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?
This post is about the other critical break at the heart of Auckland’s RTN network: the Waitemata Harbour. The one that needs to be addressed after the City Rail Link mends the first one. Some may think that I’m getting ahead of myself here but I think it is important to look ahead so that near term projects are future-proofed and so that our thinking is kept open to all sorts of possibilities.
The power of the CRL is also in some ways its limitation, well certainly in the minds of its detractors, because much of what it achieves occurs on the already existing rail network. It is after all primarily just what it is called: A Link; outside of the Centre City it doesn’t expand the reach of the network directly but rather joins the currently separated ends of two long systems together to allow the true capacity and frequency of the whole network to be realised. This is what is so powerful about the project but is also so easily overlooked.
Don’t get me wrong, the CRL is clearly the urgent transformative move for Auckland; the ‘killer app’ if you like, because it will provide the necessary core to the Rapid Transit Network that will, with the new bus network it supports, transform Auckland into being a viable Transit City as well as a driving one. A transformation, already underway, that will enable more people in more of Auckland to function effectively without having to always drive. At once improving their efficiency and that of the whole city. It is a step change; the key to Auckland’s new urban future, enabling high quality growth and is the best way take pressure off the existing sunk investment in the road network so it keeps working well as the city grows.
But also let’s not forget that by solving the constraints of the current rail network it also invites its expansion to whole new areas, and that there is still another ‘Link’ that the system needs.
Clearly the relatively simple and obvious extension of the Onehunga line through Mangere to the Airport should follow swiftly after the CRL. But it is the next opportunity that I want to discuss here and one that the representatives for the North Shore really ought to have their sights set on too: A North Shore Line; converting some or all of the Northern Busway to rail and crossing the harbour with rail tunnels to connect this part of the RTN via a new station at Wynyard Quarter to the existing network.
We have shown that the growth in demand across the harbour is not in traffic but in Transit. But also any addition to traffic volumes entering the city would contradict everything the Council is working towards to improve the quality of life and place in the city as well as its economic intensity. So the next expansion in capacity across the Harbour needs to connect the break in the RTN between the southern end of Northern Busway and the Isthmus-only rail network. And this would be as shape changing as the CRL itself as it would bring much closer together currently separated parts of Auckland. It is also the other major move to make Auckland into a true Multi-Modal City.
Discussions of cost, funding, and even the route on the Shore are outside of the scope of this post, have been addressed elsewhere on this site and will be again in the future. This is an exploration of future possibilities. I am also assuming that electric rail is clearly the technology to take in tunnels under the Harbour not the more expensive, more dangerous, and lower capacity of buses. Argue if you must but it looks like a slam dunk to me, and I’m sure that will be even more certain post-CRL.
I have in the past written about the possibility of the elegant and efficient Cross patterned two line network [below]: The Southern Line heading to town would after the new Parnell Station cross Grafton Gully above the traffic on a viaduct then enter a tunnel into Constitution Hill and head under Albert Park to connect with the CRL at Aotea Station before heading to a new station at Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour to the Shore. Albany to the Airport, with Wynyard Quarter, the heart of the city, and Newmarket in between.
‘The Cross’ possible North-South and West-East network model
Here’s a full city wide Rapid Transit Network adding future Busways to a pretty complete rail system, by Matt:
Matt’s Future RTN Network
There are a number of options for staging this line, especially at the Shore end, and even at the city side where the connection to the line at Parnell could be put off and the line run as a self contained Shore/City route at very high frequencies. And there is even a fairly lively debate among the editorial team here at the blog about the competing merits of a cheaper Light Metro system or continuing with the same kit we are about to get in order to integrate the Shore Line with the existing network. What I’m about to look at doesn’t depend on either system although the connection to the line at Parnell would require compatibility one way or the other. That’s a debate for another time. But here is another version based on Matt’s plan above:
Version of Matt’s future map
What I want to look at here is the future City connection for a Shore Line because the opportunities and the constraints are considerable. In this post I outlined how the midtown CRL station Aotea will replace Britomart as the most popular on the whole network and how the station design in a constrained footprint will have to be able to handle much much higher numbers of people than we see at our busiest station today.
Here is a detail of the CRL alignment map showing the Aotea Station footprint:
In recent discussions with the Council’s head of Urban Design Ludo Campbell-Reid he mentioned that the new owner of the empty site between Elliot and Albert St is keen to integrate the station exits into the retail floors his proposed tower which will bring people onto the new shared space of Elliot and Darby Streets and level with Queen St at the Station’s northern end. There will of course be exits further west for those heading up hill [maybe even up to the coming Federal St shared space and Sky City] and at the southern end on Wellesley Street where the Council owns property on two sides of that intersection.
Here is a rough schematic of ‘The Cross’ that I did for that earlier post:
CITY CENTRE ‘The Cross’
A closer look at this idea and it is pretty clear that inserting a station somewhere under the University or Albert Park would not only be almost impossible and very expensive but also unnecessary [it is the stations that are really expensive on underground lines rather than the tunnelling]. Not least of which because the distances between the stations are too short but also because the balance of the demand is really further south than the point indicated above. There is no doubt that the Universities are a huge generator of Transit traffic and it is important for the city that we meet that demand as efficiently as possible, but the key word in that sentence is Universities, plural; the growing AUT campus is much closer to Aotea Station than it is to the northern end of the University of Auckland. And if we can inch some Aotea Station exits across Queen St we can not only help serve this market well but also help deal better with the likely pedestrian flows at the peak hours. And not only will it have to cater for transfers between the lines but as it is also clear that Wellesley St will continue to be the main crosstown bus route so this placement is well placed for connections between modes too.
Here’s my suggestion for alignment of the North Shore Line platforms at Aotea:
As you can see I have biased the overlap between the two lines by bringing the Shore Line platforms east under Queen St. They are offset enough that you could give it its own identity; say Wellesley St or Queen St Station. Or Horotiu, after the Taniwha and his stream the Waihorotiu that runs under Queen St. Or just call them platforms 3 + 4 at Aotea. No matter, the point is that there are some really good reasons to orient the station like this. Because to add another busy line to this station some serious people management is going to have to take place.
Happily here the Council has also already done a great job with another of its shared spaces:
Lorne St Shared Space
Not only is there already a big pedestrian plaza here that can absorb those Transit riders but it is really close to a lot of attractors. The tower at the end of the street is an AUT building with the rest of the campus up behind, the always busy Library is on the left, and of course the surely-to-be-restored St James on the right. Also there’s the wonderful new Art Gallery, the Civic back across Queen, and of of course the other University also just a little up the hill. Add the Town Hall, Q-Theatre, and the Aotea Centre and at last we really have the cultural amenity for a true and vibrant Civic Centre. Just not yet the transport amenity.
But not only that impressive list of destinations but also there are some underperforming sites ripe for revitalising. Chief among those being the St James. But there’s also the building you can see a corner of in the shot above just behind the guy taking a photo with his phone:
300 Queen St_ northeast
The 1965 head office of the ASB by the wonderfully named Beatson Rix-Trott Carter & Co architects. The Queen St frontage still houses a branch of the ASB and a kebab shop, but the other sides are lifeless and unused except as access to some 58 car parks [10 more than the limit- a variation granted in 1996] that have been rammed into 3 ex-office floors above the shops and accessed through those rollers doors opening onto Lorne St. I can only assume that the basement is currently unused.
Here’s the thing: The back end of this building is the perfect location for the eastern entrance to a busy cross town underground Rail Station. The removal of that parking inside this building would greatly enhance the shared space as they are the only traffic generator on this street outside of deliveries. The building itself could do with an upgrade and I’m sure the owner would make the calculation that having tens of thousands of people everyday right in their building is much more valuable than the return on 58 car parks.
300 Queen St_east elevation
It’s actually a pretty nicely detailed building if you look past the abuses, bronze windows and they took the granite all the way round to the back. Well except where those nasty rollers are now. This could scrub up well at street level, and then would certainly be able to accommodate development above too, a cafe on that podium and all sorts of retail opportunities on the currently car violated mezzanine and 1st and 2nd floors and either upgraded offices or apartments above. Just no parking. This is a good solid example of midcentury boxy corporate modernism awaiting rediscovery and a new life.
300 Queen St_Plaza
Its unactivated Lorne St side already faces a lively plaza especially since the upgrade and traffic de-privileging. There is in fact lots of unusually wide pedestrian amenity on both sides of Wellesley St at this point:
Wellesley St heritage loos
So not only is there also space for a station exit on the northern side of Wellesley but arguably it’s already there! I’m reliably informed that the now unused underground women’s loos are pretty flash inside. Surely there’s a way they could be incorporated into another exit?
The building on the left in the shot above, the ex-Contemporary Art Gallery, is about to be developed into highend retail and an article discussing its prospects bragged about a one day pedestrian count around here of 16,526 people [Wednesday Oct 17]. I think we can send that number a great deal higher in ways that can only be good for the commercial and cultural vitality of this end of town. And make the old ASB building more useful as well as more valuable, and wouldn’t it be great to see this whole block including the wonderful St James sparked back into life?
300 Queen St
And interestingly in that Library on the shared space I found this plan for an inner city underground rail system. It’s from the 1965 De Leuw Cather Report, the famous one that proposed both a Rapid Transit system and expanded motorways for Auckland but that has suffered from half of it being ignored ever since. And look where that station is, close:
De Leuw Cather Report 1965, detail.
Interesting that they named that station ‘Civic-Centre’ because despite all the millions spent by various Councils on driving amenity in this area to try to make a Civic Centre around the Town Hall [Mayoral Drive, the twice built underground car park] it has really only had any kind of success since Auckland’s recent Transit and pedestrian revolution started to take off this century. People, on the streets, and in quantity, are key to vibrant and successful urban places.
And here’s the whole region in that same report, look at that North Shore Line, not bad:
De Leuw Cather Report 1965: Rapid Transit plan for Auckland
And since we will soon have finished building all the motorways we’ll ever need it’s clearly time to get on with fixing the missing complementary Rapid Transit network.
A previous post by Patrick highlighted his concerns about the phrase “multi-modal”, something that I want to explore further. Patrick’s general argument is that we “talk the good talk” about multi-modalism (is that even a word?) but in reality what we have built over and over again is “mono-modalism”.
So I guess the question I want to ask the government is how sincere are they really about Multi-Modality? I agree a truly multi modal Auckland would be a great improvement but successive governments have deviated very little from a highway dominant policy and the current one has greatly accelerated it, and therefore increased our Mono-Modality. The Government Policy Statement makes it very hard to get funding from NZTA for any mode at all other than state highways, in fact it seems designed to enable motorways to get funding no matter how poor their cost benefit analyses. So under this government the share of Land Transport funding going to anything other than state highways has shrunk. And now they are planning to make it even more difficult for the local authority to make its own investments that may differ from this bias.
I’m going to stick my neck out a bit further and say that while I’m a big supporter of the idea of a multi-modal system, I’m not really much of a fan of “multi-modal projects”. They just seem to turn into ways of justifying a lot of spending on roads now, with perhaps a little bit for public transport in the very distant future.
A classic example of this is the “Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing” project. By far the most expensive project proposed for Auckland in the next 30 years (estimated cost is north of $5 billion!), it is another harbour tunnel which doesn’t add any capacity to the roading system anywhere except between the Esmonde Road interchange and spaghetti junction. Because of this, we’re basically spending $5 billion to make it easier for people to drive into the city centre – even though pretty much every other part of Auckland’s policies and strategies scream out that we want to reduce the car focus of the very same area.
Perhaps to appease those screaming out “why on earth would you want to do something so stupid?” the Auckland Plan says that there’ll be a rail line in the tunnel – the first step towards extending rail to the North Shore. Or at the very least the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail so that it can be built at some point in the future. Here’s a lovely map showing how the two tunnels could happily co-exist:
Of course what’s not discussed here is the impact of the new road crossing on your likely demand for public transport. Considering that around 35% of people coming over the harbour bridge in the peak times at the moment are on the bus plus most of those people will be going to destinations in the city centre, around the universities or to Newmarket, public transport must have a really excellent modeshare for “North Shore to central city” trips – I would suspect well above 50% once you count the ferries.
One of the reasons this modeshare is so high is because the alternative isn’t too flash – a slow, unreliable and congested trip in along the Northern Motorway (and its many clogged feeder roads). Go and provide a heap more lanes of roading capacity at a vast cost and you’re just about guaranteed to kill off public transport demand (at least until your expensive new road gets clogged again). This means you can’t justify the rail tunnel and therefore you’ve just ended up reinforcing your city’s car dependency.
And in a nutshell this is the problem with multi-modal projects. Because they’re looking at upgrading both the road and the public transport at the same time, they’re actually two bits of a project working against each other. The public transport project would undoubtedly generate more patronage growth if the road running in parallel to it wasn’t also being widening/duplicated/upgraded to motorway status. Similarly (though interestingly not as convincingly), the economics of the roading project would probably stack up better if everyone was forced to use it and it wasn’t having its usage undermined by a parallel PT project.
This is where multi-modal projects really miss the point of public transport investment. One of the biggest reasons to spend money on a public transport project is so you don’t need to spend vastly more on a roading project. The Northern Busway is a great example of this as it’s vastly increasing the capacity of the Northern Motorway and delayed (or completely removed) the requirement for another road-based harbour crossing. Upgrading the rail network has done the same – every passenger coming up that southern line is delaying or removing the requirement to widen the southern motorway. With multi-modal projects it seems like we identify the project that’s required to ensure we don’t need that other project, but go ahead and build both anyway.
At the end of the day, I suppose multi-modal is nice for politicians because “there’s a bit in there everyone will support”. Those who want more roads are happy, the PT crowd are happy, there might be a cycleway to keep those advocates happy – everyone wins. Except the person paying the bill who has gone and wasted a huge amount of cash on a road that’s probably not needed if the other parts of the project are done.
What Auckland needs is a proper multi-modal transport system, not a whole pile of extremely expensive “multi-modal projects” that just reinforce our car dependency. We’ve got the roading side of the system pretty much finished already.
This is a guest post from reader Axio
Peter’s post on the future of driverless light-metro got me thinking about whether there are alternative alignments where an automatic metro could be used, and I felt that it would be a cost-effective solution to mayor’s vision of rail to the Airport and the North Shore.
Many proposals presented in this blog focus on connecting a North Shore line with the City Rail link by crossing at right angles at Aotea station and tunneling under the university to come out somewhere on the Eastern line. This minimizes the additional infrastructure needed on the city side of the link. However tunnels are very expensive and if an elevated metro is used then we might find that we can achieve much more substantial system for a similar cost.
This alternative considers a line from Takapuna through to the Airport. This would be a driverless metro elevated along its entire length, except possibly the harbour crossing. The proposed alignment is illustrated below.
The benefits of this alignment are many:
Obviously this provides rapid-transit to the North Shore, Mangere, and the Airport, meeting the strategic goal. It brings Takapuna onto the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), which is useful as it has been identified as a commercial centre in the Auckland Plan. This also makes the CBD much more accessible from western South Auckland.
- Leverages the most effective part of the Northern Busway by providing a high frequency connection at Akoranga. If most buses terminated at Akoranga then the lowest capacity and slowest section of the busway (the harbour bridge and CBD) would not be required for the bulk of trips.
- Replaces overcrowded bus routes on Dominion Road, and in doing so takes the pressure off Symonds Street. It also allows Dominion Road to retain its on street parking which was a sore point during the submissions into Light Rail on the corridor.
- Connects into the existing rail network at Onehunga and Mt Eden (depending on where stations are placed following construction of the City Rail Link).
- Provides another access point to Eden Park along Bellwood Avenue.
And overall it brings together parts of Auckland that are presently quite separate as far as transit is concerned.
For automatic metro the line requires its own right of way which would be achieved largely using elevated rail. As most of the line is above road corridors, this would require a viaduct composed of single columns about 4.5m high with the rail deck around another metre higher. Stations would be spaced every kilometer or so. As mentioned earlier the harbor crossing may be tunneled, and the section along SH20 could be at ground level in places.
There are some challenges inherent in the alignment and terrain. The section east from Hillsborough Road to sea level will be quite steep and probably require a viaduct that extends well east of where SH20 flattens out in order to reduce the gradient. Similarly the section through the CBD will be quite steep, although with a station in the middle the slow speeds due to gradient will be less painful to passengers. Getting through the CMJ can be done using the old Nelson Street off ramp from the Southern Motorway followed by a viaduct over the CMJ once clear of K-Road. The corner at Wellesley and Hobson is quite tight, although the radius exceeds the 35m mentioned as the limit for this type of metro as shown.
This brings us to the big question: what will it cost? In this case I will just look at the section from Wynyard to Onehunga as costings for heavy rail north and sound of there can be found in other documents and provide a reasonable indicator of cost (particularly to the north where the cost is largely due to the tunnel).
The Vancouver Skytrain provides the most useful estimates as it is the system on which this is based. South Fraser Blog quotes On Track: The SkyTrain Story which indicates the cost for the elevated only section is around $47million per kilometer in 2012 Canadian dollars. At the present exchange rate this comes out to about $60million per kilometer so the line from Wynyard to Onehunga, at around 14km, would have a baseline at $840 million. Building above a road corridor would likely increase the cost, and we also have to deal with the special viaducts at the CMJ and Onehunga. Finally that estimate does not include the cost of the trains.
Compared to the Waterview Connection and the City Rail link this project, at a little over a billion dollars, is relatively inexpensive given the area it provides service to, although obviously much of the benefit would come from the un-costed sections from Wynyard to Takapuna, and Onehunga to the Airport. It does also have the ability to be built in sections with each section providing significant benefits on its own. For instance Wynyard through to Bellwood Avenue would provide a different place for Dominion Road buses to terminate, and still connect the Isthmus and West to Midtown and Wynyard.
The cost not-with-standing, an elevated metro has a significant downside, visual pollution. A 5.5 metre viaduct will stand-out in all but the CBD, and as Dominion Road has something of an iconic status this visual pollution may be unacceptable. There are alternative corridors through the isthmus such as Sandringham Road which would have the benefit of being closer to St Lukes, a major attractor, but increase the overall cost and the journey time from the North Shore to the Airport.
Finally, while this line is intended to complement the City Rail link, it does have potential to stand on its own, providing rapid transit access to Midtown from the central slice of the city (from the Airport to Albany) and the West, assuming a transfer at Mt Eden. However it would not be connected to the East of the city, and so its benefits would be reduced without the City Rail link.
There was some good feedback on my earlier post suggesting a pretty radical change to the future of rail in Auckland, through the introduction of driverless rapid transit (or “Light Metro”) – much like the Skytrain in Vancouver, the JFK Airtrain in New York and systems in Copenhagen, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, among many other cities. Firstly, I’ve decided to call the technology “Driverless Rapid Transit (DRT)” rather than Light Metro, because so many people seem to get DRT confused with light-rail, which are really two different technologies which do different things.
The key attributes of DRT are:
- it’s driverless
- it runs completely in its own right-of-way, which is fully grade separated
- the train technology allows for much steeper gradients and tighter curves than regular heavy rail
- the tracks are incompatible with typical heavy rail, and therefore freight
It was this last issue which raised a lot of interest in comment. How would the system work with freight? Could a freight train still get to the North Auckland Line (assuming it survives KiwiRail trying to kill it off in the next year or two)? Would you need additional tunnels and tracks? Would you need the Avondale-Southdown Line? All worthy questions that I’ll do my best to answer in this post.
Firstly, let’s remind ourselves of the system we’re talking about here. The blue line is either newly built DRT or existing rail tracks converted for DRT operation: I’ll overlay on this where I think we currently have freight movements on the network, or how we might operate freight trains in order to avoid that Westfield to Newmarket section of track we’ve turned into being exclusively for our DRT trains. The only bit of track we have to worry about here is between Parnell (where the blue line’s tunnel emerges and joins the existing network) and Newmarket, where the western line branches off. Of course there’s a fairly lengthy tunnel in this section (and an abandoned single-track tunnel next to it, which presents an opportunity worth exploring), but I think it’s reasonable to think that having a single track for freight as well as our two tracks for DRT is not impossible along this section.
Furthermore, in the longer run we could end up building the full Avondale-Southdown line, in which case we have a further route for freight: In either case I think we can retain the ability to operate freight trains around the rail network. So I don’t see that as too much of an issue.
Other comments questioned whether the operating costs savings of DRT were “worth the hassle”, as you’d need separate facilities for different types of trains and having two different networks would obviously create some complications that having everything in one network wouldn’t. I suppose there are two responses to this:
- As Nick noted in a comment (and he knows more about this stuff than me), staffing generally comprises around 60-70% of the operating costs for the rail network (on an electric system). Chopping out around two-thirds of your operating cost is just immense, especially when rail’s net subsidy is over $50 million a year (I think) and would potentially be much higher in the future with a much larger network. It’s worth noting that Sydney’s rail network requires a subsidy of around $A1.8 billion a year (though obviously a much larger network).
- Potentially one of the biggest savings from DRT is in the construction, with the much more forgiving requirements for grades and bends than you can get from conventional rail. With, using traditional heavy rail, North Shore Rail being around $2.5 billion and Airport Rail probably being at least $1 billion, having an option which doesn’t require so much grade separation, earthworks, tunnelling and so forth, could slice billions off the final construction cost of the two projects combined.
Perhaps the biggest question about this idea is how you would ever do the transition from normal rail operations along the southern line to the new system. I really have no idea but I presume it’s possible. But it’s the same issue we’ll face as if we ever get around to turning the Northern Busway into a railway line (of any kind).