NZ Herald: “Urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good”

Yesterday, the NZ Herald chose to celebrate Auckland’s 175th anniversary with an editorial celebrating the city’s motorways. It’s an extremely odd piece to read in the wake of a string of good editorials discussing shared spaces, new cycleways, and the light rail proposals.

It’s also sad that the paper’s editors chose not to highlight Auckland’s many other features that we can take pride in. No mention of the city’s preserved natural heritage – the beaches, the Waitakeres, the Hunuas, the maungas, and two harbours. No mention of its preserved urban heritage – the villas and shops of Ponsonby and Devonport. No mention of its humming, vibrant centre, which has been brought back to life by Britomart, waterfront redevelopment, and pedestrian spaces, or the many other places, like the multicultural night markets or the Otara markets, where Auckland happens.

Instead of celebrating Auckland’s glories, the Herald chooses to make a virtue of its dysfunctions:

Auckland’s landscape and coastal attractions made its sprawl as inevitable as its preference for cars over public transport.

This is total hogwash. The Herald is attempting to re-cast Auckland’s outward expansion as an inevitable process in an attempt to win today’s argument about how best to accommodate future growth. “Planners”, they contend, cannot and should not attempt to fight the tide of suburbanisation and road-building.

Unfortunately, their own account reveals that Auckland’s current shape – and dependence upon cars – was in fact a planned outcome, not a natural one.

Here is the Herald discussing how Auckland got its motorway network:

They would do their utmost also to stop the Ministry of Works planning motorways south and west of the city. The southern route extended well past the green fields of Ellerslie and the meatworks at Southdown. If the ministry was not careful its motorway would allow housing to cover the fine farming soils of the Manukau County, absorbing the small towns of Otahuhu and Papatoetoe on the Great South Rd.

There were even plans to put a motorway on a causeway across the Whau estuary to the Te Atatu peninsula which could change the shape of West Auckland, developing to that point along the western rail line at New Lynn, Glen Eden and Henderson.

That’s right: the motorways were planned by central government. They didn’t happen on their own. They happened as a result of political fiat and bureaucratic intervention that aimed to shape demand, rather than responding to it. We have taken a look at how planned the roads were in a number of posts over the years. The bottom line is that Auckland’s pre-1950s public transport system was popular and well-used – and it was dismembered by planners who didn’t believe that we should live that way.

What was true for motorways was also true for housing development. The government was heavily involved in planning and building Auckland’s suburban lifestyle through a major programme of state house construction on greenfield sites:

The Government was building big state housing projects at Otara and Mangere in the 1960s. Suburban development crossed the Tamaki inlet to Pakuranga by the end of the decade.

In light of these facts, it’s hard to figure out what to make of the Herald’s criticisms of “planning”. Their attitude seems to be that urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good. In other words, plan away, but only if you are planning a society and a city that conforms to the editors’ preferences and prejudices.

Ultimately, the editorial only serves to reveal the Herald’s own myopia. When they say:

It has never been Auckland’s character to look back, or forwards for that matter.

They are not speaking for the many Aucklanders who have a keen sense of history… and who look forward optimistically to the future. They are simply admitting to their own lack of vision.

Herald praises Shared Spaces

There’s a good editorial in the Herald today about how the shared spaces have been a success.

Big bold ideas that turn out badly receive plenty of critical attention, those that turn out well tend not to receive the attention they deserve.

A big bold idea for the movement of people and traffic in Auckland’s central business district is working so well that we already take it for granted.

Walking or driving slowly in some of the side streets we hardly notice that pedestrians and vehicles are mingling without a problem.

Yet five years ago when the former Auckland City Council’s urban design group manager, Ludo Campbell-Reid, suggested turning the narrow streets into “shared space”, the idea was daringly radical.

It stepped outside the endless debate between those who wanted to close the streets to traffic and the business owners who feared a loss of access for suppliers and customers. We could have both, said Mr Campbell-Reid.

By doing away with footpaths, kerbs and parking spaces and paving the whole corridor in a way that was inviting for pedestrians but not smooth for cars, the city could favour foot traffic without barring vehicles completely.

It was “pro-pedestrian but not anti-car”, he said. To those who feared it would cause confusion or worse when cars and walkers were on the same path, he said relax, people would work it out.

So they have. Drivers who need or want to use those streets go slowly when pedestrians are there and the pedestrians move out of their way with hardly a thought.

It works naturally, unremarkably. Like all good solutions it seems so obvious that it goes without saying.

I love the shared spaces and can’t wait for more to be developed but they aren’t perfect. I personally would like to see the spaces be less linear using trees and/or others solid objects to force drivers to be even more cautious.

Most drivers who do use them drive appropriately but still some don’t understand, this seems particularly the case with many courier drivers who show no regard to pedestrians and will fly past them at speed – some even telling people to “get off the road”. AT could probably do more work in this area to help educate drivers.

OC5

Yet despite these few incidents and as mentioned most interactions are positive and as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been anyone injured on a shared space yet – although as the editorial points out, when it does happen the naysayers will be out in force.

Even now, those who had the courage to introduce shared streets probably break out in a sweat at times when they consider that sooner or later an accident is likely to happen. They know that if ever someone is injured by an inattentive or angry driver in one of these streets, there will be those who decry them.

But they have been operating without a serious mishap for nearly four years.

They close out the piece perfectly, highlighting that Federal St is poor thanks to the copious car park access points and giving a big serve to High St which has a few retailers actively fighting to keep carparking (that’s likely primarily used by them not their customers)

Not everything has been a runaway success.

Federal St shows that shared space alone is not always enough to make a place pleasant. Despite popular dining spots, entrances to SkyCity’s hotels and car parks make the street uninviting.

It is not beyond question, however, that it could yet develop into something much more attractive.

Either way, shared space is an improvement on parked cars and “rat-run” traffic in narrow alleys. Elliott, Fort and O’Connell streets are particularly good.

When will High St wake up?

It’s great to see the Herald highlighting this although it would have also been great if they could have also highlighted that most of these shared spaces have been great for business too.

Marking out the CRL

Auckland Transport have taken up an idea by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse a few months ago and are marking out where the City Rail Link will go in a bid to raise awareness of the project, especially ahead of the enabling works which will be disruptive to a decent portion of the city.

Aucklanders using Britomart this morning found out exactly where their future journey could take them.

Bright red lines tracking across lower Queen Street don’t mark Santa’s planned path but instead show where the City Rail Link (CRL) tunnels will go when the project starts next year.

Adding a bit of festive spirit to the Britomart and QE11 Square, the painted lines mark the centre of each of the two tunnels that will be built from the Central Post Office, under Queen Street and the square before heading up Albert Street and eventually to Mt Eden.

Project director Chris Meale says with construction of the enabling works for the CRL only a year away, the red lines signal the approaching works.

“While there is a lot of work still to be done before then, the red lines will indicate to Aucklanders that the first stage of the City Rail Link is not far away.”

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse says she’s excited that there is a visible representation of where the City Rail Link will take Auckland and she’s eagerly anticipating a start on the physical works.

Mr Meale says the works will change the face of the downtown area for about three years. When the works start, buses will be re-routed, Britomart’s entrance will be relocated to the east end and through traffic will be diverted from Albert Street to provide access for tunnel construction. An information programme is being prepared in the lead up to the work

“It’s just a matter of time before Aucklanders will be able to see progress on our city’s number one transport priority. Tenders for the detailed design have closed with award planned for February,” he said.

Here are a few photos from readers this morning.

And this one from our good friend Sudhvir Singh who Penny credits with the idea.

CRL painting on ground outside Britomart

I grabbed these as I was passing through this afternoon. Good work AT, and Penny Hulse and Sudhvir. Sooooo many people pass through here. I did occur to me that lines showing the actual width of the tunnel might better than just the centre line? Anyone agree? [PR]:

CRL Marking_03

CRL marking_01

CRL marking_02

While on the topic of the CRL, there was this letter to the editor in the Herald today.

CRL Letter to Editor 22.12.14

Of course while the council may not have directly surveyed on the CRL it has come out on top after two local body elections and various plans and strategies that have been publicly consulted on such as the Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan etc. It is part of an integrated PT network and Aucklanders have overwhelmingly said in numerous polls that they more focus on PT and it has even had strong support in polling done by the AA. Finally while not a public survey on whether we should build it, the project also received strong support from the public in the designation process and even many who opposed specific elements such as construction noise stated they wanted the project built. It would have been good for Chris Meale to have pointed this out.

If the council conducted a formal survey on the project I’d be almost certain that people like the letter writer above would then just complain about the council spending money on a pointless survey.

Fact-checking hyperbolic arguments for more roads

Following the gridlock on the roads last Saturday, the NZ Herald published several perspectives on how Auckland should cope with disruption to its transport networks. Matt weighed in with an excellent piece on the need to build Auckland’s long-awaited rapid transit network, which would give people an alternative to congested roads. However, the Herald “counterbalanced” it with some arrant nonsense about the need for more motorways by University of Auckland associate professor (and prominent climate change denialist) Chris de Freitas.

I use the term “nonsense” for good reason. The article was rife with factual errors that undermined the points that it was trying to make. Let us count the mistakes.

One: Congestion does not cost the Auckland economy billions each year.

De Freitas contends that:

The cost to the region’s economy of traffic delays is estimated to be many billions of dollars a year, which does not include the mental anguish caused to frustrated and angry drivers.

He does not provide any citations for this figure. However, I am aware of the relevant research, including a 2013 NZTA research paper by Wallis and Lupton that found that a more realistic figure for the cost of congestion in Auckland was a mere $250 million:

Including all congestion cost components, we concluded that the costs of congestion in Auckland are approximately $1250 million per year when compared with free-flow conditions, or $250 million per year when compared with the network operating at capacity.

In other words, the only way we could achieve that hypothetical $1.25 billion saving in congestion costs would be to build a network far, far in excess of what is required to move vehicles. Furthermore, Wallis and Lupton’s estimates are derived using NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual procedures, which explicitly account for non-monetary values such as travel time and driver frustration. The actual financial costs of congestion are likely to be an order of magnitude lower – i.e. closer to $25-50 million. That’s just not a lot compared to Auckland’s regional GDP of $75 billion.

Two: Auckland is not adding a Dunedin worth of population every 3-4 years.

De Freitas asserts that:

Given that the region’s population continues to expand by the size of Dunedin every three to four years, the vulnerability to traffic snarl-ups will grow exponentially.

According to the most recent Census data, Dunedin has a population of roughly 120,000 people. Between 2001 and 2013, Auckland’s population increased by approximately 255,000 people, or roughly 21,000 people per year. For those who like numbers, that means one new Dunedin every six years, not every three years. De Freitas seems to think that Auckland is growing twice as fast as it actually is.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport’s Congestion Index shows that travel time delay actually fell by one-quarter between 2003 and 2013. This contradicts de Freitas’ claim that congestion will increase “exponentially” as population grows – why hasn’t it increased over the past decade?

Three: Rapid transit networks are well-suited for regions with natural choke-points.

De Freitas argues that geography is destiny, and that Auckland’s skinny shape makes it a natural for roads:

Public transport itself will not ease the region’s traffic crisis. Auckland’s geography, history and politics make it a unique case for infrastructure planning. Its long, thin shape led to the earliest transport routes developing along a narrow north-south axis. Strategic arterial roads followed this pattern.

He correctly observes that road networks become less efficient when they are forced through natural choke-points like harbours and portages. However, these choke-points actually make public transport more efficient, not less. Putting more cars on a single road causes congestion and makes that road less efficient, but putting more buses or trains on a single right-of-way increases efficiency by allowing them to share costly infrastructure.

Four: Auckland’s motorway network already has alternative routes.

De Freitas contends that the Auckland motorway network lacks redundancy:

The result is a highway system that is not yet part of a fully integrated network. It is linear with no alternative routes around major bottlenecks. Traffic that would want to bypass the city is forced through Spaghetti Junction, adding to the vulnerability of the system to gridlock.

He has apparently not noticed that NZTA has almost finished building a bypass of Spaghetti Junction at a massive cost of $3.6 billion – the Western Ring Route. Perhaps he hasn’t been out west in the last decade, but if he had he would have noticed the construction of SH18 and the Upper Harbour Bridge, major expansions of the SH16 causeway, and the in-progress construction of the Waterview Connection to link SH16 with SH20.

Do we have to cover the whole region in asphalt to satisfy the man?

Five: A major earthquake in Auckland is extremely unlikely.

De Freitas raises the spectre of a Christchurch-esque quake:

The region’s most strategic arterial roads are vulnerable during earthquakes. Older multi-span bridges and abutments along motorways such as around Spaghetti Junction would be most vulnerable to damage from ground liquefaction. Even minor damage to these would bring city traffic to a halt.

Now, I’m no geologist… but both of my parents are geophysicists who started out researching Auckland’s rocks. They do not believe that Auckland faces serious risks of earthquakes. Volcanoes are a stronger possibility, of course, but volcanic activity doesn’t cause soil liquefaction. Here is a map from the British Geological Survey of every major earthquake in New Zealand since 1843. Notice the total absence of any recorded earthquakes anywhere near Auckland. Unlike Christchurch, we are not close to NZ’s fault lines:

Source: BGS

Source: BGS

Six: More roads are not a good solution for disaster readiness.

De Freitas argues that more roads are needed to evacuate Auckland:

The vulnerability of a city is to a large extent a function of the adequacy of preparedness planning. How soon could Auckland be evacuated?

There is limited motorway access out of the isthmus that is the Auckland urban area, so there few alternative exits. Main feeder roads head for one major harbour crossing and easily become congested.

Some American cities that are vulnerable to regular natural disasters have tested the “more roads” approach to evacuation. So here is Houston, attempting to evacuate on one of its eighteen-lane freeways during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Not a lot of people actually made it out of the city:

Houston-HW_600

We could devote endless hectares of increasingly valuable land attempting to repeat the same solution that failed Houston. Or, if we think that natural disasters are a serious risk, we could invest in disaster preparedness and civil defense to ensure that the city’s residents will still have access to food, water, and health care services, regardless of what happens. That’s likely to be a much more practical, cost-effective solution.

Finally: The Herald needs to get better at fact-checking, or print a retraction.

While de Freitas’ article was printed in the op-ed page, that is no excuse for its blatant errors and omissions. Auckland only has one newspaper of record, and its credibility and usefulness to its readers is undermined when it prints this sort of gibberish.

Rapid transit has passed the acid test

I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

CRL the key to a unified city

Our good friend and director of Generation Zero, Sudhvir Singh wrote a fantastic op-ed for the Herald the other day on the City Rail Link. It was intended to be printed on Wednesday when councillors voted on whether to delay the project – which thankfully they didn’t – however the Herald ended up running it on Friday. I’ve included a few images from AT’s CRL page.

As Auckland councillors have been voting on a budget for our city, they must be commended for their continued support for the City Rail Link (CRL), a game-changing piece of infrastructure that will reduce traffic, revitalise suburban town centres and unlock Auckland’s potential.

A 3km rail tunnel connecting Britomart with the rail network at Mt Eden, the CRL will link the three disparate limbs of Auckland’s rail network into a coherent whole. It will serve motorists just as well as rail commuters, and benefit the suburbs just as much as the city centre.

Auckland already has a 100km rail network. While rail usage is growing at over 15 per cent year on year, as long as the network finishes in a dead end at Britomart, Aucklanders will only ever be offered services on an infrequent timetable.

The CRL will change all this: by breaking the bottleneck at Britomart, Aucklanders will have access to trains running at five-minute frequencies.

Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

Any new rail lines such as the proposed airport and North Shore lines are not possible without the CRL. This is therefore the foundational project that Auckland needs to develop a true “metro” public transport system, like those seen in all the world’s most liveable cities. It’s at the core of the Congestion-Free Network, a plan laid out by Generation Zero and Transport Blog to address Auckland’s lack of public transport and show how major improvements are easily affordable within the current budget.

Investment in the CRL will not mean that Auckland motorists’ concerns are neglected. Quite the opposite: international transport system research shows that widening roads is not the cure for traffic congestion. By encouraging more people to drive and failing to provide transport choice, heavy investment in roads only adds to traffic problems. Investment in rail takes large numbers of people off the road and reduces carbon pollution.

What is more, the CRL will not see suburban development sacrificed in favour of city centre development. The best way to spur renewed investment and development in our suburban centres is to give people access to frequent, quality public transport and watch the private investment that follows. Britomart’s transformation since the opening of the rail station is an example of this – the CRL will be the impetus for similar town centre upgrades across Auckland.

In the short term, residents of West Auckland will arguably benefit the most from the CRL. Travel times by train from the west will be halved, in effect bringing this entire side of Auckland closer to the city. This represents an unrivalled opportunity for the west to prosper, particularly if a mix of affordable housing choices is offered near existing stations.

Let’s also stick to the facts when it comes to funding: the CRL is not one of the factors putting pressure on the council’s budget and leading to calls for motorway tolls and rate rises. Despite the alarmism promoted by its detractors, funding of the CRL will not influence rates in the city until it’s open.

As a piece of capital investment, it is funded by a combination of development contributions and debt. This is separate from the spending that our rates fund. Those who suggest that today’s funding for libraries and community services is to be sacrificed for tomorrow’s funding of the CRL are peddling falsehoods.

The Government has not had the foresight to plan a single piece of public transport infrastructure in the country’s biggest city during its six years in office. Instead, it has a myopic obsession with roading that sees it spend Auckland’s share of national transport funding exclusively on motorways. The council’s response needs to be to balance the transport budget with investment in public transport.

Auckland needs its rail link. Now is the time for the council to show leadership and not delay its completion.

Good work Sudhvir

We’re working with Generation Zero to try and come up with some more creative ways to highlight the need and the benefits of the CRL. We have already have one of these done which we will look to launch soon. If you also have a good idea on how we can help better explain the project then let us know.

A delay to the CRL?

The Herald reported yesterday that an increasing number of councillors are thinking of voting to delay the City Rail Link to 2020.

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The issue stems from the fact local boards and the council have promised a huge number of projects over the years, many of which originated in pre supercity days. Cuts and deferrals to some of these projects combined with efficiency savings as a result of having a single council had already brought projected rate increases down to around 4.9%. To take things further Len Brown’s plan for rates was to limit rates rises at 2.5% to 3.5%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a programme of spending that requires a 4.9% rates increase but you limit the increase at 2.5 to 3.5% that you will have to cut some projects somewhere. For transport those cuts mean a very reduced transport spend and the tables below show the extent of a 30 year transport programme (not including state highways) with that limited rates increase.

committed-projects

 

basic-network-projects

On top of that there were many cuts to other areas of the council’s budgets including a lot of funding for local board projects, something which angered most, if not all of the local boards.

That has contributed to some councillors now supporting delaying the CRL.

Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government’s 2020 start date.

He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of “pet projects” like the City Rail Link.

“Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget,” said Mr Clow.

Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.

Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.

“Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that’s totally unacceptable,” Mr Watson said.

On the side of delaying the CRL there seem to be two general groups, the haters and the opportunists.

The haters are those who primarily for ideological reasons either don’t like Len and/or don’t like the CRL/rail. This group includes the likes of Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. Those in this group are unlikely to ever support the CRL although if they’re still around when it opens I’m sure they will happily take some of the credit for its success.

More of a concern are the opportunists who have arisen primarily due to the funding discussions. Some of them look at the cost if the CRL and mistakenly think that by deferring it, it will suddenly mean a heap of money will be available that they can use to fund projects in their local area. Alternatively some know the importance of the CRL and are trying to use it as leverage to get concessions out of the mayor, again for local projects. In many ways this is one of the big issues with having all councillors elected from wards rather than having some elected at large like the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. I’m aware some have taken this stance in the hope that it will put pressure on the government to stump up with funding but if anything it will do the opposite. Effectively what these councillors are doing is using the CRL to play a game of chicken with an oncoming train.

The whole situation has shades of Robbies Rail to it. Back in the 1970’s mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s plans for a regional rail system were cancelled by the government after support for it was undermined by similar parochial local body politicians and planners.

I part I think some of the issue with this comes from the poor job Auckland Transport have done in really explaining the region wide benefits the CRL provides. That there are councillors and local board members who have a rail line passing through their area opposing the project because they think there are no benefits to their communities is a testimony to the fact it hasn’t been explained well enough. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is needed to look at how the project is communicated to both the politicians and the public. The video below is probably the best effort AT have made with their comms but it relies on people actually watching it fully to get any info.

Before people get too concerned there are a couple of important things to note. The Herald note that most of the group that supports deferring the CRL do support work on the first section which will be tied in with the redevelopment of the Downtown Mall. That will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to as far as Wyndham St and is crucial if many of the other Downtown projects are to go ahead. By the time we’re getting towards needing to get started on the remainder of the tunnel – likely around 2016/17 – we will have had another 2-3 years of strong patronage growth on the back of the current tranche of PT projects and as the pressure mounts on transport capacity it is likely to leave little choice for both the council and government but to invest in the CRL.

The second thing to note is that by delaying the CRL it won’t actually free up money to build the local projects these councillors are hoping for. While debt will be needed to fund construction the council capitalise the interest until the project is complete and the region starts benefiting from the investment (those interest costs are already built into the overall project cost). What that means is there is no impact on council finances until the projects opens which isn’t likely to be till 2021/22.

 

While the project will definitely go ahead at some point in time a speed bump imposed by local politicians is far from ideal. I would suggest that it would be a good idea to email all councillors expressing your support for the project to go ahead and be open by 2021/22 along with the regional benefits it provides. It doesn’t have to be a big email and rather than provide a template it’s best if it comes from you in your own words.

A Tamaki TOD?

Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:

Town centre could rise around new rail station

Tamaki Site

Colin Taylor writes:

One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.

The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.

Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.

The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.

This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.

Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.

“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.

“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.

“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”

Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.

“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”

However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.

“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”

This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].

But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.

So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.

  • A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
  • A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
  • A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
  • A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.

With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.

Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.

However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.

Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].

And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.

One sentence that explains what’s wrong with the discussion about intensification

Yesterday Bernard Orsman had an in-depth article in the NZ Herald about new apartment developments on Great North Road. Orsman, to his credit, considers the issue from several different angles and speaks to people with a range of views. He also rightly observes that the developments are a key part of the “vision of Great North Rd being turned into one of the city’s great boulevards with bus lanes, cycleways and well-designed apartments”.

Unfortunately, the article’s positive contribution to Auckland’s discussion about intensification comes to a screeching halt right there in the sub-heading:

Developers and council planners have sidelined the community over building heights for some new projects, say worried residents.

In one sentence, the article frames the issue as a conflict between ordinary people – the “worried residents” – and two spooky bogeymen – the “developers” and “planners”. Readers of a left-wing persuasion will read “developers” and think “greedy capitalists!”, while right-wing readers will read “planners” and think “Soviet Union!”

This framing misleads readers rather than enabling a better discussion about new apartments in the inner suburbs. From an economic perspective, the bogeymen invoked by the sub-heading are nothing of the kind:

  • Developers are out to make a buck, obviously, but they can profit off a development if and only if other people want to buy the places they’re building. Developers generally respond to demand in the market rather than creating it.
  • Urban planners, who are themselves Auckland residents, are trying to balance out amenity for current residents with the housing needs of a growing city. If no new dwellings were being constructed on Great North Road, it would probably mean that they were failing to do their job.

Which brings me on to one last point: It’s pretty bizarre to imply that relaxing the rules to enable buildings to go to six storeys rather than four is a case of regulations gone mad. From the sound of things, it wouldn’t be financially viable to construct a four storey building, as that would require an elevator and other expensive internal features that couldn’t be recouped without adding additional floors. It’s a good thing that Auckland Council planners are willing to consider applications on a case-by-case basis rather than just mindlessly applying the rules!

A targeted transport rate?

An article in last Friday’s NZ Herald provided an interesting insight into where the investigations into additional transport funding options are at. This is the second phase of the project to close the supposed $12 billion funding gap over the next 30 years. The article highlights that effort has been focusing on analysing different forms of road pricing and is perhaps leaning towards a motorway charging scheme:

Evaluating road tolls and fuel-tax rises and traditional funding methods such as rate rises and targeted rates is the job of the group due to report to the council next month.

The Herald understands that the independent alternative transport funding group is leaning towards motorway tolls. It will also provide options for targeted rates and extra rates rises.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated the Government’s pre-election position that there would be no regional fuel taxes or tolling of existing state highways in Auckland.

Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

I think tolling motorways could have some benefits but it also could have considerable downsides and we’ve outlined some of these before. The main problem with them is the potential for traffic diversion from motorways onto local roads. What also can’t be ignored is that a fairly high proportion of money raised from schemes like these goes into the administration of the system itself, this means it’s a fund-raising system that’s likely to be quite a lot less efficient than fuel taxes and rates. Some of the strongest proponents of motorway tolling has been the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and I suspect this is two fold,

  1. their members want to build, maintain and operate any tolling system
  2. their members want the additional funding that flows from the tolls to help build more infrastructure

One of the key problems with the alternative funding exercise right from the start has been the ignorance of whether we actually need to raise the additional funding for transport. The Integrated Transport Programme, which outlined the full transport programme over the next 30 years, included a huge number of incredibly costly and stupid projects included within its project list:

Knocking out $12 billion from the project list above is a pretty simple exercise – as we highlighted in our detailed analysis of the Congestion Free Network‘s financials. Therefore, based on the Integrated Transport Programme’s list of projects outlined above there is a very valid question about whether any form of additional funding is necessary. In addition even if a funding deficit still exists, if it was considerably smaller it might have allowed for some of the earlier dismissed funding options to be viable once again.

Another major flaw in many tolling proponents arguments that could have a significant impact on what projects get built is that any tolling or road pricing schemes are going to change demand substantially and as such it is likely to reduce or remove the need for many roading projects. Conversely it is likely to shift many PT projects up the priority ladder.

I guess the big question that we will all need to grapple with over the next few months, as the alternative funding group makes a recommendation to the Council, who then decides what they want to include in the draft Long Term Plan, is whether anything has changed since the ITP came out last year. It’s possible that two things have changed, which could mean a greater need for extra transport funding than we had previously expected.

  1. We know from the agendas for Auckland Transport closed board meetings that a lot of work has been going on to update the Integrated Transport Programme and the list of projects. Hopefully this means a lot of the crazier projects (like $665m on Albany Highway or around $900m on upgrading Great South Road) have been removed or the figures corrected.
  2. We know from the LTP Mayor’s Proposal that a lower level of rates increase means less money available overall for transport from normal funding sources compared to what’s in the current Long Term Plan. At first glance, it seems like most of the good projects can be funded over the next decade but there’s still no word on how much can be spent on things like walking and cycling, or the timing of various bus lanes and interchanges needed for the new network.

So given we know motorway tolling is an idea with many flaws and that the government isn’t going to approve new funding sources like this anyway, but there might be a need for a bit more money for transport, it seems sensible to be looking at other options. Which, returning to Friday’s Herald article, seems to be what’s happening:

Aucklanders could pay a new charge on top of rates to fund transport projects.

A “targeted rate” is one option being considered by an independent group looking at alternative funding measures to plug a $12 billion-plus transport funding gap over the next 30 years…

…Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

The National-led Government changed the law in 2009. Acting Mayor Penny Hulse said the $2.4 billion city rail link had been included in a new 10-year budget and did not need a targeted rate.

It will certainly be interesting to analyse the details of the transport budget as they emerge in the coming months, to see what can be afforded in the baseline transport programme and whether any additional money is required.