Two weeks ago the government once again talked about an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). There are a number of reasons why another road based crossing is not a great idea – and even the Herald has been sceptical about it – but perhaps the biggest issue of all is the sheer cost of it. It’s been estimated to cost a whopping $4 billion to $6 billion. That’s considerably larger than what we spend on transport for the entire nation each year and about 5 years’ worth of the entire transport budget for Auckland. However the announcement once again got me thinking about what else we could do if we had $4-$6 billion to spend.
Anyone who has read this blog for long enough will know that our preference is for the money to go towards advancing projects on the Congestion Free Network.
Of course even by the time-frame the government suggest of 2025-30 we’d hope that much of the CFN would have been completed or at least already well under way. So I thought, what could we do if we were to spend that $4-$6 billion to further enhance the CFN. As a basis I was reminded of this old post by Nick R looking at something similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain – something sometimes referred to as Light Metro.
One of the useful aspects is that from Vancouver we have a couple of good recent examples of how much such a system may cost.
- The Canada line was built in 2009 for a cost of just over $2 billion Canadian dollars (about NZ $2.5 billion once you account for exchange rates and inflation etc.). For that price they got 16 stations (8 underground, 6 elevated) on 19.2km of double track (including 9.1km in tunnels, 7.3km elevated and a 614m long bridge). It also includes 20 two-car driverless trains to run on it plus a maintenance facility. All up it cost them about $130 million per km.
- The Evergreen Line is an extension currently under construction for a cost of $1.4 billion Canadian dollars (NZ$1.5 billion). It will be 10.9km of double track of which 2km is underground and much of the rest is elevated. It also includes six new and one redeveloped station and the existing Skytrain fleet will be boosted by 28 new Skytrain cars (14 two-car trains?). All up the cost is about $137 million per km.
Using a figure of $140 million per km it might deliver us somewhere between 28 and 43km of light metro network which is quite a lot. So what could we get with that?
One potential option is a two line light metro network linking up parts of the North Shore and also the Northwest. Something like below which features both a North Shore and Northwest line. Both pass through the City Centre and under the harbour in a shared tunnel then have short spur off to the Metropolitan Centres of Newmarket and Takapuna. Both lines could be extended further in the future towards Silverdale in the North and Kumeu in the Northwest. In the City Centre it would provide good rapid transit access to areas not covered directly by the CRL.
With automatic trains the shared sections could see trains every two minutes. That’s 30 trains an hour or up to 15 trains an hour on each line. Combine that trains carrying 500-600 people each and we’d have the capacity to easily move 15-20 thousand of people direction every hour free of traffic congestion. As a comparison a road crossing with three lanes each way might carry 6,000 people per hour in each direction.
By now some of you may be concerned about thinking too much along the line of using Light Metro in case it delays the already needed Northwest Busway. It’s definitely a legitimate concern however I feel there’s no reason the busway couldn’t be built sooner but designed to be easily upgradeable later on.
This also raises another key point in favour of a solution like this compared to the AWHC. With the AWHC the entire $4-$6 billion project has to be done in one big burst whereas with a network like this it could easily be broken up into smaller stages. For example we could do something like this:
- Stage 1 – Takapuna to Aotea with bus/train interchanges at Akoranga and Onewa Rd.
- Stage 2 – Akoranga to Albany replacing the busway.
- Stage 3 – Aotea to Newmarket
- Stage 4 – Northwest
Tying it all in with the other parts of the Congestion Free Network plus Auckland Transport’s Light Rail plans for the central Isthmus might look something this.
Given the option of a road tunnel under the harbour or an automated, high frequency rapid light metro system covering the North Shore and the Northwest I know which option I’d choose.
The current Metro Magazine has has an article by me on Auckland, its new urban nature, and surprise!: Why we need a change in transport infrastructure investment to unlock its true value.
Most here won’t be unfamiliar with the arguments but the discipline of writing for print and the general reader called for a rethink of the arguments and evidence. Also the photos aren’t bad either:
Coincidentally I came across this brilliantly accessible piece by NSW transport academic Michelle Zeibots on the relationship between different urban transport systems and their outcomes for city efficiency:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
Emphasis added. This supports my assertion that the biggest winners from the new uptake in ridership on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network are truck and car users.
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.
Yet parts of the highway complex in NSW are now talking about ‘solving congestion’ by building a third road crossing instead: required because of the traffic to be generated by the massive $11billion and more WestConnex project, proving, if ever proof were needed, that all motorways lead to are more motorways. And missed opportunities to invest in higher speeds on all modes through the spatial efficiency of Rapid Transit systems.
This paradoxical phenomenon is understood under various names as this Wiki page shows [Hat Tip to Nick], but perhaps this is as helpful for the average citizen as the Duckworth Lewis system is to the average cricket fan. Which is why I so like the way Zeibots has simplified it in the Sydney Morning Herald article above.
Anyway go out and grab a copy of the new Metro with the Jafa flavoured cover to see my version:
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.
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.
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.
However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.
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.
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.
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.
The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).
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.
Yesterday was a busy day for transport news. Alongside Gerry Brownlee’s strange airport escapade, Labour Transport Spokesman Phil Twyford dropped a bit of a bombshell in relation to the possible acceleration of the Additional Waitemata Habour Crossing (AWHC) project as well as the exclusion of the project’s rail component:
Labour Transport spokesperson Phil Twyford says it has been leaked to him that John Key will rule out a rail option when announcing an accelerated timeframe for Auckland’s $5 billion second harbour crossing next month.
“I understand the Government’s plan is for a roads-only option which would be a giant wasted opportunity to connect rail to the North Shore and link it up with the City Rail Link and the rest of the regional rail network,” says Mr Twyford.
“Aucklanders want their cars but they also realise it is past time to start investing in a modern public transport network. We’ve seen that in recent polls.
“This Government has not initiated a single new public transport infrastructure project in Auckland since it came to office.
“They announced an $800 million transport package for Auckland in the Budget but there wasn’t one public transport project in it. They even rejected officials’ advice to extend the wildly successful Northern Busway.
“If National goes ahead with the second harbour crossing but doesn’t include rail, it would be a major blunder on a par with National’s decision to build the first harbour bridge on the cheap, with clip-ons needed shortly after,” says Phil Twyford.
There’s been no confirmation of the announcement by the government. The Campaign for Better Transport’s media release in response highlights a number of the concerns we’ve had about this project over the past months and years:
The Campaign for Better Transport said today that the Government’s idea of an additional road only Waitemata Harbour Crossing hasn’t been thought through.
“We all know that the Northern Motorway and approaches are notoriously congested at peak times, so local support probably stems from the belief that this congestion will somehow be solved,” said spokesperson Cameron Pitches.
“However, the net effect of a road only crossing will be that in the morning peak, the Auckland CBD will be flooded with thousands of extra single occupant cars looking for a car park. The Central Motorway Junction will also be a bottleneck without more lanes, but there is no room for more.
“And in the evening peak the already congested Northern Motorway will grind to a halt, as six lanes converge into three.”
Mr Pitches says a far better solution would be a rail only crossing that would extend from the City Rail Link to Albany on the North Shore.
“The Northern Busway is enormously popular and is a great example of a system that can carry far more people at peak times than single occupant cars. High capacity rail would be the logical next step.”
Mr Pitches said that a recent report identified that the cost of a rail link connecting the City Rail Link to Albany on the North Shore would be about $2.5bn.
“It is clear that the Government’s proposal and any alternatives have not been through Treasury’s better business case process. There is no urgency with the project either as the yet to be completed Western Ring Route is designed to reduce traffic volumes on the bridge,” said Mr Pitches.
The Goverment is yet to make an official announcement on how a new crossing would be funded, but Mr Pitches suspects it would have to be tolled due to the multi-billion dollar cost of the project.
“The Government also needs to be honest and reveal how much the toll will be for the new crossing, and if the current Harbour Bridge will be tolled as well.”
“It just makes no sense. The Government has just been caught out not doing a comprehensive assessment of alternatives for the Basin Reserve. You would think they would want to avoid making the same mistake twice,” concludes Mr Pitches.
Our most comprehensive criticism of the project is in a recent post here, with a quick summary being that it seems Auckland’s most expensive ever proposed project is likely to make things worse for traffic rather than better, particularly by feeding thousands more cars into a city centre that can’t cope with any more of them.
If it does get announced as speculated would Len Brown be brave enough to say no to it ? Given his previous comments I don’t think so. Let’s hope the announcement – if there even is one – only relates to progressing route protection for the project, which was already announced last year by the Prime Minister.
As hinted at in these posts here and here the editorial team at ATB in collaboration with Generation Zero believe there is a much better way forward for Auckland than the expensive and ineffectual road-heavy ‘build everything’ transport scheme identified in the Auckland Plan, and set out and analysed in the Integrated Transport Plan. This post describes how Auckland can build a world class public transport network that is both affordable and will be the envy of every comparable city worldwide. How in only 17 years Auckland can leapfrog its rivals and transform from a very inefficient mono-modal auto-dependent city to a much more dynamic, multidimensional, and effective and exciting place.
Our plans isolate the top layer of the Public Transport Network and show how these can be expanded and connected while remaining integrated with the other layers of the public transport system, especially the Frequent and Local Bus Networks, to form a complete system to compliment the existing and mature road network. It is important to note that this should also be developed in parallel to a region wide cycling network which both ATB and Generation Zero are extremely supportive of but is outside of the scope of this project [but complimentary to it]. Perhaps Cycle Action Auckland will take up this challenge?
In order to show how we think we should do this we have developed a staged process at five year intervals from 2015-2030 illustrated in four maps below [big thanks to Niko Elsen from GenZero for the graphics and to the great Henry ‘Harry’ Beck for the inspiration of his genius London Underground map; a project also produced without official sanction but eventually adopted to great success].
Over the coming days we will analyse the costs and benefits associated with our plans and show that they will not only lead to a higher quality and better functioning city but are also more affordable than the ineffective current plans as described in the ITP [Link here]. In fact investing in the ‘missing modes’ in Auckland’s transport mix before further expanding the road network so expensively will almost certainly turn out to be much cheaper and more efficient for the city and the nation as well as actually being more in sync with the times. Especially as many of the most expensive and invasive road projects will prove to be unnecessary once Auckland has this powerful additional network in place. Our plan will also greatly improve Auckland’s performance in other harder to calculate but vital areas such as air quality, carbon emissions, oil dependency, urban form, and public health outcomes.
Before we get to the maps it’s important to clarify that the networks we are showing are built on what we already have in Auckland and what is proposed in varying senarios by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA, and other professional bodies, and are all predicated on maximising value from existing infrastructure. In other words these are all possible and realistic projects. They are both buildable and fit into efficient operating models as well as being focused on unlocking hidden capacity and other benefits latent in our existing networks. They are in sync with the proposed directions of Auckland’s future growth [both up and out] and have been selected with quality of place outcomes in mind as well as likely changes in movement demand.
The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors, what are known as Class A routes, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes, Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case process. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At once taking pressure off the increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.
The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether for many more people at many more times and for many more journeys.
Definitions and Qualifications
To qualify for the Congestion Free Network a Transit service needs to fulfil two conditions:
1. It should have its own separate Class A Right of Way.
2. And offer a high frequency service, the ‘turn-up-and-go’ rate of a ride at least every ten minutes or better.
In other words these are the top of the line services from Auckland Transport and their partners. As we will explain we have taken some liberties with these two definitions out of necessity, with some services for various reasons not quite fulfilling one of the criteria above. But where we have opted to bend the definitions a little there is good reason to believe that the deficiency can be fixed on the route in question, and in fact its inclusion on the CFN map is part of the process for showing why that should be the case.
There is a third condition that we are confident will be maintained on this network and that is the quality of the vehicles themselves along with important attractors such as free WIFI on board and at stations:
OK, to the maps. On all maps Rail Lines are solid, Bus Lines are striped, and Ferry routes dashed, but all should be considered as approaching as much as possible those two main criteria above in order to qualify as Congestion Free.
This is all on the way: The the newly electrified rail network with its higher frequency brand new electric trains plus the Northern Busway, and the Devonport Ferry. These are as close to the only Class A and high frequency dedicated transit routes that we will have in Auckland at this time. We have taken some liberties with our definition of some services above. The trains on the Onehunga Line cannot be frequent enough to qualify until the track is improved, and the Devonport Ferry does not run at ten minute cycles all day, but it is frequent enough at the peaks to just qualify. And the Busway, although running at very high frequencies, suffers from an inconsistent degree of separation from traffic, once it gets to the Bridge and through the city, but we are confident that by 2015 or soon after the level of bus priority will have improved especially through Fanshaw and Customs Sts.
We are also confident that these improvements plus the others already underway now and rolling out through 2013-2016, such as integrated fares and the New Bus Network at the next layer down, will mean that more and more people will be choosing to use our nascent core network and it will justify rapid extension.
So how could we extend this next, and which projects are the most urgent? Here’s what we think: Filling in the Gaps:
This is in many ways is the biggest jump; but then it’s really seven and a half years from now so is the longest time period covered and shows the completion of a whole lot of projects that are already at least in the planning stage right now: Unlocking the Core and Accessing the Suburbs:
1. The CRL; the ‘Killer App’ for unlocking capacity and value in the rail network, and all the improvements we have invested in on the whole rail network this century.
2. Two relatively cheap and easy rail network extensions: The Mt Roskill branch line and electrification to Pukekohe and new stations to serve planned new housing in the south.
3. Extensions to each end of the Northern Busway; from the new bus lanes on Customs St up the Central Connector through the University, the Hospital, Grafton Station and the adjacent new Uni Campus, and on to Newmarket. And in the north; extension from Constellation Station to Albany and three new stations to serve the expanding suburbs there.
4. Forms of high quality bus priority on Great North Rd through Grey Lynn, up the North Western motorway all the way to Westgate. Not completely grade separate all the way but proper new stations to connect with new bus services on the Frequent Network and;
5. The Upper Harbour Bus Line, running from Henderson Station up Lincoln Rd, Westgate, and across to connect with the Northern Busway at Constellation on SH18 with new stations.
6. Further south the extension of the AMETI project both past Panmure along the Mt Wellington Highway on dedicated lanes to link with Ellerslie Station and looping the other way down to Botany and on to Manukau City and the Southern Line at Puhinui.
The next phase is all about consolidation and extension, most notably though the neglected Southwest: Mangere and the Airport:
1.The Airport is connected by both the extension of the Onehunga Line through Mangere with important local stations and the extension of the South Eastern Bus Line from Puhinui.
2. The south east also gets proper bus priority up the Pakuranga Highway to Howick, linked through a Pakuranga interchange all the way to Panmure and Ellerslie.
3. The North Western gets extended to the growing hub of Kumeu/Huapai
4. The Northern Line now reaches Silverdale.
5. More frequency is presumed to be required by this time on the ferries heading up the harbour to complete a useful circuit on the Waitemata.
One project dominates the next period: The Shore Line:
1. The Shore Line. There are various versions of this important project, but it is clear that no version should add any more road lanes. The one illustrated here is a rail only crossing and the track doesn’t join directly with the existing rail lines so can be a completely separate technology like the system used in Vancouver’s extremely cost effective SkyTrain [as well as elsewhere], commonly known as Light Metro. This line could be staged by first building the Aotea-Wynyard-Onewa-Akoranga-Takapuna section and keeping the best part of the busway going with a transfer station at Akoranga, but one of the great advantages of the Light Metro train technology is that it can fit on the existing alignments of the busway with very little alterartion and therefore can be extended all the way to Constellation, Albany, or beyond at much lower cost than the Standard Rail used elsewhere on the Network.
2. Also included here is the suggestion of Light Rail for the important Dominion Rd/Queen St bus route.
Notes and Queries.
There are a number of differing options in many parts of these schemes all with various advantages and disadvantages and many have been debated sometimes fairly vigorously amongst those of us working on the maps. These conversations are still ongoing so the maps as they are now should not be considered some kind of final position by the members of either ATB or Generation Zero, but certainly do represent the areas of focus with top contenders for the best solutions. For example here is an alternative city extension of the North Shore Line:
There also is much to be discussed around the detail and the timing of these projects, and we look forward to your views on all of that. To finish it’s probably worth reminding everyone that what is shown here in all these maps are only the best of the best Class A, fast and frequent Transit services that sit at the very top of the public transport pecking order. Below them sit other much more widespread and also improved more widespread services that will still also be running and linking up with these new flash routes. Here is the official AT map of the bus system for 2016, that includes services on our Congestion Free Network but that also shows the wider Frequent Network, and of course there even more local services beneath these:
Mode Selection and the Conceptual Foundation of the Network.
We know there is a lot of attachment to various transport modes by experts and laypeople alike, we experience this everyday in the comment section on this site. There is a tendency for people to focus on the advantages of their favoured mode in a way that expresses their general priorities; some feel spending less on capital works is always the most important issue and others value the quality of the ROW and the permanence of the investment above all else so take a longer view on the costs. We have sought to balance all these considerations when deciding on the most appropriate technology for each corridor. We know that train fans will be disappointed by the amount of bus routes above and that the budget obsessed will be appalled by what they will see as lavish spending on ‘expensive’ rail. And of course the road lobby will see no need for any of this especially as we wish to downscale, delay, or delete many of their pet motorway projects in order to fast track it all and to reduce the disbenefits of reinforcing auto-domination and auto-dependency on Auckland that their projects also bring.
We also have ignored the current government’s particular obsession with only using the National Land Transport Fund for road investments, for, as we have just seen, governments are capable of changing their policies, but also because the public are more than capable of changing governments, and will have at least five such opportunities to do so throughout this period.
The 2016 FTN map directly above clearly shows that a number of the new routes on our maps are current or planned bus routes that we are picking to deserve a greater level of quality as time goes by, maybe not as early as we have by demand alone, but when seen in the context of this new conceptual reading of the city that is The Congestion Free Network, we believe there is additional value in completing parts of this network occasionally ahead of demand [especially where it is more cost effective to do so]. The CFN is a city-shaping tool as well as a movement programme. As of course are all transport networks. This is, in many ways, the most critical point about the changes required in Auckland now. Transport funding decisions must not remain siloed in the transport sector, or worse be captured by institutionalised mode bias as has been the case for most of the last 60 years. Urban transport is, after all, simply a means to an end. And that end is the quality of life for all those in the city and beyond. These involve much wider issues than we have been considering in Auckland in the recent past. It’s time we got more sophisticated.
So in many cases, especially towards the edges of the city, the best way to achieve completion of the network is simply to upgrade the quality of existing bus routes by improving the physical separation of the route and the efficiency and frequency of their running patterns as well as the provision of interchange stations. These routes tend to be further into the suburbs usually where there is freer available roadspace [eg SH18] or closer in where because of new routes older roads have space that can be repurposed for transit [and cycleways] like Great North Rd through Grey Lynn.
However in a few high profile cases the demands and conditions are different, on these routes it could be there is demand for a very high capacity system and just no spare roadspace [the CRL] or where there is already a rail RTN that is worth extending or improving [The CRL, Mt Roskill, Pukekohe, the Mangere and Airport Line], or a combination of the two plus a unique physical barrier [The Shore Line]. In these cases we have, on balance, agreed that the particular characteristics of rail provide solutions that justify the higher capital cost.
It is also worth noting that the three major rail investments, one in each of the three time periods, are the ones that Mayor Len Brown campaigned on to become the first leader of a unified Auckland. So we know they are popular, but their inclusion here is not just because of that. They are here because they are also the rational choice when all issues are considered. The same cannot be said for the congestion promoting motorway projects that Len Brown has subsequently signed up for in some kind of Faustian trade off as expressed in the ITP. So part of this campaign is to get the Mayor, as he faces re-election, to get his transport thinking ‘back on track’.
So lets leave the last word to Len Brown from his inauguration speech in 2010:
“it is time to stop imagining how to improve Auckland’s transport system and other infrastructure and time to start acting.”
Note: the maps can be accessed in PDF form by clicking on the titles above each one- feel free to download, print, distribute, draw on, set alight, decorate your room, or re-blog….
Like the news of the government at last supporting the construction of the City Rail Link which leaked out yesterday, news is now becoming widespread that John Key will also announce some kind of fast tracking of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. I’m not going to speculate about the politics of these two announcements except to say that clearly various deals have been made in an attempt to get everyone both in government and in the Auckland Council to sing from the same song sheet. And that’s sweet ‘n’ all but really shouldn’t multiple billion dollar spending decisions be made a little more carefully than this?
Here at ATB we have shown before and here why any project to build additional traffic lanes across the Waitemata Harbour is not even an expensive luxury but actually an expensive disaster for both the city and the North Shore. Whatever scheme is proposed across the harbour it will cost multiple billions, and if it includes any more traffic lanes it will be even more expensive and worse than money wasted; it will be money wasted destructively.
The most recent cost benefit ratio from the NZTA is only 0.3 to 0.4 based on extremely dubious traffic volume predictions [page 49 here]. There is no money for this as all the other RoNS have left the cupboard bare for years into the future, especially in the context of a looming decline in income from fuel excise due to a drop off in driving. None of these predictions factor in other possible threat to their viability like international carbon reduction treaties or tariffs, or threats to oil supply or continued increase in liquid fuel cost beyond the government’s modest and optimistic expectations. There are any number of reasons why NZTA’s traffic predictions are likely to be too high which would quickly push the BCR quickly down from 0.3 to 0.2, 0.1 or much worse.
We have seen these predictions die in a ditch both here in NZ and recently on similar expensive road projects in Australia. Especially as any such tunnels will almost certainly have to involve tolling, and tolling on the existing route too, so they may end up with very few using it.
Then there are other issues particular to this project.
First there is the issue of the 4billion dollars we are still spending to complete the Western Ring Route. An alternative route that is yet to open.
Here from NZTA’s website:
What is the Western Ring Route?
The completed Western Ring Route will be a 48 kilometre motorway alternative to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge via SH20, SH16 and SH18. It will bypass the city to the west and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere, and North Shore cities.
Why is the Western Ring Route important?
Once completed and opened, the Western Ring Route will provide a bypass around the CBD for the large volume of traffic that travels across the region each day.
And this from the NZTA WRR Project Summary:
The Western Ring Route comprises the SH20, 16 and 18 motorway corridors. When complete it will consist of 48km of high quality motorway linking Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore Cities. It will provide a high quality alternative route to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and take unnecessary traffic away from Auckland’s CBD.
So, the claims go, once the huge tunnels and flyovers of the Waterview project and the widening of SH16 to nine lanes are done, then we can practically include the five lanes of the Upper Harbour Bridge as part of the motorway network. Fair enough. The ongoing WRR work then is a bit like the City Rail Link: connecting parts of an existing network for improve the usefullness of the whole. And it is all supposed to add up to traffic relief for the Harbour Bridge.
There will be really 13 traffic lanes instead of eight across the Harbour when the WRR is open then. Or do NZTA and the Government no longer believe this?
Now add the fact that vehicle volumes on the Harbour Bridge have not been growing as NZTA anticipated as we outlined here for the analysis:
Ak Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes
The red line is the Business Case by NZTA to justify the need for more roadspace, but as you can see it bears little relation to actual traffic demand. But won’t that grow soon as more people live in Auckland? Well not necessarily at all because in fact more people have been travelling across the Bridge but not driving their own cars but in buses. Here are the figures:
Furthermore there is more capacity to add buses to the Northern Busway and to considerably increase the numbers of people crossing to and from the North Shore. But what will eventually be required is a dedicated Rapid Transit Route which will both speed up Transit journeys and take some of this burden off the bridge.
But by just adding more traffic lanes we have the problem of what to do with additional lanes full of cars arriving in downtown. There is no space for any addition lanes through Spaghetti Junction to take them further through the motorway system, that is completely built out and at capacity, so they will all have to be dumped in the city. Anyone who has seen Fanshaw street or the other roads and city streets that lead to and from the Harbour Bridge at peak times know that there is absolutely no more space for more vehicles there.
There is also nowhere for thousands of more cars to be parked in the CBD, nor to circulate on city streets. In fact it is the declared policy of the Auckland Council to improve the quality of the whole of the central city with more Shared Spaces, sidewalk cafes, open spaces, more street trees and other improvements that are completely inconsistent with adding more cars to the mix; in fact they depend on lowering the numbers from where they are now.
To an important extent this is also true for the North Shore, spending billions on any means to encourage people to get into their cars and drive into the city will further clog up all the local roads and streets of the North Shore as they drive to the onramps. Yet the amount of traffic on these streets is already and expensive and ugly problem at rush hours.
Also parking costs can only rise with this increased demand even if more capital and land wasting car parking buildings are built, which, along with the tolls needed for the new crossing so it is unlikely that enough drivers will actually materialise to satisfy NZTA’s made up numbers.
Furthermore there are absolutely no capacity problems on the Bridge nor its approaches at any time other than at the work day peaks. This is a commuter issue only and while it may seem intuitive that adding more lanes across the Harbour would help commuters in fact it will not, and any more capacity will sit wastefully and expensively idle outside of these times. What would help commuters and other motorway users alike is a higher capacity, fast, and attractive commuter route across the harbour without the additional costs and dis-benefits of having to take your car with you and move it around and expensively store it in the city.
Now that the City Rail Link is a certainty, we know that once built, travel to the city by ferry, bus, bike, and train will be a whole lot more viable, because once there moving through or out of the city in another direction will be a whole lot easier. And because there is still a great deal of capacity in the Northern Busway, especially with the new Double Decker buses, the important thing to plan for is to link the North Shore and the City together for those commuters in the best way possible way.
While this could be bus tunnels we would still be faced with the problem of what to do with all the buses once they are in the city and because of the width and height of the tunnels required to handle buses and the technology to deal with the diesel fumes this is unlikely to offer a cost saving over building rail tunnels and their connections.
Rail that can link the new Aotea Station west under Wellesley St down to a new Wynyard Station for the growing demand at that end of the waterfront, then under the Harbour to a new Onewa Station then along side the motorway to a big bus interchange station at Akoranga then continuing to terminate at Takapuna Metropolitan Centre:
Aotea to Takapuna line
This project would seamlessly add huge capacity especially for the peaks without adding stress and cost to street level and parking amenity. It would allow city and North Shore roads to still function well for those who choose or need to drive. So the important conclusion is that adding the missing Rapid Transit link across the Harbour is the best outcome for commuters and road users alike. Adding more lanes to parts of cities is not the best way to improve driving.
In short it matters just as much what we don’t build as what we do. And John Key might feel more loved the more he promises everything anyone wants but really it’s the government’s job to be rational and not give in to demands for destructive projects, like anymore road lanes across the Waitemata. And similarly Len Brown may feel he needs to give in to this project in order to get his more vital and transformative rail projects approved, but that too is not supported by the facts, especially as this project actively works against his own policy to increase the quality of place and ‘livability’ of the whole City.
Incidentally this North Shore rail line is a very good fit with the Skypath walking and cycling addition to the Bridge; visitors to the city can choose to walk and ride one way across the Bridge and if they prefer, jump on the train at either Onewa or Wynyard Stations for the return journey. Then we would have a Harbour with all modes able to cross it, like the original inspiration for our Harbour Bridge:
Sydney Harbour Bridge
First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.
There seems to be growing interest rail to the North Shore, perhaps mainly driven by the fact that one of the project’s biggest benefits would be putting off spending $5 billion on the stupidest transport project ever, another motorway crossing of the Waitemata Harbour. However there still seems to be relatively little discussion and agreement over how it might link in with the rest of the rail network. The Integrated Transport Programme costed the rail crossing at around $1 billion, but seemed to show it finishing tantalisingly close to the rail network at Wynyard, but not actually linking in (suggesting that NZTA and Auckland Transport have included it for show more than serious consideration) or perhaps it’s just hidden behind the words “city centre”.The Auckland Plan was a bit more definitive, showing that North Shore rail should link into the rail system at Aotea Station:Presumably Aotea Station’s is being future-proofed for a connection to a future North Shore Line in its design (something to submit on in regards to the City Rail Link notice of requirement). Previous options of connecting in at Britomart seem to have been abandoned – most probably because Aotea is more central and it’s not possible anyway to hook the North Shore line into the CRL as you’d end up with far too many conflicting train movements. Patrick outlined in a post a few months back how an extended Aotea Station might work to serve both the CRL and the North Shore Line. A further station would obviously be provided at Wynyard Quarter.
But what next? Should the railway line just be an independent line (maybe Vancouver Skytrain style light-metro to keep Peter M happy?) or could it link through to the Southern or Eastern Lines? Exploring each option further highlights advantages and disadvantages for every option, and perhaps not a particularly obvious preferred candidate.
Starting off with linking it through to the Southern Line, which would most easily be done by continuing the tunnel under Wellesley Street, probably bridging over Grafton Gully and then linking in with the Southern Line just north of Parnell. Something like this:The line could then extend to either the Airport or to the Southern Line, or conceivably both (especially if on the North Shore you had one service pattern commencing at Takapuna and another commencing at Albany). The end result of this approach is probably something similar to what Matt and Patrick developed last year – known as “the cross”:Advantages of this approach include the creation of a pretty legible and easily understood network – basically a north-south line and an east-west line, with a few variations and branches further out. You get a direct link from the North Shore to the Airport, you provide a heap of capacity to the city centre by running the two lines completely independent of each other and you remove the need to use that slow bit of the rail network around Vector Arena. Disadvantages perhaps include the enormous strain on Aotea Station as the transfer station between the two main lines, the requirement that North Shore rail be built to heavy rail standard (rather than the likely much cheaper Light Metro). It also effectively requires the construction of a second CRL – this time in an east-west direction. As we’re struggling to find the funding for the first CRL it does appear slightly premature to be planning what’s effectively a second, somewhat similar, tunnel.
The next option is to look at linking the North Shore Line up with the Eastern Line, via a route that takes a little bit of imagination but isn’t too impossible – leading to something like this:
Once again this option appears to have a number of advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include perhaps a slightly shorter and simpler link with the rail network that doesn’t involve bridging Grafton Gully and perhaps utilises some of the trackwork at the old Auckland Railway Station area to link into the Eastern Line. Trains heading further east could travel on to either Manukau via the existing Eastern Line or to Botany (or beyond?) via a new southeast line (as previously discussed here). Splitting the trains across two destinations in the east would balance well with trains originating at Takapuna and Albany on the North Shore – creating something like this:
- Albany-Manukau via City Centre, Panmure and Otahuhu
- Takapuna-Manukau via City Centre, Glen Innes and Highland Park
- Swanson to Papakura/Pukekohe via CRL, Newmarket and Southern Line
- Mt Roskill to Airport via CRL, Newmarket and Penrose
Mapped it looks something like this:Now before you go and yell at me for being too city centre focused I’m not necessarily suggesting that what’s shown above is Auckland’s ideal future rail network, but rather that it’s one way of showing how a North Shore Line could be “linked in” with Auckland’s existing rail network.
The big flaw with both “the cross” option and the one shown above is that they leave no role for Grafton Station, other than potentially on some sort of shuttle between Newmarket and Kingsland (would have to be Kingland now the Inner West Interchange station is gone). Both options also require significant expense east of Aotea Station to “link” the tracks coming into the city from the west with either the Southern or Eastern lines at Parnell or a bit north of that at the old railway station. Both options also seem to relegate the role of the City Rail Link by pulling either Southern Line or Eastern Line trains out of the tunnel and effectively giving both lines only one city centre station (plus Wynyard). Finally, both options also require the North Shore Line to be built as heavy rail, which is likely to be quite a bit more expensive than a light-metro option – although still barely half the cost of a road crossing of the Harbour.
The final option is to just terminate the trains at Aotea Station – running trains from both Albany and Takapuna to Aotea and then back again. This option is completely independent of the existing rail network:Advantages include relatively low cost (compared to other options), the potential to do driverless light-metro and the fact that the rest of the rail network’s balance isn’t stuffed up in the ways that caused problems with the other options (such as it being difficult to serve Grafton Station). Disadvantages include quite a lot more transfers, creating another independent system and the challenges with where you’d maintain the train fleet.
As I noted at the start of my post, there’s no clear winner when it comes to options to connect North Shore Rail into the existing system – but there sure are a whole heap of interesting options. Which is your favourite? Why? Have I missed another option or two that might work even better?
Someone at the Herald must have let John Roughan back at the typewriter because today’s editorial on another harbour crossing appears to have his fingerprints all over it.
No one seems to doubt Auckland will need another harbour crossing to the North Shore within a generation. The chances of it being another bridge are dwindling but plans for a tunnel under the Waitemata are cautiously being progressed. Too cautiously, in the view of former North Shore mayor and current Auckland Council member George Wood. He has half a point.
Mr Wood believes transport planners ought to be engaging now with community groups as they move to protect a likely route for a tunnel or tunnels east of the harbour bridge. The Auckland Council 30-year plan favours the tunnel option with provision for a rail line to future-proof its capacity. Since that plan’s publication, the Transport Agency has said it would base any application to the council next year for route protection on that premise, despite its judgment that no crossing would be required until 2030.
So it starts out innocently enough and was obviously driven by the article last week where the NZTA confirmed there was no immediate need for another crossing. I’ll start by saying that I think a new crossing will be needed at some point, just not one for cars but I will talk more about that shortly. It then goes on to talk for a bit about how Georges fears of the project being left to drift are probably not needed as the NZTA has proven that they are able to get big projects pushed through both consenting and construction phases. But it is after this that things go down hill pretty quickly suggesting that the biggest threat to the project is the talk of future proofing it for a rail line.
The bigger threat to timing or funding for a tunnel might be any requirement that it include rail, even if it is only on paper to “future-proof” the project. The rail option would work only if the tunnel project was preceded by Auckland mayor Len Brown’s push for a CBD rail link, the multi-billion-dollar tunnel pushing through Britomart station and up-town to Mt Eden. In current conditions it is unlikely both can be funded in the next decade or two even if Auckland ratepayers and motorists accept high tolling and regional charges to carry much of the burden themselves.
Aucklanders and their elected leaders need to prioritise these projects and de-couple them so that at least one is digestible. Development and liveability of the North Shore could well be harmed if the second crossing is tied to the more politically controversial CBD rail link and delayed. The National-led Government believes no such rail link is justified for 30 years: the Auckland Council sees it as a cornerstone for the city’s transport, housing and economic progress.
Which is the more efficient and vital recipient of the nation’s economic resources? The case is clear for a harbour crossing, only timing is in dispute. The case for the CBD rail link is persuasive but unconvincing, a costly, nice-to-have project which in theory would relieve traffic congestion and alter residential development.
Does the North Shore want or need rail in any case? The Northern Busway has been a successful public transport option and would presumably be more effective if the harbour bridge is decongested by a parallel road tunnel.
About the only think I agree with is that it is unlikely both can realistically be funded in the next two decades and that we need to prioritise both our funds and focus on the one that will have the most impact. To even suggest that the most important project is another harbour crossing is the most important is laughable. For starters it is a duplication of a route that already exists and who’s only purpose is to increase capacity to allow more people to drive to the city centre, flooding it with cars when we are trying to make it a more pedestrian friendly place. The CCFAS also confirms that it is expected to absolutely destroy patronage on the busway undermining the investment made in it so far. The CRL by comparison provides a new route that speeds up trips to the city centre without putting any extra cars on the road and that helps to maximise the otherwise underutilised rail corridors. At $2.2 billion all up including things like new trains, it is also considerably cheaper than $5.3 billion harbour tunnel which is the one that more and more looks like “a costly, nice to have project”.
Lets also not forget that due to the sheer cost of another crossing both the new and existing routes would need to be tolled with estimations from a few years ago suggesting that $8 per crossing would be needed.
On the topic of rail to the North Shore, there was a bit of a discussion last night on how the CRL designation docs don’t make any mention of how a North Shore line integrate with the CRL. A couple of years ago the plan was to also put the trains through Britomart with a junction under the downtown mall however thankfully that has now changed. My understanding is that the more detailed designs for the Aotea station include the provision for a connection to platforms that would be under Wellesley St. As that would be under a road anyway, it would probably only serve to complicate things with the designation so as long as the station is designed and built in a way that enables it to happen in the future, there is likely no point addressing it now (although it would be nice if AT were to officially confirm this).
In the fallout from the release of the City Centre Future Access Study last Thursday and the government’s rather bizarre response to it, for some reason there seems to have been renewed discussion about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) project. It’s a bit odd to think that if Central Government has concerns about contributing to a $2.4 billion project they’d end up looking more kindly on a $5 billion project instead, but I guess as it’s a road rather than a railway line you really never know.
We’ve discussed the AWHC project on this blog many times before, most particularly recently pointing out some incredibly dodgy traffic statistics used by NZTA to help justify the project. In this post I’m not really going to focus on the cost of the project, or the heroic traffic growth assumptions or even why a rail crossing is a much more sensible option. What I’m going to simply look at is the likely traffic effects of the additional crossing – where it does and does not add capacity to the system and what the impacts of that are likely to be. There’s a wealth of information on the project website, which I will draw on to inform this. For a start, let’s just get a rough idea about what the AWHC project is – something that’s reasonably well illustrated in the diagram below:It’s a little complicated with all the different colours, but let’s just think about what happens for southbound traffic:
- Traffic heading to Shelly Beach Road, Fanshawe Street and Cook Street uses the existing Harbour Bridge
- Traffic heading to SH16 west and SH16 port exits uses the new tunnel
- Traffic continuing south on SH1 uses the new tunnel
The same is obviously also true in reverse. Oh an by the way I wouldn’t get too excited about the rail tunnel shown above – the fact that a shuttle line from Gaunt Street to Akoranga is shown, with no connections to the existing or proposed rail network at the city end, just illustrates that it’s only in there as a token gesture.
At the moment in the morning peak there are five lanes southbound coming over the harbour bridge. The Shelly Beach Road offramp peels off but the five lanes remain through St Mary’s Bay. Then one lane drops off at Fanshawe Street and four lanes continue southbound over the Victoria Park viaduct: two of those feeding into Cook Street and the SH16 exits and the other two linking with the Southern Motorway for trips heading further south. Ignoring the city exits (Shelly Beach, Fanshawe and Cook Street) for a minute, it’s clear that there are four lanes that link the Harbour Bridge through to SH16 (for east and west travel) and SH1 for travel further south. Here’s a diagram showing the future layout of the motorway network with the AWHC built:
It’s a bit confusing at first, but once you ignore the local roads it starts to make a little more sense. We can see that southbound in the morning peak there would be three lanes in the new tunnel and four lanes (one of which is a bus lane by the look of it) coming over the harbour bridge. The new tunnel effectively removes ‘through traffic’ from the Harbour Bridge, but doesn’t actually add any capacity over what already exists for that through traffic.
- There’s still only two lanes which continue right through for southbound traffic.
- There are only three lanes (compared to the current four) for traffic heading to either SH1 southbound or the SH16 exits.
What the new road does do, of course, is free up huge amounts of new roadspace for vehicles travelling from the North Shore to the CBD. There are now four southbound lanes over the harbour bridge worth of capacity – all of which can only link to Shelly Beach Road, Fanshawe Street or Cook Street. That’s potentially an absolute flood of additional vehicles that could be funneled into central Auckland because they no longer need to ‘compete’ with the through traffic for roadspace over the Harbour Bridge.
This impact is well documented in the project’s Local Roads report:
The main challenge for this assessment relates to the provision of additional capacity across the harbour and the potential flow on effects this may have on the local road network around central Auckland and feeder roads on the North Shore, particularly in the weekday morning peak. In particular it is noted that the new harbour crossing will allow more traffic to enter the CBD. This conflicts with various CBD strategies that encourage the provision of public transport for trips to/from the CBD and not to provide additional capacity for cars.
It fundamentally conflicts with the concept of a liveable city centre.
It is anticipated that space on the existing Harbour Bridge will be allocated to public transport, walking and cycling, if an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is provided. The precise lane configuration on the existing Harbour Bridge will only be determined over time and this will significantly affect the predicted traffic effects of the additional crossing. The scenario agreed for this study (for both bridge and tunnel options) includes the following lane allocation on the existing bridge:
- One lane for walking and cycling;
- A bus lane in each direction, but with general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp sharing the southbound bus lane; and
- Five general traffic lanes in total, assumed to operate with three southbound and two northbound lanes in the weekday morning peak, with the reverse in the evening peak.
This scenario would provide three southbound lanes for general in the weekday morning peak plus additional capacity, equivalent to around half a lane, for general traffic heading to the Shelly Beach off ramp. This scenario also provides the opportunity for a significant increase in the rate of flow from Esmonde Road (and Akoranga Drive) onto the Northern Motorway, thereby increasing the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour and reaching the Auckland CBD.
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry about the fact that even after spending $5 billion NZTA still can’t bring itself to providing a proper dedicated southbound bus lane. The important thing to note from the above paragraphs though is at the very end: the real impact of the project is a massive increase in flows from the North Shore into the CBD. As no additional capacity is provided south of the CBD the are few gains there aside from being able to hit the gridlock through spaghetti junction a bit quicker because vehicles travelling through the tunnel no longer need to compete for roadspace with those heading for the CBD.
It seems as though the report writers began to realise this fundamental flaw with the project and therefore ended up recommending retaining some measures to limit the flow of vehicles onto the motorway from the North Shore:
A range of options could be used to limit the rate of flow able to cross the Harbour, including changes in the lane allocation. However, for the purposes of this assessment it has been agreed that the effects of the additional crossing will be assumed to be restricted by some means and that this should be reflected by modelling ramp signals on the important Esmonde Road southbound on ramp. Capacity constraints are already predicted to exist on the approaches to or on the other on ramps during the morning peak, and providing ramp signals at Esmonde Road will therefore further constrain the rate of flow able to pass across the harbour and into the Auckland CBD.
So we’ll spend $5 billion on adding a huge amount of capacity across the Waitemata Harbour but we’ll still need to use things like ramp signals to limit the flow of vehicles onto the motorway – doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of the whole project?
The impact of the project on some city streets is pretty massive in terms of additional vehicles – especially Fanshawe Street and Cook Street (Curran Street and Shelly Beach Road, two residential streets, get slammed as well):To cut what is becoming a pretty long story short, it really does seem as though the AWHC project involves spending $5 billion to make it easier to drive your car into the city centre – something we actually don’t want you to do. In other words, it is building the most expensive transport project ever to create more congested inner city streets and a less liveable city centre. It’s a huge amount of money on something that will make Auckland a far far worse city.
For that reason, it is quite simply the stupidest transport project ever.
I found myself in an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday about the Northern Busway and whether a North Shore railway line is likely to be necessary at some point in the future or not. This is a fairly common debate, but one that’s often a bit ill-informed by the assumptions that people make. Things like:
- Rail to the North Shore is really expensive. Well yes it is, but not nearly as expensive as building a $5 billion road tunnel.
- The North Shore already has a busway, why does it need a railway line? And here’s where things get interesting – read on!
While the North Shore certainly does have a busway – a very successful one at that – we must remember that the busway proper is only between Constellation and Akoranga Stations in both directions, then between Akoranga Station and the Onewa Road interchange in the southbound direction. In some other places there are bus shoulder lanes, but that’s it. When you actually start to map out how much of the Northern Express route (the core route along the busway) is busway (blue) bus lane or shoulder lane (green) and mixed traffic (red) the result is actually somewhat surprising:Breaking down the distances, you can see that northbound passengers in particular get a pretty raw deal:Total it all up and you actually find that only 41% of the Northern Express’s route is actually along the busway proper. A full 40% of the route is without any form of bus priority measures at all – including half of the route for northbound buses. Most worryingly the places with some of the patchiest bus priority measures, like the Harbour Bridge, St Mary’s Bay for northbound traffic and around the Britomart departure points are the very places where bus volumes are the highest and the competition for road space is most intense, with buses sadly losing out. For example, the fact that NZTA didn’t bother to put a northbound bus lane through St Mary’s Bay when widening that motorway speaks absolute volumes of the disdain that organisation has for public transport.
The point of all these calculations isn’t to criticise the Northern Busway, but actually to point out that a railway line south of Akoranga – like the rail line shown below – wouldn’t actually duplicate much of the busway at all: just the southbound section between Akoranga and Onewa which would be very handy for minimising the length of a cross-harbour tunnel:Furthermore, this is pretty much exactly the same section which NZTA’s Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Project adds capacity to – at a cost of at least $5 billion (a rough estimate based on past analysis suggests that a Takapuna to Aotea rail link should be able to be built for under $2.5 billion). After all, the only thing AWHC does is shift ‘through-traffic’ off the harbour bridge into a new tunnel and then turn the harbour bridge into giant on and off ramps feeding a heap of cars into downtown that we don’t actually want. For $5 billion!
Clearly in the meanwhile there are things we can do to improve the busway and increase the measly 41% total. An extension northwards from Constellation to Albany is a no-brainer. Improved priority measures in the inner city is another clear requirement, plus we need to do something about getting a bus lane northbound through St Mary’s Bay. But for goodness sake, before we go and spend $5 billion on a road tunnel that’ll do nothing but feed cars into downtown, can we consider a much cheaper and much more effective alternative?