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Myth Busting: Aucklands Geography

Myth: Auckland isn’t geographically suited to public transport.

I’m not sure where this myth even came from but if I had to guess, it would have been from the 50′s or 60′s, the same time that many of our transport myths originated from those looking to justify building the motorways instead of public transport. The theory goes that cities like Wellington are more suited to public transport, and in particular rail, due to the the geography largely forcing development into a couple of long thin corridors. As such, Auckland which extends out in all sorts of directions is said to be more suited to car based transport.

At first that seems logical which is why I guess so many people have taken it to be true but then how do you explain why public transport is able to be provided easily in river cities. Some of the worlds greatest cities sit on river plains and they spread out in all directions yet they have been able to build fairly extensive PT systems. Some of that is related to density (and I will address density in a future myth busting post) but not, an example I have experienced myself is Munich where urban area itself is not that much smaller than Auckland’s and the population is a fairly similar size.

What is interesting about Auckland is that unlike many cities, the outer parts of the urban area are naturally shaped into a handful of fairly defined corridors that connect to the isthmus at just a dozen pinch points, something that is actually perfectly suited to PT. This is further helped by some of the infrastructure we have already put in place like the rail lines and funnily enough those motorways.

  • The North Shore, which thanks to the Hauraki Gulf and the Waitamata Harbour is a fairly defined corridor all the way up to Albany.
  • To the West we have the land curving around and bordered by the Whau river on the eastern side and hemmed in by the Waitakere ranges and foothills on the western side.
  • SH16 has opened up a further corridor to the North West which is again bordered on one side by the upper reaches of the Waitamata.
  • In the East we have a similar situation to the west, in this case with the Tamaki river on one side and more hilly terrain on the other.
  • Lastly to the South we have development that has largely followed the rail line and motorway stretching development out in a long ribbon.

When you also add in our current and planed rapid transit network (RTN) you can see how the the areas away from the isthmus are largely contained into a few defined areas. In fact all most of the cities development is within ~1.5km of these RTN lines, including those bits within the isthmus. Lets have a look:

On top of this many of our older suburbs on the isthmus were actually developed with the help of public transport in the form of trams. These suburbs are uniquely suited to the provision of PT both in the past and in the future. However we don’t have to wait for decades to be able to afford this. As we have seen recently with the proposed new bus network, we have been able to get significant improvement out of our existing resources and as such by 2022 we will see the percentage of households that are within 500m of a service that runs at least every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm will jump from 14% to 40%. Here is the 2016 version of the proposed PT map showing just how much coverage the new network will have.

So really Auckland is really quite suited to the provision of public transport. In many ways is not suited to urban motorways as those pinch points act to funnel traffic into a handful of places, something which decent public transport infrastructure can easily bypass while moving huge amounts more people. Further that motorway infrastructure has required huge physical alterations to our environment which have led the wholesale removal of suburbs. What has stopped us up until now has been poor decisions and planning that have forced PT to become substandard. The good news is that with a little bit of work, like the bus network redesign, we will be able to get it working much, much better.