The Great Auckland Transit Revival: Theory and Practice

Einstein

2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.

The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.

Here’s the uptake overview:

Comparator cities

So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.

So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?

It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.

And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:

Fares and ticketting Benchmark Study

The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].

Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:

Service qual. Benchmark Study

Oh dear.

Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:

Rapid Transit benchmark study

Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.

In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.

Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:

CFN 2015

Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?

Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:

August 2014 Ridership

SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.

So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.

And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.

But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.

Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.

Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?

Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:

CFN 2030 South-Grafton

 

 

Orakei Bay Village – To P&R or not to P&R?

Some of you who have been living in Auckland over the last decade might recall the long-running saga that is the Orakei Bay Village.

When the project was first mooted around a decade ago, it was met with furious local opposition. Thankfully the proposal has now progressed to a “point” where new houses may actually be delivered. Stage 1 is illustrated below (sourced from here); as you can see it’s a reasonably pleasant spot to develop some houses, shops, and some new recreational facilities.

Orakei_Hero_with_no_labels

Not only is the development situated on the edge of Hobson Bay, it is also accessible to Orakei Station in the Eastern Line, which is barely 8 minutes by train to Britomart, something the developers are keen to point out. The merits of the development itself, however, are not the topic of this post.

Instead, in this post I want to explore the merits of providing park and ride at Orakei Station. Some of you may also know that Orakei Station currently provides about 178 park and ride spaces. In the above photo you can see the park and ride spaces shown in the bottom right hand corner. Their presence in close proximity to medium to high density housing looked to me to be somewhat anomalous.

In this previous post I explored some of the merits of P&R and discussed the conditions where P&R might work well. Since that post was written AT has released a draft parking discussion document, which provides more specific criteria to guide future investment in park and ride. The key section is illustrated below (p. 44).

Capture

Below I’ve undertaken a brief evaluation of Orakei Point’s suitability for park and ride compared to the most pertinent policy points outlined in AT’s parking discussion document:

  • Wider PT accessibility. This location will be well-served by all-day bus connections. The all-day network released with AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan shows how both Orakei and the adjacent Meadowbank station will be accessible from local bus services. Indeed, to access Orakei you have to drive past these bus stops. For this reason, providing park and ride at Orakei is likely to undermine local bus services.
  • Local congestion around the station. Traffic congestion was frequently put forward by local residents as a reason to decline the proposed plan change for Orakei Point. Their opposition suggests the local area does experience traffic congestion, which is of course likely to be exacerbated by the provision of park and ride.
  • Congestion upstream of the station. While there is congestion upstream of the station, the city centre is so close that the resulting congestion relief provided by a park and ride at Orakei would appear to be fairly small, at least compared to other potential park and ride locations located further away from the city centre (where land is also cheaper).
  • Land use controls of the area surrounding the station. The recent plan change means that this location is now suitable for high-density development, as evident from the above image. This suggests that park and ride might not be the highest and best use of this land.
  • Public transport fare zones. Orakei is only one stage to Britomart. This in turn means that providing park and ride in this location may encourage people drive to the train at Orakei as a way of avoiding paying a higher fare for travelling from further out. In this way, park and ride at Orakei might undermine revenue (although of course the zone structure may change in the future).

When evaluated against AT’s five main park and ride investment criteria, Orakei Point does not appear to be a suitable location for park and ride. Perhaps the only criteria where there is doubt relates to the potential congestion relief benefits of the P&R. We can, however, do some quick calculations to quantify whether this argument has any merit.

Auckland Council’s GIS viewer suggests land at Orakei Point is valued at approximately $900 per sqm. If we use this land value and assume 30 sqm per car-park, then we get $25,000 per car-park. Let’s round that up to $30k per car-park to allow for some capital depreciation/operating costs. Using this figure within a standard discounted cash-flow model (i.e. 8% discount rate; 30 year lifetime) then we can calculate that a benefit stream of approximately $2,500 per car-park p.a. is required to yield a benefit cost ratio of 1, i.e. to reach economic break-even point.

Now we need to asses the congestion reduction that might follow from providing park and ride in this location.

If we assume vehicles using the Orakei park and ride would otherwise travel to the city centre (i.e. somewhere in the vicinity of Britomart) via Kepa Road and Orakei Drive, then each avoided vehicle trip will save about 5km of driving, or 10km per return trip. If we then annualise this distance by assuming 220 days p.a., then we find that each vehicle diverted to using the park and ride as opposed to driving to the city centre would save about 2,200 vehicle km p.a.

This previous post, however, presented evidence on some of the diversion effects of park and ride. Research in the Netherlands found that only 25% of park and ride users would otherwise drive for their entire journey in the in the absence of park and ride. Instead, many park and ride users were “diverted” from alternative options, such that park and rides caused a net increase in driving in many locations. Post-opening surveys of the Northern Express also found large diversion rates, with only 50% of park and ride users responding that they previously drove to the city centre.

This diversion effect can be incorporated into our calculations by factoring down the vehicle kilometre savings down, by say 50%. This suggests that 1,100 vehicle kilometres p.a. are removed from the road network for every park and ride space provided. If we divide the annual cost ($2,500) by the annual benefit (1,100km), then we find that the cost of removing this travel from the road network is $2.26 per vehicle kilometre. This means that each kilometre removed from the road network by providing park and ride at Orakei has to generate $2.26 in congestion reduction benefits to make the investment worthwhile.

Personally, this seems like an implausibly high congestion reduction benefit to attribute to removing vehicle travel from the road network.

To put it in context, the average journey to work trip by car in Auckland is approximately 10km. Using this per kilometre rate, removing the average journey to work trip by car would generate approximately $23 in congestion savings. And even this relatively high congestion reduction benefit would result in a benefit-cost ratio of only 1.0, i.e. an extremely marginal investment from NZTA’s perspective.

Of course, there may be other benefits from providing park and ride. However, there’s also additional costs.

Remember that some of the people diverted to using the P&R would have otherwise used park and ride elsewhere and/or used a connecting bus. Providing park and ride at Orakei therefore might be expected to increase the congestion generated by these journeys compared to an alternative scenario in which park and ride was not provided at Orakei Point.

Finally, there’s also the longer term land use displacement effect. This reflects how choosing to provide park and ride in this location would tend to reduce the intensity of residential development that could be accommodated at the site. Some of the residents displaced by providing park and ride will likely choose to live further out from the city, in locations where they are even more likely to drive.

In conclusion, based on this back of the envelope assessment Orakei Point does not seem to be a suitable location for park and ride.

That’s not to say, however, that park and ride in other locations might not be worthwhile. Indeed, if we consider our simple benefit-cost analysis then investment in park and ride would seem to make the most sense where: 1) land values are low; 2) vehicle trip distances and long; and 3) it does not compete with non-car access modes.

East-West Options Revealed

Auckland Transport and the NZTA have announced another series of open days to discuss the East West Link. This time though they are presenting six options for what may be built which range from upgrades of local roads to potentially mega expensive new roads.

Community feedback is being sought on options identified by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport to improve transport connections in the Onehunga – Penrose area and reliability of bus services between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park.

The Transport Agency’s spokesperson Brett Gliddon says the planned improvements are important to deliver a transport network that can continue to support the growing movement of people and goods.

“The East West Connections area is the engine room of New Zealand’s industrial and manufacturing economy and home to a number of our most vibrant communities. These improvements are needed to ensure that both the nation’s supply chains and the local transport network function effectively.”

“Public feedback to date has supported the need to address congestion and delays in the Onehunga-Penrose area, as well as improving bus services.

“No decision has been made about any of the options, and our first priority is to get feedback from the community before the project is developed further,” says Mr Gliddon.

The proposed options identify roading improvements and new cycle links on the north side of the Māngere inlet, along with some bus priority lanes between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park.

Auckland Transport’s Key Strategic Initiatives Project Director, Theunis Van Schalkwyk, says creating bus priority between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park will make bus journeys faster and more reliable.

“This is a key part of delivering a Frequent Network for public transport in the area and creates a better connection for people getting to work,” he says.

The options being considered for the Onehunga – Penrose area range from upgrading existing routes, through to new connections between the Southwestern and Southern Motorways (State Highways 20 and 1). Common to all options is the improvement of public transport between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park as well as improvements to walking and cycling facilities, including the Waikaraka cycleway.

To help explain the options and get people’s feedback, the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport are planning a series of community open days this month which will be supported by workshops on specific topics.

“We had great feedback from the community in July and August and we want this to continue with the options now being proposed. We will be using the next round of feedback to further develop and investigate the options in order to assist us in identifying the best option to progress to detailed design,” Mr Gliddon says.

Open days will be held at the following locations:

  • Saturday 11 October: Onehunga Primary School Hall, 122 Arthur Street, Onehunga (10am-1pm)
  • Thursday 16 October: Otahuhu College Sports Pavilion, 53 Mangere Road, Ōtāhuhu (opposite Otahuhu College) (3:30pm -7:30pm)
  • Sunday 19 October: Te Papapa Squash Club, Fergusson Park, Olea Road, Onehunga (1pm – 4pm)

There will also be a number of workshops on specific topics for people who would like to provide more detailed feedback. To find out more about the workshops go to www.nzta.govt.nz/east-west and email eastwest@nzta.govt.nz to register.

For more information on the options and to submit feedback, please visit the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport websites.

The East West Connections programme is one of four accelerated projects in Auckland identified by the Government to help ease congestion, support economic growth and improve safety.

In addition to East West Connections, the other projects relate to improvements on the Northern and Southern Motorways (SH1), and at the SH20A/Kirkbride Road intersection.

The key part are the options though. As mentioned above, regardless of what roading options are built all options will include upgrading the PT route between Mangere and Sylvia Park which is one of the routes confirmed in the New Network for South Auckland. They say this will entail

  • Provision of bus lanes along sections of the public transport route (for example Mt Wellington Highway, Walmsley Road, Massey Road)
  • Potential to have bus priority at intersections
  • Review of bus stop locations along the route
  • Potential to improve waling and cycling facilities along the road

 

EW Option - Bus-Priority 1

It’s great to see the PT route getting attention, the only possible concern is that in their bid to come across as being multi-modal are they putting a lot of money into this bus route at the expense of others in the area that might have higher needs for bus priority.

Onto the road options. One thing that immediately stood out for me was that every single option involved the NZTA further widening SH20 between Neilson St and Queenstown Rd. The motorway here was only just widened to three lanes each way as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project so how wide does the motorway here really have to be.

Option A

This is simply an upgrade of the existing roads with some localised widening and intersection upgrades. It seems like a good place to start by having the existing route optimised before embarking on some of the more expensive options below.

EW Option - Option A

 

Option B

This takes Option A by adding a set of south facing ramps going from Church St to SH1 with additional lanes on the motorway through to Princes St. This has the benefit of taking pressure off Gt South Rd and the Mt Wellington interchange.

EW Option - Option B

Option C

This is quite different to the above two options. Going from West to East it adds a new connection between Onehunga Harbour Rd and Galway St which presumably takes pressure off the Onehunga Mall/Neilson St intersection. The big change here though is a new road from Angle St through to Gt South Rd along with an upgrade of Sylvia Park Rd and new south facing ramps onto a widened motorway. I get the feeling that this or Option D is the preferred solution.

EW Option - Option C

Option D

This takes option C and adds an upgrade to the Glouscester Park interchange. The problem with this is the NZTA’s predecessors tried to upgrade this interchange as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project but were rejected consent to do so due to the damage to what remains of the volcanic cone

EW Option - Option D

Option E

This seems by far the worst of the options and involves building a road all the way along the foreshore which would likely have significant environmental impacts. At the eastern end the road plows through some commercial, likely on a flyover before joining SH1.

EW Option - Option E

 

Option F

I get the impression that perhaps the road planners/engineers see this the next step after building Option C/D. That means it’s likely that if one of those options are chosen then not long after we’ll see calls from trucking companies for this section to be completed too.

EW Option - Option F

 

 

There are some good aspects to most of these but also some horrific ones like the suggestion of blocking off the whole Northern edge of the Mangere Inlet.

One of the huge advantages to Option A in particular is it would allow AT to get some improvements into the area quickly and see the impact they have while it refines the options to see if they improve. Personally I think Option B is the best option for the time being but in saying that there are some good sections from some of the other options, for example the connection between Onehunga Harbour Rd and Galway St.

Overall these options are a vast improvement on some of the earlier ones, some of which would have seen many homes demolished to make way for motorway from the Airport to the eastern suburbs.

If you live in the area (or even if you don’t) I’d suggest popping along and giving your thoughts.

Waterview Breakthrough

On Monday Alice the Tunnel Boring Machine broke through at Waterview after tunnelling for the last 10 months.

Waterview TBM Breakthrough

And here’s a video of it happening.

One of the things that is really impressive is just how accurate the machine is with it being within 10mm of where they planned for it to exit. All up almost 400,000m³ of spoil was removed from the 2.4km tunnel and just over 12,000 concrete tunnel lining segments have been installed.

Here’s the press release that goes with it which provides a lot more information

The first of the twin road tunnels that will connect Auckland’s Southwestern and Northwestern motorways as part of the NZ Transport Agency’s Waterview Connection project has been built.
Alice, the tunnel boring machine, broke into daylight this afternoon, at the end of her 10-month 2.4km underground journey from Owairaka to Waterview.

The tunnel she has built is the tenth largest diameter tunnel in the world and the longest road tunnel in New Zealand. Once opened in early 2017, it will carry three lanes of southbound traffic up to 40 metres below Avondale and Waterview in west Auckland.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Highways Manager for Auckland, Brett Gliddon, says the tunnel’s completion is a significant milestone for the $1.4bn project to build the new 5km, six-lane motorway link from the Great North Road interchange at Waterview to Maioro Street in Mt Roskill and complete the long awaited Western Ring Route.

“This is a fantastic achievement. Our construction partners on the Well-Connected Alliance completed the breakthrough safely and ahead of schedule,” Mr Gliddon says.

“It is a huge engineering feat for New Zealand, one that is attracting worldwide attention. It demonstrates that with local and international experience and expertise, we can deliver infrastructure to equal the best in the world.”

Mr Gliddon says Alice will now be turned around to bore the northbound tunnel.
“While it is not unusual internationally to turn a tunnel boring machine, what is extraordinary about this turn is the sheer size of the machine and the constricted space in which the manoeuvre will take place.”

At 90m long and weighing 3,100 tonnes, Alice is big. The cutting head and its three trailing gantries will be disconnected and each piece taken one at a time from the completed tunnel and turned.

Only when all of Alice’s parts are in place and reconnected – in early 2015 – will tunnelling resume to construct the second tunnel.

The conveyor system that removes excavated material and other services required for the machine’s operation will also be turned and will follow Alice as she journeys south. By the completion of the second tunnel, they will extend the length of both tunnels – nearly 5km.
A fourth gantry, which operates independently of Alice to install a culvert on the floor of the tunnel, will be the last to be turned. This culvert will carry the services needed for operation of the tunnels once they have been completed.

The machine’s drive south from Waterview to Owairaka is expected to be completed in about October next year. Approximately a year of work will then remain to complete the mechanical and electrical fit-out of the tunnels, including completing ventilation buildings at both ends and constructing 16 cross passages to connect the tunnels.

The entire project – which also involves building the surface connections to the existing motorways, 9km of new cycleway, new community amenities such as walkways, playgrounds and skateparks, and planting approximately 150,000 trees and shrubs – is due to be completed in early 2017.

The Waterview Connection is one of five projects to complete the Western Ring Route as an alternative motorway to SH1 through central Auckland and across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It is prioritised by the Government as one of its Roads of National Significance because of the contribution it will make to New Zealand’s prosperity by underpinning economic growth and sustainable development for Auckland and its regional neighbours.

The project is being delivered by the Well-Connected Alliance which includes the Transport Agency, Fletcher Construction, McConnell Dowell, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Beca Infrastructure, Tonkin & Taylor and Japanese construction company Obayashi Corporation. Sub-alliance partners are Auckland-based Wilson Tunnelling and Spanish tunnel controls specialists SICE.

As well as designing and building the Waterview Connection, the alliance will operate and maintain the 5km motorway for 10 years from its completion.

Also if you’re interested in how the TBM will be turned around, this gives some more info. Click to enlarge (2.8MB)

Poster Waterview TBM Turnaround

NZTA appealing Basin Flyover

The NZTA have announced they are going to challenge the decision of the Board Of Inquiry (BOI) to decline the consent for the Basin Flyover.

The Basin Reserve flyover battle is heading to court.

The New Zealand Transport Agency will today reveal its intention to fight the decision by a board of inquiry to decline resource consent for the controversial highway project.

The agency is worried that, if the flyover ruling is allowed to stand, it will set a legal precedent that could jeopardise all major infrastructure projects planned throughout the country.

Appeal documents were filed with the High Court at Wellington late last night.

Appeals against board of inquiry decisions can be made only on points of law, and Transport Agency acting chief executive Dave Brash said the board’s 504-page final decision contained “concerning” errors. Those errors had left NZTA, other agencies and councils uncertain how they should deliver vital infrastructure, he said.

“These uncertainties have the potential to create legal precedents that would constrain progress, not just on roading projects but on future … non-transport infrastructure.”

In my opinion the decision made by the BOI clearly showed they understood the implications of the project and the decision they were making. I think someone the NZTA forget that there’s not a clause in the RMA that states all road projects get rubber stamped.

The board of inquiry’s four commissioners voted 3-1 to reject the $90 million project in July, saying NZTA had failed to properly consider alternative ideas and solve the damage the flyover would do to the surrounding heritage area.

The three who voted against the project felt it was inappropriate to consider the benefits of the flyover within the wider context of a proposed second Mt Victoria tunnel and bus rapid transit network, because those projects had not been fully developed.

Brash said: “Disregarding future projects simply because they are not yet consented creates a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.

It sure was a chicken and egg situation and the NZTA were the eggs. The BOI rightly said each project has to stand on its own and this project didn’t as many of the benefits claimed for it were actually attributed to other projects.

It could take to to another year for the hour court to make a decision and if that goes the NZTAs way for the BOI to reconsider the out application. That’s time the NZTA could be getting on with a better solution.

Basin Bridge Image 2

Airport Motorway upgrade

The NZTA have announced that next year they will be starting construction on grade separating the intersection of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd and bringing SH20A up to full motorway standard. The project was announced last year as part of the governments Accelerated Roads Package which is seeing them pump $800 million into making bigger motorways. For those that don’t know the area well the intersection being grade separated is below. The NZTA don’t explicitly say however the intersection of SH20A with Montgomerie Rd will be closed as part of the motorwayification of the road.

Kirkbride Rd Grade Separation location

This specific project is costing $140 million and it appears the NZTA have let their most mono-modal engineers loose in the asylum to design it.

Key features of the project include the construction of a trench that will carry SH20A – the main road link to and from Auckland Airport – under Kirkbride Road, new facilities on local roads for walkers and cyclists, and the provision for future bus shoulders on the state highway.

Mr Gliddon says keeping Kirkbride Road at its present level and sending motorway traffic underneath will improve local connections and safety for people on either side of the current intersection.

“Separating the two roads means children will no longer have to cross a busy state highway to get to and from school,” he says. “The airport’s also expected to become a lot busier in the future and separating SH20A from Kirkbride will help manage that.”

The SH20A to Airport project is one of four transport programmes that are being accelerated by the Government to help manage the projected growth in population, jobs, and freight in Auckland. The others are the East West Connection on the north side of Manukau Harbour, and improvements to the Northern and Southern Corridors along State Highway 1.

Construction is due to start in 2015. To minimise disruption to people, it is timed to coincide with work to construct Watercare’s Hunua 4 pipeline across the Kirkbride Road intersection.

Mr Gliddon says that in addition to next month’s public information days, community newsletters and a project website will be used to help keep people informed of what is happening.

”We are committed to working with the community and keeping them up to date with what is going on,” Mr Gliddon says.

Kirkbride Rd Grade Separation

Here are some of the issues I have with this

  • Despite Kirkbride Rd being only a single lane to the east of the intersection it seems like the engineers plan to monstrously oversize the interchange with it being six lanes wide in a bid to cater for almost every kind of movement in it’s own lane. On top of that the very suggestion of making it easier for kids to walk to school is plan and simple BS. Every corner of the intersection has slip lanes for cars and trucks to hurtle through which is hardly the place we’d want kids crossing the road or riding their bike. On the NZTA page for the project they even try to claim that this will reconnect the currently severed community – it will do nothing of the sort.
  • The NZTA say they are designing the project so that it only has the provision for bus shoulders some time in the future. Why not at the very least build those bus shoulders at the same time.
  • Cyclists are being kicked off SH20A which is probably a good thing seeing as it’s already a very high speed road but are being dumped on to the local road network instead with no indication that those local roads will be upgraded (other than the diagram below which shows that at least one section of Kirkbride Rd (presumably between SH20A and Ascot Rd) will have both shared paths and on road cycle lanes although the on road lanes also don’t appear to be protected.

Kirkbride Rd Layout

  • One area that the NZTA suggest a lot of effort will be put is in the landscaping around the road to make it more welcoming for visitors. What’s the bet that they will probably spend more on landscaping than they do on other transport modes?
  • The big elephant in the room of course is the question around Airport rail. Auckland Transport have yet to even release a rough route despite work on the project happening as long as 3.5 years ago (I understand they do have one planned/agreed on though). If the NZTA were truly muilti-modal like they try and claim they would at the least be building the project like the Maioro St interchange which has an extra span so rail can be added later easily.

CFN - Maioro St

According to the Herald, the NZTA are predicting 140,000 vehicles a day using the road by 2041. That figure seems insanely high so to put that figure perspective there are currently about 40,000 vehicles per day using the state highway to get to/from the airport. There are also approximately another 18,000 vehicles per day on Kirkbride Rd. The only sections of state highway  that carry more than 140,000 vehicles as day is on SH1 between the Mt Wellington and Grafton and again between St Mary’s Bay and Onewa Rd. All of those sections need vast expanses of asphalt to move that number of vehicles so having 140k trips a day on a four lane motorway seems like a recipe for congestion.

Overall while I can accept some of the need for the project it ends up feeling just like it’s spending $140 million of to remove a set of traffic lights (maybe two if you include Montgomerie Rd) and not really getting much in return.

If you want to find out more about the project the NZTA is holding some open days in a few weeks.

  • Saturday 11 October: Mangere Markets, Mangere Town Centre (7am-2pm)
  • Monday 13 October: Mangere Central Community Centre, 241 Kirkbride Road (3pm-7pm)
  • Wednesday 15 October: Mangere Central Community Centre, 241 Kirkbride Road (3pm-7pm)
  • Saturday 18 October: Sudima Hotel Auckland Airport, 18 Airpark Drive, Airport Oaks (11am-3pm)

Economics and the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

The final decision from the Board of Inquiry confirming the Puhoi to Warkworth toll road was published on 12th September but, what with one thing and another, I’m only now getting round to writing about it. The final report is largely unchanged from the draft version.

Here’s a reminder of the route, which runs from Puhoi to a point 2km north of Warkworth:

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

The toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing SH1 and reduce travel time to the north of Warkworth by just three minutes compared to the current journey time.  Most Warkworth residents will find the new toll road won’t be quicker (and in some cases slower) than the existing SH1.

Probably the most perplexing thing about the BOI Report is the complete absence of any consideration of the economic impacts on the community.

Section 8.5 of the report is headed “Economics” and starts off promisingly, but it is only three paragraphs and really just sets the scene for the Board’s consideration of economic impacts:

[200] It is necessary to consider the economic impacts of the Project in the context of the Act. These impacts are particularly relevant to the Part 2 assessment that the Board conducts later in this Report.

[201] The purpose of the Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in a manner which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (s 5). Under s 7 of the Act it is necessary to have particular regard to certain matters
including the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources.

[202] A number of representations and submissions questioned the adequacy of NZTA’s consideration of alternatives. Also questioned were the wisdom of the use of public monies on the motorway Project and whether or not there had been an adequate cost-benefit analysis. These issues are dealt with in another section of this Report.

Regular readers will recall that the toll road hasn’t been subject to any economic analysis (even the standard Economic Evaluation Manual), however the Board discusses this in section 10.5, para 374:

[374] One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based. Nonetheless, the submissions generally, and the statutory status of “alternatives” in particular, require the Board to deal briefly with these issues.

In comments to the Board, CBT responded by pointing out that “no economic evidence in chief was supplied by the applicant in support of the project, so there was no evidence to challenge.”  CBT sought an amendment to the report, asking for some commentary from the Board as to why it considers an economic analysis of the Project’s impact on the community is not necessary, but none was forthcoming in the final version of the report.

Further on, the Board states in paragraph 379:

…Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it.The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion.

Again, in comments to the Board, the CBT pointed out the “value for money” criterion on p.144 of the AEE refers to the “ability of the option to be tolled”.  In this context, “value for money” refers to value for money for the applicant, and not to the value to the community.  Value to the community, alongside possible negative economic impacts to the community should be the primary consideration of the Board.

Neither of these and other comments resulted in any changes to the draft report. Instead, in a separate document, the Board notes the following with regard to the CBT and Generation Zero’s comments on the draft report in section 1.6

[18] There may, in respect of any proposal, be positive or adverse economic effects. These positive or negative economic effects may impact on entire communities or on individuals. It is also clear law that the financial viability of a proposal is not an appropriate matter for a consent authority to consider.

[19] It was against that background that the Board’s Draft Decision contained the various passages which the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero seek to be further justified. But it is not for the Board to scrutinise the economic viability of the Project (regardless of whether the proposed highway is a toll highway or not).

[20] There were many representations from territorial authorities in Northland and transport groups that the Project would bring significant regional economic benefits and cost savings.

[21] Consent authorities and Boards established under the Act are required to make planning judgments which inevitably (as is the case with all decision makers) engage the common sense and life-experience of Board members. The effects of a heavy truck and trailer unit moving slowly up a steep hill, with other traffic stretching out behind it, on fuel consumption and journey times is self evident and need not be a matter for direct evidence.

[22] Whether or not improved highways designed for vehicular transport of goods and private motorists, with the resulting consumption of fuel, is desirable (economically, socially, or otherwise), or whether motor vehicle use should be discouraged and public transport enhanced, are indeed “high policy” matters and cannot properly be dictated or influenced by this Board.

[23] The Board accepts that Mr Pitches’ cross-examination of NZTA’s Traffic Report as it related to traffic flows in and around Warkworth5 indeed challenged some of the information provided by NZTA. But it was not, in the circumstances, necessary for the Board to make further factual findings beyond those which it did relating to Warkworth traffic generally and the Hill Street intersection in particular.

[24] As stated, the Board has noted the comments of the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero. It is unnecessary, however, for the Board to do anything further. The economic concerns of both organisations were, to the extent that they can be, carefully considered. Those concerns certainly cannot be described as minor or technical.

And that’s it. So the Board hasn’t considered any evidence about the economic impacts on the community at all, as they set out to do in section 8.5.  Instead they conflate the economic viability of the project (which they don’t have to consider) with the economic impact on the community (which they do). It is also worth pointing out that the representations referred to in para 20 didn’t contain any economic evidence either. The Northland territorial authorities simply asserted that the toll road would be good for Northland’s economy.

So, all in all, a disappointing decision that doesn’t really address economic impacts on the community, other than accepting the assertions of the applicant which aren’t based on any hard economic studies.  I’m not an RMA lawyer, but potentially I see this as setting a precedent for all future infrastructure projects whereby economic benefit cost studies need not be supplied at all.

The decision is also in stark contrast to the Basin Bridge decision, which declined the Basin Reserve flyover. In that decision, the Board carefully discusses economic effects in the context of a cost benefit framework.  In the consideration of alternatives, the Board appointed its own peer reviewer and found that consideration had been inadequate.

NB: Any appeal would need to be lodged by the 3rd October, however the CBT decided at its last Committee meeting that we will not be pursing this option. The cost and effort would be prohibitive and the result of an appeal would simply direct the Board to reconsider their decision.

Waterview Connection July Time Lapse

The latest time lapse from the Waterview Connection project

The TBM is getting very close to the end of the first tunnel with it less than 300m to go.

The Completed Grafton Gully Cycleway

The Grafton Gully cycleway opened yesterday. My post yesterday afternoon covered the opening ceremony and this post is about the cycleway itself.

Moving from South to North the project starts at Upper Queen St before winding it’s way down beside the motorway to Grafton Rd where it meets the section completed last year which in turn leads on to Beach Rd.

01 Grafton Gully Cycleway Map 1

At Upper Queen St the bridge over the motorway has been narrowed down significantly to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists. Previous the bridge had 6 lanes of traffic plus a parking lane and footpaths on both sides. This has been narrowed down and the carriageway is now only four lanes wide (yet still seems largely empty of traffic). While the cycling area is fairly clearly delineated it does feel a bit like there should have been a slight height difference been the footpath and the cycleway.

Grafton Gully Opening - Upper Queen St Bridge

On the Northern side of the bridge you enter the cycleway. Unfortunately there have placed some of the large staples which are obviously to slow cyclists heading towards Upper Queen to prevent them from blowing through on to the road. I wonder if the same effect could have been achieved by putting a short fence out on the road edge.

Grafton Gully Opening - Upper Queen St Staples

Moving on down and just after you pass under Symonds St the path starts to dip down. It’s quite interesting feeling seeing the motorway that close and merging in front of you

Grafton Gully Opening - Motorway Merge

Just around the corner you get the sight of the gully opening up ahead of you and spanned by the magnificent Grafton Bridge.

Grafton Gully Opening - Grafton Bridge

As you approach Wellesley St you can clearly see that if we ever decide to humanise Wellesley St (which we should) it would be very easy to add a connection to do so.

Grafton Gully Opening - Wellesley St

At the same location you can also see where a bridge will be added which will give access to Whitaker Pl and Symonds St. It is meant to be completed by the end of the year.

Grafton Gully Opening - Whitaker Pl

From then on it is under Wellesley St where some motifs have been embedded into the concrete on each side of each entrance.

Grafton Gully Opening - Concrete Motif

From Wellesley St it is a short ride down to Grafton Rd where the route joins the section opened last year which in turn flows on to the Beach Rd section. I do have one issue with this part which is the slip lane that has been retained at Alten Rd and for which the planting makes it difficult to see if anyone vehicles are coming when you are heading north. Also on the Northern side of the Alten Rd intersection there is a short and sharp incline which seems like it might cause a few issues.

The videos below show what the route looks like heading both uphill and downhill between Quay St and Upper Queen St.

While there might be a few issues they are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things and all up I think this is a fantastic addition for the city. One aspect I was pleasantly surprised about was that the uphill section between Wellesley St and Upper Queen St was no where near as steep as I thought it would be. Some people may need to get off and walk but for many people it is easily rideable. From a quality perspective these two projects do feel like a step or two above anything else we have which is great to see. I think this and Beach Rd are going to represent an important turning point in the development of cycling in Auckland and people are going to demand this level of comfort in future cycling projects. I think the challenge for Auckland Transport and the NZTA will be in how they can get similar results from projects for a much reduced cost, something that should hopefully be possible if it’s a case of reclaiming some space on our streets.

Wellesley St Underpass Timelapse

The timelapse below shows what it took for the NZTA and their contractors to build a cycling underpass at Wellesley St. While the road was narrowed the street itself was only closed for about a week. Now if only we could get some similar underpasses at interchanges like St Lukes.