Follow us on Twitter

Petrol use falling

Even petrol companies are now talking about how fuel use and driving are falling. The Herald reports:

Z Energy says petrol consumption is falling in relation to increasing availability of broadband.

While more fuel-efficient vehicles and rising petrol prices have also contributed to consumption falling from its 2007 peak, Z’s chief executive, Mike Bennetts, said demand was more sensitive to broadband connectivity than these traditional factors.

“People are doing less discretionary motoring and that may be about the price but what we have found is quite a strong link between broadband connections and fuel consumption,” he said.

“People are doing online shopping and Skyping granny rather than making the fortnightly visit.”

A 1 per cent improvement in broadband connectivity is estimated to cause a drop of 200 million litres a year in national fuel demand, more than the impact of GDP growth, population, fleet turnover, vehicle efficiency and the petrol price.

This is very much in line with some of the things we’ve been saying for a while. The world is changing and the Internet in particular is having an impact on how much and often people travel. This is especially the case amongst young people. This also matches what we’ve seen in other transport metrics with the number Vehicle Kilometres Travelled per capita (VKT) falling back to below its 2001 level.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) publish regular information about fuel consumption and this is shown in the graph below by fuel type.

Fuel Consumption kt

Z are also predicting that petrol consumption will continue to fall

Fuel consumption peaked at 4.2 billion barrels a year in 2007 but is estimated by Z and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to fall to 3.6 billion barrels within the next 10 years.

Z has between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of fuel sales, and data compiled for an investor day shows light vehicle travel per person has fallen 6 per cent since 2005.

However, diesel use is increasing and while historically pegged to GDP growth is now surpassing that.

Undoubtedly there has been some shift from petrol to diesel which has contributed to the faster than GDP growth.

Of course one thing that isn’t mentioned in the article but will likely be having a small but growing impact will be that of the growth in PT in Auckland which has tended to outstrip population growth in recent years. About the only thing certain in transport these days is that we can no longer just assume things will just be a continuation of past trends.

Better or cheaper public transport?

With the great news that the Hop Card has finally been fully implemented, attention now turns to complementing integrated ticketing with integrated fares. Integrated fares is all about ensuring that you pay the same amount for a trip from A to B regardless of how you got there: a single bus, bus & train combination or whatever. The Regional Public Transport Plan indicates that Auckland Transport want to implement integrated fares through a zone based fare system – with latest board reports noting a couple of options still being analysed.

With my trying out of various options to get to and from Takapuna it has also highlighted just how important integrated fares are. With HOP to go via the 130 bus like I described yesterday it cost me $5.04. By comparison to catch a train to town and then get a bus to Takapuna – a journey that takes about the same length of time but doesn’t feel like it due to at least feeling like you are moving – costs $8.68. That’s a difference of $3.64 just to get to the same location. Even worse another bus I accidentally tried from town to Takapuna (which I will discuss in a separate post) cost a grand total of $9.67. That’s three completely different costs to go between the same two locations.

HOP costs to Takapuna

The fare zones originally proposed in the draft Regional Public Transport Plan looked at using geographic boundaries largely reminiscent of the old council areas however that didn’t receive a lot of support and sent AT back to the drawing board.  The latest board report suggests that AT are looking at two different concentric zone models like this one from a survey in August last year which I understand was much preferred over the geographic boundary option.

Concentric Zone structure

In Wednesday’s NZ Herald, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy discusses the potential for the integrated fares system to result in cheaper travel on public transport:

Aucklanders are being offered hope of cheaper public transport now introduction of the region’s $100 million electronic ticketing scheme is complete.

A report that Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy expects will recommend lower fares to help meet ambitious patronage targets is due before his council body’s board in two months…

…Dr Levy told the Herald after yesterday’s meeting that the card was a stepping stone to a simpler fare structure, which he hoped would give passengers cheaper trips.

The prospect of cheaper public transport is obviously appealing in some respects – and perhaps for some people the cost of public transport is what stops them from using the system. For most people though, I think the bigger issue is simply the usefulness of the system. When the system is full of routes like the stupid 130 that I talked about yesterday and/or routes with such low frequency meaning you have to plan your life around a bus timetable then no amount of price reductions is going to get lots more people using services.

Furthermore in the past I’ve looked into a number of Canadian and Australian cities and interestingly despite different fare structures and prices, the average fare paid by passengers is actually very similar to that in Auckland. These cities have much higher patronage than Auckland and some of the key reasons are the more developed Rapid Transit services and the connective bus networks. In other words they have developed a higher quality PT network and people are prepared to pay to use that.

There has also been some interesting research into this area by the NZTA. For example this paper found that while fares did play an important part, service was the key driving factor for patronage while this one notes that initiatives like free transfers, ticket promotions, improvements to hours and better timetables may have had a profound impact on patronage.

In saying all of this, I do think it’s possible that cleverly lowering some fares might lead to patronage growth significant enough to more than make up for the loss of per passenger revenue – particularly during off-peak periods where spare capacity already exists on many services.

However, clearly any reduction in fares that leads to a requirement for more operating subsidy is potentially taking money away from where it could otherwise be used – particularly in two areas:

  • Improving service frequency. The flip-side of this is that any lowering of revenue from PT fares could necessitate cutting of services to fund the extra subsidy requirement – which would be a pretty crazy thing to do if patronage increases.
  • Investing the money in infrastructure improvements to make public transport more attractive by being faster, more reliable or with higher quality facilities.

Obviously there’s the potential for money to be redirected away from building unnecessary motorway projects and into lowering PT fares, but one suspects that would require a change of government to occur.

All of the above doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Auckland Transport to change the way it prices public transport to be more attractive and offer better value for money. A few suggestions for how fares should be improved while not necessarily breaking the bank are:

  • Fixing up fare irregularities like mentioned in my example to Takapuna
  • While average fares are similar, compared to overseas cities, fares for short trips in Auckland are unusually low while fares for longer trips are unusually high. This could be redressed – although perhaps not to the extent of Melbourne’s flat fare proposal - in a way that’s ‘revenue neutral’.
  • As already mentioned, fares for off-peak travel could be lowered to ‘smooth out’ peaks in demand that require very expensive peak services to be operated.
  • The price difference between cash fares and Hop Card fares could be substantially increased to encourage greater use of Hop (which means faster boarding times and a more efficient system).
  • Monthly passes could be made more price attractive, to encourage higher levels of PT use by existing users.

As Jarrett Walker often mentions, every public transport user benefits from better public transport and improved public transport makes it more likely for anyone to use the system. Cheaper fares, particularly if achieved in a way that comes at the cost of lower overall revenue, only help a much smaller section of society and therefore are less likely to boost public transport use than improving service through bumping up frequencies or building better infrastructure.

Ultimately I think we have an important choice to make, do we choose between better or cheaper public transport. Personally I would rather a better quality service but I realise not everyone will agree.

Rudman on the current Transport plans

It’s almost as if Brian Rudman had been reading the blog (I’ve heard that he does).

Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, says Labour now backs Mayor Len Brown’s bid to levy an extra charge on Auckland road users through road or congestion charges or a regional fuel tax.

He said Labour had been wary of road-user charges in the past because of the effect on working Aucklanders, but now says they are already paying a high price for congested roads and lack of public transport.

But by buying into Mr Brown’s road-bloated transport plans, Labour is only preventing the short sharp shock in favour of public transport that is long overdue. Of course the city rail tunnel is a no-brainer. As was the electrification of the rail network, integrated ticketing, revision of the bus networks and the other public transport reforms which, let’s not forget, pre-dated Mr Brown’s emergence as chief cheerleader.

The problem is the $12 billion to $15 billion that Mr Brown wants to raise via road charging and tolling is needed only because of a huge funding shortfall in Auckland Transport’s proposed 30-year “integrated transport programme”.

It’s a flawed, road-dominated programme which, if achieved as planned, will leave the next generation of Aucklanders stuck in worse traffic jams than we have now. The plan admits that once it is completed, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road networks by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.

Despite all the mayor’s promotion of his rail tunnel, the underlying emphasis of this grand plan is still on roads. This is underlined in the regional land transport programme.

This is what we’ve been saying for almost a year now. Personally I think that road pricing should take place but not as a revenue gathering exercise but for the congestion relief benefits it provides. To do this it could be done in a revenue neutral way by reducing household rates instead. It is the rubbish Integrated Transport Programme that was one of the driving factors behind us creating the Congestion Free Network which does include still building a substantial number of roading projects but not to the same scale as currently proposed. We’ve even estimated the costs out over each and every year.

CFN Costs by year - 2 CFN Costs by year totals

Rudman continues

Aucklanders have proven that given a train service, they will use it. In 1993, after the purchase of Perth’s secondhand diesel fleet boosted Auckland’s puny rail service, passenger numbers rose from 1 million to 2.5 million over 10 years. In the 10 years after the opening of the Britomart station in 2003, passenger numbers quadrupled to 10 million.

The first of the 57 new electric trains will enter service in April. With the new Hop card integrated ticket finally operating and a redesigned network of bus routes in the wings, Auckland public transport is finally emerging from a half-century of neglect. With the improved train services and the Northern Busway, Aucklanders have voted with their feet. Provide a service and they will use it.

The trouble with the politicians and the bureaucrats is that after 60 years of addiction to petrol, they can’t break the habit. True, they’ve conceded that a liveable city needs a modern public transport system. But when did you ever see a politician on a bus or train – except for a photo opportunity?

More to the point, when did you see one vote to chop the roads budget in favour of public transport? Instead they try to support both, which is why Mr Brown and the “consensus building group” of mainly road-lovers he set up to find new funding is trying to bully Aucklanders into paying another $12 billion to $15 billion for a 30-year plan that’s designed to fail.

There are a few politicians that do use PT. The most prolific is actually George Wood who I know uses it to get all around the region and not just for getting to and from the CBD, even doing trips that most readers wouldn’t bother attempting like yesterday when he used PT to get from the Airport to the North Shore.

Yesterday the NZCID also released an “independent report” on infrastructure. I haven’t read through it yet but some of the comments in the press release definitely caught my eye.

However, SGS found that the Auckland Plan objective of a quality compact city was unlikely to be achieved without increased investment in city shaping infrastructure, identification of the means to fund that investment and policy reform to support road pricing and value capture mechanisms.

On current plans there simply is not sufficient investment in transport infrastructure to support a transition to an efficient and competitive higher density urban form, Selwood said.

To reverse many decades of low-density, motor-vehicle oriented growth will take much more than the city rail link and other projects prioritised in the Auckland Plan.

This finding helps explain why transport modelling of future land use and transport investment completed last year showed Aucklands congestion worsening significantly over the course of the next thirty years, even with all proposed investment committed.

So how does this plan look for some city shaping infrastructure that helps us transition to an efficient and competitive higher density urban form that will help to reverse many decades of low-density, motor vehicle oriented growth?

CFN 2030AEdit: Also worth including a couple of comments from Phil Twyford on the issue

 

Thousands pay Voluntary Bus Lane Tax

About 3-4 years ago a herald staff member was caught driving in a bus lane kicking off a campaign enforcement of them. Now at least every year the Herald publishes a story looking at how many have been fined and that appeared in the herald yesterday.

Motorists have paid $5.3 million in fines over three years for driving illegally in Auckland’s bus and car-pooling lanes – and owe a lot more.

Auckland Transport has issued more than 62,000 tickets for abuse of lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles since becoming a council body in November 2010.

But it has waived about 16,000 of those for technical or legal reasons, or in acknowledgment of special circumstances such as medical emergencies, and collected $150 fines from more than 35,000 vehicle owners or drivers.

That leaves about 11,000 fines outstanding, and in the hands of debt-collectors.

As the post title says, this is a voluntary tax. Bus lanes and transit lanes are marked and if you’re driving in a bus lane then you should expect a fine. I do find it interesting though that the herald are now aggregating the figures over three years, perhaps the number of tickets issued in 2013 was lower than in the past and it wouldn’t have made as good a story. That thought is reinforced by the comments about bus lane infringment on the North Shore.

The number of tickets issued on North Shore roads jumped more than sixfold from 131 in July to 826 in August. It almost doubled again to 1598 in October, before falling to 970 in November.

Auckland Transport says that followed warnings to motorists in suburban newspaper advertising in early August that it was about to resume enforcement in lanes after improving what it found to have been deficient signs inherited from the former North Shore City Council.

The previous surge in tickets has alarmed Auckland Council member George Wood, even though he was a strong advocate of transit lanes while serving as a North Shore mayor.

Mr Wood, who chairs the council’s regional strategy and policy committee, suspected Auckland Transport might be picking on North Shore motorists “to make sure they can make up their budget requirements”.

“This smacks of a revenue-gathering performance,” he said of the North Shore blitz.

I remember seeing people on social media complaining that there wasn’t any enforcement being done and that lots of people were abusing the transit lanes. So it seems AT did the right thing, fixed signage and started enforcing the lanes again based on the article went above and beyond by advertising that they would be doing it. Enforcing bus/transit lanes is exactly what I would expect them to be doing as without enforcement they quickly become a joke and abused by many who see it as a way to leapfrog the other drivers who are obeying the rules. That the number of tickets issued went down again in November suggests that perhaps the message started getting through.

Far from accusing Auckland Transport of revenue gathering he should be praising them collecting the money from people who clearly are donating extra money to the city thereby helping keep rates low.

The article also points out that Grafton Bridge no longer seems to be a hot point for tickets with the number issued dropping although we don’t know if part of that was due to less enforcement as a staff focused on the North Shore.

Clearer signs declaring Grafton Bridge off-limits to general traffic on week days have led to a marked reduction in tickets issued for lane breaches in the CBD.

In November, 192 tickets were issued, against 1443 given 12 months earlier, according to figures given to the Herald by Auckland Transport.

My understanding is that AT spent millions on the new signs to stop people driving over Grafton Bridge when they shouldn’t be, probably more than they collected in fines. Some images of what the electronic signs look like are below. The first one (blue sign) is on the approach to the bridge while the second one is at the intersection itself.

Grafton Bridge Bus Signs

That 192 tickets were still issued despite this level of signage shows that some people will continue to ignore the road rules or need to be paying a lot more attention when they’re driving. As I say, it’s a voluntary tax and there’s an easy way to avoid it.

Small can be good

Something strange seems to be happening at the Herald. Recently we have started to see an increasing number of stories that talk about the positives of apartments and higher density living which is completely opposite to the scaremongering we saw during the draft Unitary Plan debate last year. This one was in the herald yesterday – yes it’s the Herald on Sunday which is technically a different publication but we have seen it in the normal herald recently too.

Welcome to your new home. Step inside the flexible living space, which converts into an extra bedroom for guests and a home office during the week.

The two bedrooms also morph into multi-use spaces as needed – an office, a TV room, a studio or workroom. The walls are double insulated against the sound of the high-speed trains passing nearby, and the big, north-facing windows provide passive solar heating.

There’s no garage but you can hire a car just down the street and park your bike in the lock-up.

That aroma? Your neighbours are firing up a welcome barbecue down in the communal courtyard. Grab a lettuce from the rooftop garden for a salad and tuck in.

That’s one vision for how we could be living in 20 years. As demand grows for scarce city land, the population grows and property prices soar, it could well be a reality.

It’s not just a vision of our children’s future, either. It’s already the urban way of life in some parts of the world and has been for generations.

For some the idea of this won’t be appealing but for many others – like many in our younger generations – it’s an idea that doesn’t concern them and for many may even be desirable. in 2012 Patrick put together this wonderful post highlighting people who choose to live in an apartment.

Not everyone wants to live in apartments – and not everyone wants them next door, either. Submissions are open on Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan, the planning document that replaces the region’s 13 existing district and regional plans. Much of the public reaction has been opposition to medium and high-density residential developments in the suburbs.

Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation focused on climate change, found itself aligned with the Property Council and developers in their support for more intensive housing. “The current housing stock doesn’t reflect the changing attitudes of young people in terms of what housing they want,” says spokesman Carlos Chambers.

“There’s certainly a willingness to take hits on things like having your own private garden or section.”

He says new housing models have benefits like healthier lifestyles, less traffic congestion, people walking more and feeling more connected to their communities.

One of the comments we frequently make when discussing density is that it is important not just to put lots of dwellings in but that access to amenities is key; otherwise it’s just amplifying the really negative aspects of the lower density development that is so common in the suburbs – especially those built after 1950. It’s a point picked up well in the next section.

Ingrained ideas may not be easy to shift. Auckland University professor of urban design Errol Haarhoff and lecturer in urban planning Lee Beattie studied developments in New Lynn, Onehunga and Albany. Residents felt they were a good place to live and raise children but half still aimed to one day live in a stand-alone house on a full section.

Haarhoff is sceptical of this aspiration, which he says would be unrealistic for many. “If you then went on to explain that if you had a house in Botany Downs or Orewa or one of those urban fringe subdivisions, your kids would no longer be able to walk to school, there would be no amenities, there wouldn’t even be a dairy within 5km, I imagine the response would be more considered.”

He says the key to creating quality apartment developments is thinking outside the home as much as in it: Where are the shops, parks, schools and cafes? Can you walk there?

“You’ve got to design viable neighbourhoods and communities,” he says. “You can go out there and build 3000 houses but you have to deliver the schools, shops, cafes and connections.”

Good examples of medium density housing exist, often in inner-city suburbs like Freemans Bay, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Mt Eden. The amenities in those neighbourhoods – cafes, shops and parks – help negate the need for more space at home. “The cafe downstairs in the apartment block is the extension of the living room,” he says.

“You go to my local park (in Grey Lynn) and it’s full of mums and dads playing with their kids, meeting each other. Those spaces are there to be used to create a sense of community instead of coming inside and closing the drawbridge. We’re going to reach a point where those big 200sq m houses on the edge of the city are going to start not finding a market.”

One part that did catch my attention was about the change in the size of dwellings over time.

Why, then, are Kiwis still so firmly attached to living big?

If you’re building a new house today, it is probably at least 50 per cent bigger than what your grandparents would have built.

On an international scale, New Zealand’s houses are huge, and keep getting bigger. The average floor area for a new build last year was 197sqm -in crowded Auckland it was 203sq m. Nationally, that’s up from 135sq min 1990 – equivalent to a couple of extra bedrooms.

The size of new-builds was steadily climbing until 2010, when a stutter in the property market saw a drop. In Auckland, it peaked at 217sq min 2010, then dipped to 209sqmin 2011 and to 203sqm last year.

That’s perhaps because the number of apartments built in the region took a steep upturn last year-from 616 in 2012 to 1059 in the year to November.

But even the apartments are roomy – the average size last year was 113sq m. Compare that to the 45sqm average dwelling size in Hong Kong, 76sqmin the UK, or 95sqmin Japan.

Bigger dwellings have been a trend in not just NZ but other countries too. Seeing how much I like charts, I thought I would show just how much the average dwelling size has changed the result is below.

Average Dwelling Size

The big dip in 02-08 period ties in with when larger numbers of apartments were being built. The graph below shows the size of Auckland houses and apartments compared to the rest of New Zealand. Due to some apartments averaging well above 100m² I assume the figures must be including the likes of terraced houses.

Average House Sizes

What I find most interesting is the average house size in Auckland was roughly identical compared to the rest of NZ from about 1999 through to mid-2004 before getting substantially larger just before the GFC. I’m guessing there are multiple reasons behind the trend and that one of those is due to a desire to get more out of the land which is generally more valuable in Auckland than other parts of New Zealand.

The data also includes information about subsections of Auckland based on the old council boundaries providing some very interesting information at a sub-regional level. The next graph shows the average dwelling size consented for the different areas of Auckland (I’m not sure why the North Shore is so spiky at times).

Auckland Dwelling Size

As would be expected, Auckland City saw the lowest sizes for some time which was primarily due to it being where the majority of apartments were built. As apartment construction dried up, the average size of houses increased.

The next graph shows the average house size. What I find interesting is how house sizes in the old Waitakere City Council area have been consistently lower than in the rest of Auckland while in the last 5 or so years the area with the largest homes being built has been on the North Shore.

Auckland House Size

Unfortunately while the data is available, it isn’t really possible to show apartments at this granularity clearly and the graph just looks like an even bigger mess of colours

It will be interesting to see where average house sizes go in the future.

Right on Queue

Right on queue we get a full page spread from the Herald about traffic queues.

Wet weather, a serious crash and the post-Christmas rush combined to bring bumper-to-bumper congestion on long sections of highways and travel misery to holidaymakers.

Police described some traffic as a “rolling carpark” and urged calm as queues of up to 20km yesterday greeted motorists escaping Auckland, in the holiday hot-spot of the Coromandel Peninsula and north of Wellington.

and

Highways north and south of Auckland were crowded as thousands left the city for their New Year holiday.

Auckland Arts Festival Trust chairwoman Victoria Carter was among those caught driving north. A frequent user of the road, she said she had never known the queue to Warkworth to be as long.

“We got to the (Johnstones Hill) tunnel at 11am and there was a queue coming out of the tunnel as we arrived at it and we were hoping it was not the queue for Warkworth … and it was.

“We crawled to Warkworth at an average speed of 15-20km/h … It looks like the congestion stemmed from the traffic lights in Warkworth.”

Transport Agency spokesman Anthony Frith said a 20km northbound queue formed on State Highway 1 to Warkworth from 10am.

Last month, the Government approved a fast-track consent process for a $760 million extension of the Northern Motorway to Warkworth.

The Transport Agency has not set a start date for the 18.5km four-lane extension from the Johnstones Hill tunnels, but construction is expected to start between 2015 and 2019 and end between 2020 and 2025.

The traffic lights at at Warkworth are definitely a problem need to be addressed but that doesn’t mean it needs a full offline motorway to do it. The most prudent thing to do would be to build the bypass part of the project first by way of a small section of road from the existing SH1 to the P2W route as shown below. An additional small section of road to link where the bypass joins back to SH1 across to Matakana Rd would eliminate almost all through traffic out of Warkworth.

warkworth-bypass

After those two pieces of work have been completed, we could then see just what impact they would have on traffic patterns and congestion and allow us to see if a full motorway connection between Puhoi and Warkworth is really needed. If that motorway still stacks up (which I doubt it would) then very little has been lost as only the blue section in the map above (about 1.3km) would have been surplus to requirements. However depending on how it was designed, that blue link could eventually be used as a link to another interchange which would mean the project would actually be of some benefit to locals as what is currently proposed would actually be longer for locals to use than the existing road.

I’m almost certain the only reason this isn’t being pursued is that those in support of the project know it would kill what little justification there is for the rest of the project.

BTW – to someone who has a physical copy of the paper, what’s that rubbish in the top right corner with flying cars. If there were about to come on stream then wouldn’t that kill the need for many of the upgrades even more?

Milford oppose intensification because there aren’t enough residents

A couple of articles in the Herald the other day about caught my attention.

First up is this piece on the environment court proceedings in relation to the proposed residential development above the Milford mall. It seems like his is a battle that has been going on for forever and the article covers of the views of one long-time resident that appear to be fairly common in not just the Milford community but elsewhere – as we saw with the Unitary Plan. I’m going to give my views on some of the comments

The spectre of more than 500 people living in a cluster of towers rising up to 16 levels around the North Shore’s Milford Mall has dismayed an opponent.

William McCandless, a Milford resident since the 1950s, told the Environment Court on Tuesday that he was “gobsmacked” developer Milford Centre would propose 64m-high towers when the height trigger was only 11m.

“I am not comfortable with 500-plus new residents living on the same site as the shopping mall that is closed at night and in a town where there is no entertainment, sports fields, infrastructure or a police station to police them,” he said.

Bronwyn Carruthers for Milford Centre told the court the suburb was identified as a prime location for intensification, developing 250 units was appropriate and negative effects could be managed.

To me this highlights quite strongly one of the key issues with the debate about intensification and that is some see more people as just a problem, not an opportunity. Almost certainly the extra amenities that Mr McCandless quotes don’t exist due to there not being enough people in the area. The comment about the mall is especially intriguing as these residents will be living right on top of it so there is probably a much greater incentive for the mall to be open later. I do find the police station comment a bit odd though, it perhaps suggests a bias that he thinks the only people who would live in apartments are trouble makers. Moving on.

Mr McCandless said the apartment scheme contained nothing for the community and potential adverse effects were plainly obvious and would be significant.

Milford Centre is appealing against Auckland Council’s rejection of its plan.

Mr McCandless said if surrounding shore suburbs had many two- and three-level apartment buildings, he might be convinced of the need to go higher at Milford. But until then he could not see the need for such tall towers on the site.

“I definitely do not support the huge quantum leap to five, eight, 12 and 16-storey as proposed by this plan change,” he said, raising concerns about wind effects on houses nearby, the spectre of flooding and aesthetic issues.

“There will be significant adverse effects. Good Lord, it is 16, 12, eight and five-storey buildings crammed on to one allotment. You can’t screen such buildings out with 64m shrubs. Visible is visible as far as I am concerned, no matter what design it is,” he said, challenging the very concept of intensifying Milford, which he described as a flawed strategy.

“There are other ways of preventing traffic congestion and carbon pollution without giving up our business land and airspace above it,” he said, decrying residential uses for business land.

Once the area was rezoned, it was “gone for good” and so were the potential employment opportunities, he said.

The part that most intrigued me was the suggestion that if there were more low level apartments around the area that it might justify higher height limits in Milford.  This is an issue as these types of developments have largely been prevented from being able to occur either because the zoning requirements that mandate single houses or that the zoning hasn’t been sufficient enough to make developments commercially viable i.e. a developer might need three or four storeys to be able to make a profit so if he is limited to two storeys there is no point in doing the development in the first place.

Sadly this will continue as the unitary plan primarily only allows for single houses or Mixed Housing Suburban, both of which still only have two storey height limits. There is a small amount of mixed housing urban in the town centre but I think there isn’t enough to make much difference. There really should have been some THAB in the area like what was originally proposed in the draft. In effect what Mr McCandless is saying is this development shouldn’t go ahead because there aren’t lower level developments in the area but then the local community have also prevented those from happening too. Further as I think Stu pointed on of his posts (can’t find it sorry), the more we restrict more widespread but lower level intensification, the higher and more concentrated any developments will have to be in areas that do allow intensification.

I think his comments also hint at another major issue that I have had in general with some of the arguments surrounding the Unitary Plan. I remember hearing both local board members and councillors talking about progressing upgrading to the city. By that I mean suggesting that they can zone an area for the two storeys Mixed Housing Suburban zone then upgrade it to the three storey Mixed Housing Urban later when needed. Same again in going up to the Terraced Housing and Apartment zone. The issue is that in market desirable areas the best development sites may still have some viability and so the developer will maximise what he can on a site. Once that happens the site (often split up) becomes unavailable for upgrading to a higher density as no developer is going to be able to afford to buy all of the properties and undo what has happened. As such it’s important that we get the zoning right based on how we want the city to look and feel in the future than getting a half arsed and compromised solution.

There are more images from their website however here is one of what one of the towers may look like.

The second article that caught my attention was this one which talks about the future of the city and how it may look with Ludo Campbell-Reid. The first part talks a lot about how the city may feel in the future

The Auckland City of the future is no Blade Runner fantasy, says Auckland Council’s urban design guru Ludo Campbell-Reid. It’s not all gleaming glass towers and sky-high elevators; technology and vertical living.

“That’s an unimaginable city, it’s an horrific city where people are part of the machinery,” he says. “I like a bit of chaos. Chaos is more exciting. People like intimate spaces. People like to walk. People want to see the church at the end of the road they are walking along. They want to see the city around them. They want the city to be about them. That Blade Runner type of modern city scares me.”

What is planned for Auckland over the next two to three decades is more Back to the Future than Brave New World, he says. A place where pedestrians and public transport rule. Where alleys and open spaces take precedence over cars. An inter-linking set of walkways lined with shops and restaurants, joining old and new city parks, creating people spaces above our motorway junctions and evolving a Kiwi urban lifestyle where residents can see the beautiful buildings and distinctive surroundings that give Auckland its character.

Difficult to imagine? The beginnings of this Auckland City of the future is around us now. Take the shared pedestrian/car spaces of Fort Lane and Elliott St. The family-centred parks and promenades of Wynyard Quarter, the rebuilt Auckland Art Gallery, Britomart and Te Wero bridge with its steps enticing children to dangle their toes into the Waitemata Harbour. Auckland City has been undergoing a transformation over the past seven years. Expect to see more of the same over the coming decades.

That sounds great but the reason why I’ve associated with the first article is the end of be next bit:

There are plans to transform the inner-city roads already housing whole communities into narrower traffic lanes with green spaces for children, such as Hobson St which is already home to 10,000 people. He would like to see a new downtown school, Quay St to become a tree-lined boulevard on the waterfront, with room for some cars and light rail heading up Queen St.

He points to the Vinegar Lane project, currently underway in Ponsonby, as a game-changer for urban living. Built with a supermarket below, surrounded by individually-designed terraced homes and apartments with rooftop gardens, courtyards and offices, it is a village of its own all in the same block.

“In many cities now the space above the ‘big box’ stores and supermarkets are filled with apartments. Those big retail stores need people in them, and we need space.”

In a way, malls are a kind of big box type development and building above them has a lot of potential which is exactly what is proposed to happen at Milford. While most of us probably aren’t huge fans of big box type developments they may end up being hugely important from a land-banking situation. Particularly if we can deal with the minimum parking requirements.

The comments about some of the changes in the CBD are very interesting too. Narrowing Hobson and Nelson St has been on our list for a while a downtown school will likely be needed with the increasing number of people choosing to live in the CBD. Catering for children in the city centre is probably going to be one of the most important and essential things we can do to make the area liveable for everybody.

As for Quay St, it has been talked about for a while now so surely it’s time for Auckland Transport to get some sort of design out to the community so they can see what’s planned. The comment suggests there will still be cars on the street and I don’t have too much problem with this providing AT reduce the number of lanes from what we currently have as we don’t need 6 -7 lanes (when you include medians and parking). Fewer lanes along with upgrades to make it easier for pedestrians to get around will make a huge world of difference to how people use and perceive the street.

As for both articles, let’s just get on with it.

Project Auckland op-eds

The Herald today has a large amount of op-eds on what is being called Project Auckland which is looking at how Auckland is going to develop and as you would expect, housing and transport features very heavily. Op-eds include

Now I’m not going to comment on every single article but rather some of the general themes within them, although I will pick out a few individual comments that have annoyed me (as I seem to be in a grumpy mood today which is quite unusual).

The really positive thing about all of the pieces is that in general people think the city is heading in the right direction and considering how much has had to be done by the council over the last few years to merge all of the various council plans and policies together. Things could have easily gone quite wrong and so the council staff (from all organisations) and the politicians need to be congratulated for that.

Of course not everything has been plain sailing and there have been (and still are) a number of issues that haven’t been handled ideally. The Unitary Plan is one of those where the lack of clear enough information about what was proposed led to the development of groups like Auckland 2040 that used misinformation and scare tactics to oppose the plan. In the article about the Unitary Plan I wanted to highlight some of the positive comments in relation to it. First from Penny Hulse

“It’s not about cramming in another one million people but having timely infrastructure, so people moving here are not shocked by bad planning. If people don’t arrive as we thought, then the houses won’t get built as fast. That’s life.

“But we can’t let Auckland languish with a housing crisis, and we can’t let shoddy design continue and building take place in the wrong places,” she says. “I’m comfortable where we have got to in the Unitary Plan process, and we can keep building trust about the whole concept of intensification.

“There are huge benefits about being able to walk to the shops and work, and live in a vibrant community. Some people see intensification as frightening but if it’s done well then it can be transformative.”

And from Chief Planning Officer, Roger Blakely

So the traffic problem is resolved within 30 years?

“Yes,” says Blakeley.

“We will have high quality, high frequency rail and bus services. We will have lots of dedicated cycling and walkways. They are more cost- effective than building more roads, and cars are an inefficient way of moving people around the city.

“The city rail link will be finished, and there will be rail to the airport and North Shore (via the second harbour crossing). Bus services will feed into the rail, and the Skypath on the existing harbour bridge will link up the cycling and walking network.

“The 1960s saw cars take over cities around the world with large freeways and parking lots. But the cities lost their human scale,” says Blakeley.

The residential plans are designed to bring a new face to Auckland. “We have to have a flexibility of choice in housing that meets different needs and different budgets. This need is with us now,” Blakeley says.

“Soon there will be more one or two person households than three persons plus – our present housing stock is not geared to meet that need. We need a mix of terraced and town houses, apartments and single houses on a section.”

Hear hear but how we get our transport agencies and the government to understand this is a different story. And this:

“What we noticed in the debate was the generational gap,” Blakeley says. “The older people who went to the meetings organised by Auckland 2040 objected loudly to the intensification.

“But the younger people who were active on social media wanted to live in a more intensified city – they wanted to experience the extra vibrancy that comes with that, including cultural, retail and recreational activity.

“We are talking about international best practice, here,” he says. “Vancouver has done it, and Copenhagen and Vienna are also following the quality, compact city strategy. As the Danish architect Jan Gehl (he’s an adviser to Auckland) said in his book Cities for People, ‘you can’t keep sprawling outwards’.”

Blakeley says “we saw a lot of Nimby (Not In My Backyard) during the Unitary Plan debate. I’m convinced that when more and more people see examples of housing development that embodies flexibility of choice, quality and affordability, they will become comfortable with the idea of intensification.”

He names developments by Hobsonville Land Company at Hobsonville Point and Ockham Investments at Kingsland, Ellerslie and Grey Lynn as examples of future living in Auckland. He says they have a range of sizes and types of housing, ensuring it’s quality at a price people can afford.

“We didn’t get all the intensification we hoped for in the proposed Unitary Plan this time, but it will be reviewed perhaps every five to 10 years, and there will be the opportunity to change the zoning of some areas.”

The generational issue is a serious one. Most of the older people who are objecting to the plan aren’t the ones who will be around in 30 years-time having to live with the outcomes of scaling back the Unitary Plan. We’ve also talked before about how the plan will need to be revisited in the future due to the downscaling that occurred. Once again Auckland 2040 has been allowed to spout a pile of rubbish in the article.

During the Unitary Plan debate, Takapuna neighbours Guy Haddleton and planner Richard Burton formed Auckland 2040 which finished up in an alliance with more than 70 residents’ associations and other groups, including Character Coalition.

Auckland 2040 was opposed to intensification in the suburbs.

Burton says Auckland 2040 “got 70 per cent of what we were after. The rest is detail in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone – that is still very intensive.

“Originally, the draft plan allowed unrestricted apartment building of three or four storeys over 56 per cent of the residential land in Auckland. That has come down to 15 per cent, and from that point of view there’s a degree of rational thinking in the council.

“Their desire is to focus higher intensity development around the town centres and along arterial routes, and I think that’s appropriate.”

Burton is concerned that rules for height to boundary, coverage and yards have been relaxed too much, particularly when they are applied to existing built-in neighbourhoods.

“They will have quite a significant impact – for instance, adjoining rear yards will be one metre each rather than 6 metres and there will be no room for plantings.

A couple of glaring errors in here, first 56% of the residential land in Auckland wasn’t allowed three or four storey apartment buildings, that figure was the amount of land covered by the centres, terraced house and apartment (THAB) zone and the Mixed Housing Zone (MHZ). The MHZ made up the vast majority of that and had a height limit of 8m which is roughly two storeys. Developers would only have been able to go above that with resource consent and even then only to 10m. As a result of the feedback the MHZ was split into two zones Urban (MHU) and Suburban (MHS).

The second major issue is the comment that backyards will be one metre from each other. While the rules for each of the Mixed Housing Zones have a 1m minimum setback on the sides and rear of a house, they also have a requirement for an outdoor living space off the main living area with set conditions i.e. if the living area is on the ground floor there has to be an area with a minimum of 20m² and no dimension less than 4m in length. So while there is technically a minimum of 1m other requirements also need to be taken into account to understand the full picture of what is proposed.

As mentioned the other major theme is transport and as we have come to expect from transport discussion in the city, most of the talk is about how we need to rapidly invest in infrastructure to “catch up”. However as Lester Levy notes, AT also need to improve the way it deals with it’s customer – us the general public.

The other half of the “walnut” essential to making Auckland’s transport system world-class is what I describe as the “software”. This is the mindset and culture within which Auckland Transport needs to deliver a customer-sensitive transport service, which means providing services that are characterised by precision (reliability and punctuality) and responsive service – we and our partners (the providers of our bus, ferry and train services) have much work to do in this area and I have made it my highest priority to finally get this fixed.

The HOP rollout has been dealt with shows we still have a long long way to go on this.

On the infrastructure side though there is a very clear push through quite a number of the pieces about the East-West Link. The project is one that came from obscurity to be ranked one of the most important in the region in The Auckland Plan a few years ago and there has been a strong indication that the council’s support of it was the price to pay for the business community supporting the CRL. It is now being moved well ahead of the CRL in the overall timeline and the government is expected to agree to a funding package for it next year despite there not having even been a business case completed for it yet, let alone a confirmed route – although I’m also hearing that option 4, the route that is the most destructive, most expensive and that has the least benefit for freight is the one that is now the front runner. It makes me wonder if all these mentions of it is part of a concerted effort to soften up the public on the need for it.

I also want to once again highlight one of my biggest bugbears of Auckland Transport underselling the benefits of the CRL.

CRL will mean Britomart becomes a through station, opening the way for 10-minute train services in peak times to Panmure, which in turn will be able to connect with more frequent feeder bus services to suburbs further to the east such as Pakuranga, Howick, Ti Rakau and Botany.

How many times to we have to remind AT that the frequency being talked about in the article is possible in the next year or two and that the CRL allows for double that i.e. 5 minute train services at peak times. It might not sound like that big of a deal but the way people perceive the difference between even 5 and 10 minute services can be quite substantial. The reason AT keep underselling it is they are afraid to promise anything in case they aren’t able to deliver it but they fail to realise that if they keep underselling the project then it risks losing public support.

As I said at the start, the good thing is that we are generally heading in the right direction but we do need some tweaks to get the best outcome.

Stopping cars from damaging shared streets

A story in the NZ Herald yesterday has scratched the surface on of the key problems that do exist with shared spaces.

Everyone knows the Maori language has taken a battering, but in downtown Auckland, a seat in the form of the word “reo” has been put near the middle of the road outside the central library and is now scraped and bent out of shape because of vehicles banging into it.

The Auckland Council spent $95,000 buying the seat and $10,000 installing it.

And now it is likely to have to pay even more to move it.

The three letters, about 0.5m high, and are set well out on Lorne St, a thoroughfare that has been converted into a “shared space” – a paved zone used by cars and pedestrians.

The letters have cast bronze tops and sides supported by a galvanised steel frame. The bronze is a close colour match to the paving that surrounds it.

Council spokesman Glyn Walters said two cars were known to have hit the structure, in August last year and September this year.

But judging by the shape it was in, and considering reports from onlookers, there have been more crashes.

From what I’ve seen of the seat I would say there have been a lot more than two crashes and this seat isn’t alone. Many of the seats in other shared spaces have equally taken a battering from careless drivers and it really does concern me that some drivers aren’t able to see what’s on the road ahead of them – how would they react to a kid standing on a road wearing dark clothing? It’s not like the seat is right at the start of the street and unsuspecting drivers come around the corner and aren’t able to see it, it’s 75m from the entrance of Lorne St which can only be reached by turning off the narrowed Rutland St.

I’ve highlighted the location in red in the image below, also note that vehicles are only allowed to travel north on the street as opposed to the other section of Lorne St on the other side of Wellesley which is South only.

Lorne St Reo Artwork location

 

I would suggest that there are two key reasons for the seat being hit

  1. Drivers are travelling too fast – as noted by one comment in the herald article about a delivery person on a scooter who crashed into it and who was also travelling the wrong way down the street.
  2. Drivers are being impatient by trying to get around a pedestrian or illegally parked car.

In both situations the problem is not that the seat is there but that drivers aren’t paying enough attention. Here is another image showing the location of the seat in relation to the rest of the street thanks to Craig and as you can see it is a long way down the street (vehicles have to drive towards the camera).

And this is what it looked like shortly after installation

And here is what it looks like now after being battered by cars (as well as skateboards). You can see the R has been bent out of shape and broken. Again thanks to Craig for these photos.

The herald article ends with

Walters said the seat was installed in 2011 just before the Rugby World Cup. The council was now assessing the cost of repairing or moving it.

“Shared spaces are a new part of Auckland’s city centre public space experience and have so far been well received by the public and local businesses.”

Meanwhile, next month the Auckland City Council plans to install coloured planter pots in Lorne St outside the abandoned St James Theatre.

It’s clear the council need to do something but to me moving it seems to be the worst option. The coloured planter pots sound good so how about using some of those further down on the same side of the street in front of where the seat is or even perhaps some artistic bollards, just something to further alert drivers that they are in a different environment and  need to drive more carefully. To me moving the seat would only serve to make the road appear wider for drivers encouraging them to speed even more and making the area less attractive to pedestrians.

I think it would also help immensely if the St James could be reopened and that side of the street activated drawing more people to the area because as the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers.

TomTom’s Congestion Index Report

TomTom have released their annual congestion rankings and reported that Auckland is the 17th most congested city in the world.

The City of Sails is fast becoming the City of Snails, and is rising on a list of the world’s most congested cities compiled by navigation firm TomTom.

The report, which compares congestion levels in 169 cities across six continents, found New Zealand cities were experiencing some of the biggest increases in congestion.

On the list of the most congested cities, Auckland is ranked 15th, Christchurch 17th and Wellington 37th.

New Zealanders now spend a staggering 101 hours annually in peak-hour traffic, with Auckland having the biggest increase in congestion across Australia and New Zealand.

The congestion level for Auckland is measured at 34 per cent in the last June quarter, up from 30 per cent the year before. In Christchurch and Wellington it is 32 per cent and 28 per cent respectively.

At its worst, Aucklanders are stuck in traffic for an average of 47 minutes for each hour driven.

That all sounds pretty bad but is it really? First it pays to look at how they calculate the congestion index. The reports – which can be found here  - state that it is calculated as:

With the publication of the TomTom Traffic Index we are aiming to provide the general public, industry and policy makers with unique and unbiased information about congestion levels in urban areas.

The methodology that is used in this report compares the travel times during non-congested periods (free flow) with travel times in peak hours. The difference is expressed as a percentage increase in travel time. We take into account local roads, arterials and highways. All data is based on actual GPS based measurements for each city the sample size is expressed in total number of measured miles for the period.

Straight away there is a major issue with this methodology and that is the comparison is based in just how fast you can travel if no one else was on the road compared to what happens at the during the peak period. This is a serious issue for a few reasons.

1. Cities that have a lot of all-day congestion won’t appear as bad on the report because there is less of a difference between free flow and congested periods.

2. Many of our roads have been built to try and handle peak congestion periods and are relatively empty off peak allowing for much faster speeds. The motorways are a great example as they are often bursting at the seams during the peak but can be comparatively empty off peak allowing for much much faster journeys. The Northwestern motorway is perhaps the prime example of this and is now going through another round of widening.

3. The biggest issue though is that by comparing travel times by in this manner, it ignores what the most efficient speed for moving vehicles is. By that I mean over the same stretch of road more people overall can be moved if they are travelling slow than if they are travelling 100km/h. This is something that was picked up strongly in the research conducted for the NZTA by Ian Wallis and Associates which looked at the cost of congestion. They noted the differences between the definitions of congestion as:

Various definitions of congestion were reviewed and it was found that the concept of congestion is surprisingly ill-defined. A definition commonly used by economists treats all interactions between vehicles as congestion, while a common engineering definition is based on levels of service and recognises congestion only when the road is operating near or in excess of capacity. A definition of congestion based on the road capacity (ie the maximum sustainable flow) was adopted. The costs of congestion on this basis are derived from the difference between the observed travel times and estimated travel times when the road is operating at capacity.

The graph below shows the engineering definition mentioned above.

speed-flow

4. The TomTom report misses one key aspect and that is the ability of people to travel congestion free. Investments in the rail network, Northern busway and even just some of the bus lane network in the old Auckland City Council area have led to dramatic rises in the number of people using Public Transport. In the case of the busway, it has seen the number of people crossing the harbour bridge increase from 18% in 2004 to 41% in 2011. These people are travelling almost completely free of congestion (with the notable exception of in the city centre) yet the amount of time they spend on their commute isn’t captured by this data at all because they are almost certainly not carrying a TomTom with them.

bus-trips

Instead of being a congestion index report, what the report really should be called is a private vehicle travel time variability report.

I do note some interesting responses in the articles about the report. In the herald we get

The New Zealand Transport Agency said it was working to improve traffic flow in cities through investment in public transport services and infrastructure, roading and facilities.

“Our investment in public transport is at unprecedented levels, having risen by over 20 per cent nationwide in just three years,” said agency spokesman Anthony Frith.

“We’re also investing in walking and cycling facilities that will get people out of their cars and onto their bikes or travelling by foot.”

In Auckland, the agency was investing $3.4 billion in the region’s transport system, including $1.6 billion for state highways, $968 million for roads and $890 million for public transport.

Well most of the increase in costs for PT are to pay for the NZTA’s share of the loan for the new electric trains. I’m not saying that isn’t welcome but not necessarily the massive investment suggested. Further a small fraction of that is going towards PT infrastructure.

And from Stuff:

Automobile Association principal infrastructure adviser Barney Irvine said a focus needed to be put on getting more out of the existing network.

“Public transport is an important part of the puzzle but it is only one part.

“The big thing is to try and get more out of the existing network.”

Mr Frith said several initiatives were in place to try to ease congestion in all of the cities.

Auckland had a $3.4b programme of investment in the region’s transport system from 2012 to 2015. This included improvements to state highways, local roads and public transport.

I agree that we need to get more out of the existing network and it’s good to see the AA acknowledging that.

Lastly if we really want to move people around then then the Congestion Free Network would allow people to do that completely free of congestion giving some real choice.

CFN 2030A