The strange side effects of parking subsidies

Parking policies are frequently bizarre. Parking is, after all, a private good – it is both rivalrous (two cars can’t park in the same space at the same time) and excludable (if you don’t want someone parking in your space, you can keep them out). In that respect, it is more like a refrigerator than a public park.

But unlike a refrigerator, there are all sorts of public subsidies and regulations affecting parking. Although refrigerators are arguably more of a necessity of life than parking, councils don’t impose minimum refrigerator requirement for homes and offices. Central government doesn’t provide a tax subsidy for employer-provided refrigerators. And councils don’t invest in (or subsidise) public refrigeration facilities.

And if they did, it would almost certainly result in some perverse outcomes.

A recent NZ Herald story provided an example of how parking subsidies can lead to odd outcomes. (It was also a fine example of meaningless “gotcha” journalism, but never mind that!)

They are the crack team of economic and planning experts charged with sorting Auckland’s future growth.

But a member of the Unitary Plan independent hearings panel has fallen foul of the city – after sneakily parking a jetski in a central city council carpark for almost a month.

The mystery jetski appeared three to four weeks ago, taking up a Queen St park reserved for the panel listening to submissions on the future of the city.

Here’s the jetski in question:

IHP jetski

The article implies that the panel member in question is rorting the system or acting unethically by using their employer-provided carpark to store a jetski. But, if you think about it, it’s actually a good illustration of the poor logic behind many existing parking subsidies.

Let’s back up a step: what subsidies are we talking about, exactly?

In the Auckland city centre, carparks have a market value, which is a good thing. The removal of minimum parking requirements in the 1990s led to an increase in the price of parking – and also to increased development as new buildings weren’t encumbered by the need to provide unnecessary but costly carparks. At present, Auckland Transport is leasing downtown carparks for between $110 to $490 a month – although the cheapest ones are fully sold out. Private operators seem to be supplying them at around $250-$300 per month.

So an employer-provided carpark in the city centre is likely to be worth somewhere in the range of $3000-$6000 per annum. Because fringe benefit tax isn’t levied on carparks, this is worth the equivalent of $4500-$9000 in salary for people paying the top marginal tax rate (33%). (As the panel members probably do.)

That’s a large public subsidy for a small bit of concrete!

In theory, the rationale for the tax subsidy on employer-provided carparks is that it makes it less costly for people to commute to work, and hence encourages people to enter the workforce. But the panel member’s jetski illustrates the absurdity of that approach.

For one thing, people have (or should have) a range of choices about how to commute. Some prefer to drive. Others may take the bus, train, or ferry, or walk or cycle to work. Consequently, a significant share of commuting trips don’t end in a carpark. Based on Census data, around half of the people working in the city centre in 2013 didn’t drive to work. A bit over one in four workers throughout Auckland didn’t drive to work.

Census journey to work Auckland mode share chart

Consequently, trying to subsidise commuting by subsidising parking is likely to be a distortionary and inefficient policy. Some people will change transport modes in response to cheaper parking, resulting in additional road congestion in peak periods. Others will be left with a subsidised parking space that isn’t much use to them.

The panel member who used their parking space to store a jetski probably falls into the latter category. They might walk to work, or take the bus or train. This leaves them with a bit of costly concrete that they don’t need to store a car – so why not use it to store another vehicle instead? I can’t blame them for that.

The jetski has apparently been removed from the parking space, but the policy distortions that led to it being there in the first place remain. So what could we do about that?

The key is to realise that our ultimate aim is to enable mobility, not to simply provide carparks, and make policy accordingly.

For some people, mobility means a monthly public transport pass, or a bicycle and access to a shower at work. But current fringe benefit tax policies discourage employers from offering those solutions to their employees – an employer-provided PT pass would be taxed as regular income, while a carpark is exempt from tax. We need to level the playing field.

The best way of doing so is by removing the fringe benefit tax exemption for carparks, but if that’s not political possible then a good alternative would be to exempt PT passes from FBT, as the Green Party has proposed.

Another alternative would be to offer people the option to “cash out” employer-provided carparks. It’s especially bizarre that employers aren’t required to offer this choice, as the current government changed employment law to allow people to exchange one week of annual holiday for the equivalent in cash. Why not adopt the same approach for carparks, which could easily be worth more than holiday pay for many workers?

Lastly, we also need to make some choices beyond how we price and subsidise parking. Getting a great range of transport choices will often require us to use existing road space differently. Sometimes the only way to get a dedicated bus lane or a safe, separated cycle lane is to remove a few on-street carparks. We need to look at those choices in a holistic way – i.e. do they improve overall mobility and access to destinations – rather than simply insisting that all carparks must stay in place.

How do you think we should address parking subsidies?

Apartments and housing affordability

The NZ Herald’s been running a series on Auckland’s housing affordability crisis. The articles thus far have ranged from thoughtful and thought-provoking to downright imbecilic – such as a mortgage broker’s suggestion that young people could afford homes if they gave up their Sky subscription. I think there’s a Tui ad for that.

One of the best bits, however, is the interactive map of housing affordability that data journalist Caleb Tutty put together. Here it is in animated gif form:

The map shows the share of properties sold within each suburb over the last year that you’d be able to afford, depending upon how much of a deposit you’d saved up.

For example, here’s what the affordability map looks like if you have $100,000 in the bank. Under current bank lending policies you can borrow 80% of the house value, meaning that your deposit will buy you a half-million dollar house. Observe how the vast majority of the city is coloured red, indicating that the majority of properties would be beyond your reach.

NZH home affordability map $100k deposit

Incidentally, a $100,000 deposit is a prohibitively large sum for most young Aucklanders. According to Stats NZ data on incomes, in 2015 the median pre-tax weekly income for Aucklanders in their late 20s (25-29) was $729, or around $38,000 a year. Income taxes take about $5,700 of that sum, leaving $32,300 to provide for the necessities and save for a deposit. (On average, people in their early 30s earn a bit more – $901 per week – but that doesn’t close the gap.)

Consequently, the average young Aucklander would have to save something like one-third of their after-tax income for ten years in order to afford a deposit on a half-million dollar home. So in other words, if you’re young, you’re probably screwed no matter how thrifty or prudent you are… unless your parents are wealthy and generous.

However, there are some tentative bright spots in this rather disheartening picture. To illustrate, I’ve reduced the deposit to $70,000, which is still pretty onerous but not impossible for young people. That would allow you to buy a home worth $350,000. Here’s the map. Now the entire city is shaded a deeply unaffordable red. You can hardly buy anything anywhere. The isthmus is red. The North Shore is red. The Waitakeres are red. Manukau is red. You can’t even afford to live in Otara or Manurewa.

NZH home affordability map $70k deposit

But if you zoom in closer, you’ll notice that there is still a solitary green patch of affordability in the middle. The majority of apartment sales in the city centre are still in your price range! You can afford 55% of the properties sold in the city centre or in neighbouring Grafton. (Manukau central is the next most affordable place – just under half of the dwellings sold there are cheaper than $350,000. But there are fewer homes there.)

NZH home affordability map city centre

Prices in the city centre aren’t necessarily cheap in an absolute sense – but it nonetheless offers many more options for a young buyer seeking to buy a starter home than anywhere else in Auckland.

Why is this?

It’s not because demand to live in the city centre is low. Its residential population has quadrupled since 2001 – a rate of increase that far outstrips the rest of the city. Today, there are more people living in the Auckland city centre than there are in Whanganui.

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

What sets the city centre apart isn’t low demand but high supply responsiveness: the city centre has stayed affordable because lot of apartments have been built there. This includes a mix of expensive apartments and small, affordable apartments to meet a range of different demands for space. Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry is moving into a luxury apartment in the Viaduct Harbour, while there are many students on low incomes living a bit further up the hill.

These maps show one simple thing: Building lots of apartments works. The one place in the city where we’ve allowed it to happen – the city centre – is now the most affordable place in the city.

There’s nothing that special about the city centre. It’s hardly the only place in the city where it’s physically possible or commercially feasible to build apartments. We could allow the same thing to happen in a lot of places, and reap the benefits.

This doesn’t mean a high-rise building on every street. It’s possible to build lots of apartments while keeping building heights to a quite human scale – three to seven storeys, say. This is the model that’s worked well in a lot of European cities. Like this new neighbourhood in Freiburg, Germany:

Source: Celsias

Source: Celsias

It’s also a model that allowed fast-growing New World cities to develop and prosper a century ago – as this excellent article from Bike Portland points out. This is the type of building that we used to build:

So what’s the holdup?

Let’s ban everything dangerous, like walking

This week, the Herald on Sunday published an article calling out a dangerous new practice: walking under the influence of a smartphone. According to them, careless walking causes literally dozens of injuries a year and should possibly be criminalised:

Now legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would slap a US$50 ($72) fine and possible jail time on pedestrians caught using phones while they cross. And in the German city of Augsburg, traffic lights have been embedded in the pavement – so people looking down at their phones will see them.

The Herald on Sunday carried out an unscientific experiment at the busy intersection of Victoria and Queen Sts in central Auckland during the lunchtime rush to discover the scale of the problem here. Observing one of the corners, between 1pm and 1.30pm, we spotted 39 people using their cellphones while crossing.

Some people looked up briefly while crossing. Others kept their heads down, oblivious to what was going on around them.

In the past 10 years, the Accident Compensation Corporation has paid out more than $150,000 for texting-related injuries to a total of 272 Kiwis.

About 90 per cent of injuries were a result of people tripping, falling or walking into things while texting.

Incidentally, I have to admit some guilt here. While I don’t usually walk under the influence of a smartphone, I will often walk around reading a book – a habit I picked up during university. In over a decade of distracted walking, I’ve never fallen over, walked into anything, walked in front of a car, or walked into anybody else.

Anyway.

Let’s take the Herald’s suggestions seriously, and ask whether there is a case to ban other activities that risk injury to participants. Their threshold for “enough harm to consider regulation” appears to be around 27 injuries a year costing ACC at least $15,000.

What else fails that test?

I went to ACC’s injury statistics tool to get a sense. Helpfully, they break out injury claims (and the cost thereof) by cause, activity, and a range of other characteristics.

Here’s a table summarising some of the sports that should be considered for a ban. Rugby and league are obvious candidates, of course, as they result in tens of thousands of claims every year and a total cost in the tens of millions. But would you have suspected that humble, harmless lawn bowls was so hazardous? The sport of septuagenarians injures over 1,000 people a year and costs ACC $1m. Likewise with dancing, golf, and fishing. They’re all too dangerous to be allowed. It’s a miracle that we’ve survived this long with all of this harmful physical activity occurring.

Sport Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Rugby union 56,842 $65.4m
Rugby league 12,556 $15.3m
Lawn bowls 1,134 $1.0m
Dancing 6,972 $5.1m
Golf 5,797 $4.5m
Fishing 2,431 $3.2m

But it doesn’t stop with sports. Your home is full of seemingly innocuous items that are eager to kill or maim you. Your stove, for example. Boiling liquids cause almost 5,000 injuries a year, costing ACC $1.9 million. We should definitely ban home cooking. Leave it to the professionals, for pity’s sake! Lifting and carrying objects at home is even more dangerous – over 100,000 claims a year. So don’t pick up that tea-tray or box of knick-knacks: call in someone who’s suitably qualified for handling such dangerous objects.

And let’s not even mention the toll taken by falls, except to strenuously argue for a ban on showers, bathroom tiles, and private ownership of ladders.

Cause of accident Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Boiling liquids (at home) 4,680 $1.9m
Lifting / carrying objects (at home) 103,798 $95.1m
Falls (at home) 310,292 $323.4m
Driving-related accidents (on roads/streets) 13,322 $173.2m

Finally, it’s important to remember an important bit of context that the Herald doesn’t mention: Distracted walking is a far, far lesser danger than driving cars (distracted or not). In the average year, ACC receives 13,300 claims for driving-related accidents and pays out a total of $173 million for people who have been injured or killed. That far, far exceeds the injury toll associated with texting while walking.

On the whole, you’re more likely to be killed or injured while in a car than you are while walking. This chart, taken from a Ministry of Transport report on “risk on the road”, shows deaths or injuries in motor vehicle crashes per million hours spent travelling. Drivers experience 8 deaths/injuries per million hours. The two safest modes are walking (4.6 deaths/injuries per million hours) and public transport (0.7).

Because different travel modes are substitutes, measures to discourage walking – i.e. by penalising people who combine walking with smartphone use – may have the unintended consequence of killing or injuring more people.

MoT risk on the road chart

[As an aside, this chart presents a somewhat misleading picture of cycle safety. People on bicycles experience 31 deaths or injuries per million hours – considerably higher than driving. However, drivers, not cyclists, are at fault in the majority of cycle crashes. According to another recent MoT report, cyclists were primarily responsible for only 22% of crashes. Drivers were partially or fully at fault in the remaining 78% of crashes.

MoT cycle crash fault chart

Consequently, if we provided safe cycle infrastructure that kept people on bikes away from people in cars, cycling would get a lot safer. If we could completely eliminate the risk of people on bikes being hit by cars, cycling would be about as safe as driving.]

To conclude, there are two things that the statistics teach us.

The first is that although injuries and ACC claims are bad, it’s essential to put risks in perspective. And the relevant perspective is this: Walking is a safe mode of travel. It’s remained safe in spite of the invention of the smartphone and the existence of hoons like me who walk around with their nose in a book.

It’s always worth looking for effective ways to improve safety. That’s why Transportblog’s advocated for safe, separated cycleways, and also why it’s taken a positive view on cost-effective investments to improve road safety, like the recent announcement of safety improvements to SH2. But it’s also important to remember that the best way to improve safety is to make it easier to travel in comparatively safe ways. Like walking and public transport.

The second lesson is that there are many activities that can injure us, from rugby to lawn bowls to cooking. Walking while texting is a recent invention, so it may seem newsworthy. But it’s only one of the many hazards that people choose to expose themselves to. If you’re not living in a padded room, you’re probably risking your life in some way or another.

As humans, we’re very prone to focus on risks from new activities while ignoring the effects of things that are already common. Status quo bias is a very real thing – and it doesn’t just apply to transport reporting. It’s the reason why people can, say, oppose new three-storey apartment buildings while being perfectly comfortable with the three-storey houses next door to them.

What risks do you think we should pay more (or less) attention to?

Herald finds Aucklanders like bikes

It was wonderful to wake up on a Saturday morning to such a positive article on cycling in Auckland, and in the herald no less – although unfortunately the amounts talked about are wrong.

Eventually, Aucklanders will be able to cycle from one side of the city to the other on an intricate labyrinth of bike lanes which weave through suburbs, past beaches and over gullies.

More than $20 million has been allocated to building key sections of the network over the next three years with routes open to public feedback and others set to be opened later this year.

The projects under consultation at the moment are the 3km Seapath from Esmonde Rd in Takapuna to Northcote Pt, routes through Grey Lynn out to New Lynn and from the CBD to Glen Innes.

These sections are links to key transport projects and part of the Urban Cycle Programme which will be delivered by 2018.

It seems the Herald missed out a zero in their figures as the actual amount being spend is around $200 million. But perhaps in this case getting the amount wrong means it won’t rile up the anti-bike types quite as much.Auckland Cycleways 2015-18

The great news though is that already the new routes are being used more than planned, something we’ve talked about before.

Walking and cycling manager for Auckland Transport Kathryn King said these projects have been developed because research shows they’ll have the greatest benefit, as coming into the city for work or study is usually people’s most frequent journey.

The new cycle paths have been more successful than Auckland Transport was hoping – 30 per cent of those using the Grafton Gully cycleway are new to cycling who were encouraged by all the new infrastructure.

The Nelson St corridor averages about 1000 trips a day and the Lightpath, the magenta-coloured Nelson St off-ramp, which includes a string of interactive lights along one side, is set to have its 100,000th journey at the start of next month.

“It shows that we’re starting to build the right stuff to get people out and cycling.”

Equally positive is the support coming from Transport Minister Simon Bridges.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the investment is so large because they wanted to “really do something special” and it’s “what Auckland really wants”.

“Besides the economic and the tourism benefits, it’s the sense of excitement and buzz [the network] creates for a city.”

Before construction of the current cycle lanes, Mr Bridges said people questioned whether they would actually be used. However, the uptake had been so positive it was hard to argue that Aucklanders don’t cycle.

“If I was a businessman and not a politician, I would be thinking very seriously about getting a ride-sharing and cycle rental business going in the heart of Auckland because it seems to me that it’s going to take off.”

And he even does a good job highlighting one of the benefits of investing in quality cycle networks, the same also applies to good public transport projects like the CRL too,

And for all the motorists who want cyclists to “get off the road”, the cycle network is doing just that, Mr Bridges said. Eventually, only small sections of the labyrinth will require cyclists to share the road with motorists.

Bridges might be the most supportive Transport Minister we’ve had so far and is definitely a far cry from his counterpart on the island to the west in New South Wales. Of course if he did try to set up a ride-sharing and cycle business he might run into the same problems that nextbike have had which I understand relates to Auckland Transport not being supportive of bike-share bikes in cycle racks around the city. As the city’s cycle networks continue to improve I think the bike-sharing gap is only going to look like a bigger and bigger hole.

Also interesting is seeing an alternative metric, this time from TradeMe

TradeMe spokesman Logan Mudge said they’d seen the number of cycling listings increase by more than 35 per cent between 2014 and 2015 across the country.

And in the year to February, there was a 16.5 per cent increase in the number of items sold in the cycling category while the average sale prices ticked up 4 per cent.

All up a pretty good article and it shows just how the conversation is changing quite rapidly.

 

Also if you haven’t yet, make sure you submit on the Inner West cycle consultation AT are currently running. Consultation closes on Thursday.

The Unitary Plan Roller-Coaster

Since first talked about back in 2013, the Unitary Plan has been like a roller-coaster ride. There’s been the hope and anticipation for a better future for Auckland as the cart climbs a steep hill followed by that brief micro second of confusion before you realise you’re falling as groups opposing housing pipped up and were egged on further by one sided reporting from the Herald. Then came the twists and turns of the debate before that feeling of weightlessness as you go through a loop waiting for the councillors to make a decision. After catching your breath for a second there was then the smaller and less intense second stage as the process was repeated. Then just as you thought the ride might be coming to an end it throws a few last unexpected twists and turns at you. And that’s where are now, right in the middle of latest saga the Unitary Plan has seen.

The current issue stems back to December when the council released its evidence and updated residential zonings as part of the hearing process. I wrote at the time.

As part of the hearings process the council are allowed to make a final submission in response to the issues raised by the public. They say they are currently confirming their position on a range of topics and one of those is zoning. Taking into account a range of factors, the council is suggesting some changes to the zones in the plan that determine what can be built where. It’s these changes which have had the Herald and a number of councillors worked up. The factors include

  • the submissions and evidence
  • the interim guidance on some topics from the hearings panel – such as on viewshafts and heritage controls
  • further analysis of the zones i.e. fixing inconsistencies
  • amended infrastructure plans such as the addition of light rail on the isthmus

This doesn’t mean that the Unitary plan is being changed just that the council are saying that based on the evidence and updated information they think some changes should be made. The independent panel hearing the Unitary Plan could rejected them outright or go completely the other way and say they don’t go far enough then recommend significant increases.

Overall the changes weren’t all that much. Those that did move generally only changed by a small amount and combined 78% of all residential areas were still limited to two storeys while a further 17% was limited to three storeys.

PAUP zoning changes - Dec 15 2

The Herald through Bernard Orsman along with groups opposing housing have even gone the absurd level of calling three storeys ‘high-rise’. One of the funny things of it all is that in suburbs where most of the opposition originates the size and scale of buildings that the opposition groups oppose are quite prevalent, just as single houses which they seem quite happy with.

Six Sisters John St

According to those opposing the Unitary Plan, these are high-rise and shouldn’t be allowed.

What’s changed recently is following a meeting in Kohimarama – and I suspect a lot of lobbying of councillors over the summer break – supposedly a majority of councillors want to withdraw the councils evidence.

Auckland Council’s proposal to rezone thousands of homes for more intensive housing and apartments has lost the support of a majority of councillors, with councillor Sir John Walker today speaking out against the changes.

“If the mayor wants my vote we are going to have to come to a compromise,” said Sir John, who did not spell out what that solution would be.

“I’m on the residents’ side. I don’t want to see high rise buildings towering over Auckland.

“I don’t trust the town planners. They present one thing and change their mind and do another,” said the Olympic gold medallist.

Sir John said he supported calls to withdraw the changes, which see large swathes of suburban Auckland rezoned for multi-storey buildings, terraced housing and apartments in the council’s latest submission to the Unitary Plan.

Under the “out of scope” changes to zoning, meaning no residents asked for them in the proposed Unitary Plan, there is no formal right of reply for affected property owners.

Sir John’s position means 11 of the 21 councillors want the council to withdraw the out of scope changes from the Unitary Plan process.

The other 10 are Cameron Brewer, Cathy Casey, Chris Fletcher, Denise Krum, Mike Lee, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, Wayne Walker, John Watson and George Wood.

It seems that there’s also a degree of personal preference clouding decision making with Sir John also saying

Eight years ago he sold up and moved to a lifestyle block in Bombay “where you can’t build a single house”.

Sir John said the city should stick with low rise housing.

Why ruin the city with three-storey apartments? They might not be very high but I wouldn’t want to live next door to one

Now the majority claimed by Orsman is just on paper and the council haven’t actually formally voted to withdraw their evidence. We’ve also seen Orsman claim a lot of times in the past that the Unitary Plan was in the balance only to be easily passed by the council when they actually voted. To withdraw their own evidence would be incredibly stupid in my view as it would remove them from debate leaving it just up to what others had submitted and there were a lot of submissions calling for much more development to be allowed.

There were some very good responses to all of this yesterday which are worth covering.

Todd Niall at Radio NZ wrote this excellent piece pointing out that the Unitary Plan is a blueprint for the next 30 years and that the council need to take account all of those who will be living here in 30 years, not just those making the most noise now.

The debate and political anxiety comes as the deliberations near the end – the 30-year development blueprint for Auckland, the Unitary Plan, is due to be finalised by September.

It will eventually reshape much of Auckland’s residential landscape, with more of it looking increasingly city-like and less suburban – more multi-level and less like any other New Zealand city.

The heightened discussion poses a challenge for Auckland councillors. Should they heed the cries of the loudest of their constituents, or the ambitions of the quietest?

In short, who should have the dominant voice in shaping the future Auckland ?

The Herald got in on the act in its editorial.

It is too easy to panic politicians in election year, particularly in local body elections where the turnouts are usually low. It is easy to fill a public hall on local issues that are close to people’s homes and may affect their property values, and it is easy for individual politicians to be persuaded that a packed hall represents a popular uprising.

….

Plenty of us live next door to a double storey house without concern. But one more storey has the citizens in revolt, or so too many council members fear.

Let’s acknowledge the courage of those who are willing to defend the revised Unitary Plan and see it through. It may be easy enough for the mayor who is not seeking re-election, but not easy for Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse or council members Arthur Anae, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina and Calum Penrose. They have kept their nerve and put the city’s housing needs before their electoral safety.

If only they’d taken this stance all along we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we are right now. Alas I suspect we’ll back to business as usual with scaremonger articles soon.

The Property Council which is a lobby group for developers held no punches in it’s press release over the issue. Good on them.

Property Council is appalled with Auckland councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone Auckland suburbs with the capacity for more housing and apartments.

Auckland Branch President Phil Eaton says soaring house prices are creating systemic social injustice, inequity and major economic risk.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about this. The councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone and upzone suburbs to allow for more houses have done so at the expense of Aucklanders, because they want to come back after the local elections.

“Now, Baby Boomers have essentially locked an entire generation out of their own homes. Young people and families will never be able to work and live in Auckland, and ‘Generation Rent’ is the
legacy these councillors will leave behind.

…..

“Local politicians must ditch their “Not in My Election Year” mentality and do what is right by all Aucklanders, not just some.”

Scaremongering by local politicians has residents believing their suburbs will be covered in high-rise apartments, when realistically less than 6% of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys: up just 1% from the previous version of the PAUP.

So where does that leave us. Councillor George Wood posted this the other day showing a briefing on Thursday.

UP Councillor Briefing Feb 16

We’ll be waiting to see what happens following Thursday. This is one roller-coaster I’d be happy not to ride again.

Three storeys does not equal highrise

The debate about intensification has come roaring back to life in the last day or so following a beat up by Bernard Orsman in the Herald about the unitary plan process.

Tens of thousands of homes in Auckland’s leafy residential suburbs are being rezoned for multiple townhouses and apartments and Auckland Council says homeowners will not be notified about the changes.

The central isthmus suburbs of Pt Chevalier, Epsom, Mt Eden, Mt Albert, Glendowie and St Heliers; the North Shore suburbs of Birkenhead, Glenfield and Takapuna; Whangaparaoa Peninsula, rural towns such as Kumeu and the southern suburbs of Howick and Mangere Bridge are among areas affected by the changes taking place behind closed doors.

…..

Tomorrow, the Unitary Plan committee will meet behind closed doors to approve changes to the single house zone in north, south and east Auckland.

This follows a decision by the 11-member committee on November 10 to approve changes to the zone on the Auckland central isthmus and West Auckland.

The council has rewritten the rules for the “single-house zone” where one- and two-storey houses are typically set amongst trees and gardens. New rules mean tens of thousands of houses no longer qualify and will be rezoned to a “mixed-house” zone to allow for townhouses, studios and apartments of up to three storeys.

Are we really down to the stage of scaremongering about three storey townhouses, a housing typology found frequently overseas and even in many parts of Auckland already? In fact for a city like Auckland three storey townhouses are perhaps the ideal missing middle of the housing. On top of being fairly spatially efficient they can be built in existing suburbs and not look out of place as they’re often no higher than a two storey house with a pitched roof. They’re also generally cheaper and easier to build than apartments as they don’t require expensive features like lifts or complex sprinkler systems.

One vs three storeys

Three storey terraced housing alongside some single storey houses in Epsom

So what’s really happening? The answer is much less secretive and much less alarmist than the herald like to make out.

The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) was notified by the council in 2014 and since then an independent government appointed panel (IHP) has been going through the almost 10,000 submissions and supporting pieces of evidence submitted by the public and the council. The IHP will eventually issue a recommendation back to the council on the PAUP based on the submissions and evidence and that is almost certainly going to be different from what the council originally started with.

Along the way the IHP have been challenging the council on various topics and also issuing interim guidance on issues such as around the levels of heritage protection and viewshafts. As part of the process the council have been required to consider rezoning changes which is exactly what they are doing based on what’s happened so far it’s what’s likely to happen based on the interim guidance issued so far.

Notified UP - Central

The council are looking at changing some of the lighter coloured areas to allow for more development

I know I’ve skipped a lot out but kind of brings us roughly to where we are today with the council are looking at better defining where development can occur. From what I’ve read it seems they are looking at expanding the mixed housing suburban and mixed housing urban boundaries.

It seems to me that a lot of the angst in the article probably originated with the 2040 group who have long opposed much of the intensification planned. As a result of this the interim guidance my guess is they’ve been seeing the writing on the wall that more intensification would be allowed so they’ve complained to the Herald.

Following the article a number of politicians have heaped on the idea of intensification. One of those is David Seymour who based on his party’s politics you’d think would support removing restrictions to property rights claims it will have enormous implications for congestion, character and school zones. He is also quoted as saying

“It’s also a betrayal of young people in its assumption that they can never own a house and must live in apartments

The real betrayal of young people is by those who have opposed any change to the city, especially in the area of housing where prices have been pushed up or some people have been pushed out half way to Hamilton.

Six Sisters John St

The ‘Six Sisters’, John Street, Ponsonby – three storeys is hardly highrise

Of course many young people would live in an apartment or terraced house if more were able to be built to bring prices down in the areas they want to live. Part of the reason for this is often they are quite different from their parents in that they don’t aspire to a house in the suburbs where driving is the only option and they have to frequently do things like mow lawns and manage gardens. As for driving, well Auckland Transport have already said they’re looking at building a light rail network across the central isthmus which will help in moving lots of people without suffering from congestion.

Disappointingly it also appears that new mayoral candidate Phil Goff is starting to go down the line of backing off intensification in some areas. Stu has more on this in a post later today.

It will be interesting to see what the council come up with in terms of rezoning. Ideally the ishmus would look much more like West Auckland in the map above with a lot more mixed housing urban allowed (3 storeys).

Photo of The Day: Drivers get it.

The big winners from investment in high quality urban Transit are of course drivers. They benefit from all the people making the rational decision to choose other ways to get around freeing up the roads for those who need or choose to drive. The numbers choosing to make this shift depends on the quality of the alternatives, as is shown by the huge and ongoing rise in ridership in response to the upgrade of the rail network this decade. A boom in uptake that completely caught officials and transport professionals by surprise. Here is the Ministry of Transport report to the Minister as recently as October 2014:

OCT 2014

And of course the road freight industry should understand this too; their productivity will rise with every switch from driving to alternative systems in cities. 77% of all vehicles are private cars, so enabling a reduction in private car use, especially at the peaks, is likely to be more cost effective way of speeding truckies and tradies than spending 10 of billions on more roads which simply incentivise more private driving on all roads. Especially as this spending squeezes out opportunities to invest in complementary networks. This is the contradiction at the heart of the RoNS model, especially for urban areas; using all available funds to induce more driving, because traffic is congested.

Auckland needs better alternatives to driving not alternative roads to drive on. For drivings sake.

From this morning’s Herald, Drive. Dr Anil Sharma, Porsche enthusiast:

Herald drive Sept 15_800

Herald’s World Class Auckland – My view on Transport

The Herald have been running a series since the middle of last week titled ‘World Class Auckland‘. It is looking at how Auckland can improve across a range of topics.

Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world’s best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city?

The Herald’s World-Class Auckland series examines some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland’s success matters to the rest of the country.

So far they’ve covered

  • Housing – where they effectively said said we need to sprawl more
  • The Environment – where they said sprawl was bad
  • Education
  • Recreation

Today they’re covering Transport. They asked me to contribute with a piece around 300 words however at this stage it doesn’t appear to be published – they said it may go online only but as it’s not there in assuming they aren’t running it. As I’m sure you can imagine it’s incredibly hard trying to condense a reasoned and evidenced based argument into that kind of limit – in fact it’s would’ve still been hard doing do so with five times that limit. As such there’s lots of topics and angles I didn’t get a chance to include but here’s what I sent them.

It’s said that Aucklander’s have a love affair with cars. For many it’s more of an unwelcome arranged marriage – the by-product of decades focused on improving only one aspect of our transport system.

Yet we’re at an interesting crossroads. Despite a rapidly growing population and over $8 billion of investment in Auckland’s roads over the last decade, the stats show Aucklander’s are driving less than they used to.

What has been growing quickly on the back of comparatively modest investment has been the use of public transport, walking and cycling. Investments like the Northern Busway and upgrading the rail network have shown that when offered frequent and reliable services that are free of congestion that people will flock to use them. In the morning peak 40% of the people crossing the harbour bridge now do so on a bus, more than double the pre-busway figure while traffic volumes have actually fallen. On the trains at Britomart passenger volumes are already 66% ahead of what they were predicted to be in 2021.

Auckland Transport’s new electric trains, new bus network and integrated fares will bring the city’s PT system up to a more modern standard. To keep up with demand the next wave of projects already needs to be getting underway. This includes the City Rail Link, extending the Northern Busway, a North-western Busway, the AMETI busway and potentially light rail. Combined these would give Auckland a PT network on par or better than many of our comparator cities and all are possible within the next decade if we prioritise properly.

Decades of decisions made by looking out the front windscreen hasn’t worked in reducing congestion. By investing in our missing modes we can give people realistic choices in how they get around. That will benefit everyone, taking those who don’t want to drive off the road leaving more space for others.

As I said there’s lot’s more I could add to it such as other reasons why investment in PT is justified, why we need to invest in walking and cycling, why it matters what don’t build e.g. AWHC. What are the key things you would have covered and what’s your view on what they’ve covered on transport today?

Auckland could get more housing. True Storey.

Greetings from Amsterdam, where I’m happily ensconced in a multi-storey apartment building. Just now I had a look at the New Zild Herald, where I was disappointed to read this article from Bernard Orsman. Titled “Suburbs could get more apartments”, the article seems primarily designed to whip up fear, which is something I’ve criticised the Herald for previously. In this post I pick out some specific comments with the article that I found particularly disappointing.

“They believe large swathes of the city where single houses sit on a single site will be rezoned to allow developments with no density controls.” Oh dear. So much is wrong with this statement. Later on in the article Bernard (finally) acknowledges that what we’re talking about is the extent of the Single House Zone (SHZ), which Council have suggested might be better replaced with a Mixed Housing Zone (MHZ) in some places. While the MHZ allows development of up to three storeys, it is not equivalent to “no density controls”. Indeed, developments within the MHZ are still subject not only to height limits, but also a myriad of other density controls, e.g. landscaping rules, boundary set-backs etc etc. Bernard buries most of this information at the back of the article, rather than presenting it up front where it seems to belong.

“It basically destroys a lot of the character of the inner-city suburbs like Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Herne Bay, Parnell and Mt Eden,” said Christine Cavanagh of the Herne Bay Resident Association. The issue with this statement is that the SHZ is not intended/designed to preserve “character”, but instead to control development intensity. Development intensity is quite different from character, which is why Council has separate rules for the latter, e.g. demolition controls on pre-1944 buildings and site coverage ratios. Christine may think that character is intrinsically linked to low development intensity. If so, then she needs to explain why all of Auckland’s inner-city suburbs have quite intensive multi-storey apartment buildings, many of which have existed for a long time. Below are some of my favourites, but there are many others.

Brighton Parnell

Grafton

Newmarket

Mt Eden

My final criticism is for Pete Sinton, who describes the mixed housing zone as “high intensification“. In what dystopian world could three storey developments qualify as “high intensification”? Maybe only a world where people’s feet had been chewed off by zombie rats so that nobody could get up stairs anymore?!? In reality, three storeys is a perfectly normal level of development most places in the world. It’s shorter than most mature, fully grown trees. Three storeys is less than many large (rural) houses that are found in places like the Netherlands and Sweden.

So is there a silver lining to this article?I actually found two.

The first silver lining comes towards the end, where Bernard includes some comments from people who support intensification. This includes business owners in Mission Bay, and some residents who are happy with development up to four storeys. The second silver lining I found in this article is actually Penny Hulse, who manages to explain why the Council is reconsidering the extent of the single house zone, i.e. to balance the need for more housing. Penny generally does a marvellous job despite all the bullshit thrown her way by the likes of Bernard Orsman and Christine Cavanagh.

In a more balanced world the title of the article would read “Auckland allows more housing”. True Storey.

Roughan confirms LRT Success

On Saturday we learned that Auckland Transport’s light rail plans will be an outstanding success. We learned this not from anything Auckland Transport has told us but from a column written by the Herald’s John Roughan. He ended the piece with:

An underground link to give Auckland’s lines a central turning loop is said to be the key to unlocking their potential for urban commuters. It’s not. It would remove just one of several reasons the trains are too slow.

Light rail in the streets with traffic and stoplights is even slower. Yet the fascination remains. Something about iron tracks makes them hard to let go. They may be a solid line to other places and to the past, but they’ve had their day.

Roughan rubbishing LRT is great as he’s proven to be one of the best reverse barometers we have for public transport so if he thinks a PT investment will flop it means it will be fantastic. Just take a look at some of his previous predictions

In July 2001 he lamented the then plans for Britomart and the then ARCs plans for rail and bus upgrades, more deregulation and shuttle buses were the solution he said.

This is all about what the council wants, not what is most likely to work. If they opened their eyes they would notice that a little bit of deregulation worked a treat 10 years ago.

Take the airport shuttles, as many now do. When minivans where allowed to compete with taxis and buses to Auckland Airport, they found immediate demand.

They were soon getting calls for other destinations, too, but were not allowed to provide them. Imagine if they could. An untapped dimension of public transport is right there.

Later in October that year there was this masterpiece where he urged people to vote for candidates who would oppose PT. He also promoted the group named “Roads before Rail” – now only found on the wayback machine

There will come a time, maybe in 10 or 20 years, when it will be apparent this election was the last chance to prevent a minor disaster and we might wonder what we were thinking of in 2001 that we didn’t stop it.

There were, we will remember, one or two greater disasters happening at the time, so possibly the voters of 2001 will be forgiven. But every time we drive past one of those light rail things we will wonder at our capacity for collective folly.

If, 20 years hence, our children can track down Mrs Fletcher or Mr Harvey and ask why they are lumbered with this little-used railway, they will hear a remarkable story of what was supposed to happen.

They are wasting their time and our money. And they are neglecting – wilfully one suspects – the need for more and wider motorways.

Auckland is a car city and always will be. Its people much prefer their own cars to any form of public transport and, contrary to the claims of the rail lobby, there is plenty of room for more roading.

History shows us that Fletcher’s decision to push ahead with Britomart was inspired and the station has been successful beyond all expectations – as we know from the chart below showing actual daily passengers compared to what was predicted in the business case.

Daily Britomart Passengers - Actual vs Projected

In 2002 he again claimed Britomart and investment in rail would be a financial disaster that will hurt not just Auckland but the nation’s economy

He will not stop the rail scheme. For better or worse, as with corporate regulation, he will probably get it done. It may be merely a financial disaster but it will hurt the economy of Auckland and the country badly enough when the costs hit.

In 2003 he said no-one would use park and ride and said the solution to traffic problems was walking school buses.

Driving to work these mornings, I pass a brilliant bit of traffic engineering. It is not the “park and ride” bus station they are building down at Barry’s Pt, although I pass that too.

Somehow I can’t believe Auckland commuters are going to drive to a suburban transfer station to make the rest of their journey by bus or train. Ask yourself, honestly, would you? Will you?

In 2006 it was that Britomart was built too big for the city – of course we now know it’s too small and will soon run out of capacity

It went ahead and built the Britomart railway station regardless of the scale of rail the region was likely to afford. Britomart, which will shortly farewell the last intercity railcar, is a magnificent terminal for a train that might never come.

In 2007 we have him claiming the busway wouldn’t work

The public transport entrepreneurs intend that we forsake the car entirely and take a bus to the busway. I hope they are right but I really don’t think so.

While not directly related to a Roughan piece, this image was in the herald when the busway opened and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a hand in it.

Northern Busway White Elephant

 

 

This of course is just a small sample and there are a lot more columns from him talking about transport, complaining about spending on PT and calling for more motorways. As I said, if he’s rubbishing it then it will probably be good.

Coming back to his column on Saturday perhaps my favourite part is where just after saying that he caught a poorly implemented tram once we therefore shouldn’t build light rail in Auckland (or the CRL), he says this:

The Government doesn’t take much interest in AT’s operational decisions for Auckland’s buses and trains and when the Government contemplates the city’s congestion it prefers the advice of the NZ Transport Agency.

Thanks to the national transport planners, the part of Auckland that is probably best served by public transport is the one part that has no railway. The North Shore’s busway is probably the fastest flowing artery in the region and it is about to get better. AT has posted out a plan to Shore households this month that simplified all bus routes into loops between busway stations. It looks ideal.

So now not only is the busway good but he likes the new bus network AT is proposing. I’d agree with him on both those points but the thing I find quite funny is his inability to consider that the same people who developed the new network he praises are also behind the plans for light rail. How is it they can be both so right and so wrong in the space of a few paragraphs.

Just to note, there are a few other areas where Roughan can occasionally be right such as the examples below but they tend to be few and far between:

  • Two years ago he claimed that an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing isn’t something we need as the issue is the capacity on either side (he also praises the busway).
  • A month prior he urged the government to support the general direction the council have been pushing saying that above all else it is a vision and no one is presenting an alternative – interesting as we later learned the business groups were saying the same thing behind closed doors.
  • He has also noted a few times that we should consider road pricing as a way to get better use out of our existing road infrastructure such as this one.