Life under the Victoria Park Viaduct
Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne
Life under the Victoria Park Viaduct
Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne
By now we’re pretty well acquainted with ramp signals on motorway onramps across Auckland. You know the ones:
NZTA explains the reasoning behind ramp signals on this old page (which hasn’t changed since the NZTAs predecessor agency over 5 years ago):
Early analysis suggested that ramp signals improved the throughput and reduced the levels of congestion on the motorway:
The big question with ramp signals has always been whether it just “shifts the problem” onto the local roads. When ramp signals were initially introduced, Transit NZ was an agency solely focused on the operation of the motorway system and didn’t really care what happened on the local roads. As long as the congestion wasn’t on the motorways then it wasn’t their problem. NZTA has (fortunately) taken much more of a one network/system approach to transport in Auckland than this and work very closely with AT in the day to day management of the network.
I suppose the big question is whether the improvements to flow on the motorway network are sufficient to counter-balance the additional waiting on onramps and on the local roads that lead to the onramps. But more deeply, I think there are questions around whether we want idling cars (and their pollution) on local streets where everyone else is, or confined more to motorway corridors away from where people live, work, walk or cycle. Do we really want to privilege long-distance trips (those already on the motorway network or who access it at more distant onramps where the ramp signalling doesn’t happen or is on a faster cycle) over shorter distance trips from more central locations who get stuck on really long queues at the signals? These are all complex questions.
My gut feeling is that ramp signals are probably a good thing on balance providing they are actively managed to ensure:
However I’m not sure if we are currently getting all of those benefits, in particular the impacts on local roads. Some of those impacts are bound to part of the reasoning for monstrosities like Lincoln Rd.
The NZTA have awarded the contract for the “upgrading” of the St Lukes interchange and the widening of the motorway between there and Waterview. Here’s the press release:
The project isn’t exactly a surprise as it’s been talked about for a while and was part of the overall Waterview consenting process that occurred a few years ago. In saying that it does once again bring into the limelight the claim often made (including in the last paragraph) that the Western Ring Route is about creating another route through the region when in fact this piece of work is all about making it easier to get from the airport to the CBD. This is even mentioned in the description on the project page.
The part of the project that is of most interest is the widening of the motorway bridge and the sections of Gt North Rd on either side. This is especially the case as the NZTA and Auckland Transport were at one stage looking to wipe out the large mature Pohutakawa trees that line the road so they could create one additional lane all in the aim of appeasing the gods of traffic flow. This is the before and after of what they showed to the local board a few months ago and which the board weren’t happy with.
The images below suggest they may have backed down on that though. As for what’s now going to be built, the NZTA say that the project includes:
Being able to use both sides of the bridge will be good but that seems to be the only thing.
Here’s what it will look like from above and facing south (click to enlarge)
Immediately there are a couple of major issues I see and they primarily relate to the intersection with Gt North Rd. Amazingly the NZTA and Auckland Transport are actually going to remove some of the few bits of existing pedestrian priority that currently exist. A person wanting to get from the eastern side of St Lukes Rd (where the carpark is) to MOTAT or Western Springs first has to battle their way across to the traffic island if they can find a gap in traffic thanks to the removal of the existing zebra crossing. Then instead of a simple trip across to the northern side of Gt North Rd they have to cross to the eastern side of St Lukes Rd and wait again to get across Gt North Rd.
It’s pretty clear that the primary focus of this project is about making it easier to drive at the expense of other modes. The extra lanes on the bridge are an attempt to squeeze a few more cars through the area. On westbound off-ramp there is also an additional queuing lane which will only serve to funnel extra volumes off the motorways and onto the local streets. It seems to be the typical ‘give every type of movement its own lane’ type approach that only ends up making life easier for cars. By in large everything seems very much the same business as usual crap we’ve seen for decades throughout Auckland.
Most proposals to build new roads or widen existing ones seem to boil down to an ultimate belief that it will “help the economy”. Whether it’s by improving freight reliability or getting people to their jobs faster or helping business travel or whatever, there seems to be a fundamental belief among many that quite a strong relationship must exist between building more roads and improving the economy.
Clearly this is a contestable assumption, and some recent research in the USA details some pretty interesting trends – as reported on in Planetizen:
Let’s look at the details a bit more:
And for a graphed comparison:
I think it’s probably unlikely that building roads directly harms the economy, but there are logical reasons to think that it might cause indirect harm: particularly due to it not the best use of public funds and encouraging dispersed land-use patterns which undermine agglomeration. New Zealand’s heavy dependency on private vehicles also forces us to spend a lot of money each year importing cars and oil – basically cancelling out wealth that we create from exporting dairy to the the world.
The next version of the Government Policy Statement will be released some time later this year. If it’s anything like the current version it will stress the importance of transport’s role in improving the economy and then make a giant leap of faith in assuming that building more roads is the best way for transport to improve the economy. It’s time to fundamentally question that assumption.
The governments announcement in June that they would fast track a number of (primarily road) projects has now seen the first result. Today John Key turned the sod on a project to widen the northern motorway northbound between Upper Harbour Highway and Grevelle Rd as well as some other works in the area which are designed to “ease congestion”. Despite my concerns about some of the large scale projects that were announced in June this project is actually one I can support as it should be relatively effective for what is a fairly modest cost compared to many others on the list.
Here’s John Key turning the sod.
The project will cost $19.5 million which is pretty small compared to some of the other projects proposed, like a $400m to upgrade the Upper Harbour Interchange just so it can have motorway to motorway ramps. What’s more if this is successful it will hopefully relieve many of the traffic issues in the area which might delay or even remove the need for that expensive interchange work.
There are actually some quite useful parts in this project and what’s involved is shown below:
The extra northbound lane along with the changes to the Greville interchange should hopefully help improve the situation for buses until the Northern Busway can be properly extended to Albany.
After the photo op of John holding a shiny new spade, there were some brief speeches. Here are a couple of points I noted and found interesting.
John Key – Talked about transport investment in general and even referred to the current government approach to transport as “spending a truckload of money” which perhaps about the most accurate description of our current transport investment programme that I have heard. He also used his time to take a few pot shots at others, in particular pointing out the Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS saying that the Greens might not agree with it but the government do – so there.
George Wood was at the event representing the council. He spoke after John yet remarkably spoke for the entire time about how successful the busway was despite many predicting it to be a white elephant before it was built (he singled out Newstalk ZB’s Leighton Smith on this). He noted how the Constellation station was designed so that it could allow high occupancy vehicles on to the busway should buses not be successful but that it hasn’t been used and hopefully won’t ever be. He even mentioned about how the number of vehicles crossing the Harbour Bridge in the morning peak had declined thanks to more people catching buses. Lastly he pointed out how it was good to finally be getting integrated ticketing but that AT need to follow up quickly with integrated fares too. Nice work George.
Overall I think that this specific project is useful and is an example of the kinds of things we should be focusing on with our roading network. Spending relatively small sums to fix up the problem areas and get improvements rather than focusing on massive projects like so often happens.
It is conventional wisdom that motorways or other high capacity, limited access roads have no place in productive urban environments. Increasingly, cities across the globe are pursuing projects which attempt to mitigate the problems and re-insert a transport structure that supports local accessibility and high value land use outcomes. In addition to the famous tear out projects in Portland (above), San Francisco and Cheonggyecheon, there are also dozens of other cities that are pursuing flyover teardowns, motorway caps, freeways-to-boulevard solutions, and in cases total removals.
A recent publication by the Mayor’s Innovation Project, Rethinking the Urban Freeway (PDF) gives a nice synopsis of the rationale behind motorway removals including the opportunity costs of motorways which ”occupy valuable land without paying taxes; reduce the value of nearby properties; and reduce quality of life in nearby neighbourhoods.”
Matt’s recent post Guess where this is? showed a stark depiction of our own transport legacy. Here’s another look at the area using a figure/foreground diagram showing the disruption of the urban fabric caused by both the CMJ motorway and the Dominion Rd Flyover.
Below is a look at the same area using a diagram to illustrate intersection density. Intersection density is a useful tool to quantify the viability and walkability of a neighbourhood. In Julie Campoli’s new book Made for Walking she uses the same technique to demonstrate that all walkable and successful neighbourhoods have a high concentration of intersections that support movement choice. The drawing shows intersections in red which allow turning options (dark red showing 3 choices, light red 2), and the black dots depict places where intersections have been cauterized by motorway-type roads.
We know that land value and productivity reach extreme levels in the city centre. The CMJ and the Dominion Road Flyover have almost completely disconnected Eden Terrace from the city centre causing a radical (and unnatural) devaluation of land. So while Eden Terrace, Grafton and Freemans Bay are ‘close’ to the city, the urban transport structure defeats the advantages of proximity. The relationship between urban proximity and land value is still based on an urban structure of ‘cityness’ which is largely influenced by walkability and accessibility to local places and services.
Here’s a look at the disurban environment of Eden Terrace. Not only is the area now disconnected from the city and its associated value but the resulting road structure tends to concentrate through traffic further isolating the remaining bits into a sort of archipelago.
Finally, here’s a recent video describing the progress of some tear out projects in America.
Yesterday I posted about the Infernal Combustion Engine, a piece discussing some of the issues we face of being so auto dependant. As part of that I also looked at some details about what has happened with vehicle ownership over the last 90 odd years and I also briefly talked about some trends in vehicle engine size. However following on from the post I have been thinking a lot more, particularly about the graph showing car ownership as I think it has some really interesting stories to tell. So for this post I’m going to look at car ownership in more detail.
First up the graph I showed yesterday.
As mentioned there are some really interesting stories to tell which fall into the following three time-frames
So let’s look at them in more detail
1930 to 1960
The reason I find this period interesting is it represents the time in history when we started to see massive changes to society which had massive impacts on the entire transport system. Earlier increases in the number of licensed vehicles had been increasing before this time however as you can see the great depression dealt a blow to that reducing both the total number of vehicles licensed and the number per capita. However by the late 1930′s that had swung around and both figures were increasing until 1940. From that point on the effects of WW2 started to be felt and both numbers started dropping once again. The war along with the rationing of fuel were the main causes of the drop in numbers which was the result of vehicle licences and registration lapsing.
As life started returning to normal after the war there was an increase in the number of cars being registered and I would guess a large number of them were the re-registration of vehicles that had lapsed as the yearbooks note they were then counted as a new registration. It wasn’t until 1949 that the total vehicle fleet surpassed what existed in 1940 while on a per capita basis the figure wasn’t passed until 1952.
What I also found interesting about the figures is that while they are for the entire country, we can probably expect that roughly the same trends would have occurred in Auckland. To me there has always been a bit of a chicken or egg type debate about what killed PT patronage, was it the rise of the car that killed PT demand or was did the removal of the trams and associated PT priority see people turn to cars as more rational choice. The chart below shows both Auckland PT patronage (of which trams dominated the figures) and NZ vehicle ownership while the period during which the trams were removed (1949-195) is shown as the shaded area.
To me this suggests that while vehicle ownership was on the increase, it probably wasn’t to the point that it was really impacting patronage. In fact patronage actually increased at first which was probably the result of people trying something new which probably hastened the demise of the rest of the network. However as people really started to experience the new reality that buses were getting stuck in the same traffic as cars then that quickly turned around and patronage started a fairly long slide downhill. In the end the move away from PT was probably a combination of both increased attractiveness of cars and the deteriorated quality of PT services.
Note: most, if not all western world cities saw PT use decline in the decades following 1950′s but most not as dramatically as what happened in Auckland.
1960 to the mid 1980′s
As mentioned above there started to be some fairly big changes happening in the 50′s with level of car ownership trending upwards. What surprises me so much is that from 1960 onwards is just how constant the increase is in both the number of vehicles and the number per capita. This is more so because during the 1970′s and early 80′s there were the various oil shocks which saw the price of petrol dramatically increase and yet it seems to have had no impact at all on vehicle increases. I guess though it may not be that surprising as during this time the baby boomers were really starting to be able to afford cars and as we know that particular age group have really associated driving with freedom. By comparison younger people often now tend to associate technology like smartphones with freedom and the car can be seen as a distraction from that.
1988 to now
In 1987 the stock market crashed and sent the economy into turmoil for a substantial period of time. What I find interesting is that despite this, the increase in the number of cars remained fairly constant. Part of this is likely to be the result of it being made easier to import second hand cars from overseas (more on that shortly) which would have seen the price of cars lowered substantially. There was certainly a big flow on effect to PT which saw patronage drop away its lowest point ever in 1994 with just over 33 million trips being taken. While the total number of cars registered did continue to increase, there was a slowing in the per capita numbers. Following on from here car numbers continued to increase all the way up until ~2007 which was when NZ started to get the economic wobbles once again.
However the thing is that for the first time since the 40′s we are actually seeing a change in the growth of the car fleet. Yes there have been slight ups and downs here or there but what we are seeing appears to be a sustained change. Car fleet growth has continued but at a much lower pace which is quite visible in the graph below and the first one where the fleet numbers have flattened out considerably. This is even more so on a per capita basis for which there has been a consistent decline for the last ~5 years. Combined these help to show that there’s a real discontinuity occurring and we can’t and shouldn’t rely past trends to predict the future.
All of the above isn’t the only data I collected about vehicle licencing. The graph below shows how much second hand imports have impacted the number of new vehicle registrations with them sometimes accounting for up to 69% of all new registrations.
And finally I also found the numbers on motorcycles and mopeds quite interesting as the trend is quite different to what we see with cars. Motorcycles sky-rocketed in popularity in the 70′s with total registrations reaching just over 144,000. Since then numbers have fallen away with a slight bump recently with the subsequent decline most likely the result of the changes to ACC charges a few years ago. Mopeds however continued gaining in popularity until the mid-70′s where I’m guessing some legislation changes prevented their use however that has started to turn around again recently.
All up some very interesting trends that have occurred.
On my recent trip to the cities of northern Spain it was hard not to notice how thoughtfully every corridor was designed for all users as outline in this previous post. Of course this is completely unremarkable to the locals, it’s just obvious to them that:
1. The public realm must be built to accommodate all users, and
2. That safety for all is the first priority.
Well here’s another example from what I consider to be one of the most civilised urban places on earth, this is the Eskalduna Zubia, a bridge [Zubia] charged with the quotidian business of carrying a whole lot of traffic over the River Nervión that divides the city, shot on that same autumnal afternoon:
Nothing much to see here; just like a typical four lane arterial in NZ, even a bit of a flush median, that use of roadspace that clearly obsesses Auckland Transport with its universal value. It’s not till you see what’s concealed by the dramatic steel structure on the right of frame that my interest in this Zubia starts to make sense:
Securely separated from the traffic on the same bridge and even protected from the weather! No need to build a barrier between the cyclists and the pedestrians as there is so much width that contact is always easily avoided. The cantilevered roof makes for a completely structureless open side directing the walkers’ attention upstream away from the traffic [for those not staring at their phones]. As everywhere in Bilbao, cycling is not considered a dangerous activity so no one is forced to wear extreme safety equipment as if they are steeplejacks.
Here is an equivalent four lane bridge in inner Auckland, like the Eskalduna Zubia it is between two busy pedestrian and cycling generators; in this case the inner city Universities and the Domain/Parnell/hospital:
I’ve had to use Google maps for the image because it is illegal as well as impossible for anyone not in a moving motorised vehicle to go here. And from above:
There is nothing in this picture except total misery. It’s even laughably hopeless for the only mode its built for. Every time I have driven through here I marvel at its counterintuitive over-complication and the near uselessness it offers for all vehicle movements except the most simple motorway exiting. And of course it is pretty much murderous for anyone on foot or cycling; this glorious intervention in the name of movement efficiency turned a sylvan inner city glade into, at best, an insurmountable barrier and total aesthetic horror. People stay away even from the parts they are ‘allowed’ to be on. Like the once leafy and lovely Grafton Road. The slip lanes at every turn of every intersection make negotiating what footpaths there are there deadly and extremely frustrating to use.
I have discussed the waste and hopelessness that is the road engineering in Grafton Gully with many of those involved in its creation and they all cheerfully explain how dysfunctional the process was with Transit and Auckland City Council squabbling over who should pay for any amenity beyond these basic and clumsy roads and neither giving in. Transit arguing it is only responsible for the cheapest way to move traffic and all else is someone else’s problem, and ACC arguing that as it is Transit’s works that are causing the problem they should include the fixes in the cost. I guess we can see who won that argument. NZTA [who inherited this mess but are of the institution that made it] are still happily wasting all this inner city real estate: It is neither being efficiently exploited nor have they returned it to the haven of solitude and clear air it once was for all Aucklanders. And of course it remains part of the fearsome rampart that is the ring of motorway Severance that hacks inner Auckland to shreds.
Here is the one piece of walking and cycling amenity on this whole section of upper Wellesley St:
Yup that’s right, it’s a sign telling you that you can’t walk to that big park right in front of you without going, counterintuitively again, in some completely other direction for some considerably much longer time. I have had to help explain this to baffled european tourists staring at their smart phones showing a nice big park and the Museum right there…. ha, welcome to clean, green, oh wait…..
This is how it was sold to us by the first iteration of place-wreckers-by-motorway, it reads:
Well wouldn’t that have been good? Tunnelling instead of severing. It is a tragedy that not even short sections of these routes aren’t underground. It is time not only for NZTA to complete the range of movement modes across this route but also to make good on the promise to bury their horror as much as is possible so Auckland can get at least a small amount of functionality of this place back.
Let’s see what they do in Bilbao? Do they have motorways there?
Sure they do, and guess what?, a great deal of them are underground, especially under green space, in order to maintain surface continuity and and reduce severance.
The age of severing urban motorways and incomplete streets is well and truly over. Aucklanders have recently managed to stop one appalling new motorway, The Eastern Highway, and got the next one put substantially underground, Waterview. It is vital that we demand that the mistakes of the past are learned from as well as looking at other places that seem to have been able to do things well first time. But also insist that the broken pieces are fixed before our institutions engage in even more destruction.
There is little point in moving tin a little quicker through our city if we substantially harm that place and the quality of life for its inhabitants in the process, and at such high cost.
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