The New Old World Order

The demolition of the Downtown Centre for the start of the CRL and the replacement of this 1960s structure by Precinct Properties’ Commercial Bay office and retail development is an important moment for Auckland on many levels.

Along with the obvious boon of the actual beginning of the CRL there is also something deeply symbolic here. The entire conception of the previous building was anti-urban, it was a suburban mall stuck right in the heart of the city. I have always been struck by the semiotics of this backwards invasion; instead of the usual order of things, where a smaller centre tries to present its developments as a new sophistication by reference to a bigger more glamorous centre, this whole building seemed to represent an inversion of this idea; determinedly aiming to be nothing more than a little bit of Lynn Mall in the city.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3187

But then it comes from that peculiar age in the history of city making; the second half of the 20thC, when, uniquely, dispersal and edge took over from concentration and centre as the formula for commercial success. See here for a fascinatingly detailed history of this development by architect Malcolm Smith, it is clear from this that it was extremely hard in those times to make such a location work, the city centre had just lost its mojo. To see how this came to be so in what now is so obviously such a valuable location, it is important to understand the historical context in which this development took place. This is well summarised on Auckland’s Wikipedia page (source).

The relocation of industries to outlying suburbs became especially pronounced in the 1950s, partly due to incentives made by council planners to create industrial areas in Penrose and Rosebank Road (amongst others) and thus rid the inner city area of noise, pollution and heavy traffic. This was mirrored by the development of suburban shopping malls (the first being LynnMall in 1963)[4]which enticed retailers to vacate the inner city as well. Attempts by the council to halt this pattern by constructing numerous public car parking buildings met with varying success. The rise of suburban supermarket and mall shopping that was created in places such as Pakuranga from 1965 onwards has been added to by the appearance of Big Box retailers in places such as Botany and the North Shore.[5]

It really is a perfect example of this zeitgeist, from its introverted retail pattern [blank walls to the street; its formation it actually consumed a city street], car parking orientation [Downtown parking building and airbridge], clunky sub-modernist massing, right down to the hideous 70s baby-kaka colour scheme.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3228

And now, it is my contention, its demise is also a perfect expression of the new zeitgeist; the return of the city. The inversion of the pattern in play at the time of its creation.

Which, as the name suggests, is simply a return to the timeless urban pattern of the preeminence of proximity and concentration: Where the centre is by definition the busiest and most valuable retail and commercial precinct. A pattern that would be recognisable to city inhabitants throughout all ages and nations, and is only worth emphasising here because everybody adult today has grown up under the opposite, and anomalous, pattern. So what is in fact abnormal and inverted in the long history of urban settlement is strangely conventional and may even seem natural.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3200

This explains the confused incomprehension of people like Herald writer John Roughan, a deeply committed 20th Century dweller who just can’t get to grips with this return to the natural urban order of things this century in Auckland, with the city reshaping itself again on urban terms, building proper city kit like underground rail and the volume of pedestrians pushing out the car from city streets. As opposed to the suburban auto-privileging order he is comfortable with. This is the pattern of the mid-late 20th century in Auckland; the good old days of auto-dominated yet unpeopled city streets, a commuter city completely unlived in, and dead at nights and on weekends; everyone having fled to the haven of the suburbs. So he confuses the vibrancy of crowded city pavements and new construction with some sort of disorder:

Meanwhile, the heart of Auckland looks like a body in the first phase of drastic surgery. It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging.

Whereas to city lovers the scale and ubiquity of construction currently underway in the city is exhilarating and full of promise*. Auckland now has something of the energy of early 20th century North American cities; alive with commerce, construction, and crowds. Rather than the plodding predictability of the old provincial town that Roughan seems to be yearning for.

This kind of confusion and conflict is to be expected in times of significant change that it is clear that Auckland and many other cities are experiencing now. The bewilderment and anger of some older people at the [largely misunderstood] Unitary Plan is another sign of this: people tend to react fearfully when much of what they always assumed would be permanent and unchallenged starts to melt away. Views formed decades ago can calcify and to see their concrete expression demolished can provoke emotional reaction.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3234

So we can expect more lashing out and confused editorials by those unable or unwilling to move with the times, because I am pretty certain this is a powerful and irresistible trend, as shown by the scale of work, over $10 billion of new construction underway or about to be in Auckland City along the CRL route. As powerful in fact as the last time our city conformed to international trends and profoundly altered its form and movement systems: yup that’s right, when we went all in for motorways, suburban living, and dispersed shopping malls.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_01_800px

Auckland Star April 1973

We are just changing horses again, and this time back to a normal urban pattern based on a hierarchy of concentration, but as with all evolutions or even revolutions, they still take place in the context of what went before. So Roughan’s sacred suburbia, with its rituals of weekend car washing, lawn mowing, and BBQs, will still exist, and in fact can still be the enveloping context for many people’s entire Auckland experience if they so desire. The wheel turns, but also rolls forward, building on the old, as well as replacing it. Just as buildings of earlier phases of Auckland’s history, particularly from its most urban period in the first half of the 20th Century, can (thankfully) still be seen in these photographs, so will the monuments of the second half of last century persist, the motorways, the malls, the parking buildings, the stubby towers, but the new emphasis is increasingly now elsewhere.

Only I would contend that this time we are being much less destructive than before; we are not dismantling the motorway system, or even running it down, although we will stop adding to it; importantly this is unlike what happened to the tram network and passenger rail during the motorway/sprawl era.

This change may be a shock to people like Roughan, but it really is more evolutionary than revolutionary, additional not substitutive.

All palaces are temporary.

Lower Queen St demolishion 60:70s

*= which isn’t to say that every change is ideal, see here for a critique of the public space issues at Commercial Bay: Are we getting the Public Space…

 

CRL Cost Blowout Overblown

On Saturday the Herald proclaimed that the cost of the City Rail Link had blown out by $500 million which came on the heels of Prime Minister John Key saying that the project will “almost certainly cost more than they thought

The cost of Auckland’s most expensive project – the $2.5 billion City Rail Link (CRL) – has jumped to more than $3b.

Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton says the project needs more money in the rail network that could easily take the “combined project cost” above $3b.

He understood that Prime Minister John Key was referring to additional investment in the rail network when he claimed last month the CRL will “almost certainly cost more than they thought”.

The article also quotes some unnamed sources, presumably from the government, claims extra work is needed for the CRL

A second source said that a “bit more rigour and discipline” since the Government had agreed to bring forward a business plan had identified work that should have been costed in the first place.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Of course it didn’t take long for the three councillors who have consistently opposed improvements to the city to jump on board and claim they predicted doom and gloom all along.

Confirmation by Auckland Transport that the cost of the City Rail Link will undoubtedly rise to over $3 billion does not surprise three Auckland councillors who recently wrote to the Auditor-General outlining their concerns about the project and urging the Office of the Auditor-General to ensure a close oversight. The trio now wonder what the ‘no go’ point is with the CRL.

It equally didn’t take long for Auckland Transport to (unusually) get in touch and tell me that the article was wrong and that they’d be making a formal complaint about it. They later provided me with the information David Warburton sent Orsman who seems to have confused and conflated a couple of issues.

Firstly, AT say the estimated price of the project remains $2.5 billion but the crucial aspect is that they say it has always been the centre of a range that could be +/- 20% – in other words they say it will cost between $2 billion and $3 billion depending on how tendering goes. It seems that Orsman and the herald have only taken the upper limit of this range to fit their narrative. They also say that “recent tenders for large civil works contracts in NZ have come in at 10% to 15% under the initial QS estimate“. They won’t actually give any examples of these projects though, saying their “pricing analysis is to assist in competitive indexing“. They also claim that the only people to benefit from claiming the prices have gone up are the those tendering for the work “creating an environment of high price expectation“. The CRL business case estimated the impact of the cost increasing by 20% and shows that even if that happens, the BCR drops from around 1.6 to 1.3, conversely if costs dropped by 20% the BCR rises to 1.9. This is shown below with the figures in 2015 $.

CRL Business Case - BCR range

Secondly, the CRL will unlock a lot of potential capacity across the entire rail network, that is after all the purpose of it. That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that’s needed and it was already known that over time other improvements are needed. This includes things such as signalling upgrades, removal of level crossings, additional cross overs, the third main south of Westfield and many other improvements. Many of these were detailed in this presentation Kiwirail gave to the council’s infrastructure committee last year. Not all of these other improvements are likely to be needed on day one of the CRL and many will be things that can progressively be done over the years following the completion of the CRL to increase capacity of the rail network to its full potential. It seems that deciding which of these projects should or shouldn’t as part of the costs of the CRL is still being decided. On this, Warburton said

My understanding is the PM was referring CRL as part of the wider rail investment and there will be additional investment in the network to optimize the CRL work. One can easily discuss this as a combined project cost over the life of the project being above $3b. It simply depends on scope, pricing and how projects are related to CRL. That’s not equivalent to what I understood you/your informant were implying.

KR - Infrastructure Committee - Spending Needed

Of course splitting up projects into smaller chunks, some of which are completed later is nothing new and it happens all the time in other areas. One such example is the Waterview Connection and the Western Ring Route. The Waterview Connection project only covers the extension of SH20 from Maioro Rd, the tunnels and the Waterview interchange and is costed at $1.4 billion. Not included in that is the cost widening (and raising) of the SH16 causeway to handle the traffic or any of the other projects along SH16 to cope with the expected traffic demand. Those projects bring the total to over $2.4 billion and if you include the other projects from recent years needed to complete the Western Ring Route, that raises the cost to $4 billion. The image below is something I put together a few years ago so some figures will be out of date.

WRR Costs

So it seems this news by the Herald is the result of a number of factors but the actual situation hasn’t actually changed. The cost remains $2.5 billion as it has been for some time and as there were before, there are a number of other rail upgrades that will be needed over time.

But I also think that AT really haven’t helped themselves in how they’ve handled this issue. Given just the political posturing they should have known this would have come up but especially so since the Prime Ministers comments. Instead they seem to have deemed it all a non-story and so have let it run with not much done to challenge it. The responses to the Herald suggest a lack of cohesive and clear messaging which only adds to the confusion. It is also very difficult to find much, if any useful information about the project on the on the AT website, most of what is there is useless fluff or out of date. AT would help themselves if they were more open about the project and if the website was more useful.

The alternative route

Congestion pricing has once again hit the political radar, with the news that the Auckland Transport Alignment Project has recommended it as an option to more efficiently manage the transport network. They find that variable road tolls – highest during peak periods on busy roads and low (or even zero) at off-peak times – are the single most effective intervention to improve traffic flow.

ATAP - Interim Report - Manage Demand

On the whole, it looks like support for the idea is on the rise, which is positive. That suggests that the work that Auckland Council’s consensus building group did a few years back has contributed towards a better public conversation on the issue. That’s good, as it’s a challenging idea to sell to people.

The NZ Herald’s editorial on the topic was tentatively supportive and showed a reasonable understanding of the core principles of congestion pricing:

Transport Minister Simon Bridges conceded this week, “we can’t keep building new lanes on highways. We will need a combination of demand-side interventions if we are going to deal with congestion over the next couple of decades”. He prefers the term “demand-side interventions” to taxes, tolls or charges but those are what it means.

Unlike the council, the Government does not advance these for revenue raising but for reducing traffic on the roads. It clearly thinks road rationing is more politically acceptable than revenue raising and the AA agrees. Feedback from members, it says, showed support for tolls as long as people could be convinced it was for congestion benefits, not simply revenue.

However, the Herald’s editorial also exhibits a common misunderstanding about congestion pricing, arguing that free routes must be available as an alternative to tolled routes:

The joint report for the council and the Government this week did not suggest how road travel might be charged. Mr Bridges said one option was to track all traffic with GPS technology which is being trialled in Singapore and Japan. But that implies no roads would be free at times the charge applied. Travel is a basic freedom. We could welcome the chance to pay to use a fast lane when we need one, so long as free lanes remain.

The Herald’s position is basically in line with NZTA’s existing tolling policy, which states that:

…a road tolling scheme may be established to provide funds for the purposes of one of more of the following activities, namely, the planning, design, supervision, construction, maintenance, or operation of a new road, if the Minister of Transport is satisfied that:

  • the relevant public road controlling authorities (including the Transport Agency) have carried out adequate consultation on the proposed tolling scheme;
  • the level of community support for the proposed tolling scheme is sufficient;
  • if an existing road is included in the scope of the tolling scheme, it is physically and operationally integral to the new road in respect of which the tolling scheme will be applied;
  • a feasible, untolled, alternative route, is available; and
  • the proposed tolling scheme is efficient and effective.

However, I think that both NZTA and the Herald are being too hasty in assuming that the untolled alternative route has to run parallel to existing roads. Alternatives can exist in time as well as in space.

Stu Donovan described the maths behind this last week. Transportblog reader Bryce Pearce also dug up a good practical example: apparently Singapore’s road pricing scheme allows people to travel for free most of the day. For example, if you are trying to drive on Lorong 6 Toa Payoh at 8:30am, you’ll have to pay $1. But if you leave an hour earlier or an hour later, you won’t pay anything:

ATAP took a similar approach when choosing how to model congestion charges. As the following diagram shows, the ATAP scheme would increase peak and inter-peak pricing, relative to current fuel taxes, but decrease charges in evening periods. Consequently, people would have options to save money for certain types of trips, for example, by shifting supermarket trips from the afternoon to the evening:

ATAP - Interim Report - Road Pricing Differences

Arguably, being able to travel for free on the same road, at a slightly different time, is even better than being able to travel for free on a different, more circuitous road at the same time.

There are obvious user benefits to the approach of varying tolls by time of day. It allows people to make better choices that respect their individual preferences for time, timeliness, and money.

But there are also important system-wide benefits from variable tolls between different time periods. Because congestion can be quite sensitive to changes in the number of cars on the road at a given time, encouraging even a relatively small number of people to shift the time at which they travel can lead to large benefits.

That’s nicely illustrated in the following graph of Auckland Harbour Bridge traffic volumes. The AHB is essentially free-flowing during the middle of the day, when there are around 1300 vehicles per lane per hour. But it is considerably slower during the evening and morning peaks, when the bridge carries more like 1500-1700 vehicles per lane per hour.

Lane Capacities

Because the peakiest bits of the peak are relatively short – perhaps 2.5 hours in total across an average weekday – you could improve the performance of the bridge by charging tolls during a few short windows. People could still travel for free (or at any rate a lower price) during the remaining 21.5 hours of the day.

From my perspective, that’s a pretty good alternative for drivers! But what do you think about the issue?

The strange side effects of parking subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the jetski in question:

IHP jetski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Census journey to work Auckland mode share chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you think we should address parking subsidies?

Apartments and housing affordability

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

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

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

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

NZH home affordability map $100k deposit

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

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

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

NZH home affordability map $70k deposit

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

NZH home affordability map city centre

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

Why is this?

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

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

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

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

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

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

Source: Celsias

Source: Celsias

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

So what’s the holdup?

Let’s ban everything dangerous, like walking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

What else fails that test?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MoT risk on the road chart

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

MoT cycle crash fault chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herald finds Aucklanders like bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Unitary Plan Roller-Coaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAUP zoning changes - Dec 15 2

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

Six Sisters John St

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Herald got in on the act in its editorial.

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

UP Councillor Briefing Feb 16

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

Three storeys does not equal highrise

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

One vs three storeys

Three storey terraced housing alongside some single storey houses in Epsom

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

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

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

Notified UP - Central

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Sisters John St

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

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

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

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

Photo of The Day: Drivers get it.

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

OCT 2014

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

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

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

Herald drive Sept 15_800