It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part scenario.
Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:
- Migration: Internationally another great age of people movement is clearly underway
- Urbanisation: Both the developing world and the OECD nations have continued to urbanise and cities have become the economic force of our age
- De-Carbonisation: The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions everywhere and in every way has been an increasing issue
The strong population growth in Auckland seen just before this period has continued consistently. Auckland grew at around 2.5% per year from 1.5 million in 2015 to approach 2m this year [cf 2015 pop growth was 2.9%]. This has of course not been without difficulty, requiring the government and the council to work much better together with the private sector to deliver the required new dwellings; hence the huge building ramp-up we are seeing, especially of apartments and terrace houses, but also the demand side controls finally enacted by government to reduce the more egregious forms of speculation. The adoption of the first Unitary Plan which reduced density restrictions in some areas helped enormously; and especially led to the new vibrancy around Rapid Transit stations such as Albany, Papatoetoe, and Glen Innes. Who’d have thought Glen Eden, among other places, would become as cool as it has with all those car yards and panel beaters shops around the station now sprouting apartments?
And although we are along way from the various crisis points we are still at the end of the global movement of peoples we’ve seen over the last decade as another one of history’s great ages of migration picks up strength, New Zealand remains an attractive place to live and Auckland in particular an increasingly attractive place to work. Not to mention all those returning New Zealanders and [smarter] Australians fleeing those seemingly endless destructive weather events across the Tasman. It has been much more difficult in other places, especially Europe, although there too these changes have helped offset natural declines and ageing populations, and are proving quite stimulatory as well as disruptive.
The ageing population is a huge issue here too; every year from 2011 another year of that demographic bubble from the post-war baby boom turned 65, the nominal age of retirement. The changes of this politically active and property rich cohort have had a big impact on the city and nation. Two main trends have been observable over the decade; one group have taken advantage of the secular price shift in Auckland property over their lifetime and sold up and headed for smaller centres around the country [providing population offsets there, but also en-greying these communities], the second group have downsized within Auckland; stimulating significant demand for rest homes but also smaller well placed dwellings, particularly apartments, in great locations near amenities. Thus we have seen the apartment boom driven by two very different ends of the market; older cashed up people and younger first home buyers and renters starting out. More on our new urban form below.
Next year of course, 2026, this group will enter a new phase as the first of them turns 80, we can expect further shifts in the retirement sector as well of increased hospital and care costs for the nation as a whole. The aged care sector is booming and the apartment market is diversifying as a result. And thankfully in Auckland the service and tourism sectors are growing strongly to contribute to these nationwide costs. We will need the regulatory changes that saw in the start of this period, the Unitary Plan, to continue to evolve in response.
The ‘Super Diversity’ trend has continued and strengthened, making Auckland a much more dynamic and vibrant place [eg Pakuranga Town Centre now in an intense rivalry with Balmoral for the bragging rights as the leading centre of Asian street style eating]. And a much more internationally connected and economically competitive one too; migrants always bring better and deeper connections back to their home nations for expanded trade and social interaction. Also the creative sector has witness a great outburst of productivity as people bridging more than one culture so often are stimulated to respond to the tensions of that situation creatively.
Urbanisation- and the rise of the Suburban Centres
Called the Metropolitan Revolution and the Great Inversion even before our period began, the stunning re-emgengence of cities as the economic, cultural, and environmental force of our age has continued strongly. The strength with which Auckland has risen to take its clear place as the Primary City of the South Pacific region has caused rumblings in the rest of the country, but happily successive governments have come understand the value of the city’s rise for the whole nation [and new urban policies have benefited our other urban centres too; for they too are having their own Metropolitan Revolutions]. Auckland is competing strongly with the equally resurgent cities of the Australian seaboard; Australian cities helping to soften the blow of the structural decline in the hard commodity extractive industries there, despite the climate impacts all through that continent.
Auckland City Centre population doubled from 20k in 2005 to 41k in 2015, and doubled again to over 80k now. These new apartment buildings substantially changing the skyline, and their new occupants substantially changing the street life below. Wynyard Quarter, the whole of the western side down from the Hobson St ridge, and elsewhere are now covered in new residential buildings and streets buzzing with new retail, hospo, offices, and above all that great resource; people. Architecturally the full range is on show, we all have our favourites [and otherwise]. I particularly like the new 50 story block with the grand atrium linking Fort St through to the new shared space on lower Shortland St, and of course the development of the parking stump [at last!] out the back of high street with new apartments above in the daring light-weight structure. Just a couple of examples.
But of course this growth of the centre is nowhere near the whole story, the strong boom in long dormant subcenters has been as a big if not bigger story this decade. New Lynn has its sixth apartment tower now, and looks unstoppable after the huge boost it received with the opening of the CRL [more on that in Part 2] and the conversion of industrial land to housing. Manukau City, is at last gaining a true identity on the back of its intensification, and even Pakuranga Town Centre is thriving, after that big fight over the now canned flyover; the Busway there is booming inevitably leading to talk of converting it to Light Rail in the future. Albany is now an actual place with residents in quantity giving even that maddeningly planed environment life and character, it has been extraordinary watching it really take off with the Busway extension and those new mixed-use apartments.
Every Metro Centre has benefited from the removal of Parking Minimums and the rise of ride-share [more on that tomorrow too], the range of small and affordable living spaces all across the city made possible by unbundling them from parking and the improvements in Transit quality has been great for everyone, especially students and the many singles and couples not wishing to share. It has also led to many new entrants in the development business as the cost barriers to entry are lower. Smaller building firms are now building multi-unit dwellings instead of only detached houses, creating a much more varied market.
Local quality and identity is the new groove; made possible by new high volumes of dwellings clustered around Transit Stations. All sorts of places are transforming on this model from Papatoetoe, Onehunga, and Albany and of course all along the Western line, where the transformed access to employment, education, and entertainment made possible by the CRL has led to explosions of activity.
The rapid re-greening of the whole city secured through the somewhat controversial Urban Canopy rules in the Heat Island Regulation of the second Super City Mayoralty is now accepted as universally successful. This by-law requires every public parking space to covered by a solid canopy of tree cover or face a sharp penalty was of course resisted by carpark owners, but is well loved by the public and has generated measurable heat island effect reductions and rapidly improved the city’s tree cover with all the additional ongoing positive outcomes urban trees bring. While also making many previously dreary places instantly glorious. Not to mention creating a whole industry for arborists and landscapers, that newly sexy profession. The many passionate debates about tree varieties often pitting the urban food growing movement up against the botanically correct: It is interesting to see how by choosing a consistent kind of tree a community can almost brand their neighbourhood.
But it is the Centre City that has seen the most transformation; Albert St now is giddily vertiginous with so many new tall buildings, the rebuilt leafy and peopled streetscape, and of course the sleek movement of trains below. Everywhere within the broader Queen St valley from the University ridge to the east across to the western slope down to Victoria Park is thrumming with people and largely absent of cars and fumes. And the whole roiling scene now tips effortlessly down to the newly opened waterfront which offers such an irresistable pull: This is so obviously an extraordinarily positive and productive revolution that it beggars the mind what took us so long to achieve it. Perhaps it really did need the right Zeitgeist, or simply enough people of vision in positions of power?
Part 2 up next: Transport.
NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions made now and in the near future…discuss…
The Additional Harbour Crossing as currently proposed is a pair of tunnels containing six traffic lanes between the motorway at Esmonde Rd rejoining it at Spaghetti Junction [The CMJ] in the city. The publicly available schemes also show additional rail tunnels between Akoranga and Wynyard Quarter, but no connecting network for any trains to actually use. It is clear to see the appeal for NZTA of straightening and simplifying SH1 past the bridge, but the outcomes for the city are much less certain. Below for example is version T1:
Clearly this or the other versions that date from 2010 are not the current versions NZTA are developing now, but until new versions are released these are still worth looking at in some detail as neither the various physical constraints or the overall aims that drive these options have changed. The options can be seen here.
Considering these there are several high altitude observations I think are important to begin with:
- This will be the most expensive urban transport project ever undertaken in NZ; claimed to be $4-$6 billion. Two to three times the cost of the CRL.
- Not least because of the massive cost it is extremely unlikely that both sets of tunnels and systems would be undertaken at the same time. They will be staged; one will precede the other.
- The road scheme is essentially a SH1 bridge bypass, and therefore optimises through traffic, however it does not make any new connection that is not currently available nor in fact any increase in capacity on SH1.
- There is little spare capacity in the CMJ for additional vehicles so the new connection will remain the current three lanes north and a reduction from four to three lanes south.
- Essentially the bridge becomes a massive on/off ramp for city traffic and unless and until the rail tunnels and line are built more buses on bus lanes across the bridge will be the PT part of the project.
Here’s the set of variations currently available for the city end, all versions involve four tunnels under Victoria Park [3 new ones]:
All schemes also involve massive new interchanges on new reclamations at the North Shore end with flyovers and multiple connections between crossings, not unlike the new interchange at Waterview currently being built. Like the outcomes for traffic on North Shore local roads, the impacts of this project will be neither small nor all positive north of the bridge. However for this post I just want to focus on the city-side implications.
Assuming the road crossing is built first, which is consistent with assertions by politicians and officials with phrases like it will be ‘future proofed for rail’, as well as the lack of any real work yet on a rail crossing, it is worth asking exactly where will the new traffic enabled by the extra capacity across the harbour go once in the city?
Because the new crossing plugs directly into the CMJ, three lanes in and three lanes out, and because there are no planned increases in capacity through the CMJ, nor any space for any without further massive tunnelling, in effect the new capacity will be all on the bridge, so coming from the Shore this new traffic will all have to be accommodated by just three off ramps [same in reverse heading north]:
- Cook St; with new direct connections through Victoria Park
- Fanshawe St, especially for buses on new bus lanes
- Shelly Beach Rd, and then on to Jervois and Ponsonby Rds.
None of these exits can accommodate any increasing in traffic well, or without considerable disbenefit, especially if that increase in traffic is large.
- Cook St is pointed directly at the heart of the city, so this contradicts policy of reducing vehicle volumes in the city centre and is likely to infarct daily at the peaks as Cook St is close and perpendicular to Hobson and Nelson Sts which serve the Southern and Northwestern motorway flows. Gridlock is likely at the controlled intersections unable to handle large and peaky traffic volumes to and from these motorways. Additionally land use in this area is changing and intensifying making it even less suitable for the high speed motorway offramp it already hosts.
- Fanshawe will have reduced capacity for general traffic as a multilane Busway will be required to take the increased bus volumes from the bridge, and anyway is already at capacity at the peaks.
- Shelly Beach Rd is a narrow residential street not suited to the high volumes and high speeds it already suffers from the bridge now. Furthermore there is no benefit and little capacity for the streets beyond Shelly Beach Rd, particularly Jervois and Ponsonby Rds for a large increase in vehicle volumes.
Nonetheless, here are the forecasts they have come up with, Shelly Beach Rd with a 63% increase, is basically filled with bridge traffic by 2026 and the new crossing:
20,300 additional cars modelled for Fanshawe + Cook St with the AWHC option (assume that is all day on a weekday?). Even at the best sorts of turnover that would require around 10,000+ new carpark places. The downtown carpark has 1890 spaces. So where exactly do we put six new downtown carpark buildings? And what six streets get sacrificed to feed them?
20,300 cars carry perhaps 25,000 people. The CRL at capacity will carry that entire amount in 40 minutes. As could a North Shore rail line of similar specification. If the net outcome of this project is to take 20,000 commuters to midtown, why not do it with rapid transit at a third the cost with none of the traffic congestion?
“The significant increase in traffic movements conflict with many of the aspirations outlined in current Council policies, strategies, frameworks and master plans.”
–P 65 Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Network Plan, NZTA, 2010.
Obviously these higher traffic volumes are not good for every pedestrian, resident, and general city user in these areas but there is one other group that this situation in particular is going to make miserable, and that’s the motorist. There is a word for all this additional driving everywhere on city streets: congestion. Yup this increase in capacity across the harbour may speed that part of the journey but it’s going to make arriving anywhere in the city in your car much more hellish than it is now. And don’t even think about finding or affording somewhere to park.
What NZTA’s consultants say about this:
The increased traffic flows through St Marys Bay on both Shelley Beach rd and Curran St look to lead to particularly poor and unfixable outcomes:
It seems optimistic to say that because there are cafes, and strongly increasing pedestrian volumes, on Ponsonby Rd, that drivers won’t try to drive there, especially if other bridge exits are controlled or too busy. After all the first rule of urban traffic is that it will expand to wherever it is allowed to go. So, in the end, taking measures to dis-incentivise drivers to use these exits, is the consultant’s advice:
It does seem kind of odd to spend $4-6 billion to increase capacity across the harbour only to then introduce other measures to try to stop people using it.
And it won’t be just parking, there’s also likely to be tolls, it appears the model says they can pretty much eliminate the traffic problem with an $8 toll!:
If only there was a way to enable more trips without inducing more and more cars to also be driven into the crowded city streets. After all the City Centre has been growing strongly without adding more cars most of this century:
In fact it looks like we are already at or even above the limit of desirable vehicle numbers in the city, and future developments like replacing car access to Queen St with Light Rail are likely to make even current numbers face pressure.
Additionally there is an issue with bus volumes as well as car numbers on the city streets, even though the New Bus Network, the CRL, and Light Rail, if it happens, will reduce bus numbers from other parts of the city, there is certainly a limit to the numbers of buses from the Shore that can be comfortably accommodated too. Below is the predicted year of maximum bus capacity at major entry points to the city. The role of the CRL in reducing bus number pressure from the Isthmus is obvious, so why not do the same thing for buses from the Shore?
So perhaps the answer is to reverse the assumed staging and build the rail Rapid Transit tunnels first, leaving space for the road crossing to come later. This certainly looks physically possible in the maps above. This would enable all of those possible trips across the Harbour that NZTA identifies to still be served but without any of the traffic disbenefits that so clearly dog the road only crossing. In terms of people capacity two rail tracks can carry twice the volume of six traffic lanes. Furthermore it can be built without disturbing the current crossing and its connections. And rail crossings have proven in the past to be good alternative routes in an emergency.
This would add the real resilience of a whole other high capacity mode across the Harbour instead of simply more of the same. It would make our Harbour infrastructure more closely resemble Sydney’s where most of the heavy lifting in terms of people numbers is done by Rapid Transit, as shown below. We already have ferries, buses, and cars bringing people across, isn’t it time we added the particular efficiency of electric rail?
It seems particularly clear that whatever we add next really can’t involve trying to shove ever more vehicles [cars and buses] onto our crowded city streets; that will simple hold everyone up.
All the information above was gleaned from the work done some six years ago for NZTA, from here, and Auckland has moved on a great deal from where it was then. Among other things that have been proven recently is that when we are offered a high quality rail system we will use it. We are also discovering the value of our City Centre as a place to live, and work, and just be in, and how this is only possible to continue this improvement with fewer cars on every street. We certainly believe that there are more options for a far greater Auckland than the simple binary ones studied above: the road crossing ‘future proofed’ for rail, or the ‘Do Minimum’ which is nothing.
So we have asked, as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process, for a Rapid Transit crossing as the next additional crossing to be modelled too. So we can compare the status quo with the road crossing, and with a Rapid Transit crossing separately. Additionally we know that AT are now working on how various rail systems could work so in time there will be properly developed rail options to compare with the road one.
There is time as well as the need to get this right, the Western Ring Route will begin to become more complete next year with the opening of the Waterview tunnels, and that whole multi billion dollar system is of course an alternative harbour crossing system and will alter both the performance of both the Bridge and the CMJ. Similarly decisions about AT’s proposed LRT system too has a bearing on options, as will the opening of the CRL next decade. Not least because the addition of these high quality systems will make movement through the city without a car much more common, as is the case in many overseas cities of Auckland’s size and quality.
The road crossing looks very much like an extremely expensive ‘nice to have’, that duplicates and tidies up the State Highway route, something to add when the missing alternatives have been built and there is spare budget to spend on duplication. Because on balance the road first additional crossing proposal really achieves little more than this:
Our Chinese correspondent* has sent us some thoughts about the transport environment in Shanghai:
The biggest surprise of my trip has been the huge number of electric bikes and electric scooters – many powered by lead acid batteries. They are almost completely quiet and hum along the pedestrian-cycle paths on the sides of all the roads. There are no gasoline motorcycles at all.
The e-bikes are mainly completely powered (no e-assist) and go quite fast. At night no one uses the lights – probably to save batteries – so you have to quite careful on the footpaths. Because it is winter the scooters have permanently attached large gloves on the handles – sort of like over-sized oven mitts as well as poncho like shields attached to the front. Also not uncommon to see people tootling along holding an umbrella…
[* My father, who is currently on a business trip over there.]
China is currently the largest market for electric bikes and scooters. Although car sales have taken off in China over the last decade, e-bike sales have taken off faster:
Worldwide e-bike sales in 2010 estimated to be 24 million. About 300,000 in USA, about 700,000 in Europe, 1.2 million in India, Japan and Taiwan, and 21.6 million in China!
Electric bike sales have grown far faster than the sales of any other mode of transportation in China, from a modest 150,000 units sold in the late 90s to more then 20 million today. That’s three times as many as the most optimistic projections for cars sales in China for the near future.
Given population density and poor air quality in China’s large cities, it’s easy to see the attraction of e-bikes for both individuals and policymakers. They don’t contribute directly to smog and they don’t take up much space.
There’s been some speculation about whether China will import US-style auto-centric transport habits as it develops. However, it might make more sense for China to export its e-bike-heavy transport mix to other cities in Asia and Africa that are facing similar issues of bad air and overcommitted road space.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
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.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
After Paris we spent a day and two nights in Freiburg before heading on to Switzerland to meet Stu Donovan and go skiing. By the time you read this, we will be on the slopes! Here are a few thoughts and impressions of the place.
Freiburg is a small city of about 220,000 people near the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. It’s gained an international reputation for being one of the most sustainable cities in Europe. What this means, in practice, is that it seems to combine the best of both big cities – on-street vibrancy, especially around the historic downtown – and small towns – quiet, safe neighbourhoods that are good for young families.
According to our hosts, the city’s cycling mode share – for all trips, not just commuting – is roughly equal to its car mode share. About 30% of trips are on bicycle, and 30% are in cars. The remainder is split between the city’s light rail system and walking.
But it hasn’t always been thus. Freiburg was headed down the road to motordom in the 1950s and 60s. But, like many Dutch cities, it took a different direction in the 1970s, expanding its tram system rather than pulling it out, and starting to build cycleways. They’ve got 420 kilometres of bike lanes, including separated cycling highways, 36 kilometres of tramways, and expansions in the works.
Freiburg’s public transport system has roughly the same level of patronage as Auckland – almost 80 million trips a year. (And, apparently, a farebox recovery ratio of over 80%.)
So far, so good. But Freiburg is growing quite rapidly – a consequence of its attractiveness as a place to live, I suspect – which is putting pressure on housing. Rents are apparently rising, and the city council (which is led by the local Green Party) has to plan for this growth. Freiburg is already a midrise city – three to five storeys in most places – so it is debating its next steps.
In line with past practice, this means a bit of up and a bit of out. New apartments are being planned for some parts of the city, and the city’s negotiating with farmers to buy some more land at the edge. Hearing about the options, and the constraints, I was struck by how familiar it all would seem in Auckland. The farmers were holding out for higher prices for their fringe land. Heritage preservation policies in the old parts of the city make it difficult to build up there. It’s not possible to develop in biodiversity areas or in the Black Forest. Minimum parking requirements add significant cost to new housing.
Wait, minimum parking requirements? In the sustainable city of Freiburg?
Apparently, yes. MPRs in Germany were imposed by a federal law in 1939 – perhaps the earliest example on the books, which would make them literally a Nazi invention. They are still generally in force today, although there’s been a trend to devolve control over minimums to local governments. In Freiburg, the minimums have recently been reduced from one parking space per dwelling to 0.6 spaces per dwelling. (In Berlin, by contrast, they have been removed entirely.)
However, there have also been some innovative ways to get around MPRs. For example, the suburb of Vauban was developed as an energy-efficient, car-free neighbourhood. Requiring one carpark per home would have undermined the concept pretty badly, so parking was instead provided in three garages at the edge of the development.
However, one of those garages was not actually constructed. Instead, everybody in Vauban who didn’t want a car bought into an association that had the option to develop the underlying land for carparks. In effect, rather than buying a carpark, they bought insurance against the possibility that they would need one. Apparently this saved car-free households around 18,000 euros. And the third parking garage still hasn’t been built – the land is still being used as a playground.
The word “association” seems to be an important one when it comes to housing development in Germany. Germany law and tax policies make it easy and advantageous for people to club together to develop multi-family dwellings. A lot of the apartment buildings and terraced houses in Vauban were built this way. Basically, get together with some friends, buy a bit of land, and hire an architect to design an apartment building for you. You’ve got to comply with some high-level rules about bulk and form, but other than that the design is up to the occupants.
I would be interested in learning more about this model. It could be really compatible with New Zealanders’ aspirations for housing – we have a preference for designing (and even building) our own houses, but Auckland’s high land prices make it costly to build standalone dwellings. Midrise apartment buildings could fill the affordability gap, but the current developer-led model doesn’t suit everyone. So perhaps look to Germany for an alternative model?
The Productivity Commission has put out a paper calling for submissions on Urban Planning, here. It’s a very wide ranging, going right back to first principles where they have discovered that:
Yet even among planners, there appears to be no agreed definition of “planning” or “urban planning”, and writers have struggled with whether a definition can be provided.
Despite this lack of theoretical certainty I think we all know urban planning when we see it, or perhaps more accurately its outcomes. Pleasingly the paper begins with a short history of Petone which is used to illustrate the accretive and accidental nature of city forming:
The changing nature of urban areas
Urban areas are dynamic, complex places. Land uses and neighbourhoods can change dramatically in response to economic, technological and demographic forces.
One example of this evolution comes from Easterly, Freschi and Pennings (2015), who explored how a single stretch of a New York City street changed over four centuries of development. Easterly, Freschi and Pennings concluded that it is “difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation.” (p. 1)
The town of Petone in Lower Hutt illustrates the diversity of influences that shape urban areas. [Below] provides an outline of its history, although inevitably many important details and events are overlooked. The transition of Petone – from a Māori village, to the intended site of a major colonial settlement, to a working-class industrial area, a run-down town, at various times a retail destination, and a desirable residential neighbourhood – show how unpredictable the evolution of our urban areas can be.
Given this surely accurate observation, shouldn’t any attempts at controlling the form of our cities in fact shy away from control but instead aim for incentivisation? Won’t nudging the direction of individual impulses be likely to be more effective that prescriptive programmes? And much less likely to result in unwanted unintended consequences, like out of control dwelling inflation. After all it appears that even the most egregious of city ordinances are well meant, no matter how much damage they do either indirectly or to other aims. And city building is full of contradictory impulses; for example nothing allows more retention [if not preservation] of older building than economic stagnation, yet surely it is fair to say there are few if any councils that would consciously pursue policies of economic ruin in order to bolster their worthy desire to preserve their city’s built fabric?
Another example is the whole history of auto-priority of the last 60 years across the developed world; so often expensive road and parking infrastructure was built with the very aim of reviving or maintaining the economic life of places, yes these investments simply reinforced their decline and unsuitability of these places for the brave new world of driving focussed city. For example Auckland’s City Centre only really began to recover from the flight of the motorway/sprawl era once Minimum Parking Regs were inverted- replaced with Maximums instead. Thereby nudging development and use of the city towards walkable proximate-focussed more intense land use. In fact MPRs must rank very high up the list of the most destructive yet well meant influences on city development, see this disastrous example from the sadly much governance-abused city of Christchurch; so prioritising ease of parking that the actual destination become untenable and disappears. Mandated parking oversupply is a form of urban self-harm so ubiquitous in mediocre conurbations that it’s become invisible: it’s the teenage cutting of city-management.
The question next becomes what scale of nudge is required to incentivise more productive city building and city using; nudge or shove? Denmark for example, has a 180% tax on new cars and one the highest bicycle usage rates in the world. These two things are surely not unrelated [see here for context, however]. Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong all have the most widespread and financially successful urban, and in Japan’s case, inter city, Transit networks and all also have significant barriers to car ownership and use, as well as planning rules that enable more efficient land use. See here.
Here is the ProdComm’s quick history of the urban development of Petone:
The evolution of Petone
Prior to European settlement there was a large Te Āti Awa Pa at Pito-one. The New Zealand Company’s surveyor, Captain William Mein Smith chose the Heretaunga (Hutt) river valley for the site of their planned settlement “Britannia”, and the Company ships began arriving in January 1840. Relations between Māori and the settlers were positive in large part due to the hospitality and mana of local chief Te Puni. The grid street plan drawn up in England was soon abandoned. In March the river flooded the settlement, and a fire and earthquake followed in May. Britannia was largely abandoned by the end of 1840, with the settlers having moved to Pipitea/Thorndon, which Colonel Wakefield had long favoured for the settlement.
In 1847 there were probably no more than 20 settler households left, and it remained almost wholly deserted until 1875. The land was poor quality for grazing, and the Hutt River flooded at least annually. Pito-one Pa, with a population of 136, remained the largest and best-fortified pa in the Wellington area. In 1855 a major earthquake lifted the area, draining a portion of the lower valley.
In 1874 the Wellington-Wairarapa train line opened. A large railway workshop was built in Petone. That same year a butcher, James Gear, began to purchase and lease land around the Petone foreshore for a slaughterhouse. It was attractive for the cheap flat land, proximity to the harbour and railway line, and the small size of the local population to be offended by the waste and smell of the facility. In 1883 the company built a 380m long wharf, demolished in 1901. A large wool mill was established in 1886.
Petone grew rapidly, and was gazetted as a town in 1881. A series of factories and breweries were built. Schools, churches, newspapers, sports and social clubs were established in the 1880s, many of which survive today.
A local farmer, Edwin Jackson, sold portions of his land piecemeal with unsurveyed rights- of-way. The result was that by 1885 there was local concern that Jackson Street was an embarrassing series of dog-legs, of varying width along its length. Jackson Street was extended when the land was bought by the borough solicitor on behalf of the Crown in 1888. Blood and offal went straight into the harbour, attracting sharks, so Jackson built a swimming bath near the waterfront. Plans for a gasworks were abandoned in 1897, and the land that had been earmarked for this use was purchased by the council as a recreation ground. But the council declined to buy Jackson’s baths, and a ratepayers poll in 1901 also decided against a purchase, so they were closed.
By the early 1900s Jackson Street was the hub of Hutt Valley commercial activity, with notable stores such as McKenzies, McDuffs and Liebezeits. The Grand Theatre opened in 1916. But Jackson Street’s haphazard alignment was still a problem and between 1927 and 1938 the council widened and straightened Jackson Street, with buildings shifted back on rails or demolished.
New Zealand’s earliest state houses were built in Patrick Street from 1906, although they were sold in the 1930s. Council chambers were built in 1903 and a town clock in 1913. A new wharf was constructed in 1907. Industrialisation continued: Lever Brothers factory opened in 1919, Sunlight Factory in 1924, and a number of car plants in the 1920s and 1930s. Three out of every four cars in New Zealand were said to come from Petone up until the 1950s. The town produced many successful sportspeople and the Petone Rugby Club numerous All Blacks.
Petone, by local standards, was densely populated and heavily industrialised, ugly, grimy, lively and close-knit, more like an English industrial town than a New Zealand one. (Butterworth, 1988, p. 13)
But from the 1950s the area began to decline, as some industries closed and residents moved to the new suburbs of the Hutt Valley. A number of state housing flats were built from the 1950s to the 1970s on the eastern part of Jackson Street. The Borough Council designated an area north of Jackson Street as an industrial zone, and
[t]he result of this was that no one was allowed to improve their properties, which meant many fell into disrepair and were sold off to developers. It was impossible for young Petone people to get a loan to buy property in their hometown so many left for Wainuiomata or Upper Hutt. The town become a place of rented properties owned by absentee landlords. By the mid seventies and eighties Jackson Street was pretty much derelict. (Johnston, 2015, pp. 93-95)
The Council proposed building a ring road around central Jackson Street, to create a mall in the centre of town at a cost of $10 million and the demolition of 80 houses. But significant local opposition stopped the project, and many councillors were voted out.
Petone wharf took its last cargo in 1976. The Gear meatworks closed in 1981. Long- established stores closed and the council chambers were demolished in 1986. Deregulation of the New Zealand economy resulted in many of the remaining factories closing. Developers who were demolishing and rebuilding in Wellington regarded Jackson Street as a place of little commercial potential, so its old buildings were left untended. In turn, “this stagnation ironically preserved the historic CBD as a desirable social and economic centre” (Johnston, 2015, p. 177). Petone recovered in the 1990s as industrial land uses gave way to big box retailing in the west of Jackson Street. Petone again became a retail destination, and this benefited the smaller shops along Jackson Street. A burgeoning bar, café, gallery, and retail sector followed. In 1996 the Historic Places Trust recognised Jackson Street as an Historic Area, but this had no regulatory force. There were a number of battles between local heritage groups, developers and the council over the next decade.
The “character homes” of Petone and its proximity and transport links to Wellington made Petone a desirable residential neighbourhood. A number of apartments were built or converted, consistent with council design guidelines. In 2014 it was announced that many of the state housing flats on the eastern part of Jackson Street were to be demolished, but the Patrick Street cottages survive and are protected. The Grand Theatre, which closed in 1964, was used as an electrical shop, furniture business, and in the 1990s was converted to an apartment complex with boutique shops below. Today, the site of the Gear meatworks is a supermarket, and Petone wharf is a popular fishing location, with fewer sharks than in the past.
Source: Butterworth, 1988; Johnston, 1999, 2009, 2015.
The model demonstrates that basic spatial interactions between land uses and transport infrastructure are the most powerful factors that govern the patterns of metropolitan growth.
Thanks to our London branch.
Below is a schematic of current apartment development in a small area of Melbourne just north of the City Centre, next to the Victorian Markets. These are pretty tall; one already under construction is 88 stories.
And here is a blog post from our Melbourne friends OhYesMelbourne on another City Centre adjacent development site; Docklands. And I thought Auckland is experiencing a building boom. Well it is, and this growth is impressive, but of course Auckland is a small city by global standards, and the current boom is well in proportion. Across the world it looks like we are in a phase that is concentrating development pressure in primary cities. So while urbanisation is widespread it seems to be especially concentrated in the cities that dominate their regions, like the Australian State capitals and Auckland in the South Pacific. It’s not just in the new world either; that classic primary city; London, is building up at a new rate too.
Aside from issues of about the balance of this growth from a nationwide perspective or architectural style [blingy is the term that springs to my mind], what is the likely impact of this kind of additional dwelling supply coming onto the market in these cities? Currently Melbourne is getting about 1500 new residents a week [1838 per week last calendar year, in fact]; which at current household sizes means there is fresh demand for about 500-1000 new residences each and every week; pretty hard work to satisfy that demand you’d think?
Well think again; the boffins at the Reserve Bank of Australia are worried about oversupply according to this report from Business Insider. Here’s the recent apartment supply growth:
So while the RBA couches this situation as a warning to financial stability, or at least risk to property developers loosing their shirts in a saturated market, isn’t this exactly the sort of quantity of new supply that overheating urban property markets need, like Auckland?
Price growth is already slowing for inner city apartments in Melbourne and Brisbane, and there are signs that activity in the Sydney property market is beginning to slow after two years of breakneck activity. Supply and demand in all three regions appears to be nearing equilibrium, with significant more supply scheduled to come. It’s clear that downside risks to prices are building.
It seems there is a lesson from the cities across the Tasman that supply/demand equilibrium in cities can be achieved most effectively by building up, although at the risk of supply overshoot. But then isn’t that always the case in any attempt to rebalance a market? So what are the barriers to this sort of solution occurring in Auckland? Is it even possible? One problem is inner city land supply, is there that much available space? Melbourne certainly has a lot of city proximate available land. Auckland is likely to need this sort of growth to also occur in metropolitan centres as well as the Central City simply from a space perspective; given how tightly bound our City centre is. But in that case we will also need to complete the Rapid Transit Network in a timely fashion to make that model function properly. But then we have to do this however we grow; or we are just planning traffic gridlock.
Then there are our planning regulations, especially height restrictions and view shafts, limiting spatial efficiency, and Minimum Parking Regulations adding unnecessary cost to construction [as well as feeding traffic congestion]. I’m sure some will argue that Aucklanders won’t live in apartments, but recent growth in inner city living shows that we have yet to find the limit of those happy to make that choice. It seems likely that out of 1.5+ million there still more willing to live this way, especially as the quality of city amenities and distractions improve [especially public transport, the cycling and pedestrian realm, street quality and waterfront spaces]:
And this is even more likely to be the case if new supply is sufficiently scaled to affect property price growth; then these dwellings will become even more attractive; more affordable as well as proximate. Perhaps, if the RBA’s handwringing is prescient, at the cost of one or two over-ambitious property developers’ businesses…?
Is it happening already? Certainly all the growth in dwelling supply in the last couple of years has been in attached structures: Stand alone houses used to completely dominate Auckland’s housing supply; at three-quarters of the market four years ago to around half now.
The evidence from these nearby cities suggests that ‘up’ may well be a more immediately effective solution to rampant dwelling inflation in Auckland than distant, hard to service, and slow to deliver detached houses out on the periphery. Certainly in as much as it is a supply-side issue.
New Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has wasted no time in clearly positioning himself as pro-city and pro-Transit with the release a series of shots of him using the Montréal Metro on election night.
First Turnbull now Trudeau. Transit is obviously seen by these new leaders as a marker for broader policy; climate change, energy, infrastructure, and, no doubt, their accessibility to the people they represent. Only travelling in big-arsed fossil fuelled BMWs looks decidedly dated in this context.
We look forward to real policy and budgetary change consistent with these images to be clear this isn’t just PR, and we also look forward to our politicians catching up with this trend, and in a real way: Key, Bridges; your move….?
It has been encouraging to witness the change of PM in Australia to the pro-city and Transit using Malcolm Turnbull following significant elections at state level in both Queensland and Victoria going quite dramatically the same way. Now the Liberals have been returned to power in Canada what does this mean for city policy and transportation policy in particular?
It is tempting to feel that there may very well be a significant shift in the zeitgeist in the Anglophone world on these issues, especially including climate change. And I don’t mean on the old blunt left/right polarity, after all Turnbull and Cameron clearly don’t fit when viewed through that lens. Rather I see a different forces at work. The Abbott/Harper backward looking anti-change and fearful world view increasingly seems dated and no longer credible. It looks like no party can convincingly run, red or blue, without real responses to environment, energy, and city infrastructure that aren’t significantly updated from last century’s norms. Welcome to the 21st Century proper, Canada.