What’s happening to Takapu Valley?

As Peter found when covering the Ministry of Transport’s review of capital spending on roads (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) our multibillion dollar national transport budget is being spent in some bizarre ways. Money’s being allocated to major roading projects that don’t offer many economic benefits in return.

MoT state highway BCRs 2005-2012

While the high-level picture is clear, it’s not always obvious what’s going on in project selection. Why does the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) choose one project over another? What are their processes for assessing “strategic fit” and other considerations?

Some smart people have been taking a critical look at a major Wellington road project that’s been flying under the radar: the Petone-to-Grenada motorway. Like the Transmission Gully motorway, it’s being touted less for its benefit-cost ratio than for its impacts on the “resilience” of the Wellington region.

Tamara Duran, who writes on the Takapu Valley website, provides a useful summary of the project… and the issues with the project. In addition to her extensive analysis of the the impacts of the project on resilience (parts 1, 2, and 3), she’s put together a primer on the project, complete with maps for the out-of-towners:

Since the Christchurch and Tōhoku earthquakes, “resilience” has been the mantra of… pretty much anyone building anything, be it a building, a corporate structure, or a communications network. We all want to be resilient, to survive whatever has just happened and get back up and about our normal business as quickly as possible.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has picked up on how keen everyone is on resilience, and so is now including it in all of their sales material. Perhaps unsurprisingly, NZTA has defined “resilience” from a transport perspective as “more roads”. Not “more transport options”, and not even really “better roads”, just more. Got congestion problems? Build another road to get around it. Got a road falling apart? Build another road to take traffic off it.

Case in point: The Petone to Grenada link road, in Wellington. This road has been in the investigation and planning stages for a good 20 years now, the reason being Wellington’s notoriously challenging geography. To get from the CBD to the rest of the Region (and ultimately the rest of the North Island), there are essentially two routes out – SH1 up Ngauranga Gorge, and SH2 along the harbour.   Both of those are through narrow corridors with few or no alternatives.

P2G map 1

Source: Google Maps

The logical thing to do, then, as proposed in various studies since about 1991, is something like this:

P2G map 2

Source: Google Maps

Traffic wanting to get between the SH1 corridor in the west and the SH2 corridor in the east can “cut the corner” of Ngauranga, taking pressure off those two chokepoints.

If there’s a truck flipped in Ngauranga Gorge, traffic can go up SH2 and across P2G. Likewise if there’s a crash along SH2 traffic can go up SH1 and across P2G back to Petone. All good, and everyone’s back about their business with minimal fuss.

But 7km of road is Not Enough Road. More Road = More Resilient, remember. So what NZTA is proposing is this:

P2G map 3

Source: NZTA Presentation to Chief Executives Group, November 2014, released under OIA

We’ll turn the whole thing north-south (because clearly a north-south road is how you solve an east-west problem); then we have room to double the length. Here are some other “resilient” features:

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges through chains of roundabouts!
Source: NZTA/Opus

Source: NZTA/Opus

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges via two-lane local streets! (and roundabouts!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • “Bypasses” with one-way ramps that force you 12km out of your way!
P2G map 6

Source: Petone to Grenada Scoping Report, February 2014

  • Motorways next to other motorways! (More Roads = More Resilient!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • Roads on unstudied active fault lines!
Source: GNS Active Faults database

Source: GNS Active Faults database

  • 80 meter deep canyons through the Wellington Fault Scarp!
Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

  • In Petone!
Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

NZTA has taken a reasonable solution to Wellington network resilience woes and “made it better”, in the process negating the very function the road was originally supposed to serve. In the meantime, genuine improvements to the earthquake and natural hazard resilience of the roading network are left to languish.

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

I’d really recommend reading her entire series on the motorway. It seems like NZTA is pursuing a more expensive option that delivers much worse outcomes. In particular, Tamara argues that better results could be achieved through upgrades to a few problematic bits of the existing State Highway 58.

Meanwhile, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley (who writes the excellent StatsChat blog) has been digging into NZTA’s options assessments on the project. He’s found that the agency has made some basic statistical errors in its weighting of evaluation criteria. The effect seems to have been that NZTA’s chosen the wrong project, for the wrong reasons:

If you have to make a decision with several options, each with different types of positive and negative effects, it’s going to be hard. Techniques for breaking down complex decisions into sets of simpler questions are very valuable, but it’s important that the way you break down the problem and recombine the answers fits with how you answer the simpler questions.

I’ve been pointed to what looks like an unfortunate example from the NZTA, in assessing options for the Petone–Grenada link road to be constructed near Wellington. The road comes in two sections: from Petone to the eastern section of Lincolnshire Farm, and from there to Grenada. According to the scoping report (PDF), these can be decided independently of each other, so there’s an ideal opportunity to simplify the decision making.  NZTA describes four options P1 to P4 for the first section, and four options A to D for the second section.

I would have expected them to just make independent recommendations for the two sections, but what they actually did was more complicated. First, they looked at the P options and decided based on four criteria that P4 was best.  They then looked at A+P4, B+P4, C+P4, and D+P4 for the same four criteria, and said in a footnote (p172) “Upon combining one of Option P1, P2, P3 or P4 with one Option A, B, C or D the effect more towards the negative takes precedence.

This can only make sense if the harms or benefits weren’t independent.  Sometimes that’s possible. In particular, one of the criteria was “resilience”, and you might argue that it doesn’t matter how robust the second part of the road is when the first part is under several meters of rock and mud, or filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. It could make sense to take the worst value of the two sections when assessing resilience: but people who know more about Wellington-area transport than I do still seem dubious.

The same argument certainly doesn’t apply for the other criteria: archaeological,  ecological,  landscape/visual impact, and transport benefit/cost. If one section of the road is an environmental nightmare, that doesn’t make the environmental impact of the other section unimportant. If one section of the road is unavoidably ugly, that doesn’t excuse making the other section ugly. If one section destroys an important heritage site, it doesn’t mean the other section doesn’t have to care about preservation of the past. If one section is ridiculously expensive it doesn’t mean the costs are unimportant for the other section.

The impact of decomposing and recombining the evaluation as they did, is that any criterion where P4 was bad becomes much less important in choosing among options A to D. P4 was very bad on the landscape/visual criterion, and moderately bad on ecology.

By now you should be expecting the punch line: evaluated independently, options A and B look good because they score well on ecology and landscape/visual criteria. Evaluated in combination with P4, they look terrible, because the ecology and landscape benefits are masked by the “more negative” combining rule. That’s a problem with the combining rule, not with the road. Here’s a colour-coded version of the information in Table 23-19, p182 (from T. Duran)

P2G separate and combined option assessment

Not only is the combining rule obviously missing some information, it’s not even internally consistent. If the evaluation had been done in the opposite order they might well have chosen A first, and then looked at A+P1 to A+P4. Even D was what they’d chosen first, P3+D would then look slightly better than P4+D.

It’s very tempting to look for ways of combining preferences that don’t rely on numbers, just on orderings, but in most cases they aren’t available, and attempts to do it leave you worse off than before.

This evaluation wasn’t set up to focus only on resilience — even assuming that the resilience assessment is valid, which I hear is also being questioned — it was set up to value the four criteria equally. It really looks as though a minor detail of the approach to simplifying the evaluation has had a large, accidental effect on the result.

Thomas’s words are gentle but suggest serious methodological errors in NZTA’s project selection. Taken together with Tamara’s critique of the agency’s evaluation of the resilience impacts of the Petone-to-Grenada road, it really makes you wonder what’s wrong with NZTA’s decision-making.

Southern Motorway History

These are just a few images I found recently of what the Southern Motorway used to look like. They were taken in February 1963 They were taken from the Princes Rd bridge in Otahuhu.

Southern Motorway 1963 - Princes St

Southern motorway traffic, Otara, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59287-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23188678

 

Southern Motorway 1963 - Princes St 2

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

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?