Hope for Albany and more

There’s been quite a few bits of development news in the last few days that are worth covering. The first is in Albany where an 800 apartment development called the Rose Garden apartments might finally give some hope that Albany won’t be a completely soulless auto dependant centre. The development located on what is currently empty grass land just to the north of the mall is only about 500m away from the Albany Busway station – although more on that shortly.

Albany Rose Garden Location

One of the things I really like about the development is that they are selling one to four bedroom apartments which gives plenty of options – although the price of these larger options will be key. A quick search online suggests most of the four bedroom apartments are around $800-850k (although some are higher or lower). I also like that it appears the development will create activation out to the street edges which is something that will hopefully become more useful as more of the empty space is developed. On the video about the development on the Herald the architects behind the plan talk about density done well and I hope this lives up to that.

Albany Rose Garden 1

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the sales pitch is to do with transport. There isn’t a single mention of car parking anywhere or even the common “it’s only X minutes drive to the city/beach/airport”. Instead the only mention of transport is that the development is in walking distance to the mall, Massey University, Albany Stadium and the busway station. On the busway station, it does talk about the bus only being only a 20 minute trip to town.

With Albany park-and-ride bus station two minutes’ walk away, you can be in downtown Auckland in less than 20 minutes. But everything you need is even closer to home at the Rose Garden Apartments.

To me this discussion about transport is a positive sign of both how successful the busway has been in changing perceptions about public transport and how much the city is changing away from the drive everywhere mentality. Even though it was already needed it does once again highlight how important it is that the Busway itself is extended from Constellation Station to Albany – something that the government cut out of their motorway project works. I think it also highlights that Auckland Transport will need to work to fix the racetrack like roads around Albany to make it easier and safer for people to be able to walk or cycle to the station.

In other news the Herald have announced (on Twitter) that in November they will move from their long time home on Albert St to office in Victoria St. Their site was sold last year to developer Mansons and is a substantial space in the heart of the city. The timing of the herald moving out is interesting as that’s likely to be just before works start on the CRL in the area. We’ll be looking to see what’s proposed for the site however one thing I do hope that happens is a new lane through the middle linking into Mills Lane.

Herald Site

Lastly it’s also been announced that the foyer of the St James Theatre is to reopen soon.

The foyer of Auckland’s long-abandoned historic St James Theatre will soon re-open as a cafe.

Major seismic strengthening of the whole building was also planned and sophisticated base isolation units being considered.

Mike Gibbon, development director for property owner Relianz Holdings, and architect Paul Brown, this morning said that in a few weeks, St James’ foyer would re-open.

But re-opening of the precious theatre was some years away, they said.

This will hopefully also help to activate some more of Lorne St outside the Library which for too long has had a large blank wall.

Lorne St Shared Space

Lorne St Shared Space

It’s also positive that already over half of the apartments planned have been sold however I do have big concerns about the carparking associated with it which will apparently open out to Lorne St.

St James suites

Comicially wrong op-ed about the CRL

Brian Leyland has written an op-ed in the herald that is so comically wrong it’s hard not to ignore. Every single one of the 13 paragraphs contains (often basic) factual errors or opinion masquerading as fact. So I thought I’d highlight some of them.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Mayor Len Brown is determined to commit Auckland to building a hugely expensive railway tunnel even though no comprehensive independent and objective economic analysis has been made on the merits of the tunnel and whether or not letting the city spread and developing satellite centres would be better.

More than 70% of Auckland’s population are already within 3km – an easy 10 minute bike ride if we built some safe infrastructure to support it – of a train station. The major urban areas not near the rail network are the North Shore, North West, Hibiscus Coast, parts of the central isthmus, the airport and East Auckland. The latter of those would feed into the rail network via AMETI and the Panmure Station.

Independently reviewed economic analysis has occurred and the project has had more scrutiny than probably any other transport project in this country. If the governments RoNS were subjected to even half of what the CRL has been they would have been canned years ago. More on the spawl comment later in the post.

Auckland Council has neglected its obligation to investigate and evaluate all options. Given the enormous amount of expenditure involved, this amounts to a serious dereliction of duty.

The City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) did just this and involved the NZTA and Ministry of Transport with the MoT even noting that the modelling has probably undercooked the patronage projections.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

Overseas research on 44 urban rail systems revealed that the average cost overrun was 45 per cent and the number of passengers was half the predicted number. Have the economics of the Auckland tunnel been tested against 45 per cent higher costs and half the passengers? If not, why not?

Cost over runs aren’t limited to rail as the graph below shows – although it seems our recent rail upgrades have been ok. In saying that we seem to have been much better with managing costs on larger projects – many of which are claimed to have come in on time and under budget which is likely due to the additional detailed work that occurs beforehand which is happening right now with the CRL.

Road cost overrun chart

As for patronage, we can look at local examples to see how well our projections have fared. For Britomart we passed the 2021 prediction for the number of people passing through the station in 2011 and given the growth we’ve seen since that time that will only be larger now.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

We’re also on track to exceed the 2016 target set in the Rail Development Plan of 2006 of 15.7 million trips in 2016 despite a later start to electrification than envisioned.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Right now, ratepayers subsidise 80 per cent of the cost of every train fare. If the tunnel costs blow out by 50 per cent it will need to recover at least $450 million in fares every year for capital repayment and operating expenses. If, as hoped, there are 20 million rail trips every year, they will need to recover $22.50 per rail trip. Most of this will be imposed on the ratepayers.

Train fares currently cover around 26% however that figure has been improving this year and will likely continue to do so as the new electric trains roll out and patronage continues to improve so dramatically. I also expect we might see some improvement from the middle of next year (from reduced costs) as a result of AT re-tendering the rail contract – which I understand there are a number of interested groups. I expect Auckland will move closer to Wellington in this result which achieves 56% farebox recovery on its trains.

Importantly one of the benefits of the CRL is that while it will cost to run the stations and more trains, the farebox recovery ratio should further improve – potentially as high as 80%.

I’m not sure where Bryan has his 20 million rail trips per year from – I presume he’s confusing the governments target with a patronage projection. We haven’t seen total patronage results of any recent modelling and the CCFAS only showed the impacts at peak times however some older estimates put total patronage eventually up around 50 million trips per year.

The council planners seem to be totally unaware of the imminent revolution in personal transport that will be brought about by self-guided cars, modern taxi systems, ride sharing and buses. By the time the tunnel is in operation self-guided cars that will allow twice the traffic density on roads and reduce accidents by 50 per cent or more will be available. Not long after it will be possible to call up a driverless taxi or minibus by cellphone to take you where you want to go. For those who think that this is the stuff of dreams, it is now possible to buy a car that, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead and every major car manufacturer is developing self-guided cars.

These technological advances, combined with telecommuting (working from home and using the internet to communicate) and smartphone-assisted car pooling will have a huge effect on commuting and the shape of future cities. The council should take its head out of the sand and get up to speed with this revolution.

We’ve talked about driverless cars quite a bit recently so won’t go into that too much other than to say the uptake of new vehicle technology has so far been incredibly slow. As for telecommuting – the percentage of people doing just that hasn’t really changed in well over a decade despite it being easier than ever to do so. In fact many large companies – especially tech companies have done the opposite as they have recognised the benefits of working closer together.

Unitary Plan Rant that could probably have a post of its own:

The Unitary Plan is based on a blind belief that it is wrong to let the city spread and intensification is the only option

The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus, which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place.

Most of the isthmus has well-established high-density suburbs with good houses, trees, gardens and lawns that are environmentally friendly and support large populations of birds and bees. The Unitary Plan will demolish these suburbs and substitute blocks of flats that will increase demand for parking, roads, schools, power, water supply, drainage and the like. There will be serious environmental and social impacts. Expanding infrastructure in an established suburb is far more expensive and environmentally damaging than building new low-cost houses on greenfield developments.

The council’s objective is to ration land and artificially inflate land values so as to force people to demolish good houses and force them to build apartment buildings to spread the rates burden.

Perhaps Bryan would like to point out where in the unitary plan it forces people to bowl their houses and build apartments. For most of the isthmus such an activity is actually prohibited due to heritage, zoning, density and height restrictions. In fact the central isthmus is almost locked in amber by the Unitary Plan as it stands now, especially compared to somewhere like West Auckland.

Notified UP - Isthmus-West-North

Auckland can pour vast amounts of money into city centre development in the hope of getting enough passengers to justify a railway tunnel, or it can allow the city to spread and develop satellite centres so that people can live in affordable houses and work in the same area.

Before any action is taken on the Unitary Plan and the tunnel, ratepayers should demand that an independent and objective study is done on the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing the city to spread, compared with intensification. Nothing is more important.

Again perhaps Bryan should look at what work has already happened, such as this report from 2010 on the social, environmental and economic benefits of different development options and for which the large sprawl based one came out worse on the vast majority of measures. Perhaps one of the funniest things I’ve heard is that the modelling on the CRL shows that the more sprawl that’s enabled – particularly in south Auckland – the higher the need for the CRL is as it means there are even more people trying to avoid long lines of congestion from the hinterland.

Overall given his history and given the inaccuracy of his piece I’m surprised the herald even ran it.

Now connect them!

The other week, the NZ Herald printed a good article on seven secret cycleways in Auckland. We covered it in last week’s Sunday reading post, but I thought it was worth adding a few more words on the topic.

In the article, Elisabeth Easther writes about her rides on the following cycleways:

  • The new Westhaven promenade in the city centre
  • Wattle Downs Peninsula near Takanini
  • Cascades Shared Path in Pakuranga
  • Conifer Grove in Takanini
  • Waikaraka, Mangere Bridge, and Penrose.

While the rides themselves sounded pretty good, it’s ironic to see that Elisabeth had to drive to the start of many of the cycleways. This illustrates a tricky problem: individual cycle projects are increasingly excellent, but connectivity into the local streets is usually lacking. This makes it hard to use them to get around, as it doesn’t feel safe to get off the cycleway, back onto the surrounding streets, and out to final destinations.

As always, it’s worth taking a look at specific examples. Here’s a map of the Cascades shared path in Pakuranga:

Cascades shared path

This path offers some advantages for people seeking to travel places on bikes. First of all, it’s entirely off-road and runs through a big green belt, which means that it’s safe from traffic and not choked with fumes. Its northern branch terminates at the shops in Highland Park, and it has tendrils out to surrounding residential communities – meaning that there are both origins and destinations within reach.

However, AT’s broader map of cycle facilities in east Auckland (found here) shows that there are still many gaps in cycle infrastructure in the surrounding areas:

east Auckland cycle network

For context, here’s the legend on the map, which shows that most of the streets that are colored in are not in fact very useful for people on bikes. Light blue means that streets theoretically have “space” for cyclists but no dedicated cycle lanes. Yellow means that there’s a bit less traffic on the road. Roads coloured white are probably totally inhospitable if you’re travelling by bike.

Auckland cycleway map legend

What this means in practice is that it’s difficult to get to many key destinations on bikes, even though there’s a cycleway running through the centre of Howick. There’s no connection to the Botany town centre, near the south of the map, or any facilities along the busy Pakuranga highway or connecting to the Panmure rail station.

Another example from the Herald article. Here’s the Onehunga to Mangere Bridge section of the Waikaraka cycleway. (AT also has a map of the extension up SH20 to Mount Roskill.)

Onehunga to Mangere Bridge cycleway

Once again, there are some really good things about this. It provides an alternative, non-motorised route between Mangere and Onehunga, with potential connections elsewhere throughout the southern bits of the isthmus. However, the good news doesn’t yet extend far enough. Here’s AT’s broader cycle facility map for Mangere and the surrounding areas:

Mangere cycle network

Again, this is problematic. While there are some on-street cycle lanes in the area, they don’t go anywhere near the Waikaraka cycleway. They lack physical barriers or safe hit posts to keep traffic out. As a result, it is quite difficult for people on bikes to safely travel to destinations like the Mangere town centre or Otahuhu rail station.

Here’s the bit north of the Manukau Harbour:

Onehunga cycle network

This is not great either. There are no cycle facilities for people who want to get directly to the Onehunga town centre or rail station, let alone to head further north on Manukau Road. And there are a number of gaps on the route to Sylvia Park. I know that not everyone wants to cycle to the mall to shop, but I’m sure that there are a lot of teenagers (or adults, for that matter) who would love the option to bike there to hang out with friends or go to the cinema.

What this shows is that there are many, many gaps in our cycle networks. We need to fill them to reap the benefits from a complete cycle network. It’s not like we lack the road space to do this – the light blue lines on AT’s maps show streets with enough space to add cycle lanes. But unless we get serious about joining up the network, we’ll be left with a bunch of well-designed cycleways that aren’t useful for many trips.

What cycle infrastructure is your neighbourhood missing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herald praises Shared Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OC5

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

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

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

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

Not everything has been a runaway success.

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

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

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

When will High St wake up?

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

Marking out the CRL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few photos from readers this morning.

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

CRL painting on ground outside Britomart

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

CRL Marking_03

CRL marking_01

CRL marking_02

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

CRL Letter to Editor 22.12.14

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

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

Fact-checking hyperbolic arguments for more roads

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

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

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

De Freitas contends that:

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

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

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

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

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

De Freitas asserts that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

De Freitas contends that the Auckland motorway network lacks redundancy:

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

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

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

Five: A major earthquake in Auckland is extremely unlikely.

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

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

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

Source: BGS

Source: BGS

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

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

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

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

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

Houston-HW_600

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

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

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

Rapid transit has passed the acid test

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

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

On to the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

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

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

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

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

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

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

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

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

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

CRL the key to a unified city

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

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

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

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

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

Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good work Sudhvir

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

A delay to the CRL?

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

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

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

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

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

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

committed-projects

 

basic-network-projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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