What’s happening to Takapu Valley?

As Peter found when covering the Ministry of Transport’s review of capital spending on roads (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) our multibillion dollar national transport budget is being spent in some bizarre ways. Money’s being allocated to major roading projects that don’t offer many economic benefits in return.

MoT state highway BCRs 2005-2012

While the high-level picture is clear, it’s not always obvious what’s going on in project selection. Why does the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) choose one project over another? What are their processes for assessing “strategic fit” and other considerations?

Some smart people have been taking a critical look at a major Wellington road project that’s been flying under the radar: the Petone-to-Grenada motorway. Like the Transmission Gully motorway, it’s being touted less for its benefit-cost ratio than for its impacts on the “resilience” of the Wellington region.

Tamara Duran, who writes on the Takapu Valley website, provides a useful summary of the project… and the issues with the project. In addition to her extensive analysis of the the impacts of the project on resilience (parts 1, 2, and 3), she’s put together a primer on the project, complete with maps for the out-of-towners:

Since the Christchurch and Tōhoku earthquakes, “resilience” has been the mantra of… pretty much anyone building anything, be it a building, a corporate structure, or a communications network. We all want to be resilient, to survive whatever has just happened and get back up and about our normal business as quickly as possible.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has picked up on how keen everyone is on resilience, and so is now including it in all of their sales material. Perhaps unsurprisingly, NZTA has defined “resilience” from a transport perspective as “more roads”. Not “more transport options”, and not even really “better roads”, just more. Got congestion problems? Build another road to get around it. Got a road falling apart? Build another road to take traffic off it.

Case in point: The Petone to Grenada link road, in Wellington. This road has been in the investigation and planning stages for a good 20 years now, the reason being Wellington’s notoriously challenging geography. To get from the CBD to the rest of the Region (and ultimately the rest of the North Island), there are essentially two routes out – SH1 up Ngauranga Gorge, and SH2 along the harbour.   Both of those are through narrow corridors with few or no alternatives.

P2G map 1

Source: Google Maps

The logical thing to do, then, as proposed in various studies since about 1991, is something like this:

P2G map 2

Source: Google Maps

Traffic wanting to get between the SH1 corridor in the west and the SH2 corridor in the east can “cut the corner” of Ngauranga, taking pressure off those two chokepoints.

If there’s a truck flipped in Ngauranga Gorge, traffic can go up SH2 and across P2G. Likewise if there’s a crash along SH2 traffic can go up SH1 and across P2G back to Petone. All good, and everyone’s back about their business with minimal fuss.

But 7km of road is Not Enough Road. More Road = More Resilient, remember. So what NZTA is proposing is this:

P2G map 3

Source: NZTA Presentation to Chief Executives Group, November 2014, released under OIA

We’ll turn the whole thing north-south (because clearly a north-south road is how you solve an east-west problem); then we have room to double the length. Here are some other “resilient” features:

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges through chains of roundabouts!
Source: NZTA/Opus

Source: NZTA/Opus

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges via two-lane local streets! (and roundabouts!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • “Bypasses” with one-way ramps that force you 12km out of your way!
P2G map 6

Source: Petone to Grenada Scoping Report, February 2014

  • Motorways next to other motorways! (More Roads = More Resilient!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • Roads on unstudied active fault lines!
Source: GNS Active Faults database

Source: GNS Active Faults database

  • 80 meter deep canyons through the Wellington Fault Scarp!
Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

  • In Petone!
Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

NZTA has taken a reasonable solution to Wellington network resilience woes and “made it better”, in the process negating the very function the road was originally supposed to serve. In the meantime, genuine improvements to the earthquake and natural hazard resilience of the roading network are left to languish.

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

I’d really recommend reading her entire series on the motorway. It seems like NZTA is pursuing a more expensive option that delivers much worse outcomes. In particular, Tamara argues that better results could be achieved through upgrades to a few problematic bits of the existing State Highway 58.

Meanwhile, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley (who writes the excellent StatsChat blog) has been digging into NZTA’s options assessments on the project. He’s found that the agency has made some basic statistical errors in its weighting of evaluation criteria. The effect seems to have been that NZTA’s chosen the wrong project, for the wrong reasons:

If you have to make a decision with several options, each with different types of positive and negative effects, it’s going to be hard. Techniques for breaking down complex decisions into sets of simpler questions are very valuable, but it’s important that the way you break down the problem and recombine the answers fits with how you answer the simpler questions.

I’ve been pointed to what looks like an unfortunate example from the NZTA, in assessing options for the Petone–Grenada link road to be constructed near Wellington. The road comes in two sections: from Petone to the eastern section of Lincolnshire Farm, and from there to Grenada. According to the scoping report (PDF), these can be decided independently of each other, so there’s an ideal opportunity to simplify the decision making.  NZTA describes four options P1 to P4 for the first section, and four options A to D for the second section.

I would have expected them to just make independent recommendations for the two sections, but what they actually did was more complicated. First, they looked at the P options and decided based on four criteria that P4 was best.  They then looked at A+P4, B+P4, C+P4, and D+P4 for the same four criteria, and said in a footnote (p172) “Upon combining one of Option P1, P2, P3 or P4 with one Option A, B, C or D the effect more towards the negative takes precedence.

This can only make sense if the harms or benefits weren’t independent.  Sometimes that’s possible. In particular, one of the criteria was “resilience”, and you might argue that it doesn’t matter how robust the second part of the road is when the first part is under several meters of rock and mud, or filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. It could make sense to take the worst value of the two sections when assessing resilience: but people who know more about Wellington-area transport than I do still seem dubious.

The same argument certainly doesn’t apply for the other criteria: archaeological,  ecological,  landscape/visual impact, and transport benefit/cost. If one section of the road is an environmental nightmare, that doesn’t make the environmental impact of the other section unimportant. If one section of the road is unavoidably ugly, that doesn’t excuse making the other section ugly. If one section destroys an important heritage site, it doesn’t mean the other section doesn’t have to care about preservation of the past. If one section is ridiculously expensive it doesn’t mean the costs are unimportant for the other section.

The impact of decomposing and recombining the evaluation as they did, is that any criterion where P4 was bad becomes much less important in choosing among options A to D. P4 was very bad on the landscape/visual criterion, and moderately bad on ecology.

By now you should be expecting the punch line: evaluated independently, options A and B look good because they score well on ecology and landscape/visual criteria. Evaluated in combination with P4, they look terrible, because the ecology and landscape benefits are masked by the “more negative” combining rule. That’s a problem with the combining rule, not with the road. Here’s a colour-coded version of the information in Table 23-19, p182 (from T. Duran)

P2G separate and combined option assessment

Not only is the combining rule obviously missing some information, it’s not even internally consistent. If the evaluation had been done in the opposite order they might well have chosen A first, and then looked at A+P1 to A+P4. Even D was what they’d chosen first, P3+D would then look slightly better than P4+D.

It’s very tempting to look for ways of combining preferences that don’t rely on numbers, just on orderings, but in most cases they aren’t available, and attempts to do it leave you worse off than before.

This evaluation wasn’t set up to focus only on resilience — even assuming that the resilience assessment is valid, which I hear is also being questioned — it was set up to value the four criteria equally. It really looks as though a minor detail of the approach to simplifying the evaluation has had a large, accidental effect on the result.

Thomas’s words are gentle but suggest serious methodological errors in NZTA’s project selection. Taken together with Tamara’s critique of the agency’s evaluation of the resilience impacts of the Petone-to-Grenada road, it really makes you wonder what’s wrong with NZTA’s decision-making.

A Wider motorway

This image came up the other day on the NZTA’s Facebook page and it highlights just how much wider SH16 will be between Te Atatu Rd (top) and Lincoln Rd when the works have finished. Before they started work the motorway was just two lanes wide each way. When finished it will be four lanes wide comprising of three general traffic lanes and a bus shoulder lane each way.

Lincoln Rd to Te Atatu April 15

The stages of construction are shown in this diagram below

Lincoln Rd to Te Atatu Plan

The corridor could get even wider as the North West busway is planned to be on the south side of the motorway

Busway schematic

Additional Harbour Crossing back on agenda

The government has announced it is restarting the process to protect the route for an a third harbour crossing that raises a huge number of questions.

New Waitemata Harbour crossing future proofed

Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, has taken steps to future-proof the route for an additional Waitemata Harbour crossing in view of the rapid growth Auckland is set to undergo in the next 20 years.

“I have asked the NZ Transport Agency to recommence work on what will be a critical transport link for Auckland and the upper North Island.

“The preferred route for the additional crossing is a tunnel east of the Auckland Harbour Bridge between the Esmonde Road interchange on the North Shore, and Victoria Park Tunnel and Central Motorway Junction in central Auckland.

“Advisors are preparing for the designation process and are putting together a business case focusing on the timing of construction and potential funding options,” Mr Bridges says.

In 2013 the Government announced its support for a tunnel in preference to a bridge.

“With increasing demands on Auckland’s transport network, the Government will continue to work closely with its local government partners to provide a resilient network and wider transport choices,” Mr Bridges says.

The NZ Transport Agency says an additional crossing is likely to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, and is likely to be needed between 2025 and 2030. A construction start date will depend on a number of factors, including the rate of freight and traffic growth.

Mr Bridges says that the additional Waitemata Harbour crossing will work in conjunction with the existing Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The business case will look at a range of public transport options, including heavy rail. The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport will be working together on this part of the project, including any necessary route protection for public transport.

“The Government knows that investment in all modes of transport will ease congestion and bring lasting benefits for Auckland and for New Zealand as a whole,” Mr Bridges says.

The NZTA last studied an additional crossing five years ago and the reports from that study are available here. The questions I have are in no particular order.

With construction depending on factors such as traffic growth, will the new business case take into account the actual traffic volumes from the last 8+ years. After almost 50 years on constant increases, traffic volumes fell after 2006 and have been so stubbornly flat that they are still less than they were in 2003. Not only did the previous business case – produced in 2010 – predict growth that hasn’t materialised but they also used a model to predict the volume for the starting year of their prediction (2008) which was well above the observed actual volumes.

AHB Volumes

Related, what will be the employment and traffic volume targets the project must achieve. After all if the City Rail Link is going to have bogus targets foist upon it then why shouldn’t the single most expensive project we’ve ever considered.

With the project costing between $4 and $6 billion how will we pay for it. To put things in perspective we currently spend about $3.4 billion on transport per year for the entire nation and that includes costs for state highways, NZTA contributions towards local roads, road policing, and of course NZTA contributions towards public transport. Within that budget we spend $1 to $1.4 billion on state highway improvements. In short an AWHC would suck up massive amounts of cash and that would impact on a huge numbers of projects from all around the country. Even if built as a PPP the ongoing payments would likely cripple our transport budgets for decades. As an example Transmission Gully which is costing around $850 million will have repayments once it opens of about $125 million a year. AWHC would be significantly more than that.

Will the business case achieve a Benefit Cost Ratio of greater than the 0.3 it did last time (Answer: presumably it will because of the changes since then to the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Model allowing for a longer assessment period and reduced discount rate – still won’t be above 1 though)

AWHC 2010 BCR

It’s all very well talking about a horrifically expensive tunnel under the harbour but what constantly seems to be ignored is what happens on either end of the tunnel. Studies prior to the 2010 one have talked about how any new crossing would also require major expansions to the Northern Motorway to cope with the increased capacity thrown at. How much is it going to cost to duplicate SH1 to Albany and beyond? If not then we just get this situation.

WestConnex

What impact will the $4 billion we’ve been spending to create the Western Ring Route have on traffic and travel behaviour. At the very least we should probably be waiting till after that work is completed and traffic volumes have settled down before we do any analysis of traffic demand over the harbour.

WRR project location

Regardless of how much it costs or what the benefits are one fact that can’t be ignored is that this project will have major impacts on the environment it passes through. It effectively creates a new motorway out in Shoal Bay with all the red hatched parts in the images below being reclamation and the blue parts being viaducts. I wonder what the likes of the Herald’s John Roughan will say about – note:  I still don’t think he’s admitted he was wrong about the Northern Busway.

AWHC north of Onewa AWHC Sulhur Beach

Further if some of the residents of Northcote got so upset about the idea of Skypath, I wonder what they’ll think of having a mini spaghetti junction on their doorstep. Even more so when they realise that the two square boxes on the image above where the new lanes change from tan to purple colour (to the right of the 1 symbol) are 35m high (~10 storey) ventilation stacks for the exhaust fumes inside the tunnel. There is also one on the city side next to the current Air NZ building (below).

AWHC Westhaven

One mini positive is that the government are at least saying the business case will consider a rail crossing however in my mind the NZTA also need to assess options that involve building a PT only crossing first. A dedicated PT crossing along with Skypath are the real missing modes across the harbour. This is especially important given the huge growth we’re seeing in bus passengers from the shore and in the morning we’re seeing up to 30-40% of people crossing on a bus – up from 18% in 2001. This growth in PT is likely to continue for some time yet, especially once the new network eventually makes PT much more useful to a wider variety of people. One risk is I suspect there are quite a few people behind the scenes that will think an acceptable solution to PT across the harbour is just to leave it on the existing bridge.

Car and Bus trips across AHB

The 2010 and 2011 car results seem like they could be incorrect but I can’t confirm it

 

Overall route protection itself isn’t a bad thing but any suggestion that this is project is needed any time soon is fanciful thinking. There are far greater priorities in Auckland such as the CRL and significant upgrades to PT in many other areas. The government should be focusing on getting those projects consented and underway first.

Northern Express delays on the way?

The NZTA have announced works that should result in an improved experience for bus users from north of Constellation Busway Station but that while it’s constructed is likely to cause delays to both bus users and car/truck drivers.

North Shore commuters are advised to allow additional journey time as work starts on the upgrade of the citybound shoulder lane on State Highway 1 leading to the Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation Drive) exit.

The temporary motorway shoulder lane closure, citybound between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway, will be in place for 10 weeks, while the shoulder is widened to take buses continuously between the two interchanges.

Providing a continuous bus shoulder between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway off-ramp will mean citybound buses no longer have to merge in and out of traffic lanes heading to the Constellation Park and Ride,” says NZ Transport Agency’s Acting Auckland and Northland Highway Manager Mieszko Iwaskow.

“These improvements, along with the upgrade of the Greville Road interchange, and the additional northbound lane between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Road, will provide better journey time reliability for those travelling along the Northern Motorway.”

Due to be completed in June, the shoulder widening is the final stage of the Upper Harbour Highway to Greville Road Northbound Three-Laning Project, which is part of the Northern Corridor Improvements Programme.

For further information please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/UHH-Greville, or call 0800 72 74 74.

For Northern Corridor Improvements, please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/auckland-northern-corridor/ or the Project Information Hub located at 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale.

image002

While the outcome should certainly be an improvement I do worry about the impact this work will have on bus reliability, especially with it starting in the middle of March.

Now if only they’d build a full busway instead of our at least as part of the massive interchange they have planned.

The Harbour Bridge Lit Up

These pictures come from reader Jonty showing the NZTA’s new lighting scheme on the Harbour Bridge. The NZTA are usually quite good at providing information on changes like this but I haven’t seen anything this time so I’m not sure if it’s a permanent thing or not.

AHB new lighting 1

AHB new lighting 2

Overall I think it looks like a great addition and long overdue. It could also be important as from memory the lighting proposed for Skypath was a source of complaint from some local residents. If the NZTA have introduced lighting then that hopefully reduces those complaints.

MoT’s review of capital spending on roads, part 4

This is the fourth post in a series on the Ministry of Transport’s working paper on New Zealand’s capital spending on roads, which was prepared as an input to the 2015/16 Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport Funding. It was released to Matt under the Official Information Act just before Christmas. Previous posts:

In the last two posts, I took a look at MoT’s analysis of benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) for new state highway and local road projects. They’ve found that BCRs for state highway projects have fallen significantly since 2008, meaning that we’re spending more money for road with fewer benefits. Consequently, if the Government were focused on getting the highest benefits out of its transport budget, it would have to de-fund most large state highway projects that are currently underway.

This week, I want to take a look at a slightly different issue: Which regions are doing well (or badly) out of road spending? The MoT report includes some in-depth analysis of “regional equity” in NZTA’s expenditures on road maintenance, construction, and public transport over the period from 2002/03 to 2011/12.

Here’s the key chart. It compares the total revenue that NZTA has raised from each region against the amount of money that NZTA has spent in those regions.

A few things jump out from the chart. The first is that NZTA’s spent slightly more than it raised from fuel taxes, road user charges, and other sources. The second is that there are some big disparities between revenue and expenditure in some regions. In particular: Auckland and Wellington are getting about 20-25% more in NZTA expenditure than they pay in revenue, while Canterbury is getting only slightly more than half as much expenditure as it pays in revenue.

MoT regional revenue vs expenditure chart

Here’s a summary table of which regions are doing well and badly out of NZTA’s funding criteria:

MoT regional revenue vs expenditure table

This can’t be explained by a few major projects or funding calls in one or two years. MoT’s analysis of spending over time shows that “where regions either received significantly more in expenditure or significantly less in expenditure, that accumulation was fairly constant over time. Differences are not due to changes in single years.” In other words, the regions that got less spending in 2002 were also likely to get less expenditure in 2012.

The MoT report goes on to take a look at some potential explanations for disparity in spending, such as differences in population, GDP, vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), etc. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to draw robust conclusions from their analysis as there is likely to be endogeneity, or simultaneous causation, between these variables. (Perhaps MoT should consider using an instrumental variable approach to control for this?)

Here’s one view of the issue, which compares NZTA expenditure with regional population. It tells a similar story – Auckland, the Waikato, and Northland attract more funding than their share of the population would imply, while Canterbury gets less.

MoT regional expenditure vs population chart

One thing that MoT didn’t cover, unfortunately, is the relationship between projected future population growth and spending. It’s reasonable to spend more to enable future growth rather than pouring money into declining regions. This could help to explain the high level of spending in Auckland and the Waikato, which are picked to grow faster than NZ as a whole. However, it doesn’t explain the low level of spending in Canterbury, which is expected to be the second-fastest growing region in the country over the next three decades, or the high level of spending in Wellington, which is not expected to grow rapidly.

Statistics NZ's 2013-2043 population growth projections

Statistics NZ’s 2013-2043 population growth projections

Lastly, it’s also instructive to look at the relationship between NZTA’s regional expenditure and the share of national VKT travelled in those regions. This is a useful measure because VKT per capita varies considerably between regions. According to MoT’s data, people drive less in Auckland (10% less than the national average) and Wellington (almost 25% less than the national average). While major urban areas require fewer roads per capita, they may need more spending on public transport infrastructure and services. Canterbury, by contrast, is pretty close to the national average in terms of VKT per capita.

As you can see, this comparison continues to show that Auckland and Wellington are over-funded relative to their driving behaviour, while Canterbury is under-funded.

MoT regional expenditure vs VKT chart

Because so much of NZTA’s expenditure consists of road spending, this suggests that recent Governments may have misunderstood the needs of New Zealand’s major urban areas. In effect, they have spent a lot of money on roads in cities where public transport, walking and cycling are growing rapidly. Motorway extensions at the edge of town – e.g. Puhoi to Warkworth and Transmission Gully – are not especially useful for meeting transport needs in urban areas. They may be useful in regions like the Waikato where people and freight travel longer distances, but cities are different.

The data also suggests that Christchurch is getting under-funded. As the data series stops in 2012, it’s difficult to tell whether this trend has reversed since the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, which damaged a fair chunk of the city’s infrastructure. The earthquakes also created space for residents and the city council to push for innovative ideas like a frequent bus network and a network of major cycleways. It would be great to see the region pushing on ahead with these ideas, but past under-funding makes me wonder whether there are institutional barriers to funding projects in Christchurch.

What do you make of MoT’s data on regional transport spending?

Too High a Cost.

AT are doing some very very good things at the moment, they are showing leadership and courage to make rational but bold decisions.  Like dropping the Reeves Rd fly-over in favour of a BRT solution, creatively investigating ways to bring modern light rail to over-crowded bus routes, and quickly rolling out long overdue bus lanes on arterials. These are all fantastic and are signs of a nimble and lively institution, one that is responding to a changing world with a changed response. One that is resisting the natural tendency of public agencies to just roll on doing the same as before and not risk trouble. I applaud this and the hard working and dedicated individuals who are carrying out.

But at the same time, at least at the time of writing, AT has lost its way on Great North Road. So why have they got it so wrong here?

Looking at that first list we can see what all these issues have in common; they are all discretely transport issues; as you’d expect this is AT’s core competency. BRT versus a traffic flyover in Pakuranga? This is a debate between competing transport projects, each can be costed and outcomes evaluated. Analysing whether more buses will be able to deal with the demand on Isthmus and City routes or whether a higher capacity technology may be needed? Again this is problem of spatial geometry, vehicle size, route speed, likely passenger volumes, boarding times, vehicle dimensions etc. All the kinds of things a transport organisation ought to excel in, and that AT increasingly shows it does.

St Lukes Interchange Plan

But in examining the widening of Great North Road as if it only has transport outcomes they are showing the limits of this competency. That ‘place value’ just doesn’t compute is shown by the bewildering array of excuses being rolled out by AT to justify an act they clearly consider trivial: The removal of the six 80 year old Pohutukawa. First was an attempt to blame the need for killing these trees on improved cycling and public transport amenity in order to ‘bring long-term environmental benefits':

We regret that the trees will be lost but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended bus lane and bus priority measures in Great North Road.

Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with Auckland Transport’s drive to encourage the use of public transport. This will bring long-term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car.

This is to draw an extraordinarily long bow. There are no ‘cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge’ in the proposed plan. There is absolutely no more cycling amenity on Great North Rd than there is currently, ie a wide footpath, except the new one will have no shade nor glory from the grand Pohutukawa. There is proposed to be a slightly longer but still intermittent bus lane. And as all this takes place as part of a massive increase in traffic lanes, including a double slip lane, to say that this project is designed to ‘bring long term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car’ is frankly, an untruth.
That statement would be justified if fully separated cycle lanes and proper Rapid Transit was at the core of the project. They are not.
Now we have a new justification, signed by the same high level AT executive, published in Metro Magazine: Cost.
Both AT and NZTA spend public money and it is our legal and moral responsibility to deliver the most objective cost-efficient solutions to the ratepayers and taxpayers that planning and engineering can devise, for the least possible cost.
Absolutely right. Cost, and value, is exactly the issue here. We all certainly want our money spent wisely by our public servants. But there are obvious problems with this assertion, first the cost is only relevant in the context of the value; a cheap thing is a waste if it is not very good. And the people of Auckland see losing the trees as too high a cost for what they propose. That AT don’t see they value of the trees how and where they are, or so discount it so, is essentially the heart of the disagreement. We understand that they have a low transport value, but AT cannot ignore values outside of their core discipline, particularly place values, as their actions have huge effects on the quality of life and place that are not captured by driver time savings, traffic flow, or PT ridership numbers. Neither AT nor NZTA can just ignore these issues and simply hide within their speciality. And nor can they claim that a couple of new trees are the same as magnificent ones that have witnessed the last 80 years at this spot.
Additionally, there is no evidence that the preferred option is less expensive in direct financial cost than say Option Six, which the peer review found to have no significantly different traffic outcomes. In fact Option Six must surely be cheaper to construct as it is one lane narrower and doesn’t involve removing the trees:
Pohutukawa Option 6
There are other issues that could be raised with this text like the bold claim the whole purpose of the Super City is to reduce congestion:
The founding premise of the Auckland super city was that the city’s congestion was costing $1 billion a year in lost productivity and this had to change.
Both this idea of the centrality of congestion busting to the whole purpose of the city and the quoting of a $1billion annual congestion cost figure show how blind AT have become to other issues of value. Other costs. Especially perhaps things that are hard to quantify. But then congestion cost itself is a very hard thing to quantify. The most recent attempt in New Zealand, published by NZTA itself [Wallis and Lupton 2013] find that the figure for Auckland is more likely in the realm of $250 million.
Wallis and Lupton 2013
But regardless of this supposed quantum it has long been understood that congestion is not solved by building more roads, that in fact while temporarily easing one route, overall this only encourages more driving and auto-dependency for a place, and ultimately worse congestion everywhere. It is, quite literally, the loosening of the belt as a ‘cure’ for obesity. It is also understood that the best outcome for all road users, the best way to combat congestion, is to invest in the alternative Rapid Transit route, particularly where none currently exists:
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
So again the heavy cost of this work, both financially and in the loss of the trees, a massive reduction in place value, is too high for this outcome.
As some levels of AT seem to admit they place no value on the trees, or indeed anything that isn’t directly transport related, the best outcome would be for the Board to give them direction to find a solution that both keeps the trees and meets reasonable near term traffic demand and in fact meaningfully incentivises the mode shift that AT correctly values:
Urban roads and state highways working together to keep the traffic flowing and fast, efficient road, rail and ferry passenger services that — together with walking and cycling — entice Aucklanders out of their cars.
 -Auckland Transport Metro Magazine
This is an issue of cost, and value. The people of Auckland, Auckland Transport’s ultimate customers and employers, find the cost to place-value too high, and the value of the proposed outcome too low, to justify this action. The public may have been slow to realise what was planned here but have now made their views clear. Recently we have come to expect bold and innovative solutions from AT for all sorts of difficult problems. So it would be very unfortunate if the Board were to miss an opportunity to call a halt to this irreversible action and to seek a smarter solution.
And because work has begun the most efficient and cost effective solution is probably to make the small but significant change to Option Six, leaving the trees, adding the additional slip lane, but settling at least for now, for the two east bound lanes away from the motorway overbridge instead of three. It would be good to see the real effects are after the opening of the Waterview connection before rash actions are taken. If a third lane is deemed necessary here [even though only two lead into it] it is clear that could be added in a few years as MOTAT as planning to restructure their whole relationship with this corner. AT can save some cost and some grief now and revisit the issue with more information and without the pressure from a NZTA deadline. It could be that they find that an east facing buslane and separated cycle way is of higher value through here…?
Pohutukawa Blossom, Elsewhere

Pohutukawa Blossom, elsewhere

Celebrating recent Auckland Cycling and Walking projects

 

This is a sort of ‘Photo of the Day’ post to follow Matt’s one this morning: The day in question being last Friday 30th of Jan. Thankfully I was able to get back to the city from work in the South Island just in time to ride to the Ministerial Cycleways Announcement on the abandoned CMJ off-ramp. See here for how promising is the repurposing of this symbol of urban motorway-era overbuild into something useful.

As I observed in the post linked to above it’s surprisingly pleasant on the ramp, you’re largely above the traffic. Here’s a pic with a photo-op on bikes for Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown, and AT Chair Lester Levy going on in the distance.

CYCLEWAY LAUNCH_5372

And the backdrop? Three current and three soon-to-be apartment buildings. Left to right; Urba on Howe street, a new build, two existing blocks, the old Telecom office about to be converted, another 80/90s office building of considerable ordinariness under conversion, and another existing one. Hundreds of new dwellings in easy walk or ride to K Rd, Ponsonby, and of course the city.

CYCLEWAY LAUNCH_5376

I had a good chat with new transport minister Bridges, to be continued, he was very relaxed and out of a suit unlike his poor officials [background]. Those elegant cuffed wrists holding the phone belong to city Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid who will be very important in making sure that NZTA’s traffic engineers don’t get away with insisting on some sort of massive cage along the sides of this route out of panic about what humans might do in their motorway corridor.

A balance between ensuring safety and creating a great environment is key here. It is important that the physical detail of this conversion treat riding and walking as normal activities that do not require the kind of defensive constructions that hurtling along in tin boxes at 100 kph do. It is already a fun and secure place to ride and walk. And even though its as close as we are likely to get to an elevated Highline in Auckland I don’t think it needs to be fussily guilded. I like experiencing the tough motorway engineering on foot or bike; there’s something a little transgressive about it. Sightlines need to be clear and the width is great, and practical for reducing conflicts on a shared path. For the route see Matt’s previous post.

The only cost of any consequence is a short bridge at the southern end of the ramp opposite South St connecting through to the bottom of East Street then up to K Rd in one direction, and Canada St, and the Grafton Gully and North Western cycleways in the other. Yay. The architects of the Pt Resolution Bridge [now called Monk MacKenzie] are on the design team so we have high hopes for a beautiful structure here.

Breaking! Just got the ok on Twitter from NZTA to share these:

CANADA ST BRIDGE_01

CANADA ST BRIDGE_02

Stunning. But interestingly only views from the motorway users’ perspective, and no one appearing to be using it… hopefully there are some equally developed views for above. You can see the bridge sweeps past South St to link with Canada St and the bottom of East St. Therefore directly to the Grafton Gully and Northwestern Cycleways more than to K Rd.

Talking of beautiful pedestrian/cycling bridges after the function I rode on to see the new one between the Grafton Gully cycleway and the path between Elam/Whitaker Pl and Symonds St:

Grafton Cycleway bridge_01

And what a lovely sensuous and sinewy thing it is too. Structural engineering practice Novare were the lead designers.

Grafton Cycleway bridge_02

From there I headed down to the city via O’Connell St. Of course it would be much better if there was also a route through the Wellesley St underpass. There is available space at the northern end which is currently only occupied by desultory planting. This would mean that pedestrians and riders wouldn’t have to go up and across Symonds St to get to and the from the city and the cycleway. It is hard to imagine how this connection isn’t a priority for AT/AC?

O'CONNELL_5419

O’Connell St is insanely improved; fantastic work by AC + AT. A huge success; peopled, busy, new sales being made and life being lived on the street. Previously it was just parking and vehicles circulating looking for parking. Still needs a tweak to reduce the rat-running, a good start would be to review the street pattern to the south [uphill], I propose reversing the one-way to up hill rather than down, as it currently funnels vehicles into O’Connell. Reversing this pattern would retain the same level of vehicle access to the surrounding buildings but direct movement towards the streets with higher vehicle priority. The aim should be for only delivery or emergency vehicles with destinations actually on O’Connell to be there. How it was:

O'Connell St

From there I went to check out Waterfront Auckland’s new [not yet officially opened] boardwalk. Fantastic:

Westhaven Boardwalk_01

Wide, elegant, graceful: great work WA. Another of those projects that makes you wonder what took us so long….?

Westhaven Boardwalk_02

And obviously, in the words of the Grandfather of Soul James Brown; it’s now time to “Take It To the Bridge”

After all who can disagree with Brown, especially about what’s cool.

In fact all the good things in this post make me feel very optimistic about the progress on the great task of fixing our potentially great city after decades of damage and neglect through the auto-age. So much so that I have to also agree with Brown here on the Ed Sullivan show in 1966 , so about Auckland’s progress:

“I Feel Good!”

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

January Waterview update

Russell Brown from Public Address took a ride out to Lincoln Rd the other day and in the process captured some of the immense works going on.

Head over to his post to see some more photos.

This also coincided with news that the project is now reached the halfway point with even the NZTA calling the new interchange “towering”

Construction of interchange ramps that will link the Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (State Highways 16 & 20) when Auckland’s Waterview Connection opens in 2017 has reached the halfway point.

The last of the precast concrete beams were placed recently on the second and longest of the four ramps that drivers will use to get to and from the Waterview tunnels. The 500m-long ramp will be used by drivers traveling east on the Northwestern Motorway to access the southbound tunnel.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Acting Highway Manager, Mieszko Iwaskow, says the four ramps are on three levels and, in total, add up to 1.7 kilometres of viaduct structure.

“They make a very large project within the already huge Waterview Connection project.”

Mr Iwaskow says the ramps are taking shape above the Northwestern Motorway, one of the busiest sections of motorway in Auckland, with minimal disruption to traffic.

“This is thanks to the yellow self-launching gantry that is a familiar sight for commuters on this section of motorway as it travels backwards and forwards to fetch, lift and then place the concrete beams into place for the ramps.”

The gantry – named Dennis after a project worker who died of cancer in 2013 – eliminates the need for conventional cranes which would have had to be moved into place at the start of each work shift and then taken away before the morning traffic peaks.

“There is no doubt that Dennis is perfect for this job,” Mr Iwaskow says. “It saves time, reduces traffic disruption and avoids the need to use cranes in environmentally sensitive areas of the Oakley Creek estuary.”

Having constructed two of the four interchange ramps, Dennis will soon start work on the highest of the four ramps. It will carry traffic leaving the northbound Waterview tunnel towards the city centre and climb 22 metres above the ground at its highest point.

It is due to be finished by October, leaving just one ramp to be completed in 2016. The ramp that drivers coming from central Auckland will use was completed last May.

The team behind the project have also recently released a few new time-lapse videos. The November one showing them getting ready to relaunch the TBM

And the December one showing it starting the second tunnel as well as the ventilation building at the southern end starting to take shape.

And from the NZTA’s project page, here’s what the inside of the tunnels look like.