‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol
Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.
It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.
We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:
1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?
People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.
Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.
2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.
However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.
This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.
3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).
There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic]. For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.
This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.
Same as it ever was.
Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work
The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s major public transport success story’s, helping ever increasing numbers of people get around the city while avoiding congestion. It’s been a key factor in seeing around 40% of people crossing the harbour bridge in the morning peak now doing so on a bus. And despite the busway itself opening in 2008, there’s been seeing a surge in usage over the last year or so which has coincided with the introduction of Double Decker buses – which are now standard on almost all Northern Express services.
Yet this success comes despite the busway only being about 7km long, just 41% of the distance between Albany and the city.
One important win that’s occurred in recent years is that the NZTA will extend the hugely successful Northern Busway all the way to Albany in the coming years – although it only comes alongside a massive motorway project. However, an article on Stuff raises concerns about an important aspect of those plans, that authorities can’t seem to agree on where to put a new station.
The exact location of a new bus station on Auckland’s North Shore will finally be decided in 2017.
First mooted in 2015, the bus station is part of a project to improve the Northern Busway and has received “overwhelming” public support.
But, after two years of investigation by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and Auckland Transport (AT), a precise site for the new station has still not been chosen.
The Northern Corridor Improvements project will see the Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station in Mairangi Bay all the way through to Albany Bus Station.
Original project plans proposed the new station at Rosedale, as part of the wide-ranging works.
However, the new bus station has been left out of plans that were lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in November.
NZTA’s Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon says the bus station is still being “actively investigated” and a final decision on the location will be made next year.
This is what the NZTA have said in relation to the busway in the past and it also hints at what some of the problem might be.
A station linked to Rosedale Rd makes a lot of sense, given there’s a decent little patch of employment within easy walking distance.
I suspect part of the problem of why it’s taking so long to make a decision might be hidden in the text from the NZTA, specifically:
Auckland Transport are also investigating a new bus station and Park & Ride options at Rosedale. It is envisaged that, like Smales Farm, this proposed station will be a destination station for the many people who work, go to school or attend sporting activities in Rosedale.
Destination stations are usually reserved for important locations such as large centres or interchanges, for example, New Lynn, Newmarket, Otahuhu, Panmure and of course, as mentioned in the text, Smales Farm. These stations are normally impressive but are both costly and/or where bus interchanges are concerned and they can consume significant amounts of land. This would be especially so if they also plan to include a park & ride. As such, it would be no surprise if we were to learn that cost of such a station, both monetarily and in land use, was a sticking point in the decision.
In my view a destination station is wrong for Rosedale and instead something more akin to the Sunnynook Busway Station, a fairly simple but efficient station, seems more appropriate. What’s more it could span Rosedale Rd to give easy access to footpaths on either side of the road and to bus stops for local bus services.
Let’s hope they can get the details of this busway station sorted soon so the NZTA don’t leave AT behind.
Auckland has no shortage of big road projects on the go at the moment but one of them that has at least improved a bit over the last few years has been the Northern Corridor Improvements project. This plans to convert the last remaining part of SH18 to full motorway standard with some direct motorway to motorway ramps to the north along with extra lanes. The improvement has come in the form of the NZTA now confirming that an extension of the Northern Busway will be part of the project. This a significant change as it had been specifically excluded by the government when the project was accelerated by the government in 2013 – which we understand was against the advice of the NZTA at the time.
The NZTA say the next stage of the project has now been approved which means they’ll be working towards getting consents before starting construction in 2018. As part of this they’ve now come out with an “Approved Draft Plan” which they say includes:
- A new direct motorway to motorway connection between SH18 and SH1, separating motorway traffic from local road traffic.
- Additional motorway lanes in both directions on the Northern Motorway (SH1) between Greville Road and Constellation Drive.
- Extension of the Northern Busway from Constellation Bus Station to Albany Bus Station. Auckland Transport is investigating a new bus station along the extension in the Rosedale area.
- A 5km dedicated shared walking and cycling path on the eastern side of the Northern Motorway (SH1), built alongside the new Busway extension and alongside Upper Harbour Highway (SH18) all the way to Albany Highway. A proposed new walking and cycling bridge across SH1 in Albany will connect Pinehill and East Coast Bays residents with Albany’s shopping, employment and university areas.
- Local road improvements through the Constellation Drive and Caribbean Drive intersections, and a new Paul Matthews Road bridge.
- Further investigation of a proposed bridge over SH18 to improve connections for the Unsworth Heights community
Here is the latest plan which also includes a few changes from the last time we saw the project almost a year ago. The main changes I can see compared to then are:
- They’ve now clarified the connections around Paul Matthews Rd
- They’ve dropped a big swooping on-ramp providing a direct connection from Albany Expressway to the motorway southbound.
- Previously buses would use the bridge at McClymonts Rd to access the busway station before looping back to the motorway via Oteha Valley Rd. Now a new busway bridge will be built directly across the motorway to the station.
- They’ve dropped a potential walking and cycling underpass from SH18 and seem to plan to include a connection as part of a new bridge extending Unsworth Dr
- Previously there was a ‘potential path still under investigation’ showing along SH18 including west of Albany Highway. They’ve confirmed the walking and cycling path as far as Albany Highway but not west of there. This is a shame as the motorway has a much nicer grade than using Upper Harbour Highway
On the busway they say in more detail
It’s now confirmed that the project will include an extension of the popular Northern Busway from Constellation Bus Station to Albany Bus Station. This means buses will be able to travel on a dedicated busway all the way to Albany, reducing travel times and improving public transport options. Auckland Transport is also investigating a new bus station and Park & Ride options in Rosedale along the new busway extension. As part of this, Auckland Transport will look at local road improvements and additional feeder services that could help transport people in and out of the station from the East Coast Bays, North Harbour, and Rosedale. Similar to Smales Farm, it is expected that this station will be a destination station for the many people who work, go to schools or attend sporting activities in the area. It will also provide another station to catch the Northern Express service to and from the city
As part of this final step before going to consenting they are giving people another chance to have a say on the project. Unfortunately, this post is too late for any of the open days but you can still email them or fill in their survey which is focused on a few specific issues like urban design, the new busway station, walking and cycling options and some other local road changes like the potential Unsworth Rd Bridge.
I’d like to see is the busway built first as it would have an added benefit of giving people options during the inevitable disruption that will occur during the construction of the motorway.
One aspect that the NZTA hasn’t talked about since the project was announced is the cost. Back then it was estimated at $450 million but that was without the busway.
The Additional Harbour Crossing as currently proposed is a pair of tunnels containing six traffic lanes between the motorway at Esmonde Rd rejoining it at Spaghetti Junction [The CMJ] in the city. The publicly available schemes also show additional rail tunnels between Akoranga and Wynyard Quarter, but no connecting network for any trains to actually use. It is clear to see the appeal for NZTA of straightening and simplifying SH1 past the bridge, but the outcomes for the city are much less certain. Below for example is version T1:
Clearly this or the other versions that date from 2010 are not the current versions NZTA are developing now, but until new versions are released these are still worth looking at in some detail as neither the various physical constraints or the overall aims that drive these options have changed. The options can be seen here.
Considering these there are several high altitude observations I think are important to begin with:
- This will be the most expensive urban transport project ever undertaken in NZ; claimed to be $4-$6 billion. Two to three times the cost of the CRL.
- Not least because of the massive cost it is extremely unlikely that both sets of tunnels and systems would be undertaken at the same time. They will be staged; one will precede the other.
- The road scheme is essentially a SH1 bridge bypass, and therefore optimises through traffic, however it does not make any new connection that is not currently available nor in fact any increase in capacity on SH1.
- There is little spare capacity in the CMJ for additional vehicles so the new connection will remain the current three lanes north and a reduction from four to three lanes south.
- Essentially the bridge becomes a massive on/off ramp for city traffic and unless and until the rail tunnels and line are built more buses on bus lanes across the bridge will be the PT part of the project.
Here’s the set of variations currently available for the city end, all versions involve four tunnels under Victoria Park [3 new ones]:
All schemes also involve massive new interchanges on new reclamations at the North Shore end with flyovers and multiple connections between crossings, not unlike the new interchange at Waterview currently being built. Like the outcomes for traffic on North Shore local roads, the impacts of this project will be neither small nor all positive north of the bridge. However for this post I just want to focus on the city-side implications.
Assuming the road crossing is built first, which is consistent with assertions by politicians and officials with phrases like it will be ‘future proofed for rail’, as well as the lack of any real work yet on a rail crossing, it is worth asking exactly where will the new traffic enabled by the extra capacity across the harbour go once in the city?
Because the new crossing plugs directly into the CMJ, three lanes in and three lanes out, and because there are no planned increases in capacity through the CMJ, nor any space for any without further massive tunnelling, in effect the new capacity will be all on the bridge, so coming from the Shore this new traffic will all have to be accommodated by just three off ramps [same in reverse heading north]:
- Cook St; with new direct connections through Victoria Park
- Fanshawe St, especially for buses on new bus lanes
- Shelly Beach Rd, and then on to Jervois and Ponsonby Rds.
None of these exits can accommodate any increasing in traffic well, or without considerable disbenefit, especially if that increase in traffic is large.
- Cook St is pointed directly at the heart of the city, so this contradicts policy of reducing vehicle volumes in the city centre and is likely to infarct daily at the peaks as Cook St is close and perpendicular to Hobson and Nelson Sts which serve the Southern and Northwestern motorway flows. Gridlock is likely at the controlled intersections unable to handle large and peaky traffic volumes to and from these motorways. Additionally land use in this area is changing and intensifying making it even less suitable for the high speed motorway offramp it already hosts.
- Fanshawe will have reduced capacity for general traffic as a multilane Busway will be required to take the increased bus volumes from the bridge, and anyway is already at capacity at the peaks.
- Shelly Beach Rd is a narrow residential street not suited to the high volumes and high speeds it already suffers from the bridge now. Furthermore there is no benefit and little capacity for the streets beyond Shelly Beach Rd, particularly Jervois and Ponsonby Rds for a large increase in vehicle volumes.
Nonetheless, here are the forecasts they have come up with, Shelly Beach Rd with a 63% increase, is basically filled with bridge traffic by 2026 and the new crossing:
20,300 additional cars modelled for Fanshawe + Cook St with the AWHC option (assume that is all day on a weekday?). Even at the best sorts of turnover that would require around 10,000+ new carpark places. The downtown carpark has 1890 spaces. So where exactly do we put six new downtown carpark buildings? And what six streets get sacrificed to feed them?
20,300 cars carry perhaps 25,000 people. The CRL at capacity will carry that entire amount in 40 minutes. As could a North Shore rail line of similar specification. If the net outcome of this project is to take 20,000 commuters to midtown, why not do it with rapid transit at a third the cost with none of the traffic congestion?
“The significant increase in traffic movements conflict with many of the aspirations outlined in current Council policies, strategies, frameworks and master plans.”
–P 65 Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Network Plan, NZTA, 2010.
Obviously these higher traffic volumes are not good for every pedestrian, resident, and general city user in these areas but there is one other group that this situation in particular is going to make miserable, and that’s the motorist. There is a word for all this additional driving everywhere on city streets: congestion. Yup this increase in capacity across the harbour may speed that part of the journey but it’s going to make arriving anywhere in the city in your car much more hellish than it is now. And don’t even think about finding or affording somewhere to park.
What NZTA’s consultants say about this:
The increased traffic flows through St Marys Bay on both Shelley Beach rd and Curran St look to lead to particularly poor and unfixable outcomes:
It seems optimistic to say that because there are cafes, and strongly increasing pedestrian volumes, on Ponsonby Rd, that drivers won’t try to drive there, especially if other bridge exits are controlled or too busy. After all the first rule of urban traffic is that it will expand to wherever it is allowed to go. So, in the end, taking measures to dis-incentivise drivers to use these exits, is the consultant’s advice:
It does seem kind of odd to spend $4-6 billion to increase capacity across the harbour only to then introduce other measures to try to stop people using it.
And it won’t be just parking, there’s also likely to be tolls, it appears the model says they can pretty much eliminate the traffic problem with an $8 toll!:
If only there was a way to enable more trips without inducing more and more cars to also be driven into the crowded city streets. After all the City Centre has been growing strongly without adding more cars most of this century:
In fact it looks like we are already at or even above the limit of desirable vehicle numbers in the city, and future developments like replacing car access to Queen St with Light Rail are likely to make even current numbers face pressure.
Additionally there is an issue with bus volumes as well as car numbers on the city streets, even though the New Bus Network, the CRL, and Light Rail, if it happens, will reduce bus numbers from other parts of the city, there is certainly a limit to the numbers of buses from the Shore that can be comfortably accommodated too. Below is the predicted year of maximum bus capacity at major entry points to the city. The role of the CRL in reducing bus number pressure from the Isthmus is obvious, so why not do the same thing for buses from the Shore?
So perhaps the answer is to reverse the assumed staging and build the rail Rapid Transit tunnels first, leaving space for the road crossing to come later. This certainly looks physically possible in the maps above. This would enable all of those possible trips across the Harbour that NZTA identifies to still be served but without any of the traffic disbenefits that so clearly dog the road only crossing. In terms of people capacity two rail tracks can carry twice the volume of six traffic lanes. Furthermore it can be built without disturbing the current crossing and its connections. And rail crossings have proven in the past to be good alternative routes in an emergency.
This would add the real resilience of a whole other high capacity mode across the Harbour instead of simply more of the same. It would make our Harbour infrastructure more closely resemble Sydney’s where most of the heavy lifting in terms of people numbers is done by Rapid Transit, as shown below. We already have ferries, buses, and cars bringing people across, isn’t it time we added the particular efficiency of electric rail?
It seems particularly clear that whatever we add next really can’t involve trying to shove ever more vehicles [cars and buses] onto our crowded city streets; that will simple hold everyone up.
All the information above was gleaned from the work done some six years ago for NZTA, from here, and Auckland has moved on a great deal from where it was then. Among other things that have been proven recently is that when we are offered a high quality rail system we will use it. We are also discovering the value of our City Centre as a place to live, and work, and just be in, and how this is only possible to continue this improvement with fewer cars on every street. We certainly believe that there are more options for a far greater Auckland than the simple binary ones studied above: the road crossing ‘future proofed’ for rail, or the ‘Do Minimum’ which is nothing.
So we have asked, as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process, for a Rapid Transit crossing as the next additional crossing to be modelled too. So we can compare the status quo with the road crossing, and with a Rapid Transit crossing separately. Additionally we know that AT are now working on how various rail systems could work so in time there will be properly developed rail options to compare with the road one.
There is time as well as the need to get this right, the Western Ring Route will begin to become more complete next year with the opening of the Waterview tunnels, and that whole multi billion dollar system is of course an alternative harbour crossing system and will alter both the performance of both the Bridge and the CMJ. Similarly decisions about AT’s proposed LRT system too has a bearing on options, as will the opening of the CRL next decade. Not least because the addition of these high quality systems will make movement through the city without a car much more common, as is the case in many overseas cities of Auckland’s size and quality.
The road crossing looks very much like an extremely expensive ‘nice to have’, that duplicates and tidies up the State Highway route, something to add when the missing alternatives have been built and there is spare budget to spend on duplication. Because on balance the road first additional crossing proposal really achieves little more than this:
Last week Patrick posted the latest set of results of rail station data. We’ve long wanted to also see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and it’s fascinating, especially when compared alongside the rail station results.
Many people only associate the busway with the Northern Express however it is actually used by quite a number of services for part of their route, for example the popular 881 which travels from Torbay Bay and the city, joining the busway at Albany. If you are catching a bus to/from a busway station, then integrated ticketing makes it easier than ever to catch whatever bus turns up next but also means that when considering busway station usage you have to take into account more than just the Northern Express service.
The data Auckland Transport have provided is for the 2015 calendar year and shows the number of people boarding or alighting at any of the busway stations along with where they came from or went to. For trips where the origin or destination was outside of one of the busway stations they have broken the results down by broad geographic area. For example, someone catching the 881 at Torbay and getting off at Smales Farm would be counted as Boarding in the North Shore and alighting at Smales Farm. Crucially though this omits another important group of busway users, those that board and alight outside of the busway but whose trips benefit from the busway e.g. the people who board the 881 at Torbay and alight in the city.
Unlike the rail network we don’t have any information on how this has been changing over time but it’s good to finally have some results. Here are some thoughts I’ve had looking at the data.
- Usage of the busway stations is very strong and stronger the further you get from the city. I wonder how much this is a reflection of the very high peak frequencies provided and how much of it is due to the busway being very competitive in terms of travel times, often twice as fast as driving.
- Usage of Albany are huge and even larger than Newmarket making it the second busiest Rapid Transit station in Auckland which is impressive considering the busway itself stops at Constellation Dr. To me the numbers once again highlight just how important it is that the Northern Busway is extended at least as far as Albany.
- Constellation Station is also very strong and it is the fourth busiest Rapid Transit station, significantly ahead of New Lynn.
- Smales Farm ranks at 10th overall, another impressive result and one that I suspect will grow strongly as the area is further developed.
- Sunnynook gets very impressive results for what is by in large a walk up station. It ranks 16th overall and is only slightly below Henderson.
- Even Akoranga which is largely an isolated island (with the exception of the nearby AUT Campus) does better than most of our rail stations.
I think it also highlights that we probably need to rethink how we count trips in Auckland. While many of the rail stations such as New Lynn and Panmure have strong patronage we only count rail trips from the station. Perhaps we should also be counting those arriving or departing by bus to give a more complete picture of how these stations are performing. For the busway it would also be interesting to know just how many people travelled over it i.e. the ones who caught the 881 from Torbay to the City.
Lastly it’s interesting to think of the impact that park & ride has on patronage. Many people suggest that it is key to getting a lot more people to use public transport. On the busway only Albany (1,100 spaces) and Constellation (450 spaces) have park & ride. They do get some use on weekends but primarily it is on weekdays that they fill up. Even every space was being used every day for a trip (including weekends and public holidays) it would account for less than half of the boardings at each station (402k at Albany or 43% and 164k at Constellation or 22%)
Overall some very solid numbers from the Northern Busway Stations and ones we can now start tracking to see the change over time, like we’ve done with the rail station figures.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
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.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
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.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
Thoughts of Sydney are inseparable from images of its harbour:
It’s naturally beautiful, but also much of what has been added around the harbour increases its appeal, particularly the Opera House and the Bridge:
The bridge is not only beautiful, and massively over-engineered, but also is an impressive multitasker; trains, buses, general traffic, pedestrians, people on bikes. All catered for.
Despite that when looking at the bridge its mostly covered with cars in terms of moving people the general traffic lanes are the least impressive of the three main modes, as shown below in the am peak hour:
It is its multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
The Bridge has always been impressively multi-modal as the first toll tariff shows, and it carried trains and trams from the start:
In 1992 it was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The evidence from Sydney shows that what we need to add next are the missing high capacity modes. And that we clearly aren’t using the existing bridge well enough. Our bridge was never designed to carry trains, but it does carry buses, and currently these could be given the opportunity to carry even more people more efficiently. And that very opportunity is just around the corner. In 2017 or maybe even next year the alternative Western Ring Route opens, described by NZTA like this:
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.
Excellent, always great to invest in systems that take unnecessary traffic away. And there is no better way to achieve this than to make the alternatives to driving so much quicker and more reliable with dedicated right-of-ways. Here is the perfect opportunity to achieve that, the opening of the WRR should be paralleled by the addition of bus lanes right across the Bridge in order to lift its overall capacity. And at the same time perhaps truck priority lanes on the sturdier central lanes should also be considered, so the most important roles of highways, moving people and freight efficiently, can be more certainly achieved. Although the need for that depends on exactly how much freight traffic shifts to the new route [as well as the rail line and trans-shipping via Northland’s new cranes: ‘New crane means fewer trucks on the highway’]. Outside of the temporary blip caused by the building of Puhoi to Warkworth [much which will be able to use the WRR] heavy traffic growth on the bridge looks like it is predominantly buses.
Meanwhile our transport agencies should be planning the next new crossing as the missing and much more efficient Rapid Transit route. Cheaper narrower tunnels to finally bring rail to the Shore; twin tracks that have the people moving capacity of 12 motorway lanes. Here: Light Rail or super efficient driverless Light Metro are clearly both great options that should be explored:
But before all of this there are of course those two much more humble modes that can add their invigorating contribution to the utility of the Bridge, walking and cycling, Skypath:
The famous cycle steps on the northern side, there are around 2000 bike trips a day over the bridge [despite the steps]:
And there they were right at the beginning:
First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.
A few weeks ago we learned that an extension to the Northern Busway was back on the cards following the last round of consultation on what the NZTA call the Northern Corridor Improvements Project. This main part of this project involves turning the section of SH18 east of Albany Highway into a full motorway and giving it a motorway to motorway connection to SH1 plus upgrading the Greville Rd interchange. Extending the busway is critically important and I hope it could be built at least at the same time as the other works, if not in advance of them. What I wanted to look at with this post are some of the other changes proposed.
The first thing that strikes me is that if the NZTA and AT actually built all of the components mentioned at about the same time then this project could actually end up being one of the more multi-modal projects in Auckland. This is significant as many projects claim to be multi-modal but most just put token efforts into improving the situation for PT and active modes.
The key part of the project will be the motorway works which will be the upgrading to SH18 and the interchange however as you can also see it involves adding extra lanes to this section of motorway pushing it to four way. Overall it seems like they’ve gone with concept 2 which is a vast improvement from concepts 3 and 4 which were shown back in November. For the busway they went with concept 1 of keeping it on the eastern side and only crossing over at McClymonts Rd. Given that they appear to be thinking of building a dedicated on-ramp from Albany Highway I thought they might have integrated the busway with that to get it to the Western side.
How the NZTA deal with the local roads in the area such as Paul Matthews Rd is still under consideration. They say there are two general options, a bridge with an underpass or an underpass with intersections. These are best shown in the image below.
I like how they make the motorway to motorway ramps look small when in reality they’ll look a lot more like the monstrosities at Waterview towering over the local community. It will be interesting to see how the local community from about this.
Along with the busway extension one new feature that hasn’t been talked about much is the proposed walking and cycling which will go alongside the the busway. The NZTA are also looking at a cycleway along SH18 at least as far as Albany Highway and CAA say that this is shown as a dotted line as it is currently falls outside the existing road designations. I also like that they highlight the plans for the rest of the local network although some of the “existing facilities” are probably a bit of a joke given what we’ve built in the past.
Given the NZTA say they are looking at is the potential for a new busway station in the Rosedale/Lower Albany area, some more improvements to the cycle facilities on surrounding roads such as Rosedale Rd could make this a popular station to bike to.
The NZTA are consulting the public on their latest set of plans and the first event is tomorrow. The dates and times are below.
- Westfield Albany – Sat 5 Sept and Sun 6 Sept, centre court location, all day
- Local businesses’ coffee drop in session – Tues 8 Sept, 7.30-8.30am, Café Noir, 7A Triton Drive, Rosedale
- Local businesses’ coffee drop in session – Weds 9 Sept, 7.30-8.30am, North Shore Cosmopolitan Club, 65 Paul Matthews Road, Albany
- Unsworth Heights community event – Fri 11 Sept, 2pm-6pm, Meadowood Community Centre, 55 Meadowood Drive.
- North Harbour Business Association Expo – Thurs 17 Sept, QBE Stadium (stand 80)
Feedback this round of consultation closes on Friday 18 September.
Below is a different look at the busway extension. One area to submit on will be to push for this and the walking & cycling path to be completed ahead of the motorway works. That would then give people from north of Constellation an option to avoid any motorway congestion as a result of widening and interchange works while benefiting those already using the bus with a faster and more reliable journey.
We were rightly dismayed when the previous Transport Minister vetoed the desperately needed extension of the famously successful Northern Busway as part of the big spend up on SH1 on the North Shore. We suspect NZTA were too, as they know that the Busway the single most effective tool for reducing congestion and increasing access and human happiness for the travelling public on this route. And is a vital part of the booming Rapid Transit Network. Additionally this extension surely also helps streamline the general traffic lane design through the SH1/SH18 intersection and beyond. NZTA must be keen to not have to factor in growing numbers of merging buses from shoulder lanes etc.
So we are very pleased to find that the agency has found a way to return this logical part of the project to the programme and out of the shadow of ministerial whim [presumably the change of Minister helped?]:
Here is the full document.
Bus users report that their journeys between Constellation and Albany Stations can currently take up a disproportionately large amount of the total trip because of the absence of any Transit right of way; the buses of course are not only themselves delayed but are also delaying other road users here.
The extension will not be a minor structure but as it adjacent to commercial properties it is hard to see how the usual forces of compliant will be able get much traction against it, but it will still need public support at the consultation phase, so Busway users, let yourselves be heard.
We understand the current Busway is built to a standard to enable upgrading to rail systems, we would expect this standard to be continued on this extension, as this does look like the most logical way to next cross the Waitemata Harbour.
Finally, because this is a) spending on the Shore b) not ratepayers funds, and c) not spending on a train or a bike, even the venerable George Wood will be in favour of the proposed extension.
We are all having quite a bit of trouble taking all the transport institutions seriously over RTN designations and intentions. The failure for any action to have been taken over a route through Mangere and the Airport over the last decade, and the constant reductions of any available space for a rail ROW there, or at least one not prohibitively expensive, make all the assurances we hear increasingly hard to believe.
Now we are expected to have no concerns at all about a process which shows every sign of just being another massive state highway with a little pretend drawing of a train in the sump of a massive road tunnel.
Tommy Parker confirmed today that buses on the bridge are to be the RTN solution, ie what there is now.
Our view is that this puts the cart before the horse. NZTA should not be starting with a solution without any clear description of the problem. We do not see why it needs a designation over a stretch of water to analyse what may be missing across here. Although it is not the designation that is the problem, but the lack of a needs focused, creative, and open minded analysis that troubles us.
As to us it is clear that what is missing from the existing bridges is a real RTN route [assuming SkyPath happens]. Therefore we expect to see real exploration of what delivering rail only tunnels [or bridge] would do to shape demand here. A rail system would certainly be higher capacity than road tunnels, and, well planned, would also likely be much cheaper and stageable. Adjacent rail systems do add resilience as the TransBay Tunnels did in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco. And not do have all of the disbenefits of the massive increase in vehicle numbers throughout the whole city [congestion!] that more traffic lanes will.
We know than any additional road capacity here would be a total disaster for the city, which we are currently de-carring, and the CMJ which is already full, and the North Shore local roads. We also know, and NZTA almost brags about this [see below], the main outcome would be a traffic inducement on a massive scale:
This is ‘decide and provide’ in a bad way, a huge programme of traffic creation; $6 Billion to get people out of buses and into the driver’s seat. What ever we build across this route will be used; what an amazing opportunity to choose to shape both demand and the city in a wholly positive way.
However the fact that NZTA is not currently allowed to spend on rail capex, and anyway really is mainly a State Highway provider and then is not calling for any outside expertise to explore rail systems is also not encouraging:
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
We would like to meet with NZTA at the highest level to discuss this further.
We are extremely concerned that institutional momentum is building for a very very poor outcome for the city and country and are determined to improve this process.
We look forward to your reply,