There were a number of odd things in the report released several weeks ago by the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID), a lobby group. Matt has already reviewed the report in detail. Perhaps the oddest part of it was this sentence:
Motorway capacity is essential because motorways generate economic activity.
NZCID presents this as a factual statement – or perhaps an article of faith? – but does not attempt to justify it or offer much supporting evidence.
From an economic perspective, this is an odd statement because transport infrastructure does not and can not generate economic activity. Roads are a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. They can enable some economic activity, by allowing people to make journeys that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible, but they can’t actually generate it themselves. (Unless you think that the roads physically lift themselves up off the ground and start moving around and working in factories and stuff, in which case I recommend a psychiatric evaluation.)
Consequently, we must ask: Is there evidence that past motorway investments have raised productivity elsewhere in the economy?
Although the NZCID hasn’t cited it, there is relevant empirical research that addresses this question, including in New Zealand.
Before I get on to that, here’s some macroeconomic data. The top graph, sourced from OECD data, shows New Zealand’s investments in roads in dollar terms. Observe how it started to rise sharply after 2003 – that’s approximately when we started building more motorways.
The bottom graph shows Statistics NZ’s labour productivity index for the measured sector – a measure of changes in GDP produced per worker. Observe how there has been absolutely no change in the productivity growth trend, in spite of a threefold increase in the amount of money being spent on roads.
Correlation is not causation, but an absence of correlation is often evidence for a lack of causation.
This graph makes me doubt NZCID’s assertions about motorways and economic activity. For one thing, if building motorways truly was an economic panacea, shouldn’t tripling roads spending since 2003 be observable in the data by this point?
Fortunately, we don’t have to guess at the effects of motorway spending on economic output. Three OECD researchers, Balázs Égert, Tomasz Koźluk, and Douglas Sutherland, have taken a look at the issue. In a 2009 paper entitled “Infrastructure and growth: empirical evidence“, they examined the impact of infrastructure investment on economic growth using data for 24 OECD countries from 1960 to 2005. They looked at how investment (or disinvestment) in roads, motorways, rail, electricity generation, and telephone networks flowed through into subsequent economic growth.
Importantly, Égert et al found that the effects of infrastructure investment varied between countries – investments that had a positive impact on growth in one country can have a negative effect on growth in another. This could reflect differences in, for example, economic structure or quality of investment decisions.
Their key findings for New Zealand (from Table 1) were that:
- Road investment had a positive impact on economic growth throughout the period
- So did rail investment, although the effect was not quite as strong
- However, motorway investment had a negative impact on economic growth.
This is, again, the exact opposite of what NZCID have asserted. Transport investment in general appears to have had a positive impact on economic growth, but motorway investment in particular was a drag on growth.
Moreover, the authors considered the possibility that the returns from further investment changed over the course of the period. This is a reasonable hypothesis – after all, in 1960 many OECD countries were undergoing rapid economic change, and trying to build new infrastructure networks to keep up with it. Today, they are largely investing in incremental improvements to existing road and rail networks.
When Égert et al modelled the effects of infrastructure investment over the last decade or so of the period – around the time New Zealand was thinking about ramping up road spending – they found that:
“…in a number of countries the effect became stronger, suggesting for example that further increases in electricity generation capacity can be related to a decrease in output in Australia and Austria, similarly to motorways in Austria, New Zealand and Switzerland and rail tracks in Ireland and the Netherlands, whereas increases in road capacity may be associated with an increase in output in Greece, Ireland and the United Kingdom and additional electricity generation capacity in Portugal may support growth”
Again, not great news for NZCID’s argument that motorways generate economic activity. If the OECD researchers had simply found that past motorway spending in New Zealand had an ambiguous or negligible effect on growth, I’d be willing to accept the possibility that we could achieve more positive outcomes from further spending. But their finding that past motorway spending has been a drag on growth makes me worried about NZCID’s policy prescriptions.
There is, in short, a risk that NZCID is confidently recommending the wrong strategy for New Zealand. A strategy that has little robust empirical evidence to back it up, and which could easily backfire and reduce our growth prospects.
What could a responsible lobby group do differently?
First, rather than arguing for an increase in the quantity of investment, it could argue for an increase in the quality of investment. We know that this is a challenge for current transport spending. For example, a Ministry of Transport review that I covered last year (parts 1, 2, 3, 4) found that benefit-cost ratios for new and improved state highway have fallen significantly over the last decade:
Second, it could consider the role of transport investment in improving the choices available to people. As I’ve argued in the past, cities are diverse places, and the people living within them don’t all want the same thing. Some people love the big car and the big house – which is great, as long as they pay for the carbon pollution and don’t run anyone over. Others would be happier living in an urban neighbourhood and getting around on foot, bicycle, or public transport – and that’s also great.
Having more choices raises individual and social wellbeing. Unfortunately, transport policy has historically been “one size fits all” rather than “made to measure”. As there’s no real evidence that motorway spending has a positive effect on economic growth in New Zealand, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in improving transport choices instead?
Motorways and economic growth: What do you think?
The New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development’s public shark-jumping exercise the other week got me thinking. While their flagship policy of a new megabillion eastern tunnel project is a bit mad, their report does a reasonable job of diagnosing one of the core problems facing Auckland. That is, the city’s land-use and transport plans are not always well aligned.
That’s illustrated nicely in their maps of intensification opportunities around rail stations – red circles indicate places where apartment and townhouse development is generally discouraged under the draft Unitary Plan.
In short, we’re fixing our city’s rapid transit network – and it’s long since time we did that! – but we may need to do more to get the best out of the investment by enabling intensive development around train stations.
As a point of contrast, I recently visited Sydney on the way back from a work trip to Australia and spent a day wandering around the city looking at stuff – it’s a great walking city. And I’ve got to say: they don’t waffle around with upzoning there. When they choose to redevelop a brownfield area, the debate isn’t between whether two or three storeys should be allowed. The question is whether to go ten, twenty, or thirty storeys. And they’re willing to back that up with new rapid transit where needed.
Auckland is different. We build rapid transit infrastructure haltingly, in fits and starts, and when governments choose to accelerate road projects, busways are left to progress through the queue. And while the Unitary Plan is a fine step forward, it’s really just the start of the conversation about how we should modernise our planning rules for a 21st-century city.
But change is needed. Because, as NZCID’s report unintentionally illustrates, Auckland’s arrived at the end of its growth model of the past 50 years. It’s kaput. We may be able to kludge it back into action for a bit, but make no mistake: it will seize up again. And so we need to design a new growth model.
The old growth model was as follows:
- Build some roads and water pipes out into the countryside
- Build some houses on the paddocks this opens up for development
- Repeat when necessary.
This isn’t necessarily a bad model. It’s simple, and it works reasonably well provided that some schools and shops and jobs move outwards as well. But it’s got some subtle pathologies – e.g. street networks that preclude future transport choices, environmental impacts, etc.
And, more importantly, this growth model is inherently self-limiting in a location like Auckland. There are two reasons for this:
- First, geographic constraints. Auckland is situated on a narrow isthmus between two harbours. We run out of proximate land for housing much more rapidly than other cities – which means that we must build up much more rapidly than other growing cities.
- Second, the spatial cost of road transport. Geography gives Auckland many pinch points – over the Waitemata Harbour and across the portages at either edge of the isthmus. It’s intrinsically challenging to keep pumping cars through narrow pinch points. Adding motorway lanes will only get more costly in the future – as NZCID’s eastern motorway proposal demonstrates.
We can’t avoid the consequences of these constraints by metamorphosing into a polycentric city… because that’s already happened. Only one in five jobs is located in the city centre and fringe. The rest are elsewhere. If there are major gains to be had from dispersal, we have already achieved them. We can’t count on more of the same to help us escape the geometric realities.
And here’s the thing: If we insist that we must keep on doing more of the same, we will instead do nothing. If it is truly necessary to build something like NZCID’s eastern motorway tunnel to enable urban growth in Auckland, we probably won’t grow. It’s not feasible to spend a decade of Auckland’s transport infrastructure budget on a single road. (And it’s not ethical to borrow the money from future generations, who don’t have a say in what gets built.)
So we need a different growth model. I don’t have all the answers – who does? – but here are a few thoughts on what that might look like, focusing on the transport infrastructure part of the picture. (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the role of pricing and the need to rethink policies that limit housing choice.)
First and foremost, we must recognise that this growth model is self-limiting due to its reliance on a single transport mode – cars. Cars are great for lots of things, but they occupy a lot of space both when in motion and when sitting around. This is not an advantage in a city as geographically constrained as Auckland.
If we invest in a way that ensures that all new entrants to the city must use cars for most travel, then it will come back to bite us. If people know that new housing in their neighbourhood will inevitably mean more people parking in their preferred spot on the street, they will oppose it. (No matter how mindlessly hypocritical it is to claim a property right over a public street!) If they know that a new suburb on the edge of town will mean more cars jostling for space on the road during their morning commute, they will oppose it.
And if they’re presented with the bill to build all the new roads needed to keep the cars flowing, they’ll vote against it. Roads are expensive, and people don’t like it when their rates go up.
Second, we must recognise that there are alternatives. Public transport and cycling can offer great mobility at a much lower spatial cost than cars. If we want to increase mobility in a growing city, we need to make much greater use of these transport modes.
It can be challenging to make the transition, as developing these networks means thinking about infrastructure and transport services differently. It means paying much more attention to how humans may behave out there on the street – i.e. what will make them feel safe in a cycle lane, or what will make it possible for them to transfer painlessly between buses. But it’s fundamentally possible.
Third, one key consideration when building these modes is that they should be built in advance of growth, so that they can lead and shape development rather than trying to catch up with it. At present, we very much take a “roads first” philosophy to greenfield areas – i.e. building lots of lanes on day one, and coming back years later to retrofit public transport to address the resulting congestion.
The perverse consequence is that this locks in a largely car-dependent urban form on the edge of the city, exacerbating the self-limiting features of our current growth model. Unwinding that is costly and difficult. A “rapid transit first” approach would save us a lot of that trouble.
Fortunately, as Matt highlighted in a recent post on Auckland Transport’s consultation on transport for future urban growth, that’s a realistic option. We’ve got the ability to develop rail stations in Drury and extend busways to Silverdale and Northwest Auckland.
But change doesn’t happen of its own volition: policymakers have to choose to change. So here’s a simple message: If you start a sentence by saying “we need more land for housing…” the next words out of your mouth should be “… and therefore here are some rapid transit investments we should make to support it.”
One of the aspects I thought odd about the NZCID report released the other day was the revival of the 1965 De Leuw Cather motorway network plan and a comparison of Auckland’s motorway network to the motorway networks of “other liveable cities”. Here’s what they say:
The comparative decline of Auckland’s once ambitious motorway system, which for half a century has enabled the city to function in spite of deferred investment and poor public transport, can be seen in comparison to other liveable cities. Figure 31 superimposes to scale the motorway networks of various comparable metropolitan areas with populations between Auckland’s existing 1.5 million and its 2045 future of up to 2.5 million (Brisbane, Portland, Vienna and Vancouver each have urban populations of around 2.3 million, Zurich around 1.8 million). In all cases, the motorway networks today are more comprehensive than Auckland’s is projected to be in 2045
The limited reach of Auckland’s strategic road network in comparison to the city’s international competitors is not the only problem. Disproportionate dependency upon several key parts of the network where capacity is constrained has ripple effects across the entire transport system. Pinch points around the CBD, Mt Wellington and Greville Rd compress traffic, stymieing movement many kilometres away throughout busier periods. Although Greville Rd is now being addressed, there are no plans in the next thirty years to address capacity issues at either Mt Wellington or around the CBD.
Similar efficiency improvements to capacity-constrained parts of the strategic network appear less problematic in most liveable cities. While Vancouver has enforced a moratorium on motorway improvements near its congested urban core (but has expanded the network elsewhere), other cities address bottlenecks. Vienna’s Prater Interchange, for example, is currently undergoing a major renewal and capacity improvement to meet demand.
Superimposing other cities motorway networks over Auckland in is just plain silly, for a few reasons.
- it ignores the unique geographical conditions of each city which severely affect how their transport system has developed.
- it ignores the urban of these cities. Some such as Vancouver, Vienna and Zurich have quite dense cores and no motorways running through them
- it ignores the other transport networks that help to complement the motorway networks
So let’s have a look at some of the factors for these other cities (maps not to scale)
Vancouver was one of the few Anglophone new world cities to not build motorways in its city centre – which came about as locals rejected the plans to do so. To mimic Vancouver for motorways we’d be pulling out the central motorway junction and motorways would just be in outer suburbs.
In the 1980’s Vancouver decided to start building their fantastic Skytrain system. Now over 30 years later and with a number of additions and extensions the network has over 117 million boardings as of 2013. That’s out of a total of over 350 million boardings for the entire PT system. The city has also been improving its cycling facilities and seeing good growth. As of 2015 for trips to work it is estimated that 10% of people cycle, 24% walk, 24% catch PT and only 41% drive. Below is Vancouver’s rapid transit network and that is also supported by a large number frequent bus routes – much like Auckland Transport are starting to introduce later this year.
To be more like Vancouver is we’d need to invest in our PT and active networks and not new motorways to and through the city.
Vienna is a great city with a lot of history and no motorways through the middle of it. Like Vancouver the motorways stop short of the city centre with one passing to the side of it.
Of course within Vienna there is also a fantastic PT network consisting of extensive U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram and bus networks. The U-Bahn was opened in the mid 70’s and that alone carries over 1.3 million trips a day. The map below shows just the U and S Bahn
With Zurich, again there are no motorways blasted through town with them stopping short or going around the city and most of them through the countryside rather than through an urban area like the NZCID propose.
Despite the motorways, it is estimated that about half of all trips within Zurich take place on their extensive train, tram and bus networks. The map below is just a small sample of their tram network
Of course as I mentioned yesterday, at the time of the De Leuw Cather road network that the NZCID lament was never fully implemented, they also produced a rapid transit plan even saying it was needed first to avoid many of the issues we’re now facing.
If the NZCID want us to have transport more like some of the cities they mention then we’ll fully support that, but that would mean focusing on getting PT and active modes sorted first so their Eastern Ring Route would have to stay on ice for a while.
Yesterday I highlighted the crazy road obsessed plans of the infrastructure lobby that were hinted at in a report they were about to release. That report has now come out and so I thought I would look at it in a bit more detail. While there is much to be concerned about, there are some things we agree with too. First a few general comments
The press release talks about the report as being a way to provide independent input into the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). This is quite funny as the majority of the graphs, and figures they quote come are cut and pasted from the Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZ Transport Agency or the Ministry of Transport, the four agencies at the centre of ATAP. Some of the information even comes directly from the ATAP foundation report.
There also seem to be a lot of contradictions within the report, they’ll make a fairly accurate statement (often similar to what we may say) about a project or piece of analysis but they’ll then hand wave that away and ignore it when coming up with their conclusions. I’ll cover some of these within the post.
On Public Transport
Throughout the report there is a lot of discussion on the role of public transport and the NZCID make a number of astute observations about PT and how it is assessed. Examples include how odd it is that for processes like ATAP that PT is treated differently to cars in the modelling, as if PT users time don’t consider their time as important.
Also significant is the fact that public transport accessibility is modelled on a 45 minute door-to-door commute. Cars, on the other hand, are modelled on a 30 minute door-to-door commute. The need to assume an additional 15 minute or 50 per cent travel time for public transport is understandable in light of the need for users to get to and from services, but there is no evidence that it meets user expectations. It is not clear that the majority of transport users consider an additional 15 minute or 50 per cent travel time to be a truly viable alternative.
A common refrain from many is that building more carparks at train/busway stations is needed to significantly boost patronage and it’s also something mentioned in their press release. However this is actually a bit at odds with their report itself which while enthusiastic on PT, notes that it isn’t cheap to more capacity, that people should be charged to use carparking spaces through their HOP card and also doesn’t add all that much to PT usage.
Doubling park-and-ride capacity region-wide will only yield an additional 2,200 spaces, likely adding no more than 4,400 trips per day, or around 2 per cent to existing patronage
Given the conclusions they’ve come to over P&R it’s amazing that they then say it should be vastly increased.
Equally odd is that they seem to come to the overall conclusion of “it’s crap so we might as well invest in roads instead”. If the investment in PT is as poor as they suggest then why has almost no effort has been made to look and see if there are any better was to invest that other than through more roads.
The levels of service required to lift public transport patronage by attracting users away from private vehicles are unaffordable and will deliver less value for money than extensions of the road network.
On Land Use
The report’s discussion of Land Use is perhaps one area where I’m in quite a bit of agreement. They quite rightly note that through the Unitary Plan, not enough growth has been enabled in areas with the best planned public transport such as along some of the train lines and the busway.
Figure 36 shows Unitary Plan growth provisions on the Auckland isthmus and rail stations. Circle sizes indicate an approximate 10 minute walk to rail services. Development should, if Auckland’s very significant sunk investment in rail is to be maximised, be permitted inside these circles as a means to improving the convenience and attractiveness of public transport.
In reality, significant land use change around the majority of stations on the isthmus – the area where demand for land is highest and where most growth under a compact model should in theory be accommodated – is not permitted under the Unitary Plan. The type of development activities which would benefit from access to rail, such as residential apartments and town houses, are only substantively permitted around 11 of the 24 stations on the isthmus (indicated in green). Development change is generally prohibited around 6 of the stations (indicated in red) and a further 7 permit some degree of change (indicated by orange circles).
They also highlight the relative lack of development allowed around the proposed light rail routes
The lack of high quality PT up the Pakuranga Rd corridor
The lack of development allowed around the Northern Busway stations with more development allowed along the Onewa and Glenfield Rd corridors.
In the south they suggest Greenfield industrial land could allow for current industrial land around stations to be redeveloped, one example sited is around Te Mahia where they say the “low value industrial land around the station” could have been rezoned to tie in with improvements to the station and the golf course development which they criticise as not being dense enough.
They say (like we have before), that only the West has significant levels of growth permitted around stations and elsewhere like on the Te Atatu Peninsula. But they also say that the growth there is poorly aligned with the priority of transport projects (i.e. Northwest Busway) and the business cases for the investment in the PT needed will be undermined by the lack of development allowed closer to the city.
Ultimately they say that if we want more people to use PT we either need to go down one of the following land use/transport options
- Growth distributions remain the same, infrastructure and services change
- Growth distributions change, most infrastructure across city remains the same, new infrastructure concentrated in dense new public transport-oriented centres
On that second point they suggest building a new dense city for 100,000 people and 30,000 jobs on greenfield land somewhere in South Auckland
Build more roads
Ultimately much of the NZCID’s suggestions come down to the mantra of build more roads, even going so far as to suggest that we’re too auto-dependent so should just keep building more roads anyway while also claiming that will stop congestion getting worse.
Aligning land use provisions with current and future transport investment will go some way to alleviating pressure on Auckland’s congested road network. Integrated policy cannot, however, undo 70 years of investment and development, nor can it completely remove the need for road travel. Capacity in the road network is the only means to stop congestion expanding further into the interpeak, impeding commercial movement, and emerging through weekends and the off-peak, undermining liveability, social opportunity and the attractiveness of Auckland as a destination for labour and investment.
And that motorways are magic economic machines.
Motorway capacity is essential because motorways generate economic activity.
That then leads to a number of projects they think need to be built, most of which are associated with the Eastern Ring Route we highlighted yesterday. These projects include
- Making the Mill Rd project bigger and grade separating it so essentially a motorway.
- The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing to longer connecting to the east of the city
- The Eastern motorway which they say would need to be underground (to avoid angering the locals)
- Linking in the Eastern Motorway with Te Irirangi Dr and turning that into a motorway using money destined for the AMETI busway.
Here’s what they say about the AWHC and Eastern motorway. They are quite correct that the AWHC as it stands is a poor outcome but doubling down and making it bigger it is definitely not the answer. Also providing new links between Northland and the Waikato is exactly the purpose of the Western Ring Route that isn’t even finished yet.
The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is throttled at both its northern and southern termination points, constraining its potential. It cannot connect new businesses and communities and it cannot lift the opportunities for the region, as its predecessor, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has done. Consequently, it cannot deliver economic and social benefits consistent with its high cost and these limitations are highlighted by conventional cost benefit analysis which shows a return of 40 cents for every dollar invested.
An Additional Waitemata Harbour Tunnel landing to the east of the CBD may be able to do better. Connecting with State Highway 16 south of the Port of Auckland and continuing underground to protect environmentally sensitive estuary habitats around the Orakei Basin, an Additional Waitemata Harbour Tunnel can become the new lynchpin for an entire network linking Northland and Waikato, Albany and Penrose, Glen Innes and the CBD.
Lastly they blame some of Auckland’s issues on the fact we never fully completed the 1960’s motorways plan from consultants De Leuw Cather which included projects such as the Dominion Rd motorway and a New Lynn to Henderson motorway
Of course they forget to mention the corresponding PT network that De Leuw Cather said should be completed first
De Leuw Cather Report 1965: Rapid Transit plan for Auckland
They extend that and superimpose motorway networks from other cities to say that Auckland’s motorways aren’t extensive enough. Of course in most of those cities the motorways are rural roads and not driven through the heart of the city
Overall there are a few things in the report we agree with but it’s mostly just about trying to justify a heap of roads. If PT isn’t good enough then they should be proposing to dramatically fix that rather than just accepting it and saying build roads instead.
I don’t think New Zealand’s infrastructure lobby has met a project it didn’t think should be bigger or more expensive and later today they’re holding an event to release a report on Auckland’s transport system that they’ve titled: Transport Solutions for a Growing City. At the event they’ll also have talks from the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the AA. Here’s the banner for it
They describe the situation as this.
Auckland’s transport system is under pressure.
Peak traffic congestion is rapidly extending into commercial and recreational periods, undermining competitiveness and liveability. Public transport is increasing, but not fast enough to reduce pressures on the road network. Auckland and Central Government are reviewing transport plans through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project to identify how better outcomes can be delivered. But the transport programme is only one part of the equation.
Learn how the city can turn around Auckland’s transport outlook by expanding the capacity of the network and improving the alignment of demand, growth and investment.
While we’ll have to wait for their report to be released, they’ve already published this video which gives a hint at the direction their report will be taking.
A few take outs include
- They want huge investment in building carparking buildings at busway stations. This would cost at least $30,000 per extra carpark (excluding land costs), and even now the busway carparks account for less than 50% of the trips from those busway stations. If you built 1,000 carparks for $30 million, the interest costs would be $6 million a year, but it would only add around 500,000 extra PT trips. $12 per trip is an expensive way to grow patronage, and we hope Auckland Transport has better ways to spend its money than that.
- They say the busway is empty and want trucks, vans and high occupancy vehicles to have access to the busway – either for free or a charge. This was presumably also before the government’s announcement of allowing electric vehicles on the busway too. It’s worth noting this from the NZTA’s post implementation review of the busway in 2012 – and the busways got busier since then..
It appears doubtful that following the success (and increased frequencies) of the bus operation any significant amount of HOV use of the existing busway could be achieved without negative impacts on bus operations (5).
And from our friend Cornelius
- There are lots of sweeping shots of the motorways with cars. They seem to pay a lot of attention to a few spots, particularly the North Shore on-ramps and around Mt Wellington. This is no surprise as the NZCID have been huge supporters of the East-West link and an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. Yet related to AWHC they do note “While the bridge flows relatively well”
- There are a number of sniping comments at cycleways such as Lightpath where they say it “carries few patrons”. This is despite the fact you can see at least 5 people on it, the same number as using the using the motorway off-ramp. Later they also make similar snarky comments about the NW cycleway over the SH16 causeway.
- In talking about rail they make a basic error, saying that the Auckland Plan envisages rail patronage doubling from 70 million trips a year to 140 million. This is actually total patronage including buses too. They then go on to say that PT isn’t enough so a “significant increase in road capacity will be needed”. There is no talk of delivering a true regional rapid transit network.
And again from Cornelius
- They say that the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) must deliver solutions to congestion which to them includes road pricing – something they’ve led the charge on – PT, walking and cycling but also “desperately needed road capacity”. From this and previous comments it’s clear their main focus is MOAR ROADZ
They then list of the solutions they think are needed. Some of these aren’t too bad and we would agree with but others are crazy
- Improving frequency and convenience of public transport services to major centres of employment, education and entertainment
- Vastly increasing park and ride facilities and providing express bus services across the public transport network
- Developing mixed use “live, walk and work” communities
- Targeting high amenity intensification around rail and busway stations
- Enabling satellite city development at scale beside the main rail corridors
- Promoting teleworking and work from home initiatives utilising digital connectivity
- Investing in leading edge intelligent traffic management systems
- Enabling early adoption of new vehicle technologies
- Building a new Eastern Ring Route from Esmond Rd [sic] to Papakura, and East West from Onehunga to Mount Wellington
- Introducing variable motorway network tolls to both manage traffic demand and fund much needed additional transport investment
Of those #9 sounds remarkably similar to our April Fools day post which we even called the “Eastern Ring Route”.
This is the route we think they’re proposing, only differing from ourjokee in that it doesn’t go under Lake Rd
Could our April Fools joke become a reality?
In some ways that’s not a surprise as that April 1 post was based on what we’d been hearing for some time. They’ve said before that they want AWHC to connect to the east of the city to join up with Grafton Gully. We’d also heard for some time that they’ve wanted the Eastern motorway back on the agenda and that to get around the issues of the residents in the east who scuttled the last attempt over a decade ago, that they’ve proposed it be tunnelled all of the way to Glen Innes. Combining these two projects together would result in a tunnel of around 14km in length and that also doesn’t include how it gets from Glen Innes to Papakura. The cost of that corridor alone would probably build and entire regional rapid transit system and still have change to spare.
We’ll have to wait for the report to hopefully be made public to see just how bad it is but based on what we can tell so far, it doesn’t look like it will be good. Given they’re also a stakeholder on ATAP I assume they’re probably pushing these ideas there too.
Yesterday the Auckland Business Forum sponsored four pages of op-eds in the business section of the Herald about the need to improve transport for businesses. Unfortunately it ended up being a bit of a case of who left the gates to Jurassic Park open and let the Roadasaurs out.
You can see all four pages below.
Perhaps the most hilarious of the pieces comes from the head of the National Road Carriers – a trucking lobby group – who effectively suggests that a Mad Max style apocalypse is imminent unless we take quick action to speed up the movement of trucks.
When trucks gridlock, Auckland stops. Virtually everything manufactured, imported, bought or consumed in Auckland is at some point transported by truck.
If truck movement stopped in Auckland, within the first 24 hours service stations would begin to run out of petrol, supermarkets and restaurants would have no fresh food, building sites and assembly companies using just-in-time suppliers would experience materials and parts shortages, and mail and other package deliveries would cease.
After a couple of days, food shortages would develop, motor vehicle fuel availability would dwindle, exports and imports of goods by sea and air would cease, as would operations of many wholesale and retail businesses. Thousands of Aucklanders would soon be out of work.
This demonstrates the critical importance of freight and goods delivery within Auckland’s transport system — when trucks can’t move, Auckland stops.
Freight is the backbone of the Auckland economy. It figures that if we are serious about improving our economy, we must get serious about tackling Auckland’s worsening traffic congestion and improving our productivity and efficiency.
As Auckland’s population grows, it is critical that we stop congestion spreading through the whole of the working day as it is starting to do in some areas of the city.
His other article suggests some of the ways trucks can be avoided where he suggests that trucks should be able to use the busway and bus lanes.
His big priority is the east-west link which he wants the government to take over and build as a RoNS – because you know it’s not like the NZTA is sitting around doing nothing. He suggests that a route along the waterfront on the Northern edge of the Mangere Inlet is good because it will “avoid community severance” and encourage the repair of the “environmentally damaged reclaimed land”. I know some Onehunga Foreshore groups support this option because they think they will get a new foreshore – like what is being done now next to the motorway – on the northern side of the inlet. Of course not that anyone will be able to easily access it due to the severance the motorway they want causes.
Seeing as this route is claimed to be so vitally important for truckies, I wonder how much they’re prepared to pay to use it – or are they expecting this to be a massive subsidy from the public towards their operations.
Also pushing to keep the trucks moving is a representative of the construction firms. In this case he’s primarily talking about trucks involved in construction. A case of the trucks must get through to be able to build more roads that will also end up congested. It’s a bit like groundhog day. He also calls for trucks to be able to use busways. He is of course correct when he says:
At the heart of an Auckland-Wellington strategy must be an accelerated effort to improve the city’s public transport system. Getting single-occupancy commuter vehicles off Auckland roads during the day would free up the capacity for contractors, transport operators and other essential trades.
However a few paragraphs later he then undoes that by stating that PT should only be funded if it doesn’t get in the way of building new stuff.
Meanwhile, increased public transport funding is only viable if it does not impact on the activities of the people who build the city.
One area I do agree with him on is in his other piece where he suggests there might be some advantages to merging the local aspects of the NZTA and Auckland Transport. I’d go further and suggest the rail network should also be included. A single agency managing the entire transport network could be useful if it also coincided with more autonomy in how the money is spent rather than the rigid Government Policy Status. That could mean motorway, PT and local road and even rail freight projects could be treated equally but there is little chance the government would allow this.
Stephen Selwood from the NZCID has also written a few pieces. In one notes that the current plans for an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing add no new connectivity and that it wastes the transport budget. His solution to this is to make the tunnel longer and instead connect up to the eastern side of the CBD. However not content with that he also wants to revive the Eastern Motorway and suggests it be built as a tunnel so it “protects the views and amenity of the eastern suburbs”. It would then presumably link up with a larger AMETI project.
If the AWHC is estimated at $5 billion then how much is an approximately 14km tunnel from Glen Innes to the North Shore going to be?
Lastly both Selwood and Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett separately talk about and support the governments push for a transport accord. While I don’t necessarily disagree it seems that are taking the stance that Auckland’s current plans are fundamentally wrong. In my view we’ve seen a huge improvement in the work AT has done in it’s planning for the future and it’s starting to show that the plans of the past aren’t necessarily right or worth pursuing. This has been shown in examples like how they’re thinking of deferring the Reeves Rd flyover which would have just shifted congestion one intersection down the road and to invest the money in bringing forward PT improvements. Another is them looking at light rail as way of addressing looming bus congestion.
Of course there’s also the irony that the business groups are supporting the government in creating another year of delay and debate while also calling for urgent action to speed things up. Perhaps it’s time to stop having a bet each way and pick a position. To me it also shows why it’s so vital that we don’t just leave the conversation about Auckland’s future to these influential and well connected groups.
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:
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:
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:
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.
Responses from two of the country’s biggest transport lobby groups yesterday highlight what could probably be described as the business as usual approach to transport in NZ.
First we have the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, the lobby group for those that build and finance infrastructure and who have never seen a project they didn’t like or one they didn’t think should be bigger and more expensive. Not content with having managed to get the East-West link moved to near the top of the queue are already calling for a second East-West link in the form of the destructive motorway from the Airport to East Tamaki.
“Transport agency proposals to address East-West traffic flows released for public consultation yesterday will help address urgent freight needs in the Penrose-Onehunga area in Auckland. But the long term solution must be one which connects Auckland’s commercial and industrial heartland in Penrose, Mt Wellington and East Tamaki and also caters for planned residential intensification and growth from the eastern suburbs to the airport,” says Stephen Selwood CEO of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
“In order for Aucklanders to provide worthwhile feedback on the proposals it is essential that they understand the full benefits and costs of each option and the long term strategic implications.
“The options proposed are concentrated on the Onehunga-Penrose catchment zone which, while still the largest in terms of employment, represents just one fifth of the $11 billion per annum generated across the industrial zones bordering the Manukau Harbour and Tamaki Estuary. Little information has been provided, to date, on the benefits, costs and strategic implications of the alternatives proposed.
“Connectivity to East Tamaki as well as further south to Mangere and on to the airport is not planned for improvement in these proposals, except through improved bus movement.
“How these areas will be connected into the future has great bearing on what the appropriate solution is for this first phase of investment.
“One option considered in earlier analysis included a motorway south of the Manukau Harbour. It provided long term connectivity not only between the industrial areas, but for all communities in the east of Auckland accessing employment and the airport.
“It was almost immediately terminated following public reaction, leaving a northern Manukau Harbour solution as the most politically acceptable. However, given that the proposals released yesterday provide no new east west connectivity for Glen Innes, Panmure, Howick, Pakuranga, Botany and the industrial areas of East Tamaki and Mt Wellington it is not clear how existing and projected growth demand in these areas will be addressed.
“Too often major projects in New Zealand are developed in a piecemeal fashion and modified and reduced to satisfy environmental and local interests without adequate consideration of strategic implications or the relative cost of lost accessibility and reduced economic efficiency.
“The East-West connection is a critical corridor linking not just the two busiest stretches of motorway in the country and three of the largest employment zones, it is a strategic link on the national highway network providing long term resilience and capacity for all road users crossing the city from east to west.
“It is critical that this project is seen as a strategic east west link for Auckland. That means providing adequate capacity to and through Auckland’s industrial heartland and supporting network connectivity region-wide,” Selwood says.
There are some really pull your hair out type comments in this statement.
Firstly it’s clear the NZCID are now trying to paint the East-West link as some kind of temporary fix up despite some of the options (like Option E) basically amounting a $1 billion+ motorway along the foreshore of the Mangere Inlet. There’s nothing temporary or short term about it.
It also ignores that the East-West Link has long been seen about improving access on the northern side of the harbour because as the NZCID point out, that’s where the largest portion of businesses and therefore freight movements are. Also let’s not forget the project has long been sold as being needed to improve freight movements.
Perhaps because the current proposals better deal with freight movements they are also trying to shift the argument back to having the motorway option by talking about the residents of the eastern suburbs. In doing so they basically suggest that the ability of Eastern suburbs residents to drive to the airport should come ahead of the liveability and communities of residents who live in Mangere.
The horrific Option 4 the NZCID want back on the options table
If they were really concerned about how Eastern suburbs residents and about providing them better connectivity then a quicker, cheaper an much less destructive option would be something like we’ve outlined in the Congestion Free Network. Two busways running at high all day frequencies connecting East Auckland with the rest of the region enhances connectivity not just for trips to the airport but for a wide range of other activities too. Some may say that Eastern suburbs residents won’t catch a bus but it’s worth remembering that people have said the same thing about North Shore residents yet the busway has been spectacularly successful.
Of course the NZCID won’t like the idea because it only costs a fraction of what a motorway does.
The other lobby group making news is the Road Transport Forum (RTF) in response to the suggestions from the NZTA’s Cycling Safety Panel that it be mandated for vehicles to give cyclists at least 1.5m of space when passing. Ken Shirley the CEO of the RTF has been rubbishing the suggestion and in doing so said:
“There’s a dual responsibility, the cyclist also has to be more aware of the impact of the impact they might have on vehicles, whether it’s a car or a truck because that can be very severe”
Yep because cyclists can really do some damage to a 40 tonne truck or having to slow down for 10 seconds is just such a horrific concept.
“One of the problems is blind spots on trucks and cyclists unaware of those blind spots and there’s a lot of technology that’s new to the market with infra-red and radar up the side of the truck giving an audio and visual warning to the the driver that in fact there might be a cyclist sitting in the blind spot”
Of course as soon as anyone suggests making technology like this a requirement Shirley is the first to jump up and down complaining about it.
“Too many cyclists don’t appreciate how vulnerable they really are,”
Cyclists are vulnerable primarily because of how other road users act and even the most safety conscious cyclist has sometimes been involved in tragic crashes.
“I think they’re a bit light on actual cycle education – we see some outrageous behaviour from cyclists – and a lack of appreciation of the blind spot, particularly with heavy vehicles.”
Nothing like the good old tar all people on bikes with the same brush.
The issue of how we fund transport projects has been in the news a lot recently with discussions of the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). The Herald have been running a campaign basically suggesting the council finances are perilous and almost saying are bankrupt and trying to shift a lot of the blame on to the City Rail Link. The part about the council’s finances being in trouble was well debunked the other day by David Shand who was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and chaired the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates.
Aucklanders should have an informed debate about the state of the city finances, given the $1.4 billion of rates collected annually and the total assets of some $40 billion managed by the council. However, the debate has not been well served by Herald articles which blithely use terms such as “spending spree”, “spending beyond its means” and “crisis point”.
This has led to the usual spate of letters from aggrieved ratepayers who are only too willing to believe that the council’s finances are in a “mess” and that we may be facing “bankruptcy”. There is no “crisis” in the city’s finances at the moment but there are major issues to be addressed.
He goes on to discuss 6 key points about the council’s finances and the heralds coverage and afterwards he notes:
While there has been no spending spree, the city’s finances are not in a mess and we are not presently at risk of bankruptcy, there are some big financial issues to be addressed.
The Herald has referred in the past to the “infrastructure deficit” Auckland faces over the next 30 years based both on coping with future expansion and addressing the past neglect of infrastructure expenditure.
The real problem is the sheer amount of projects the council has on the books from legacy councils. Many of the projects are good and critically needed – like the City Rail Link – while others like Penlink are at the other end of the spectrum. As a result there are two separate but combined issues at play when it comes to the next LTP. We need to:
- Make sure we’re building the right stuff – that means we need to review every project to see if it’s actually worthwhile building as what we don’t build can be just as important as what we do.
- If there is an funding deficit we need to work out how we address that which will likely mean new funding sources need to be found.
Ultimately the solution is likely to be a bit of a combination of the two however unfortunately in ways similar to the density debate with the Unitary Plan talk only seems to coalesce around one option. Len Brown falls in to the second camp of wanting to find new funding sources but not wanting to make some hard decisions about what should be funded and he reiterated that again yesterday when speaking at the annual conference of the Road Transport Forum.
Auckland needs to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the Government if it’s to find a way out of a massive budget deficit and fund its much needed transport plans, Mayor Len Brown says.
The city was gearing up for “one of the most important funding debates Auckland has ever seen, and maybe even the nation”, he said today.
It needed to find $300 million-$400 million a year to fill a $12 billion funding gap, which would mean the difference “between steady-as-you-go typical Auckland or whether or not we’re going to seriously invest in infrastructure to deal with the shortfall and to deal with the growth coming at us to build this city as a real economic powerhouse”.
“Bluntly, we need to decide do we want a transport package based on current funding sources, which is not at all appealing and won’t deliver the city that we’re aspiring to and we know we need. Or do we find new sources of funding and deliver the transport programme Aucklanders asked for through the Auckland plan and in successive elections.
“Current funding sources would deliver us a transport system that’s half-way there. We need to be bold, innovative.”
A similar story was told by the Head of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) which is a lobby group for the construction and infrastructure financing industry’s.
Note: we’ve also pointed out in the past the odd situation where the Council are a paid up member of a group who exists to lobby the council to spend more. Also the councils outgoing CFO happens to be on the board.
Head of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, Stephen Selwood, said the investment plans for Auckland’s public transport and roads are not great and the city must move quickly to avoid massive congestion within 30 years.
He believes a motorway charging regime is the best option for raising money to cover the $300-400 million annual cost of developing Auckland’s roads and public transport. He said users should pay about $3 a trip.
Mr Selwood told the Road Transport Forum’s annual conference on Thursday that he favours motorway tolls rather than the ring road option used in London.
He said a toll would also help clear congested roads by encouraging some commuters onto public transport while others would car pool.
But Mr Sellwood warned that authorities need to move in the next two to three years or Auckland will face much bigger congestion problems by 2040.
Stephen Selwood has been pushing this idea for some time now. Personally I’m not opposed to using road pricing, in fact quite the opposite in that if done right it could be quite useful for managing demand however there are a number of problems with what Selwood keeps pushing.
- Tolling only the motorways is likely to push a lot of trips that currently use the motorway on to local roads which aren’t tolled likely putting a lot more pressure on them. It’s also those local roads that carry the bulk of our bus services so there could be quite a substantial impact to PT reliability.
- Would our PT system be able to cope with such an increase in demand. Even with the new network and new electric trains there isn’t likely to be enough spare capacity to be able to cope if significant numbers of people suddenly change modes. If we decide to go down the path of road pricing then we really need a concerted effort to get our PT improvements rolled through faster to help in giving us that capacity.
- Perhaps most importantly is impact road pricing might have on travel demand. The likely result is that traffic volumes (on motorways at least) are likely to fall as people shift to PT or reducing the amount of travel they do. This could be significant as reducing traffic also reduces/removes the justification for many of the roading projects currently on the plans. With those roading upgrades no longer needed it reduces the overall amount we have to spend upgrading our roads and there reduces the funding deficit. There’s a bit of an irony about an infrastructure lobby group pushing a solution that will end up reducing the amount of infrastructure we need – not that they’re probably thinking that far ahead.
I think all three problems have solutions or provide us with good opportunities. Rolling out the new bus network supported by a large network of bus lanes could keep local roads flowing and as well as providing more attractive services. Before introducing such a charging scheme effort can be made to increase the size of the bus fleet and get started on projects like the City Rail Link while the changes in travel behaviour as a result of tolls can help us work out exactly what projects are needed.
It’s almost as if Brian Rudman had been reading the blog (I’ve heard that he does).
Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, says Labour now backs Mayor Len Brown’s bid to levy an extra charge on Auckland road users through road or congestion charges or a regional fuel tax.
He said Labour had been wary of road-user charges in the past because of the effect on working Aucklanders, but now says they are already paying a high price for congested roads and lack of public transport.
But by buying into Mr Brown’s road-bloated transport plans, Labour is only preventing the short sharp shock in favour of public transport that is long overdue. Of course the city rail tunnel is a no-brainer. As was the electrification of the rail network, integrated ticketing, revision of the bus networks and the other public transport reforms which, let’s not forget, pre-dated Mr Brown’s emergence as chief cheerleader.
The problem is the $12 billion to $15 billion that Mr Brown wants to raise via road charging and tolling is needed only because of a huge funding shortfall in Auckland Transport’s proposed 30-year “integrated transport programme”.
It’s a flawed, road-dominated programme which, if achieved as planned, will leave the next generation of Aucklanders stuck in worse traffic jams than we have now. The plan admits that once it is completed, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road networks by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.
Despite all the mayor’s promotion of his rail tunnel, the underlying emphasis of this grand plan is still on roads. This is underlined in the regional land transport programme.
This is what we’ve been saying for almost a year now. Personally I think that road pricing should take place but not as a revenue gathering exercise but for the congestion relief benefits it provides. To do this it could be done in a revenue neutral way by reducing household rates instead. It is the rubbish Integrated Transport Programme that was one of the driving factors behind us creating the Congestion Free Network which does include still building a substantial number of roading projects but not to the same scale as currently proposed. We’ve even estimated the costs out over each and every year.
Aucklanders have proven that given a train service, they will use it. In 1993, after the purchase of Perth’s secondhand diesel fleet boosted Auckland’s puny rail service, passenger numbers rose from 1 million to 2.5 million over 10 years. In the 10 years after the opening of the Britomart station in 2003, passenger numbers quadrupled to 10 million.
The first of the 57 new electric trains will enter service in April. With the new Hop card integrated ticket finally operating and a redesigned network of bus routes in the wings, Auckland public transport is finally emerging from a half-century of neglect. With the improved train services and the Northern Busway, Aucklanders have voted with their feet. Provide a service and they will use it.
The trouble with the politicians and the bureaucrats is that after 60 years of addiction to petrol, they can’t break the habit. True, they’ve conceded that a liveable city needs a modern public transport system. But when did you ever see a politician on a bus or train – except for a photo opportunity?
More to the point, when did you see one vote to chop the roads budget in favour of public transport? Instead they try to support both, which is why Mr Brown and the “consensus building group” of mainly road-lovers he set up to find new funding is trying to bully Aucklanders into paying another $12 billion to $15 billion for a 30-year plan that’s designed to fail.
There are a few politicians that do use PT. The most prolific is actually George Wood who I know uses it to get all around the region and not just for getting to and from the CBD, even doing trips that most readers wouldn’t bother attempting like yesterday when he used PT to get from the Airport to the North Shore.
Yesterday the NZCID also released an “independent report” on infrastructure. I haven’t read through it yet but some of the comments in the press release definitely caught my eye.
However, SGS found that the Auckland Plan objective of a quality compact city was unlikely to be achieved without increased investment in city shaping infrastructure, identification of the means to fund that investment and policy reform to support road pricing and value capture mechanisms.
On current plans there simply is not sufficient investment in transport infrastructure to support a transition to an efficient and competitive higher density urban form, Selwood said.
To reverse many decades of low-density, motor-vehicle oriented growth will take much more than the city rail link and other projects prioritised in the Auckland Plan.
This finding helps explain why transport modelling of future land use and transport investment completed last year showed Aucklands congestion worsening significantly over the course of the next thirty years, even with all proposed investment committed.
So how does this plan look for some city shaping infrastructure that helps us transition to an efficient and competitive higher density urban form that will help to reverse many decades of low-density, motor vehicle oriented growth?
Edit: Also worth including a couple of comments from Phil Twyford on the issue