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Photo of the Day: Euskotren Tranbia

As well as the Metro and an excellent bus system -Bilbobus- Bilbao also has a small tram system. Running CAF built Urbos 1 Light Rail vehicles, the route covers different sections of the city to the faster and longer reaching Metro, offering a highly visible distributor from a couple of Metro stations it connects with to important destinations like the Guggenheim Museum. It runs both on the city streets and on dedicated and grassed corridors by the river. The Quay side has a wide promenade and cycleways on both banks. The revitalisation of Bilbao is built on the back of investment in high quality public realm with thorough attention to Transit and Walking and Cycling networks. The Guggenheim Museum is really the icing on the cake of this rebirth, not the starting point.

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Photographs by Patrick Reynolds.

Photo of the Day: Bilbao Metro

The Norman Foster designed Bilbao Metro is elegant and efficient. Not an easy business fitting metro access points into a old city, and the somewhat zoomorphic street entrances are about as discrete and unfussy as possible while remaining unapologetically contemporary and not without wit. The underground stations are pleasingly functional too with their sectioned concrete carapace. Calm and cocooning. It is, even more than the famously curved London Tube, like entering into the umbilica of some city-sized and recumbent and welcoming animal. The Basques, it seems, have their Taniwha too…

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Photographs by Patrick Reynolds.

Photo of the Day: Caterpillar

From our now exiled oh.yes.melbourne Photographers and Urbanistas comes this Melbourne tram clearly posing as a brightly coloured caterpillar:

Melb Caterpillar Tram_ oh.yes.Melb

20 by 2020

With the news that Auckland Rail ridership hit 11 million for the year to March 2014 it is time for some quick back of the envelope math:

Readers will recall that when PM Key announced support for the City Rail Link in June last year it was coloured by a disagreement with the Council over the timing of the need for the project. The Council wants it to be operational by 2020 and the government doesn’t think construction should start until that date. However he said that if ridership was heading to 20mil in 2020 that [along with Centre City employment growth] would support the case for the Council’s view on timing.  Matt considered both these metrics at the time here.

So where are we at now? Ridership at the end of June 2013 was almost exactly 10mil: http://transportblog.co.nz/2013/07/28/june-2013-patronage/ Less than a year later and it is now 11 mil. 3 months to go and already 10% growth. To reach 20mil by 2020 a rate of 10.4% is sufficient.

So what do you say Mr Key? How about we wait till June just to be sure then you can send a note to Treasury to ringfence the funding over the construction period?

Good to have that sorted then…

OK, I can hear the cynics out there saying that you can’t just extrapolate ridership growth from one year out indefinitely and that is indeed true, almost as absurd as assuming traffic growth will leap upwards from a flat line; well almost. So we must ask are there good reasons to believe that ridership growth will continue at this rate? Well no, but there are three good reasons to be confident that it will in fact accelerate from this year even more strongly;

1. The vastly more attractive, higher capacity, and able to be more frequently run New Trains

2. The new integrated ticketing and fares system

3. The New Bus Network that is focussed on coordinating with the Rail Network to help speed and improve many journeys, from new transfer stations like the recently completed Panmure, New Lynn, and coming Mangere and Otahuhu.

Ok what else? Are there any precedents elsewhere for this confidence? Well, again no, because to our knowledge no other city has improved so much at once, but there is the example of Perth, where they did both electrify and extend the existing rail network in the 1990s then add an underground inner city link and a new line in the 2000s, both investments rewarded with the big jumps in ridership visible in the chart below. And interestingly they started with both a similar population to Auckland [a bit higher, but more dispersed] and a similar rail ridership at the start [10mil]:

perth-patronage

 

So because of these already underway changes we consider it highly likely that ridership will hit 20 million well before 2020, although that will be inhibited by the constriction caused by the deadend at Britomart, which will continue to restrict AT from responding to higher demand with the really high frequencies, the very problem which of course the CRL will address, elegantly and efficiently, as well as improving reach and speed. It is clear that the Council’s plan to stage the construction in order to spread the works disruption and their understanding of its near term need is compelling and necessary.

We should also remember that rail ridership has grown by some 400% since the opening of Britomart [annualised: 18% pa, so this has been a consistent grower since even simple improvements were added to what was a completely under invested in system. Build it and they will indeed come.

It is also worth noting that no motorway network shows or is required to show anything like a 10% demand growth in order to get even 50% funding from government. In fact the government had to invent an abstract and novel category of road -The Road of National Significance- in order to get around the low traffic demands all over the nation and overcome their often appallingly low business cases. For example traffic demand in and around Wellington is going backwards, actually falling, but NZTA can’t stop drawing lines down every fault-line for new motorways there. How about 10% demand growth hurdles for investment all transport systems?

Anyone looking for a sure-bet infrastructure project certain to return a transformational shift then here it is: the CRL.

Here’s a chart for the more visual among you, spot the outlier? Off the chart at +384%:

train-pax-growth-31

From: http://chartingtransport.com/2010/11/13/public-transport-patronage-trends/

More Lessons From Bilbao

On my recent trip to the cities of northern Spain it was hard not to notice how thoughtfully every corridor was designed for all users as outline in this previous post. Of course this is completely unremarkable to the locals, it’s just obvious to them that:

1. The public realm must be built to accommodate all users, and

2. That safety for all is the first priority.

Well here’s another example from what I consider to be one of the most civilised urban places on earth, this is the Eskalduna Zubia, a bridge [Zubia] charged with the quotidian business of carrying a whole lot of traffic over the River Nervión that divides the city, shot on that same autumnal afternoon:

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Nothing much to see here; just like a typical four lane arterial in NZ, even a bit of a flush median, that use of roadspace that clearly obsesses Auckland Transport with its universal value. It’s not till you see what’s concealed by the dramatic steel structure on the right of frame that my interest in this Zubia starts to make sense:

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Securely separated from the traffic on the same bridge and even protected from the weather! No need to build a barrier between the cyclists and the pedestrians as there is so much width that contact is always easily avoided. The cantilevered roof makes for a completely structureless open side directing the walkers’ attention upstream away from the traffic [for those not staring at their phones]. As everywhere in Bilbao, cycling is not considered a dangerous activity so no one is forced to wear extreme safety equipment as if they are steeplejacks.

Here is an equivalent four lane bridge in inner Auckland, like the Eskalduna Zubia it is between two busy pedestrian and cycling generators; in this case the inner city Universities and the Domain/Parnell/hospital:

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I’ve had to use Google maps for the image because it is illegal as well as impossible for anyone not in a moving motorised vehicle to go here. And from above:

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There is nothing in this picture except total misery. It’s even laughably hopeless for the only mode its built for. Every time I have driven through here I marvel at its counterintuitive over-complication and the near uselessness it offers for all vehicle movements except the most simple motorway exiting. And of course it is pretty much murderous for anyone on foot or cycling; this glorious intervention in the name of movement efficiency turned a sylvan inner city glade into, at best, an insurmountable barrier and total aesthetic horror. People stay away even from the parts they are ‘allowed’ to be on. Like the once leafy and lovely Grafton Road. The slip lanes at every turn of every intersection make negotiating what footpaths there are there deadly and extremely frustrating to use.

Grafton Rd from Symonds St

Grafton Rd from Symonds St

I have discussed the waste and hopelessness that is the road engineering in Grafton Gully with many of those involved in its creation and they all cheerfully explain how dysfunctional the process was with Transit and Auckland City Council squabbling over who should pay for any amenity beyond these basic and clumsy roads and neither giving in. Transit arguing it is only responsible for  the cheapest way to move traffic and all else is someone else’s problem, and ACC arguing that as it is Transit’s works that are causing the problem they should include the fixes in the cost. I guess we can see who won that argument. NZTA [who inherited this mess but are of the institution that made it] are still happily wasting all this inner city real estate: It is neither being efficiently exploited nor have they returned it to the haven of solitude and clear air it once was for all Aucklanders. And of course it remains part of the fearsome rampart that is the ring of motorway Severance that hacks inner Auckland to shreds.

AK CBD

Here is the one piece of walking and cycling amenity on this whole section of upper Wellesley St:

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Yup that’s right, it’s a sign telling you that you can’t walk to that big park right in front of you without going, counterintuitively again, in some completely other direction for some considerably much longer time. I have had to help explain this to baffled european tourists staring at their smart phones showing a nice big park and the Museum right there…. ha, welcome to clean, green, oh wait…..

Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s

Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s

This is how it was sold to us by the first iteration of place-wreckers-by-motorway, it reads:

The Grafton Gully and nearby areas will be the focal point of of a network which will be among the most important in the Auckland Master Transport Plan. The original Grafton Bridge was merely built to span a bush clad gully. Among other things there will be a twin tunnel, nine chains long, with the rest “cut and cover” passes.

Well wouldn’t that have been good? Tunnelling instead of severing. It is a tragedy that not even short sections of these routes aren’t underground. It is time not only for NZTA to complete the range of movement modes across this route but also to make good on the promise to bury their horror as much as is possible so Auckland can get at least a small amount of functionality of this place back.

Let’s see what they do in Bilbao? Do they have motorways there?

Bilbao expressways in tunnels

Sure they do, and guess what?, a great deal of them are underground, especially under green space, in order to maintain surface continuity and and reduce severance.

The age of severing urban motorways and incomplete streets is well and truly over. Aucklanders have recently managed to stop one appalling new motorway, The Eastern Highway, and got the next one put substantially underground, Waterview. It is vital that we demand that the mistakes of the past are learned from as well as looking at other places that seem to have been able to do things well first time. But also insist that the broken pieces are fixed before our institutions engage in even more destruction.

There is little point in moving tin a little quicker through our city if we substantially harm that place and the quality of life for its inhabitants in the process, and at such high cost.

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Impressions of Four Cities

*This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson
 
 More specifically these are my impressions from three and a half weeks spent in four cities on the Pacific North West – Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia and Seattle and San Francisco in the US. The first three cities were new to me and San Francisco was a re-acquaintance after some thirty years.

Although widely travelled, my wife and I have tended to overfly this area for more distant locations but with a strong interest in the development of the best public transport for Auckland and the frequent mention of Vancouver and Seattle in my daily read of the Auckland Transport Blog, I felt that it was time to check this out for myself.

Vancouver

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We arrived first into Vancouver and moved straight from the Terminal Building to the Skytrain Canada Line platform and purchased tickets to Vancouver City Centre from the ticket machine . The line was elevated to Yaletown Roundhouse which gave us a great view but the last section was underground below the city centre. The fare was $9 per person and the ride was very smooth. It was 2.35pm in the afternoon and throughout the train almost all seats were taken, but we had no trouble accommodating our suitcases and nor did other airport arrivals. However we did not see any special suitcase racks such as you get on the Heathrow express and some European trains.

On another day (without bags) we rode the Expo Line, the full length from the Waterfront to the end of the line at King George – some 20 stops in total. Again, it was elevated on reinforced concrete piers, so after emerging from the city tunnelling the views were absolutely excellent. At one point it crossed the Fraser River on its own bridge for a spectacular view each way. This was a mid-morning trip and I would say the train was three quarters full with people, for most of the journey. The train emptied out at Surrey Central (19th stop) where there was a shopping mall and few remained on board to the final stop at King George which seemed to be a big parking lot – presumably park and ride. Fare $5.10 per person each way.

One city station is directly below Macy’s Department Store and the Pacific Centre with its luxury shops, so travellers exit through these points. No wonder Precinct Properties are keen to support and benefit from Auckland’s Central Rail Link when it is built.

We also took the SeaBus to North Vancouver. This was a single level and very wide, fully enclosed ferry designed to cater for large numbers with a 15 minute journey time and a 15 minute timetable. Mid-morning it was only about half full.

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Victoria – British Columbia’s Capital                           Population 330k

From Vancouver by means of bus to Tsawwassen, ferry through the spectacular island dotted waters to the ferry terminal on Vancouver Island at Swartz, from where we had a diversion to the wonderful Butchart Gardens and then to Victoria itself. Coming from the landward side Victoria is not impressive and looks very automobile dependent but the old town around the harbour is most impressive with marvellous buildings like the Empress Hotel and British Columbia’s Parliament House set on spacious lawn frontages looking on to the very walkable and people friendly harbourside. Some commercial buildings in the old town probably don’t have the commercial significance that they did 60 years ago as they have lost out to periphery developments, but they are attractive with some looking for a new function.

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Victoria skyline

A local person told me that some form of railed public transport has been mooted for Victoria but nothing seems to happen because too many people think the population is not large enough and cars will do.

 

Victoria Canada

Victoria Canada

Seattle

We arrived by boat and shortly thereafter visited the 76 storey Columbia Centre which is considerably higher than the Space Needle built for the 1962 World Fair and allows a marvellous view:

Columbia Centre View Seattle

 

Right along Seattle’s waterfront is the elevated Alaskan Highway Viaduct. Constructed in 1953 in reinforced concrete it is a three lane, two- tier structure with one level going west and the other east. This highway was earthquake damaged in 2001 and the portion through the city is to be torn down and replaced by a tunnel 2 miles in length but with only two lanes each way. A small section of the Viaduct has already been demolished but most remains open for vehicles in the meantime. TBM “Bertha” commenced tunnelling this year with a 14 month construction time envisaged.

Seattle- Alaskan Way

Seattle- Alaskan Way

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All this has given Seattle a big opportunity to reconnect with Elliott Bay, as its foreshore is known and big plans are in hand to enhance the whole area as a people friendly place.

 

We used ferries on two successive days. A small ferry miscalled a water taxi, took us to West Seattle and back some 3 hours later. Then, as a day trip, the much larger Washington State Ferry took us to Bainbridge Island at the amazingly low cost of $US 3.85 for a senior, for the 35 minute trip. And all journeys back from the island are free. No wonder they don’t make a profit.

We did not use either buses or trains in Seattle but we explored 2 underground stations to watch the movements in the Transit Tunnel under 3rd Street which is shared by diesel buses, trolley buses and light rail. The light rail goes all the way to SeaTac Airport at a modest cost. In the late afternoon there seemed to be plenty of activity, with more buses than trains passing through. I suppose it worked satisfactorily, although it seemed a bit weird with the two modes in the same very wide tunnel with ordinary kerbing and no rail platforms. Once again entry to the system at one of the stations, was through Nordstrom’s, Seattle’s most upmarket department store.

Seattle Transit Tunnel

Seattle Transit Tunnel

Apart from what I was told as the “rather useless monorail” there was also a streetcar route known as the Lake Union Trolley which went from the centre of town to freshwater Lake Union. We used this on four occasions and found it spartanly comfortable and a very satisfactory means of public transport. I think something very similar would be highly successful along our own Dominion Road as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

In our limited experience, public transport in Seattle seemed a rather many modal mixed bag, which is probably the case for historical reasons, but I guess it works. There are aspects we could learn from Seattle and they are in a transition pattern at the moment, with big changes in prospect, following the demolition of the Alaska Highway Viaduct.

 

San Francisco

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After arrival by air on a Friday mid-afternoon we took the Bay Area Rapid Transport (Bart) to the Embarcadero train stop near to the Ferry Building. It was a smooth ride, quick, not too crowded and with plenty of room for our bags.

One of the downsides of public transport is the threat of strikes. While in San Francisco Bart employees were threating to strike with potential dire consequences for commuters on the Oakland side of the harbour, because the Bay Bridge is pretty much at capacity with existing vehicle traffic. Fortunately, by Mayoral decree, a 30 day cooling off period was invoked at the 11th hour, but the dispute is yet to be resolved.

We used the rattling old streetcars that run round to Fisherman’s Wharf on several occasions and enjoyed a couple of the famous cable car rides which I thought were expensive at $6 a time for comparatively short rides. And we used the ferry to visit Sausalito with America’s Cup racing yachts very much in evidence en route.

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Ticket Machines

These were varied in operation – some gave change, some didn’t – some merely wanted you to use your credit card – some like Bart had variable fares depending on distance. There was the question of whether you could buy for two adults at one go or had to buy individually, senior fares and so on. As a 77 year old I didn’t find them particularly user friendly, especially as I was concerned not to delay other people while I figured it out. However, to be fair we did get some assistance from fellow travellers on occasion.

If you are a local you get to know the system but new methodology with each fare purchase can be challenging. I longed for the ease of London’s Oyster Card.

Architecture

Two observations!

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As noted in this Blog, Vancouver certainly had many apartment buildings of up to 23 storeys in the area in which we stayed. I don’t think many were any higher than that. One thing that impressed me visually was that quite a number incorporated a warm red brick in a skilful way to relieve the stark monoculture concrete exteriors of so many taller buildings. Sometimes it solidified the base floors, or established main door hierarchy or sometimes emphasised the edges of the building as corner panels in the manner of quoins. It seemed to give a modern friendly face to these buildings rather than a modern grey coldness and this despite that they are on Pacific rim and subject to earthquakes.

Woodwards Bld Vancouver

Woodwards Bld Vancouver

Brick was also prominent in the refurbished warehouse district of Yaletown, now full of restaurants and all of this provides some visual warmth in a cold climate.

So bring back some brick, I say………………

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3rd Ave Seattle

In Seattle’s main street (3rd Avenue) I was most impressed with the quality and solidity of most of the buildings. With solid stone bases they certainly weren’t going to fall over. And then just off the main street I noticed two or three that had been subjected to facadism of a sort. The solid base two or three storeys had been retained and the buildings extended upward but retaining design integrity with the base. And visually it worked!   I would not normally support facadism  but these did not look out of place.

Finally

We did not have one day of rain in the period we were away and enjoyed bright sunshine all the time. I know it is not always like that.  But just like the Blog my favourite city was Vancouver.

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Vancouver

 

Reshaping New York

Fascinating infographics from the New York Times illustrating the revitalisation of that great metropolis under Mayor Bloomberg:

Reshaping NYC

Showing new buildings, areas where re-zoning has help spur development [below]

Upzoning NYC

And of course the 450 miles of bike lanes added by repurposing traffic lanes:

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It also briefly mentions concern around rising property values, a complex issue which is of course on one hand a sign of success but that also creates exclusion some sections of community.

A nice piece of work by the Times and a good illustration of how much and what ways cities are changing this century. Hat tip to regular reader George D for the link, be sure to check it out.

What We Feed: Grows

Prepare To Stop!

Prepare To Stop!

Over on the excellent The Conversation website is a post by Melbourne researcher Leigh Glover entitled:

New freeways cure congestion: time to put that myth to bed.

In which he runs through the usual myths about road building and congestion in the Australian context, where of course everything is bigger, more expensive, and more dramatic.

Myth #1: New freeways reduce congestion

“Not only is this not true, but new freeways increase overall road use and contribute to worsening congestion. If you want to reduce road congestion — an understandably popular goal in our car-dependent capital cities — the only viable option is to reduce the demand for road space.

Not only does international research support this fact, local anecdotal experiences reflect it. We are living through an era of urban freeway building, yet congestion is worsening and travel times are lengthening.

Why does this happen? New roads don’t just divert existing traffic but also attract new users and keep on doing so until they reach capacity. In transport planning jargon, this is the effect of “induced traffic”. The more roads you build, the more traffic you have.

There are also associated effects that flow on from building freeways, such as land use decisions that then reinforce car use and car-dependency.”

This is the point that I like to sum up with this observation: What you feed; grows.

We have observed this with the resurgence of bus and train use after investment in Auckland this century, and of course we have seen it for the last 60 years with driving in Auckland. We have fed it and it has grown. And as Matt showed here, we also dismantled and downgraded transit networks at the same time which of course further reinforced this growth.

This problem is especially exacerbated if we now only invest in the one already dominant mode so that there is little effective choice. Congestion is bad in Auckland, despite the city’s small size internationally, because there is largely little option but to partake in it.

Still the mad logic of investing more in something we have too much of to try to solve the problem of this excess is not confined to this country. Both Sydney and Melbourne have huge urban motorway projects on the books that are likely to proceed simply because they will attract Federal money despite being highly questionable at best. This is the same situation that local bodies in NZ are in; enormous practical pressure to support national government agendas even when they are likely to work in direct opposition to agreed local aims because they come with their own funding. The additional Harbour Crossing and the amount of parking at the new Convention Centre are examples of this.

But also there is the uneven economic situation of these two types of projects.
Here is Alan Davies the Melburbanist discussing the recent crazy urban motorway  decision in Victoria, where he includes this image of causality:

 

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This pic shows one of the on-going prices of auto-dependancy that never gets included in any benefit cost analysis of urban motorway projects: so much precious building going to house those individual vehicles.

He then goes on to ask why do road projects of poor value get funded over long discussed rail ones, and it is this point that stands out for me:

The advantages of rail over roads are mostly in economic costs i.e. externalities. Many of these costs are diffuse and don’t affect the state budget directly, or if they do it’s often well into the future when “it’s somebody else’s problem”.

This I think is exactly true, the economic costs of road building are huge but external to the projects directly; they fall to property owners having to build so much parking, to people who die and are maimed in crashes, to the city in its loss of value through auto-domination of urban place, to the environment, to or balance of payments through oil dependancy, to individuals having to buy, run, and insure so many expensive vehicles. These are dispersed costs, and therefore easily ignored and glossed over.

And likewise the economic benefits of Transit infrastructure are huge but also easily downplayed and dismissed, as they to do not immediately arrive in an account like a lotto prize, but rather accrue over time in an equally dispersed way. And if the projects are never built then the whole idea of such value can be dismissed as unlikely or only ever happening in other countries where conditions are always different.

But also we have the peculiar situation of the national [and National] government choosing projects in Auckland knowing that these externalities fall largely locally. Both the costs of the mode they favour and the benefits of those that they don’t. We really need to become much more sophisticated in our economic evaluations, or resign ourselves to life in an underperforming and slowly choking city.

Britomart

The Decongestive That Works

Somehow over the last 60 years it became an orthodoxy that the only way to deal with the problem of too many cars on our roads is to spend ever greater sums of money on more roads for more cars [and more parking, more fuel use, more accidents, more obesity, more pollution]. I have always found this to be a curious idea; there’s too much of something so let’s make more of it possible. Ah but of course, I’m just looking at it all wrong, congestion isn’t ever about there being too many vehicles, no, it’s only ever about there being insufficient road space for whatever number of vehicles can be imagined. Really, is there never a point that we might say; the problem here is that we are trying to squeeze too many vehicles into this place for it to function well, we need to supply this place with alternatives to driving as well?

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This odd orthodoxy is behind the latest muddled-headed transport plan for Auckland, quoted here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:

“Even with the fully funded programme,” admit the authors, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.

Clearly business as usual; building more roads everywhere, isn’t going to work even on the terms of those who promote these plans, so it was very interesting to see a new study out of LA on the impact of Transit systems on road congestion. Researchers there were able to use the 2003 shut down of the Transit system by a strike for 35 days to compare the impacts on the city both with a functioning Transit system and without one. From the National Bureau of Economic Research here [USD$5].

Also there’s a summary here on Atlantic Cities which I’ll quote as there’s no paywall:

The intuition is straightforward: Transit is most attractive to commuters who face the worst congestion, so a disproportionate number of transit riders are commuters who would otherwise have to drive on the most congested roads at the most congested times. Since drivers on heavily congested roads have a much higher marginal impact on congestion than drivers on the average road, transit has a large impact on reducing traffic congestion.

And tellingly:

Contrary to the conclusions in the existing transportation and urban economics literature, the congestion relief benefits alone may justify transit infrastructure investments.

Of course LA is a big car town, it has massive driving infrastructure, the Transit Systems there are improving, and have improved a great deal since 2003, but there is no way that you could claim that it is like London or Paris and completely dependant on well developed Transit systems built over a century or more. So the figures did vary. For arterials and Interstates that were close to shut down Transit routes the numbers were huge; the morning delay on the 101 was up 123 percent during the strike [90% average for the day], and 56% on freeways that didn’t parallel closed Transit routes.

Proof that even in this most auto-dependant city of the value of investing in quality Transit systems: yes a fully supported Transit network, especially one with its own right of way is the car users’ best friend. Investment in better Transit is almost certainly the best way a city can improve the quality and utility of the driving experience. Can somebody tell the AA?

Remember, when driving and experiencing congestion, you’re not stuck in a traffic jam; you are the traffic jam. Despite all the help those Transit users are trying to give you.

I 405 California

I 405 California

How cities fail their cyclists … Auckland

In this recent post Matt collated some stunning photos of Auckland. More than most cities, Auckland is blessed with a wonderful natural environment. But some of the comments on Matt’s post gave me cause to pause, because they noted that all the stunning photos of Auckland were taken from approximately 300m up in the air and/or at night.

“bbc” put it this way:

All cities look picturesque from above at night, the issue is at street level which is where you actually interact with a city. At the fine-grained level Auckland is a particularly ugly city, and has a long way to go.

To which “Steve West” responded:

So true. São Paulo for example looks awesome at night yet it is a bit of a hole too. New Zealand does not have attractive cities – it is only the natural backdrop which offset the harshness of the 1980s era concrete and glass box prefab which continues to this day. Thanks Rogernomics. Recent article in a UK paper to that point – natural scenery nice but Auckland a bit crap.

Having read Steve’s comment I went off scurrying for the article he was referring to. Instead of finding that one however, I uncovered another two recent articles in U.K. that discussed Auckland. The first one was published in The Sun and made particularly positive claims about Auckland being “hobbit forming”. Nice, we’re obviously doing something right.

I then stumbled across this article in the Guardian, which was rather bluntly titled “How cities fail their cyclists in different ways.” It started off discussing Hong Kong, which was interesting, but scrolling down the page a little more you find a sub-section titled “Cities where cycling should be more popular than it is. Example: Auckland. The content that follows is, I think, worth repeating in full:

Yes, it’s hilly in places and, once you reach the suburbs, very spread out, but Auckland really should be awash with cyclists. It has suitably temperate weather and that same spread out-ness leaves plenty of potential space for bike lanes.

But wander, with the eye of a regular cyclist, around the city centre, and you’re almost immediately struck by the lack of bikes on the road. Outside peak times they’re almost non-existent, barring the occasional cycle courier. Those you do see generally sport the Lycra garb and haunted expression of the cycling enthusiast in a bike-unfriendly environment.

The city is trying to boost numbers and, according to the most recent annual cycling survey, with some success, with 30% more riders on the roads than five years ago. But the numbers remain fairly small – just under 13,500 “cycling movements” observed on one day at 82 monitoring sites. It’s not helped by a compulsory helmet law, in place since the mid-1990s.

I was aghast to learn that the city’s harbour bridge, the main link between the centre and suburbs to the north, has no way at all for cyclists to cross. They must either plonk their bike on a ferry or take a fairly long detour. As an emblem for a city dominated by cars and roads it’s hard to beat.

Like with Hong Kong, it’s not as if Auckland couldn’t do with more cyclists. New Zealand might more or less define itself through sport but it’s simultaneously one of the more obese nations on earth.

The more I thought about it the more I found myself agreeing with the basic premise of the above article: Auckland is quite suited to cycling. One of the benefits of our geography is that there are pleasant views (like the ones shown in Matt’s photos) waiting  at the top of most hills and around most corners. And it’s not like we have a winter that’s quite as cold as Amsterdam, where I used to live (and cycle!).

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I know we talk about public transport a lot on this blog and it is true that Auckland can do much better in this regard. However I’m increasingly wondering if we’re not over-looking opportunities for Auckland to become more of a cycling city.

A recent presentation on the Integrated Transport Programme, for example, apparently made no mention of walking or cycling, instead referring only to major (read “expensive”) road and public transport projects. I know it’s only a presentation and that we should hold fire until the ITP itself is released, but what message does it send when the summary to a 30-year strategic document developed by almost all the government agencies involved in transport planning does not identify one signature walking/cycling project? It’s amazing to me that walking in particularly can be so over-looked given that it still contributes almost 10% of journeys to work.

And the failure to mention walking/cycling projects from the ITP presentation came hot on the heels of this month’s AT business report, which also left out cycling statistics altogether. It seems like Auckland Transport is suddenly afraid of using the “c” word?

As a cyclist myself I’m obviously “biased” – but on the other hand let’s not ignore than a person on the other side of the world felt sufficiently motivated to use Auckland as an example of a city where “cycling should be more popular than it is.” This point is worth ramming home: A journalist in the U.K.  - who could have chosen any city in the world – choose Auckland. That’s not something to be proud of my friends, and it’s not something that will help us to become the world’s most livable city. While Auckland has and continues to make progress on many transport fronts, in my view our investment in cycling still lags.

In my opinion Auckland needs to become vastly more welcoming to cyclists before it can lay claim to being the world’s most livable city. And only then might you start to see beautiful photos being taken at ground level.