road, will provide better journey time reliability for those travelling along the Northern Motorway.”

Due to be completed in June, the shoulder widening is the final stage of the Upper Harbour Highway to Greville Road Northbound Three-Laning Project, which is part of the Northern Corridor Improvements Programme.

For further information please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/UHH-Greville, or call 0800 72 74 74.

For Northern Corridor Improvements, please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/auckland-northern-corridor/ or the Project Information Hub located at 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale.

image002

While the outcome should certainly be an improvement I do worry about the impact this work will have on bus reliability, especially with it starting in the middle of March.

Now if only they’d build a full busway instead of our at least as part of the massive interchange they have planned.

Too High a Cost.

AT are doing some very very good things at the moment, they are showing leadership and courage to make rational but bold decisions.  Like dropping the Reeves Rd fly-over in favour of a BRT solution, creatively investigating ways to bring modern light rail to over-crowded bus routes, and quickly rolling out long overdue bus lanes on arterials. These are all fantastic and are signs of a nimble and lively institution, one that is responding to a changing world with a changed response. One that is resisting the natural tendency of public agencies to just roll on doing the same as before and not risk trouble. I applaud this and the hard working and dedicated individuals who are carrying out.

But at the same time, at least at the time of writing, AT has lost its way on Great North Road. So why have they got it so wrong here?

Looking at that first list we can see what all these issues have in common; they are all discretely transport issues; as you’d expect this is AT’s core competency. BRT versus a traffic flyover in Pakuranga? This is a debate between competing transport projects, each can be costed and outcomes evaluated. Analysing whether more buses will be able to deal with the demand on Isthmus and City routes or whether a higher capacity technology may be needed? Again this is problem of spatial geometry, vehicle size, route speed, likely passenger volumes, boarding times, vehicle dimensions etc. All the kinds of things a transport organisation ought to excel in, and that AT increasingly shows it does.

St Lukes Interchange Plan

But in examining the widening of Great North Road as if it only has transport outcomes they are showing the limits of this competency. That ‘place value’ just doesn’t compute is shown by the bewildering array of excuses being rolled out by AT to justify an act they clearly consider trivial: The removal of the six 80 year old Pohutukawa. First was an attempt to blame the need for killing these trees on improved cycling and public transport amenity in order to ‘bring long-term environmental benefits':

We regret that the trees will be lost but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended bus lane and bus priority measures in Great North Road.

Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with Auckland Transport’s drive to encourage the use of public transport. This will bring long-term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car.

This is to draw an extraordinarily long bow. There are no ‘cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge’ in the proposed plan. There is absolutely no more cycling amenity on Great North Rd than there is currently, ie a wide footpath, except the new one will have no shade nor glory from the grand Pohutukawa. There is proposed to be a slightly longer but still intermittent bus lane. And as all this takes place as part of a massive increase in traffic lanes, including a double slip lane, to say that this project is designed to ‘bring long term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car’ is frankly, an untruth.
That statement would be justified if fully separated cycle lanes and proper Rapid Transit was at the core of the project. They are not.
Now we have a new justification, signed by the same high level AT executive, published in Metro Magazine: Cost.
Both AT and NZTA spend public money and it is our legal and moral responsibility to deliver the most objective cost-efficient solutions to the ratepayers and taxpayers that planning and engineering can devise, for the least possible cost.
Absolutely right. Cost, and value, is exactly the issue here. We all certainly want our money spent wisely by our public servants. But there are obvious problems with this assertion, first the cost is only relevant in the context of the value; a cheap thing is a waste if it is not very good. And the people of Auckland see losing the trees as too high a cost for what they propose. That AT don’t see they value of the trees how and where they are, or so discount it so, is essentially the heart of the disagreement. We understand that they have a low transport value, but AT cannot ignore values outside of their core discipline, particularly place values, as their actions have huge effects on the quality of life and place that are not captured by driver time savings, traffic flow, or PT ridership numbers. Neither AT nor NZTA can just ignore these issues and simply hide within their speciality. And nor can they claim that a couple of new trees are the same as magnificent ones that have witnessed the last 80 years at this spot.
Additionally, there is no evidence that the preferred option is less expensive in direct financial cost than say Option Six, which the peer review found to have no significantly different traffic outcomes. In fact Option Six must surely be cheaper to construct as it is one lane narrower and doesn’t involve removing the trees:
Pohutukawa Option 6
There are other issues that could be raised with this text like the bold claim the whole purpose of the Super City is to reduce congestion:
The founding premise of the Auckland super city was that the city’s congestion was costing $1 billion a year in lost productivity and this had to change.
Both this idea of the centrality of congestion busting to the whole purpose of the city and the quoting of a $1billion annual congestion cost figure show how blind AT have become to other issues of value. Other costs. Especially perhaps things that are hard to quantify. But then congestion cost itself is a very hard thing to quantify. The most recent attempt in New Zealand, published by NZTA itself [Wallis and Lupton 2013] find that the figure for Auckland is more likely in the realm of $250 million.
Wallis and Lupton 2013
But regardless of this supposed quantum it has long been understood that congestion is not solved by building more roads, that in fact while temporarily easing one route, overall this only encourages more driving and auto-dependency for a place, and ultimately worse congestion everywhere. It is, quite literally, the loosening of the belt as a ‘cure’ for obesity. It is also understood that the best outcome for all road users, the best way to combat congestion, is to invest in the alternative Rapid Transit route, particularly where none currently exists:
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
So again the heavy cost of this work, both financially and in the loss of the trees, a massive reduction in place value, is too high for this outcome.
As some levels of AT seem to admit they place no value on the trees, or indeed anything that isn’t directly transport related, the best outcome would be for the Board to give them direction to find a solution that both keeps the trees and meets reasonable near term traffic demand and in fact meaningfully incentivises the mode shift that AT correctly values:
Urban roads and state highways working together to keep the traffic flowing and fast, efficient road, rail and ferry passenger services that — together with walking and cycling — entice Aucklanders out of their cars.
 -Auckland Transport Metro Magazine
This is an issue of cost, and value. The people of Auckland, Auckland Transport’s ultimate customers and employers, find the cost to place-value too high, and the value of the proposed outcome too low, to justify this action. The public may have been slow to realise what was planned here but have now made their views clear. Recently we have come to expect bold and innovative solutions from AT for all sorts of difficult problems. So it would be very unfortunate if the Board were to miss an opportunity to call a halt to this irreversible action and to seek a smarter solution.
And because work has begun the most efficient and cost effective solution is probably to make the small but significant change to Option Six, leaving the trees, adding the additional slip lane, but settling at least for now, for the two east bound lanes away from the motorway overbridge instead of three. It would be good to see the real effects are after the opening of the Waterview connection before rash actions are taken. If a third lane is deemed necessary here [even though only two lead into it] it is clear that could be added in a few years as MOTAT as planning to restructure their whole relationship with this corner. AT can save some cost and some grief now and revisit the issue with more information and without the pressure from a NZTA deadline. It could be that they find that an east facing buslane and separated cycle way is of higher value through here…?
Pohutukawa Blossom, Elsewhere

Pohutukawa Blossom, elsewhere

Waterview Aerials

Some new aerial photos from the team building the Waterview Connection project which show the extent of it.

Waterview Aerial 1 Feb 15

Waterview Aerial 2  - Feb 15

Don’t you love the little stub road with cycle lanes on either side

 

Waterview Aerial 3 - Feb 15

Waterview Aerial 4 - Feb 15

Waterview Aerial 5 - Feb 15

It’s like a monument to the gods of motorway building

 

Waterview Aerial 6 - Feb 15

Celebrating recent Auckland Cycling and Walking projects

 

This is a sort of ‘Photo of the Day’ post to follow Matt’s one this morning: The day in question being last Friday 30th of Jan. Thankfully I was able to get back to the city from work in the South Island just in time to ride to the Ministerial Cycleways Announcement on the abandoned CMJ off-ramp. See here for how promising is the repurposing of this symbol of urban motorway-era overbuild into something useful.

As I observed in the post linked to above it’s surprisingly pleasant on the ramp, you’re largely above the traffic. Here’s a pic with a photo-op on bikes for Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown, and AT Chair Lester Levy going on in the distance.

CYCLEWAY LAUNCH_5372

And the backdrop? Three current and three soon-to-be apartment buildings. Left to right; Urba on Howe street, a new build, two existing blocks, the old Telecom office about to be converted, another 80/90s office building of considerable ordinariness under conversion, and another existing one. Hundreds of new dwellings in easy walk or ride to K Rd, Ponsonby, and of course the city.

CYCLEWAY LAUNCH_5376

I had a good chat with new transport minister Bridges, to be continued, he was very relaxed and out of a suit unlike his poor officials [background]. Those elegant cuffed wrists holding the phone belong to city Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid who will be very important in making sure that NZTA’s traffic engineers don’t get away with insisting on some sort of massive cage along the sides of this route out of panic about what humans might do in their motorway corridor.

A balance between ensuring safety and creating a great environment is key here. It is important that the physical detail of this conversion treat riding and walking as normal activities that do not require the kind of defensive constructions that hurtling along in tin boxes at 100 kph do. It is already a fun and secure place to ride and walk. And even though its as close as we are likely to get to an elevated Highline in Auckland I don’t think it needs to be fussily guilded. I like experiencing the tough motorway engineering on foot or bike; there’s something a little transgressive about it. Sightlines need to be clear and the width is great, and practical for reducing conflicts on a shared path. For the route see Matt’s previous post.

The only cost of any consequence is a short bridge at the southern end of the ramp opposite South St connecting through to the bottom of East Street then up to K Rd in one direction, and Canada St, and the Grafton Gully and North Western cycleways in the other. Yay. The architects of the Pt Resolution Bridge [now called Monk MacKenzie] are on the design team so we have high hopes for a beautiful structure here.

Breaking! Just got the ok on Twitter from NZTA to share these:

CANADA ST BRIDGE_01

CANADA ST BRIDGE_02

Stunning. But interestingly only views from the motorway users’ perspective, and no one appearing to be using it… hopefully there are some equally developed views for above. You can see the bridge sweeps past South St to link with Canada St and the bottom of East St. Therefore directly to the Grafton Gully and Northwestern Cycleways more than to K Rd.

Talking of beautiful pedestrian/cycling bridges after the function I rode on to see the new one between the Grafton Gully cycleway and the path between Elam/Whitaker Pl and Symonds St:

Grafton Cycleway bridge_01

And what a lovely sensuous and sinewy thing it is too. Structural engineering practice Novare were the lead designers.

Grafton Cycleway bridge_02

From there I headed down to the city via O’Connell St. Of course it would be much better if there was also a route through the Wellesley St underpass. There is available space at the northern end which is currently only occupied by desultory planting. This would mean that pedestrians and riders wouldn’t have to go up and across Symonds St to get to and the from the city and the cycleway. It is hard to imagine how this connection isn’t a priority for AT/AC?

O'CONNELL_5419

O’Connell St is insanely improved; fantastic work by AC + AT. A huge success; peopled, busy, new sales being made and life being lived on the street. Previously it was just parking and vehicles circulating looking for parking. Still needs a tweak to reduce the rat-running, a good start would be to review the street pattern to the south [uphill], I propose reversing the one-way to up hill rather than down, as it currently funnels vehicles into O’Connell. Reversing this pattern would retain the same level of vehicle access to the surrounding buildings but direct movement towards the streets with higher vehicle priority. The aim should be for only delivery or emergency vehicles with destinations actually on O’Connell to be there. How it was:

O'Connell St

From there I went to check out Waterfront Auckland’s new [not yet officially opened] boardwalk. Fantastic:

Westhaven Boardwalk_01

Wide, elegant, graceful: great work WA. Another of those projects that makes you wonder what took us so long….?

Westhaven Boardwalk_02

And obviously, in the words of the Grandfather of Soul James Brown; it’s now time to “Take It To the Bridge”

After all who can disagree with Brown, especially about what’s cool.

In fact all the good things in this post make me feel very optimistic about the progress on the great task of fixing our potentially great city after decades of damage and neglect through the auto-age. So much so that I have to also agree with Brown here on the Ed Sullivan show in 1966 , so about Auckland’s progress:

“I Feel Good!”

The Nelson St cycleway

The launch of government’s Urban Cycleway programme on Friday occurred on the old Nelson St off-ramp which will form part of the biggest of the initial group of projects, the Nelson St cycleway. The project is perhaps one of the best examples of what can happen when officials put their mind and focus on getting something done.

nelsonramp-beforeafter

The idea had been talked about for some time and this image appeared in the council’s City Centre Master Plan however not much progress had been made. That was until things really kicked off about 8 months ago with a post titled Throwing Down a Half-Nelson from Cycle Action Auckland’s Max Robitzsch.

In the post he talked about how a cycleway along the old off-ramp and down Nelson St could be potentially be implemented quickly and cheaply with a temporary ramp to access the off-ramp and some planter boxes to make a protected cycleway on Nelson St. The idea seemed to capture the imagination of staff from both AT and the NZTA who quickly took up the cause seeing it as a potential quick win.

Fast forward a few months and we heard the people working on the project were busy trying to deal with the most difficult issue, how to get cyclists on to the off ramp. Apparently the idea of a temporary scaffold ramp from K Rd wasn’t going to work easily and neither would a bridge from Day St like some artist impressions showed. It turns out the best solution would be a bridge from South St which would have the added benefit of linking in with the NW cycleway. There are a few other changes that have been made too including

  • A future section on Pitt St – which could easily losing a lane or two without anyone noticing and which would better cater for cyclists coming from Gt North Rd/K Rd
  • On Nelson St the cycleway will go down the Western side of the road rather than the eastern which I believe is due to it avoiding a lot of driveways, especially the slip laned SkyCity one.
  • It will go all the way to Quay St which is great and even further than Max originally suggested.

The total route of the project is shown below.

Nelson Street Cycle Route map

We’re still see some images of what the bridge from South St will look like have high hopes for it. Likewise I haven’t seen any images of just what will be done on the off ramp so I’ve got no idea if there are any plans for it to be anything like the CCMP image earlier or if it’s just destined to be an un-landscaped cycleway.

Moving on to Nelson St, one of the widest streets in Auckland which despite its width carries surprisingly little traffic. As mentioned the cycleway will go down the western side of the road and we saw this image a few months ago as part of the City centre Priority routes.

Nelson St cycleway

Below are the concept designs for the Nelson St section between Union St and Victoria St which AT say will have the following changes.

  • A two-way separated cycleway on the western side of Nelson Street between Union Street and Victoria Street. Instead of having a cycle lane on both sides of the road, a two-way cycleway is on one side of the road and people on bicycles can travel in both directions within it.
  • The cycleway will be three metres wide, with a one metre wide separator to provide separation from vehicles.
  • Cycle crossing facilities introduced at the intersections, to improve safety by enabling pedestrians and cyclists to cross separately.
  • Kerb build-outs introduced at some intersections, to improve safety by reducing crossing distances for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The project will require:
    • Removal of a traffic lane along the length of the route and reduction of parking between Wellesley Street and Victoria Street.
    • Removal of the left turn slip lane at the intersection with Victoria Street to provide a safe waiting area for pedestrians and cyclists to cross.

Nelson St Concept Design

Click here for a larger version.

It’s not clear from the image above but it does seem one negative is that to access the Nelson St cycleway you’ll have to cross the SH1 off-ramp first although presumably that should be easy to do during all of the other traffic phases.

While this is development is great, one major issue is that it only stops at Victoria St which will limit it’s usefulness. That is until stage two links it with the waterfront as shown in the map above. At this stage AT say they haven’t decided on whether which route to pick however I think they need to do both if they want to build a proper network. It’s also worth noting that Victoria St is meant to get a cycleway as part of the proposed linear park.

At this stage it appears that no option has been chosen and to help with that AT are currently consulting on it and say there will be an open day about the project on February 10 in Takutai Square.

All up the project is expected to cost around $11 million made up of $1.1 million from Auckland Transport, $8.15 million from the NZTA and $1.75 million from the new Urban Cycleway fund. I suspect a decent chunk funding is to go towards the bridge from South St to the off ramp. The first phase is due for completion by the end of the year with the second phase by mid-2016. I’m looking forward to seeing this finished and work getting underway on the rest of the city centre priority routes (plus others around the region).

City Centre Priority routes

Well done to the people from AT and the NZTA who have picked up and ran with this project.

Motorways and health

An article in the herald earlier this week highlighted some of the health issues we see have with motorways.

People who live beside Auckland’s Southern Motorway are subjected to air pollution at nearly double the level of those 130m further away, research shows.

The researchers suggest looking at preventing people from living within 20m of motorways and building more walls to separate the roadways from homes, children’s facilities and businesses.

Fixed and bicycle-mounted measuring instruments, used in autumn and winter in Otahuhu, detected pollution levels that peaked beside the motorway from 7am to 9am, coinciding with the morning commuter rush.

The researchers, from Canterbury University’s geography department and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, found similarly high levels of pollution along Princess St, which feeds the motorway, and several other areas of high traffic volume.

Potentially of most concern is their finding of a morning peak of around 140,000 “ultrafine” particles of pollution per cubic centimetre of air.

These particles, a 10,000th of a millimetre in diameter, can penetrate deep into the lungs. Particulate air pollution is associated with lung disease and heart problems.

What this really shows is one of the key issues of having such a reliance on urban motorways. It also makes me wonder what it would do to the business cases of projects if we had also considered the health impacts and the mitigation needed to address those impacts. The article says some researchers are now suggesting we need a 100m buffer to motorways, the costs of doing that would be astronomical from both a financial and land use perspective.

Some will of course point out that electric cars will solve these problems and while it may to a large extent, as Peter has pointed out in the past, uptake of electric vehicles has been glacially slow and there is no sign of that changing any time soon.

NZ Herald: “Urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good”

Yesterday, the NZ Herald chose to celebrate Auckland’s 175th anniversary with an editorial celebrating the city’s motorways. It’s an extremely odd piece to read in the wake of a string of good editorials discussing shared spaces, new cycleways, and the light rail proposals.

It’s also sad that the paper’s editors chose not to highlight Auckland’s many other features that we can take pride in. No mention of the city’s preserved natural heritage – the beaches, the Waitakeres, the Hunuas, the maungas, and two harbours. No mention of its preserved urban heritage – the villas and shops of Ponsonby and Devonport. No mention of its humming, vibrant centre, which has been brought back to life by Britomart, waterfront redevelopment, and pedestrian spaces, or the many other places, like the multicultural night markets or the Otara markets, where Auckland happens.

Instead of celebrating Auckland’s glories, the Herald chooses to make a virtue of its dysfunctions:

Auckland’s landscape and coastal attractions made its sprawl as inevitable as its preference for cars over public transport.

This is total hogwash. The Herald is attempting to re-cast Auckland’s outward expansion as an inevitable process in an attempt to win today’s argument about how best to accommodate future growth. “Planners”, they contend, cannot and should not attempt to fight the tide of suburbanisation and road-building.

Unfortunately, their own account reveals that Auckland’s current shape – and dependence upon cars – was in fact a planned outcome, not a natural one.

Here is the Herald discussing how Auckland got its motorway network:

They would do their utmost also to stop the Ministry of Works planning motorways south and west of the city. The southern route extended well past the green fields of Ellerslie and the meatworks at Southdown. If the ministry was not careful its motorway would allow housing to cover the fine farming soils of the Manukau County, absorbing the small towns of Otahuhu and Papatoetoe on the Great South Rd.

There were even plans to put a motorway on a causeway across the Whau estuary to the Te Atatu peninsula which could change the shape of West Auckland, developing to that point along the western rail line at New Lynn, Glen Eden and Henderson.

That’s right: the motorways were planned by central government. They didn’t happen on their own. They happened as a result of political fiat and bureaucratic intervention that aimed to shape demand, rather than responding to it. We have taken a look at how planned the roads were in a number of posts over the years. The bottom line is that Auckland’s pre-1950s public transport system was popular and well-used – and it was dismembered by planners who didn’t believe that we should live that way.

What was true for motorways was also true for housing development. The government was heavily involved in planning and building Auckland’s suburban lifestyle through a major programme of state house construction on greenfield sites:

The Government was building big state housing projects at Otara and Mangere in the 1960s. Suburban development crossed the Tamaki inlet to Pakuranga by the end of the decade.

In light of these facts, it’s hard to figure out what to make of the Herald’s criticisms of “planning”. Their attitude seems to be that urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good. In other words, plan away, but only if you are planning a society and a city that conforms to the editors’ preferences and prejudices.

Ultimately, the editorial only serves to reveal the Herald’s own myopia. When they say:

It has never been Auckland’s character to look back, or forwards for that matter.

They are not speaking for the many Aucklanders who have a keen sense of history… and who look forward optimistically to the future. They are simply admitting to their own lack of vision.

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

Auckland Unbound

Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.

ESSAYS ON AUCKLAND: 1

The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

MIT_7454

The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

 

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.

*

BRITOMART_9

Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.

*

Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.

NEW LYNN_9 2

Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.

NEW LYNN_1666

All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.

MIT_4113

Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

 

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.

 

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6347

Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.

HOBSON BAY_3329

Need to build missing modes to avoid congestion

Yesterday large parts of Auckland’s Motorway network was brought to its knees by a single crash.

A serious crash brought Auckland’s motorway network to its knees with motorists stuck in grid-locked traffic for up to four hours.

Three motorbikes and a truck collided on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge about 12pm yesterday, leaving two motorcyclists with critical injuries and a third with serious injuries.

Three northbound lanes were closed while emergency services attended the scene of the crash.

Auckland motorists were stuck in grid-locked traffic, making a normally 40-minute journey from the airport to the North Shore take up to three hours.

The tail of the traffic jam on State Highway 1 stretched from the base of the Harbour Bridge to Highbrook Drive, Otahuhu, before all lanes were re-opened at 3pm.

Traffic on the Northwestern Motorway was very heavy, with motorists diverting trips they’d usually take on the Northern Motorway in an attempt to avoid the snarl up.

Roads throughout Central Auckland were also backed up as motorists tried to get on the motorway and became stuck.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a screenshot but at one stage the motorway traffic map looked like this with a considerable amount of red as well.  In addition local roads all around the motorways would have been severely affected too.

Motorway affected

While the crash is unfortunate – and I hope those involved are ok – as I say in the article, there is very little that could be done to prevent the ensuing chaos it caused. We’ve seen in recent years the motorway network brought to a standstill numerous times by accidents and this is especially the case when they occur on some of the busiest sections of the network.

I happened to be travelling towards the city about 1½ hours after the Harbour Bridge was reopened and SH16 was still at a standstill all the way from Te Atatu to the city which also showed just how long the delays took to clear.

Yesterday’s incident also shows highlights that even an additional harbour crossing wouldn’t have helped. As people tried to avoid the hold up they flooded to use the North-Western Motorway and that too soon jammed up. With an additional crossing the same thing would have happened as masses of people diverted their trips to avoid the bridge. It’s also worth pointing out that the opening of the Waterview Connection isn’t going to make this any better either as the project is expected to see traffic volumes on the motorway increase. This is due to new trips being generated thanks to the connection as well as a lot of trips shift from local roads on to the motorway network. The result would be even more people stuck in congestion – many deep underground.

So what can we do?

What we need is a comprehensive multi modal network that is able to deliver real choice to Aucklanders in how they get around. That means a network like the Congestion Free Network as well dedicated walking and cycling options like Skypath combined with safe routes on road across the region. Those alternative networks won’t mean that everyone is going to suddenly use them or that people driving won’t suffer from congestion at times but it does mean that people can have a realistic option to make trips around the region knowing they won’t have the risk of suffering from congestion. As yesterday’s experience also shows, the key is also they are isolated from the rest of the road network. Because there is no dedicated route for buses over the harbour bridge all North Shore services were equally caught up in the chaos disrupting them too.

CFN 2030 South-GraftonNote: we’ll be creating a new version to incorporate the change to the CRL with Mt Eden soon.

A true multi-modal transport system is also a resilient one so let’s get on and build those missing modes.