Northern Motorway Concepts

Last week I talked about the NZTA holding some open days to their initial ideas for the Northern Motorway Projects. The projects consist of a number of components.

Northern Corridor Improvements

The NZTA have now put online the info they presented at the open days and some of their ideas are fairly horrific. I’m not entirely sure if they are deliberately so scary as part of negotiating tactic to get people to agree to some of the lesser ideas or if these are what the engineers actually want to build.

For the motorway the NZTA have four concepts which range from motorway to motorway ramps through to a replica spaghetti junction. All concepts will see Paul Matthews Rd linked in directly to Constellation Rd and the section of SH18 from Albany Highway to SH1 turned to full motorway standard. It also appears that the link from SH1 to SH18 will go under the existing motorway rather than over it. The south facing ramps would go over the top of the motorway however the NZTA are saying that will have to happen in a future project. In an email to reader Anthony O’Mera they say further work on SH1 south of the interchange (i.e. more widening), is needed before the south facing ramps could be added.

Northern Corridor NZTA reply to South Facing ramps

Concept 1 seems to be a simply adding of the motorway links and widening of the section between Greville Rd and Constellation. This would undoubtedly be the cheapest and the least disruptive of all of the options.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 1

Concept 2 takes concept 2 and takes it one step further by having a flying onramp from Albany Expressway to SH1 which I assume is take some of the traffic off the roundabouts.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 2

Concept 3 takes concept 2 and injects it with copious amounts of steroids. Added to the mix are weaved lanes so that Grevelle/Albany Expressway bound traffic doesn’t mix with traffic joining SH1 from SH18

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

Concept 4 also has weaved lanes but drops the direct connection from Albany Expressway to SH1. It also drops the Greville Rd Northbound onramp.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 4

Of the options, concept 3 and 4 with their extra weaved lanes seem like they come from the same school of thinking that gives us four lane wide local roads that blow to 9+ lane intersections in a bid to cater for each type of movement separately. Further while the interchange designs themselves might be able to move more vehicles, would the local roads be able to cope with that extra influx of cars.

That leaves concepts 1 and 2 and concept 2 might have the upper hand once the northern busway extension is also taken into consideration. There are just two options for the extension of the busway with concept 1 likely to be the quickest and cheapest to build. It also matches with the outcome of the last study into the area where the busway should go (it suggested keeping it on the eastern side of the motorway with a bus bridge to access the station itself).

Northern Corridor Improvements Busway

 

The Busway Concept 2 might be quite useful as it also opens up the possibility of south Albany station which might come in very as the area develops over time.

The NZTA are now looking for feedback on their ideas before they progress them further however they haven’t said how long the feedback is open for so it would be best to get it in as soon as you can..

You can give us your feedback on these concepts by:

  1. Emailing us at northerncorridor@nz0ta.govt.nz
  2. Calling us on 0800 NCIPROJECT (080624 776)
  3. Writing to us at: Northern Corridor Project Team NZ Transport Agency Private bag 106602 Auckland 1143

One last thing, In all the images the NZTA refers to the Albany Expressway as SH17, perhaps they forgot they handed the road over to Auckland Transport a few years ago.

Help Defend the Flyover Decision

From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:

The NZTA flyover and recent appeal

The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve.  There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:

  1. The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground.  The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
  2. The Board decided that the flyover should not be built.  This was the result of a 72 day long hearing.  The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached).  There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
  3. NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned.  The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.

Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St.  The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground.  We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.

In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.

This means that we are off to the High Court.

It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court.  We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard.  It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.

If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.

  1. Spread the word.  Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
  2. We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.

If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at arch@architecture.org and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc.  Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/

  1. Join the Architectural Centre.  Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/.  More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
  2. Donate any amount you can.  Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
  3. Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.

We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too.  But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.

nga mihi nui

Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding

on behalf of the Architectural Centre

The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.”  A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:

Architectural-Centre-Manifesto

Northern Motorway consultation

The NZTA are holding open days this week to show their initial designs for their Northern Motorway projects.

People will have their first opportunity to look at the initial concepts and provide feedback for the Northern Corridor Improvements in Auckland at open days being organised by the NZ Transport Agency from next week.

The initial concepts for the important upgrades along Upper Harbour Highway (SH18) and the Northern Motorway (State Highway 1) have been identified and public feedback will help shape the next stage in the design, says the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon.

The project is one of a number of key works included in the Government’s accelerated programme to improve transport infrastructure in Auckland.

“We’re quite excited about these open days as we’re presenting concepts to the community and getting their input before we start the detailed investigation process. It’s important we get feedback when developing these significant projects so we can incorporate ideas, where possible, from the people who use these connections on a regular basis. We would really encourage the local community to come along and provide input to the Northern Corridor Improvements project,” says Mr Gliddon.

Open day information (feel free to drop-in at any time during these session times):

Wednesday 12 November, 5pm – 7pm: Northern Corridor Information Hub, 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale

Thursday 13 November, 6.30am-8.30am & 4.30pm-6.30pm: Constellation Bus Station, Parkway Drive, Rosedale

Saturday 15 November, 10am-4pm: Westfield Albany, next to New World, Don Mckinnon Drive, Albany

Mr Gliddon says the Northern Corridor Improvements will help address the connection issues and pressures the Northern motorway is currently facing and also support the growth of businesses and population in the area and beyond.

“Most people who travel this route on a regular basis know that there are several bottlenecks getting between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway. This can cause significant delays for motorists and commercial vehicles. By upgrading this section of the network, we hope to help create an efficient network and provide more reliable travel times,” Mr Gliddon says.

Key components of the Northern Corridor programme focus on creating a seamless motorway to motorway connection along the Western Ring Route – the Hobsonville, Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (SHs18, 16 and 20) – between Albany and Manukau to the south, upgrading the Upper Harbour Highway to a motorway, and investigation and consenting to extend the successful Northern Busway from Constellation to the Albany park and ride station. The Transport Agency is also investigating walking and cycling connections as part of the project

The northern motorway projects include these components however crucially the extension of the busway is only being consented after the government pulled funding for it’s construction (supposedly against the NZTA’s advice). It also ignores the massive success the busway has been.

Northern Corridor Improvements

 

In the governments budget announcement last year they said the Northern Corridor improvements would cost $450 million.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

A new graphic on the NZTA’s page for the project includes the claim that traffic heading northbound (presumably from SH18) will save 11 minutes in 12 years-time.

NZTA Northern Corridor map

Of all the projects the SH1 to SH18 motorway to motorway link is going to have a huge impact on the area as it will require large ramps to connect the motorways, like what is currently going in at Waterview. The image below was from an earlier strategic study into the project and highlights one of the potential options

package3-sh18

And as a reminder this is an image from August showing the motorway ramps under construction.

Waterview Ramps Aug 14

Urban Change: Evolution or Revolution?

“Change is the law of life and those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”

-JFK

Life is nothing but change, and cities being concentrations of human life manifest this fact in their physical fabric: They are constantly changing, always incrementally, sometimes abruptly. Positively and negatively. Investment versus entropy. Governments, local and central, are charged with understanding the forces at work behind this law of life and responding wisely with our taxes to attempt to maximise the potential positive outcomes within this reality for all citizens.

DRESDEN 1945

Dresden 1945: Catastrophic change

There is plenty of evidence that suggests there is a need for substantial change in transport infrastructure investment now in Auckland. This evidence is broad based and essentially adds up to the fact that the conditions that set the policy of the last 60 years no longer hold:

  • It is clear that demand growth is shifting away from driving towards the Transit and Active modes
  • It is clear that spatial arrangements are shifting including a substantial revaluing of the centre
  • It is clear that demographics of the city are changing to smaller households and denser communities
  • It is clear that the city’s growth path is continuing; Auckland now is already city sized and getting bigger
  • It is clear that environmental and geographical constrains are tightening; resource constraints in Transport sector ever more pressing
  • It is clear that the urban motorway programme of the previous era is nearing completion; we are in a new phase
  • It is clear that newer generations just don’t share the older ones’ ideas of what is important in urban form and how to move

It is in this context that we have developed our Congestion Free Network summarised here.

However while there is clear evidence that we live in a period of discontinuity from the previous era this does not mean that what was built up during this era should be abandoned or not maintained. Quite the contrary in fact. One of the primary aims of shifting our capital investments away from the urban highway network is to build up the complementary networks to such an effective and attractive level that will keep the highways functioning well and with more efficiency. And in this our programme is not only low risk and high value but also very different from the late 20th Century revolution that it builds on. If there is one lesson to learn from the last great shift in transport investment in Auckland it is to be sure to keep what you already have and build on it; not to disregard the last system in order to focus totally on the next one.

Let’s have a look back.

The decision last century to invest in a system of urban highways for Auckland became over time a total commitment. We not only invested nearly every penny of new investment into this system starving any alternatives we also actually removed existing alternatives.

Here is a view of the leafy and desirable old suburbs of the Auckland Isthmus:

Old 'tram built' suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

Old ‘tram built’ suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

And here is a map of the system that made this urban form:

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

After the second world war Auckland faced the three interrelated problems. It was growing, there had been little investment in infrastructure for decades, and it lacked financial resources. To that can be added that capital investment was dependent on a suspicious government that faced, as ever, competing demands. One critical area that this came to a head was our electric tram system. While by any measure it was a huge success, carrying huge numbers of people and at around a net operating profit, it was in desperate need of catch up investment both in the machines themselves and extension to new areas.

In the context of the times the car offered a way out of this problem. There were very few of them in the 1950s, and while their uptake was expected to grow this was also expected to remain manageable. It was argued that buses could replace the trams with the advantage of operating without fixed routes and be more easily extended to new areas and at lower capital cost to public finances. All true. But really this was a way to give Auckland’s relatively narrow roads over completely to private vehicles, as no priority was allowed for the tram-replacing buses. Contrast with Melbourne: where they not only kept the more appealing trams but took advantage of wide boulevards allowing separation of trams and traffic on many routes, plus tram priority systems at intersections where they are mixed.

Relying on the car could be rationalised as cheaper too, simply because the machine and fuel costs were privatised, and that petrol taxes were to be the source of road funding. Lost in the reasoning was the fact total reliance on driving is the most expensive way of ordering a city’s movement. So while the car/road system had a good funding mechanism [fuel excise] this does not mean it is the best system economically, and this is still true today . It would require ever more enormous sums and in fact add to the ratepayer burden and not relieve it as road taxes have never covered all road costs. Let alone other burdens of this system like parking and the loss of rateable land etc.

And motorways are subject to the laws of inverse success over time: they are best when they’re new, they never get better as they attract more users. Below, rural Penrose with new motorway 1963- nice flow.

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Part of the world view of Modernism was a faith in the completely fresh start: The Brave New World. This is evident in art movements, new philosophies, individual building projects, but also at the urban planning level. That there was a huge desire for new beginings is not surprising after the experience of the first half of the century with two extremely destructive world wars and a devastating Depression. Auckland, although it didn’t come out of the war with whole areas of the city wiped clear by bombing it did have plenty of proximate bare land, and in the city itself the buildings and structures of the colonial era were now ageing and dated compared to what seemed possible in the new American-style future. It was ripe for this ideology of ‘rip it up and start again’.

We took our lead from the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was all California [well, the Autobahn, actually, but no one was admitting that].

Furthermore the beginning of this new project coincided with a rise in prosperity, price controls being lifted from private car sales, and the price of crude oil fell every year from 1947-1970 in real terms. Driving boomed in New Zealand as it did all across the western world and use of the new bus network declined proportionately. And then fell into a downward cycle of falling investment, declining quality of service, and uptake. The buses were never as accepted as much as the trams and nor could they ever command the control of the road as well either.

So when in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon exploited the divisions in the many local authorities in Auckland to kill Auckland Mayor Robinson’s ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’ Auckland was committed, by central government, to a bold ‘double-down’ on an urban motorway centred road only transport network.

What had began as a just part of the city’s movement systems as advised by North American consultants in the 1960s became an extreme and monotonal driving-only all-in bet. Bold, ambitious, and in terms of the communities and places in its path; pitiless. All directed by central government, with local concerns overruled.

CMJ

Whole areas of the city have never recovered from the burden of hosting this land hungry and severing system; in the most affected areas land value still remain low and land use poor. They have been sacrificed for the convenience of those from other, further out parts of the new city. Around 50 000 people were relocated and 15 000 buildings removed. This was a revolution, with winners and losers.

Newton then and now

Meanwhile investment in complementary systems froze. The bus network was stuck in aspic; even though it began carrying ever more people from the mid 1990s as the city grew and began to exhibit the kind of urban realities that make driving less optimal for more and more citizens. Each time the rail network won hard fought and tiny investments; second hand trains from Perth, Britomart Station, ridership leapt in response. But still no meaningful investment in extending these parts of systems into an actual Rapid Transit Network has been able to be wrestled from successive governments this century. Although important steps towards such a system were undertaken first by the last Labour led government by funding Project Dart, a long overdue upgrade of the rail network, and the construction of the Northern Busway, and the current National led government by enabling electrification to follow through a mixture of grants and loans to Auckland Transport. And, critically, AT and AC’s multi year overhaul of the bus system and introduction of the integrated ticketing.

Yet the future still looks no different, in fact central government’s programme is one of an aggressive return to the ‘revolution’ of the late 20th Century with no new Public Transit infrastructure funding at all, just enough to contribute to operate what’s already there: [chart of spending categories for the whole country 2015-2025]

2015 GPS - Spending graph

Proposed transport spending distribution in millions.

Yet despite the huge sums spent on more lane space the growth in driving has stalled, in contrast to uptake in the underfunded Transit mode: [VKT: Vehicle Kilometres Travelled].

VKT vs PT Trips per Captia 4

 

So it is very hard to understand this policy in terms of evidence, is its based on a nostalgia for the driving boom years of last century?, or perhaps it is simply an inability of our institutions to understand change and adapt to it?, or worse are the huge sums of public money in this sector subject to capture and control by special interests?: Big Trucking, Civil Construction, Consultants and Financiers, and Land Development Interests?

It is time to build balance into our city’s movement options and to do this we need a change in where spending is directed. And properly understood this is not another revolution but rather a return to moderation and balance and away from the current orthodoxy which is lopsided in the extreme. The current policy of investing so disproportionately in the driving mode is a revolutionary policy, but not seen as such because it has become an orthodoxy. We shouldn’t be surprised with its extremity as it is a 20th Century programme, from that age of extremes and extreme ideologies. Which while at times exhilarating, it also meant much was lost, like Auckland’s tram network.

Our position is that this kind of lurch is not what Auckland needs now but instead we should build on what we have by adding to the underdeveloped Active and Transit modes while maintaining and more efficiently utilising the mature driving resource.

Green GPS Funding graph

Above is a comparison of the proposed Green Party and National Party transport policies [for the whole country]. Note that the major difference is about what to build next, and that both plan to maintain current assets. We can change from extremity to balance without losing what we have. And it is long overdue:

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

by Architect, Cartoonist, and National Treasure: Malcolm Walker

More highways failing to meet projections

An article on Philly.com highlights a number of new or expanded highway projects in the US are vastly failing to meet traffic projections:

Before beginning a $2.5 billion project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, turnpike officials said the construction was necessary to reduce existing congestion and to cope with future traffic.

“Turnpike traffic is on the rise,” the state Turnpike Authority said in its justification for the project. “By 2032 northbound traffic volume is expected to increase by nearly 68 percent [above 2005 levels]; southbound traffic is forecasted to increase by 92 percent.”

Now, one-third of the way through that 27-year forecast, turnpike traffic is actually about 10 percent lower than it was in 2005.

And this particular project is hardly a one-off:

Similar traffic declines have occurred around the region, challenging long-established assumptions about the need for bigger highways and bridges.

“If these trends continue, it would definitely change the way we need to plan for our transportation future,” said Chris Puchalsky, associate director of systems planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. “But I think the jury is still out on that . . . we need two or three more years of data.”

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission assumed that traffic would grow 3 percent to 5 percent every year to help pay for debt as it took on a new obligation to contribute up to $900 million a year to fix other roads around the state.

Instead, traffic has been essentially flat.

And when the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace the 50-year-old, four-lane Scudder Falls Bridge on I-95 with a $328 million, nine-lane, 180-foot-wide toll bridge, it assumed that traffic would increase 35 percent by 2030.

In fact, bridge traffic has declined slightly and is now below the levels of 2002.

The implications of getting previous projections wrong are significant if funding was expected from toll revenue – which is what has sent a number of PPP transport projects bankrupt. For publicly funded projects though, the failure to meet expected usage hasn’t been so obvious. However, the implications for future transport planning are significant – as we’ve highlighted so many times before. Back to the article:

Highway planners misjudged the future because the Great Recession reduced both commercial and passenger travel, and because of an unexpected drop in driving by young adults.

Now, planners and policymakers must decide whether the last decade was an aberration or the beginning of a new normal.

The decisions are taking on new urgency, as Congress struggles to come up with a new transportation-funding plan by the end of September, when the current one expires. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects around the country, is nearly broke.

“The last decade was a really tough decade for forecasting,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Traditional expectations of economic growth – which typically fuel traffic growth – were undone by the recession of 2001, the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and anemic job growth for the entire decade, Hughes said.

Add to that the unprecedented behavior of young adults, driven by technology, lifestyle choices, and economic prospects.

“The millennials are really changing the world dramatically,” Hughes said. “We have a younger generation that is driving less and doesn’t want to live in Valley Forge. They want to live in Center City Philadelphia.”

“We had a 50-year period of unrestricted suburbanization, and now there’s a dramatic shift.”

Cars and driving are less important to young adults, who find that trains and buses allow them to work and socialize on mobile electronic devices, he said.

That may mean fewer cars on future roads.

“Nobody was really anticipating this,” Hughes said. “The models have to be recalibrated.”

Some projections have already been lowered.

NZTA have already noted in changes to their economic evaluation manual that traffic growth can no longer just be assumed – and any assumptions need to be proved. It’s a shame though that complex traffic models still seem to defy reality and project traffic growth.

It makes me think about all of our recent state highway improvements, think Newmarket Viaduct replacement, Victoria Park Tunnel, Greenhithe Deviation, Hobsonville Deviation, Mt Roskill extension, Manukau Harbour Crossing Project, SH20-SH1 Manukau Connection, CMJ Improvements and Orewa-Puhoi extension. All have seen increases in traffic volumes in recent years as people shift their travel behaviour however I wonder how they are currently tracking compared to the traffic projections for 2014 when they were proposed and funded. That would be interesting information to get from NZTA.

The inflationary impact of road spend-ups

It’s time for a quick round of everyone’s favourite game, Ask An Economist. Today’s question is: What happens when the government decides to spend up large in a growing economy?

If you guessed that the answer is that it will drive up inflation and crowd out private sector spending, congratulations! You win a hug from the invisible hand. You’ve obviously either paid attention to the lessons of history or the words of latter-day popularisers of economic theory such as Bill English, who recently said that:

It was also important for the Government to run a counter-cyclical fiscal policy which, right now, meant running surpluses, paying down debt, and limiting future initiatives in spending and tax cuts to what would not push interest rates higher than they need be.

However, the government is acting as though the normal rules of prudent fiscal management don’t apply to the road budget. Instead of taking a conservative approach to transport spending, and focusing on the projects that offer the best long-term value at a relatively low cost, they’re pushing ahead with plans to build a number of expensive road projects. For example, the 2014 Budget announced another $800m in motorway projects in Auckland, paid for in part by borrowing, along with $212m in regional road projects paid for out asset sale proceeds.

As an economist, I’m nervous that the motorway spend-up will have perverse economic effects, driving up prices and crowding out other activity. When I went to look at the data, I found reasons to worry.

First, I looked at the data on New Zealand’s spending on roads (from OECD.Stat). The following graph shows investment in new or improved roads as a share of GDP. Essentially, New Zealand spent a fairly consistent amount on roads – and much less on public transport! – in the 1990s. In 2004, road spending started to increase rapidly, rising from about 0.3% of GDP to 0.7%. Unfortunately, the OECD’s data doesn’t cover the last few years, but NZTA’s data suggest that road infrastructure spending has risen further.

NZ road spending, 1995-2011

So the government has boosted spending on roads over the last decade. Has this had any impacts on inflation?

I used Statistics NZ data on inflation to examine the effects. The following graph compares the Capital Goods Price Index for civil construction, a measure of construction cost inflation, with the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation in the general economy. (NZTA uses a slightly different composite measure of road construction prices, but I’ve chosen to look at civil construction prices as they provide a better indication of potential crowding-out effects on private construction.)

As you can see, the CGPI for civil construction tracked closely with CPI from 1995 to 2003, when road spending made up a relatively constant share of GDP. Between 2004, when the road spend-up started, and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, civil construction prices rose much more rapidly than the CPI. Construction price inflation briefly cooled off in the aftermath of the GFC, due to falling private-sector demand for construction. But over the past two years it has again started rising faster than CPI, as a result of the economic recovery and spending on major road projects such as Waterview.

NZ civil construction inflation, 1995-2014

In short, spending an increasing amount of money building roads has coincided with a big increase in the cost to build roads. This is exactly what most economists, along with the current Finance Minister, would have predicted to happen.

Moreover, this is likely to have a significant negative effect on private construction. If you want to build an apartment building or a warehouse, you’ll have to compete with NZTA for bulldozers, cranes, and construction labour. Expect to pay higher prices as a result. If civil construction prices had continued to rise in line with CPI over the last decade, rather than being bid up by road spending, big construction projects would be almost 20% cheaper than they are now.

To be fair, other factors may have also played a role, such as the run-up in house prices in the 2000s and increased oil prices. But as Bill English says, government spending shouldn’t exacerbate the inflationary pressures that exist in a growing economy.

This is a tricky dilemma for any government. On the one hand, we do need to invest in a transport network that can accommodate future growth in Auckland. On the other hand, it would be better if the government’s spending didn’t create perverse outcomes for the private sector. If it wants to steer clear of the Scylla of underinvestment and the Charybdis of inflation, it would make sense to look at cheaper alternatives – e.g. the Congestion-Free Network.

CFN_4_SMALL

Environmental effects of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing

The additional Waitemata Harbour crossing is a crazy project for a variety of reasons. The blog has noted before that the project is both completely unaffordable and totally unnecessary because of the lack of the actual benefits when you look at the detail. One thing that hasn’t been noted before however is the huge environmental impacts this project will have the coastline, both and the northern and southern end.

In 2010 an extensive study was carried out, which outlined the major options, looking at both bridge and tunnel options. This was the study that finally put an end to the even more ridiculous bridge idea. Usefully the study for the first time provided some detailed plans of what each option would look like on the ground. The issues is not so much the tunnel itself, but the complex arrangements required to allow for traffic merging between the different routes at the north end south ends. To recap the existing bridge will be used only for city bound traffic, and the new tunnel will be directed straight to the congestion at spaghetti junction.

AWHC north of Onewa

 

The plan above shows the motorway between Akoranga Drive (left), and Onewa Road (just out of picture to the right). The northernmost line is the railway line, however would be sure to take up much less space just built as a rail corridor, and would have a much higher capacity. The red hatched area is all of the land that would be reclaimed, while green is new viaducts or bridges. This would result in the corridor taking up twice as much space as it does now. As for what this would mean, this is the current view in the area. The large area of coastline to the right would be reclaimed.

P1050458

Looking north from public footbridge accessible from east end of Exmouth Road.

This next plan shows the area in the vicinity of the Onewa Road interchange, as well as the tunnel portals of both rail (left) and road (right). Again a huge amount of reclamation occurs.

AWHC Sulhur Beach

However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.

P1050446

Looking towards the city from public path alongside motorway. Accessible from Sulphur Beach and Tennyson St beside police station.

Currently this beautiful area is not well known. However in a few years this will very likely change. With Skypath to go ahead within the next few years, this will be the route of Seapath, which would give a great easy link through to Takapuna. Once that happens people will appreciate this area much more, and won’t like to see it disappear under 6 lanes of motorway.

This area will also become a large construction yard, potentially for about 5 years. This will have major effects on areas of Northcote Point, with a large number of houses looking straight into the area. Their seaviews may well be replaced with views of more motorway lanes and flyovers. People on the Bayswater side of the harbour would also have their views affected negatively.

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View from Beach Road on Northcote Point towards area of sea to be reclaimed

On the south side of the harbour things aren’t much better. Around Westhaven marina there is yet more reclamation. The yet to open Westhaven Promenade will have to be completely rebuilt, with part of the marina needing to be reclaimed as even more width is required to account for the sweeping motorway curves. The extra width required is highlighted by the need to extend the Jacobs Ladder footbridge by about 50% so people can still cross the motorway corridor. A number of marine related businesses along Westhaven Drive will also disappear, as the road needs to be pushed north to give the corridor the space it requires.

AWHC Westhaven

The Landscape and Visual report prepared for NZTA summarises the issues that will arise:

The landscape of Shoal Bay and the northern sector will be significantly affected by the scale and magnitude of roading and reclamation. Effects are: changes to landforms and natural features including increased separation of the bay from; loss of beaches, reefs, and open spaces; impacts on cliffs (including diminution of scale and loss of vegetation); loss of natural vegetation and potential change due to weed infestation; diminished/decreased experience and appreciation of natural landscape for travellers. In addition structures such as flyovers, bridges, tunnel portals, buildings and vent stacks are all expected to have adverse effects on existing landscape character and alter the balance between the natural and manmade landscape. The cultural and heritage of the existing landscape will also be affected by changes in the southern sector, particularly in and around Victoria Park. Such changes will include loss of buildings and trees but could also include positive effects due to the removal of the existing flyover.

Unfortunately it makes no attempts to actually visualize what the effects would be, including the vent stack, which would be a very dominant feature. Note 35 metres is about 10 stories high!

” Vent building estimated to be 70m long by 30m wide by 20m high and stacks 35m high”

The stack was rather contentious during the Waterview proposal due to the fumes of a high volume of traffic all begin released in a concentrated area. They will be located at the tunnel portals. One will be in the vicinity of Sulphur Beach, near where the second photo above was taken from the walkway.

Vent Building north

The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).

Vent Building

While an additional rail crossing will require some small reclamation, it will be a large magnitude less than what is required for the road crossings. This is because 2 tracks take the same space as 2 motorway lanes, and there will be no need for complex ramps and mixing of lanes, and of course there will be no need for huge vent stacks.

Hopefully this post will highlight a number of the major effects this project will have on the environment and landscape. Surely this will make some North Shore, St Mary’s Bay and inner city residents think twice about the need for this project, considering the effect on their backyard and harbour. This should also awaken reporters, including one John Roughan who was horrified at the sight of a comparatively tiny reclamation for the busway in 2007.

Stuart’s 100: #1 Transforming the Motorway Ring

Urban designer Stuart Houghton has set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. He is Tweeting them here: @HoughtonSd 

Discussing this project with Stuart he said that I see the city is getting better and better and growing up fast, but everywhere I look as I move about the city I am struck by ideas big and small for how Auckland could be improved. I see this as a positive thing.” 

We agree.

In this task he has been inspired by Jan Gehl the Danish urbanist who famously said:

“How nice it is to wake up each morning in a city that is a little bit better than it was before”

Stuart has kindly agreed to allow us to run them here over the next 100 week days, here’s #1, enjoy:

1 Transforming the Motorway Ring

Day_1

I had to start my 100 ideas with this one; my urban design master’s thesis from 2009. The starting point was sitting in London panning across Auckland in Google Earth with my tutor, and his simple observation on the wastefulness of such a huge area of otherwise high value land being taken up exclusively by the motorways.

Stuart's 100 #1

The project basically asks: Wouldn’t it be great if rather than a massive barrier that shackles the city centre, the CMJ was actually a positive shaping force, becoming an urban and social connector?

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I proposed retaining but reducing the capacity of the motorway lanes, and through a combination of tunnelling and capping enable other uses to take place over the motorway. This could join with the waterfront to create a continuous ring of public space. Along with the historical north-south Queen Street axis, these could become three major public space armatures around which the city grows and develops for the next 100 years.

This might seem far out. But it needn’t be a grand vision. In many ways, projects like the Grafton Gully Cycleway are already grafting new uses to the motorway ring. Potential projects like the Nelson St off ramp, and the idea of a Grafton Gully Boulevard as posted by Kent and Nick a few weeks back can all work towards this.

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Robert Ellis’s apocalyptic vision of Auckland

This blog has often written about Auckland’s 1950s-era motorway development plan, which transformed the city in fundamental ways. New Zealand painter Robert Ellis was one of the first to grasp the significance and character of that transformation. His Motorway/City series, painted in the 1960s and 1970s, shows roads invading and dividing urban space. (As they proceeded to do in real life.)

The Auckland City Gallery is about to host an exhibition of Ellis’s paintings that will run from 9 August 2014 to 15 March 2015. From the press release:

Opening on Saturday 9 August at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Robert Ellis: Turangawaewae | A Place to Stand is the first solo exhibition in a public museum by senior Auckland artist, Robert Ellis in his ‘hometown’. Including many of his most important paintings, the exhibition will present Turangawaewae Maehe 1983, painted in 1983, a gift from the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery to mark their 60th anniversary this year.

‘Together with Auckland artists Colin McCahon, Milan Mrkusich, Pat Hanly and Gretchen Albrecht, Ellis is nationally regarded for producing ambitious paintings on a large scale,’ says Auckland Art Gallery Senior Curator New Zealand and Pacific Art, Ron Brownson. ‘As a major figure, Ellis’ art addresses many cultural issues. His subjects range over tensions between transport and urbanism, contrast ecology with spirituality and look at the on-going nature of Māori-Pākehā relations.’

Here’s one of the more well-known works from Ellis’s Motorway/City series, which can usually be seen in the City Gallery:

Now, I’m an economist rather than an art historian, but Ellis’s vision of the city seemed to be something new in New Zealand art. New Zealand artists had not tended to focus on cities – think of all the attention Colin McCahon lavished on New Zealand landscapes – and when they did, it was to present vague, idealised scenes. Ellis was different. He showed the city in the process of expanding and mutating, and in the process creating a different New Zealand.

Here’s number 15 from the Motorway/City series. It contrasts New Zealand’s stereotypically bucolic rural space (below) with the encroaching city (above). The latter is dynamic, disordered, vaguely sinister. (What was it that Allan Ginsberg wrote about “Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone”…) And it is ceaselessly growing into the countryside.

In other paintings, Ellis depicts the city not as the invader of a rural landscape but as an invaded space. Motorway/City number 22, for example, appears to show an existing urban fabric, complete with a more or less rectilinear street grid, that has been overwritten by the smooth curves of the motorway. The pre-existing city has rendered incomprehensible in the process – notice how the lines of the motorway draw in your attention instead.

I’m often struck by how quickly artists and writers grasp emerging truths, especially when compared with technical experts of various stripes. Robert Ellis’s art was an especially prescient view of New Zealand cities – painted at a time when New Zealand had barely begun to think of itself as an urban country and when the promise of the motorway was still novel enough to be seductive. I highly recommend going to see the upcoming exhibition.

How should we value the future?

Transport networks and urban planning can have extremely long-lived effects on society, the economy, and the environment. The government’s decision to invest in an electrified commuter rail network for Wellington in the 1930s led to an early form of transit-oriented development in the region. Wellington’s post-war urban growth has been concentrated in areas served by rail lines – providing the region with long-lasting benefits.

800px-WellingtonRailMap

Source: Wikipedia

In Auckland, of course, things were very different. After the role that rail played in Auckland’s early development, successive governments decided to:

And, of course, these years of refusal were coupled with a decision in the 1950s to invest heavily in a motorway network for the region. The Master Transportation Plan of the era contains some truly awe-inspiring concept designs, including an elevated Quay St motorway that would have doomed any chance of Auckland’s recent waterfront revival:

1950s Transportation Master Plan Quay St

Leaving aside a few extremely white elephants, many elements of the plan are quite familiar to modern Aucklanders. The Southern and Northwestern Motorways and the Harbour Bridge were built, kicking off development booms in Manukau, the North Shore, and West Auckland. In a 2010 Policy Quarterly article, Andrew Coleman assessed the effects of motorway development in Auckland and the US, concluding that:

transport infrastructure choices can have long-term and potentially irreversible effects on city form. A city that chooses to invest in roads rather than public transport infrastructure to improve its transport system is likely to reduce the efficiency of any subsequent public transport investments, by causing population and employment in the city to disperse widely over space. When making decisions to build roads, therefore, the city planners need to take into account the way roads affect the operation of subsequent transport infrastructure investment choices.

So it’s worth asking: Are we valuing future outcomes in the right way? In economese, this means asking about our “rate of time preference”, or the degree to which we value present-day outcomes over future outcomes.

A 2011 NZIER paper by Chris Parker provides a fairly accessible introduction to this topic. (Transportblog reviewed the paper when it originally came out.) Parker highlights how much of an effect different discount rates can have on our decisions about the future. As Figure 1 below shows, an 8% discount rate – recommended by the NZ Treasury – means that we place no weight on outcomes that occur 40 years in the future. (To put that in perspective, the average New Zealander lives twice as long as that. I certainly expect to be alive in 40 years!) A 3% discount rate, by comparison, means that we place a much higher value on outcomes that far in the future.

NZIER discount rate comparison

Last July, NZTA decided to lower its discount rate from 8% to 6%. This change means that transport evaluations now place a slightly greater weight on future outcomes than before. However, as NZTA’s documentation showed, we still discount the future to a much greater extent than countries like Germany (3% discount rate) and the UK (1% to 3.5%).

NZTA’s new discount rate might still be too high to properly account for the long-lived effect of infrastructure development on urban form. As we’ve seen, Auckland and Wellington are still benefitting from, or coping with, with the effects of investment decisions made 60 to 80 years in the past. Under current evaluation procedures, we wouldn’t have considered such long-lasting effects.

A new research paper by economists at the University of Chicago and New York University suggests that people place significant value on outcomes that occur dozens or even hundreds of years hence. The authors measure long-term discount rates using an innovative method that relies upon observing differences between the prices for freehold and leasehold houses in the UK and Singapore:

In Giglio, Maggiori and Stroebel (2014), we provide direct estimates of households’ discount rates for payments very far in the future, by studying the valuation of very long (but finite) assets. We exploit a unique feature of residential housing markets in the UK and Singapore, where property ownership takes the form of either very long-term leaseholds or freeholds. Leaseholds are temporary, pre-paid, and tradable ownership contracts with maturities ranging from 99 to 999 years, while freeholds are perpetual ownership contracts. The price discount for very long-term leaseholds relative to prices for otherwise similar properties that are traded as freeholds is informative about the implied discount rates of agents trading these housing assets. This allows us to gather information on discount rates much beyond the usual horizon of 20-30 years spanned by bond markets.

This analysis suggests that long-run discount rates are significantly lower than those we use for project evaluation – in the range of 2.6%. In other words, people making significant financial decisions today place some value on outcomes for future generations that they will never meet:

We use these estimated price discounts to back out the implied discount rate that households use to value cash flows to housing that arise more than 100 years from now. We find the discount rate for very long-run housing cash flows to be about 2.6% per year. Interestingly, we find similar implied discount rates in both the UK and in Singapore – two countries with very different institutional settings.

The authors suggest that their findings have implications for intergenerational fiscal policy and climate change policy. They’re also likely to have implications for the way we evaluate transport projects. Today’s planners should take care to preserve and improve transport options for future generations, rather than “locking in” a particular urban form.

Finally, with that in mind, it’s worth recalling the findings of the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study, which compared options for improving transport capacity to Auckland’s growing city centre. In Section 7 of the Technical Report, the authors found that when a longer evaluation period (60 years vs. 30 years) and a lower discount rate (5.7% vs. 8%) were used, the benefit-to-cost ratio of the City Rail Link almost doubled. In other words, the CRL looks even more valuable for Auckland if we take a longer-term view.

If our great-grandparents had decided to invest in Auckland’s rail system in the 1930s, we’d still be thanking them for it. Because they didn’t, though, we’re just getting around to electrifying Auckland’s rail network and still debating whether to build the CRL to unlock greater frequencies across the entire network. It is essential that we take a longer-term view on transport investments than we have previously done.

So, what’s your discount rate?