Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

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

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

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

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

Frozen silence.

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

St Lukes Masterplan

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

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

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

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

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

All AT Experts Agree.

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

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butter wouldn’t melt.

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

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

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

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

Uncommonly Good: Melbourne Apartments show the way forward

‘The Commons’ is a new small apartment block next to a train line in Brunswick, inner Melbourne by Breathe Architecture. It is noteworthy for  the cost of the apartments [pretty affordable for the area], its strong sustainability credentials and design features [especially the shared areas], its financial success as a development, but most of all because it is a concrete example of a great way forward for urban redevelopment. It ticks every box for accessibility, humanity, and public good. Here is how it was covered in last Thursday’s The Age. Be sure to watch the video.

The Commons sarah-hurst

It is such a success that another block is underway nearby but this time not funded by a traditional developer but sort of crowd sourced, mainly by the architectural community, and it will be marketed in a fresh way too.

The total absence of any onsite car parking and mechanical aircon along with clever use of communal services that enable the generous size of the living areas and the high build quality for the price point. This shows how the removal of anti-urban planning regulations that most western cities have inherited from last century can stimulate innovation by architects and developers.

It also shows that to really offer choice and increased affordability into urban housing markets cities need to make two coordinated moves: remove the straitjacket of Minimum Parking Regulations and other dispersal enforcing regs and upgrade its Transit and Active systems to as high quality, frequency, and permanency as possible. Together these moves enable the market to provide real TODs, Transport Oriented Developments, of all sorts of scales for all sorts of markets, on currently undervalued brownfields sites.

Once these conditions exist then change can occur on scales more attractive to a variety of players driving experimentation and innovation. After all, whatever government, Council, and the market is doing now in Auckland for dwelling supply isn’t working as well as we need. Significant improvement is coming to our transport systems, now lets get the dwelling regulatory environment fixed too. Then good things will follow. As one fix is nowhere as powerful without the other.

Below, the parking [from here:http://www.redshiftaa.com.au/portfolio/apartment-design-as-it-should-be/]:

Redshift_The_Commons_Bicycles

Sunday reading 18 January 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Urban kchoze, “Prince Charles’ 10 Principles of of urbanism: typical example of what’s wrong with urbanists/architects“:

In a way, the true descendants of traditional cities aren’t the mummified European cities of Paris and London where all is done to maintain buildings and neighborhoods as they were in the early 20th century, but Japanese cities. Yes, Japanese cities are resolutely modern in terms of buildings, but the traditional process of city-building is still alive in Japan, while it has been replaced by planner fiat in Europe and North America. The people who built the cities people love would have likely been more than happy to have our modern technology to allow for taller buildings with more varied materials. Likewise, though the Japanese use modern materials and technologies, they still use them in a way that is more in line with the traditional process of incremental city-building.

Alan Davies, “What would it take to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s?“, Crikey:

The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.

Cost

If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).

Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.

Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.

James Dann, “They paved paradise etc etc“, Rebuilding Christchurch:

Yesterday, Georgina Stylianou revealed that the earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee had used his “special powers” to fast-track a car parking building for Phillip Carter, the brother of the Speaker of the House, National MP David Carter. This was followed by a chorus of down-on-their-luck property developers piping in that they too needed more car parks, and that could the government please build some for them.

The sad, bizarre situation in Christchurch right now is that there are more people lobbying for the rights of cars to sit motionless than there are trying to house human beings.

Lindsay Cohen, “Seattle dog’s rush hour ride: on the bus, by herself, weekly“, Komo News:

SEATTLE — Public transit in Seattle has gone to the dogs.

Commuters in Belltown report seeing a Black Labrador riding the bus alone in recent weeks. The 2-year old has been spotted roaming the aisles, hopping onto seats next to strangers, and even doing her part to clean the bus — by licking her surroundings.

“All the bus drivers know her. She sits here just like a person does,” said commuter Tiona Rainwater, as she rode the bus through downtown Monday. “She makes everybody happy. How could you not love this thing?”

Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Why The Rules Of The Road Aren’t Enough To Prevent People From Dying, FiveThirtyEight:

On how speed limits in the US were set

Here’s how speed limits are established in most states, according to Federal Highway Administration research: Traffic engineers conduct a study to measure the average speed motor vehicles move along a road. The speed limit is then set at the 85th percentile. From then on, 85 percent of drivers would be traveling under the speed limit and 15 percent would be breaking the law. Sometimes other factors2 are taken into consideration, but in most places, speed limits are largely determined by the speed most people feel safe traveling. Some states, including Louisiana and Michigan, go so far as to call limits determined by this method “rational speed limits,” stating that achieving compliance is possible only if the speed limits are reasonable.

Todd Niall,  Knowledge gap in Auckland rail saga, Radio NZ:

The gap, in this case, is a knowledge gap. The gap between what we see being played out in public, and what is going on behind closed doors, between the Auckland Council, and the Government and its agencies.

The reminder of the significance of knowledge gaps was the Government’s announcement in June 2013 that it would commit to sharing the cost from 2020 of a project it had publicly poo-poohed.

This was widely regarded as a sudden and unexpected change of tack by the Government. It wasn’t.

Paul Little, Trees, not cars, make a liveable city, NZ Herald

Although no one has actually been seen embracing them, the stand of six 80-year-old pohutukawa on Great North Rd near the SH16 interchange works could use a hug right now. Auckland Transport has approved their removal to widen a road we don’t need.

Hugs would also be welcomed by a lot of Aucklanders who have recently begun to see all too plainly what a hellish plan is being put in place between here and the Waterview connection (cost $1.4 billion). The pillars and overpasses can now be seen to be on a scale so colossal they appear not to be made with humans in mind at all.

One of a few images from a 1937 plan for London by Sir Charles Bressey on how to accommodate more vehicles in London

Sir Charles Bressey 1937 London Plan

Chris Barton, The Best Urban Design of 2014, Metro:

It was a year of winning forms and some massive fails. Chris Barton picks his favourite urban design developments — and hands out the wooden spoons.

And finally, Councillor George Wood sent us a fun game to play via twitter. Fortunately, I passed the test:

Quiz: Can you name these cities just by looking at their subway maps? [Wonkblog]

On This Day… Park-and-ride, boon or boondoggle?

Today’s “On this Day” post comes from 2012 and was written by Stu Donovan.

Matt L has just dissected AT’s recent announcement regarding the expansion of the Albany Park and Ride.

Park and ride is a vexed transport planning issue: It’s very popular with middle-class commuters and as a result tends to receive a lot of public/political support.  On the other hand, P&R’s merits are often not well understood.  Is P&R really the boon it is made out to be?

Let’s consider the arguments usually put forward in discussions on P&R; turning first to the downsides:

  1. P&R requires considerable tracts of land.  For this reason it tends to be very, very expensive to provide within the urban area, unless opportunistic (read CHEAP) land parcels are identified (more on this later).  Given the cost of land and the general constraints on PT funding in Auckland, it is quite reasonable to ask whether P&R in urban locations represent value for money – compared to other possible PT improvements.
  2. The second issue is a logical extension of the first: Because P&R requires so much land it squeezes out opportunities for intensive land use development, often in the very locations that have good PT access.  This second issue is very important, because it means that P&R may actually generate relatively few *additional* trips per sqm, above and beyond what would be generated by the intensive land uses that would exist in the absence of the P&R.
  3. The third major issue with P&R is that it competes with other modes to provide access to PT stations.  Surveys of the Northern Busway have shown that approximately 50% of users previously used local buses.  The message is that providing free P&R can encourage people to drive down the road and park, when they previously waited for a local bus (which is typically going to run anyway, i.e. relatively low marginal economic costs).
  4. The final major issue with P&R is that it concentrates vehicles on what are often strategic locations in the road network. In the case of Albany, the provision of 1,100 car-parks within the town centre itself represents about one full lane of traffic.  By concentrating vehicle volumes at these locations, large amounts of P&R may soak up capacity in the surrounding road network and cause localised congestion.

Just to re-cap the points made above: 1) P&R can be expensive to provide (because of the land that it occupies); 2) may generate little additional patronage (above and beyond what we would get anyway); 3) tends to compete with other modes of access to PT stations (which are often more cost-effective); and 4) can cause localised congestion.

Given these issues you might reasonably ask under what circumstances would you ever want to develop P&R?  The answer is that P&R can be useful where:

  1. Alternative means of PT access (primarily local bus services) are ineffective.  In these situations P&R can help to focus PT demands to a level that supports a modicum of PT service.  This tends to be outside the main urban area, where land is cheaper to provide (especially where you can identify opportunistic land parcels, such as sites beneath high-voltage power lines or in flood prone areas, as is done for some P&R sites in Vancouver).
  2. It is priced appropriately.  Charging people to use P&R generates revenue from users and mitigates two of the issues noted above.  Namely, the cost (or subsidy) of providing P&R goes down, while also reducing the degree to which  P&R competes with other (substitutable) modes of access.  Pricing P&R really just levels the playing field with other possible ways of getting to the PT station.  It can also reduce the congestion caused by P&R.
  3. The PT station has been provided in advance of more intensive land use development.  Here P&R simply becomes an interim land use, until such time as development is ready to occur.  At this point the land on which the P&R sits can be sold and the costs recovered.  This practise of “landbanking” is not a bad strategy, especially where the interim P&R allows PT services to build to the point where they support relatively intensive development.

Given these pros and cons, as well as the general public/political pressure, it is perhaps not unsurprising that PT agencies struggle to find an appropriate role for P&R. In my experience most cities have relatively ad-hoc approaches to the development P&R.

So where to from here?  Well, I thought I’d round out this post with a few takeaway P&R messages that I’ve collected during my years working as a transport consultant working in New Zealand and Australia:

  1. The party rarely lasts – P&R is usually an interim activity.  P&R should be viewed less as a permanent feature of the PT network and more as an interim activity that is redeveloped at some point in the future.  Rose-tinted press-releases (such as that released for Albany) create the illusion of a never-ending feast of free P&R and build a public rod to beat the backs of future decision-makers (as an aside, there is a general need for transport agencies to better manage public/political expectations).
  2. Ain’t no party like a policy party – the development of P&R should be governed by policy.  Experiences in cities overseas has highlighted the issues that may arise with ad-hoc P&R development.   In San Francisco, the (private) operators of BART had a pig of a time trying to redevelop and/or charge for P&R decades after the development of the system, even though the land on which the P&R sat was wholly privately owned.
  3. No party is that cool – P&R is just another form of PT investment.  Ultimately, P&R is just another way of getting people onto the PT system.  As such, any proposed investment should be compared against other possible uses of that money.

Following these three P&R ‘party rules’ can help ensure that investments in P&R are a boon, not a boondoggle.

Update:

We haven’t seen much actual expansion of park and rides in Auckland over the three years since this post was published. However, the Draft Parking Discussion Document – released by Auckland Transport last year – did seem to have quite a strong focus on expanding Auckland’s park and ride capacity.

As Stu articulated in the post, park and ride is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it all depends on the situation. A park and ride at Drury or Silverdale clearly makes sense – capturing PT riders who would be very inefficient to capture in other ways. The park and ride at Orakei is clearly insane.

Bike Parking Tokyo Style

A neat little video from Toyko of some bike parking.

Time for a different approach to the Long Bay problem

It seems that every year during the Christmas/New Year break thousands of Aucklander”s flock to Long Bay to enjoy the sun, sand and water. Every year we also hear about the congestion that ensues as thousands of vehicles try to get into a carpark that is quickly overwhelmed. The experience often leaves people frustrated, not to mention hot after sitting in a metal box in the sun for some time. Some like reader Aaron Schiff manage to get it lucky and have a local offer them a place to park but many don’t.

One solution as suggested by Stu last year is for the council to start charging for parking in a bid to manage demand.

Now back to the issue at hand: In my mind the delays incurred by people who drive to Long Bay are unacceptable because they seem easily avoided – if we are prepared to pay for parking.

I’d suggest Auckland Council and Auckland Transport start charging for parking at Long Bay during busy summer times. Charging for parking would encourage a few more people to car-pool, catch the bus (yes there are buses to Long Bay), or postpone their visit – and thereby reduce delays.

My instinct is that most people would be prepared to pay $5 to enter the park during very busy summer periods – not all week or all year. Not only would charging for parking help save people time when they visit (1-2 hours is a long time to spend sitting in a car on a hot day with screaming kids), but it would also generate revenue that could be used to improve facilities at the park.

That is indeed the silver lining from charging for parking: Not only does it help to manage the demand for parking within the limits of the available supply, but it also provides AC with additional revenue to spend on park facilities and/or access, such as more/better toilets, more car-parks, and more frequent bus services. These improvements would otherwise have to be funded from general rates, or not be funded at all.

So what about the alternative of using public transport to get to the beach. Two things really highlight the issue of using PT to get to Long Bay. The first is exemplified in this tweet from Auckland Transport during delays on Jan 2.

So not only have PT users had to endure a long and frustrating trip by bus (more on this soon) but due to everyone else driving they get dumped about 1km from the beach and have to find their own way there. It wasn’t until after 5pm – four hours later – that AT said buses had returned to their normal routes.

Perhaps instead of terminating the buses, AT should do the opposite and stop any extra cars from entering the area and put on a shuttle bus to and from the beach. Even better is they could make use of  the Albany Park n Ride – which is largely unused on weekends/public holidays – and divert vehicles to use that with a frequent shuttle from there to the beach which is a mere 10-15 minutes away.

The second issue is that the normal buses to the area are so rubbish I’d be surprised if anyone actually used them. The two main services that go to Long Bay are the 839 and 858 and both take well over an hour to get to Long Bay from the city compared with as little as 25 minutes in clear traffic. One look at the routes shows with them zig zagging all across the eastern bays before getting close to the beach.- not that the AT timetable map is any use in this regard, good luck working that mess out.

Long Bay PT Options

AT is going to need to seriously change their thinking about how they manage congestion in summer to long bay because right now it only seems to be getting worse. Why not at least try a few ideas out some weekends.

Getting high patronage in a sprawling city

I’ve talked in the past about Calgary and how I think it’s an extremely useful city for Auckland to compare to and this article from The Transport Politic highlights why.

Calgary is a boomtown — the center of Canada’s resource economy, whose explosion in recent years has led to big gains in Calgary’s population and commercial activity. It’s the sort of place that might seem completely hostile to public transit; 87 percent of locals live in suburban environments where single-family homes and strip malls predominate; surrounding land is mostly flat and easily developable farmland; the city is almost 10 times bigger than it was in 1950, meaning it was mostly built in a post-automobile age; and big highways with massive interchanges are found throughout the region. Even the transit system it has serves many places that are hostile to pedestrians and hardly aesthetically pleasing.

It’s an environment that looks a lot more like Dallas or Phoenix than Copenhagen.

In addition to this it’s not a massive city population wise and is in fact is very similar to Auckland’s – and has had similar growth over the last 30 years.

Auckland vs Calgary Population

And yet Calgary is attracting big crowds to its transit system, and those crowds continue to increase in size. Like several of its Canadian counterparts, Calgary is demonstrating that even when residential land use is oriented strongly towards auto dependency, it is possible to encourage massive use of the transit system. As I’ll explain below, however, strong transit use in Calgary has not been a fluke; it is the consequence of a strong public policy to reduce car use downtown. It provides an important lesson for other largely suburban North American cities that are examining how to reduce their automobile use.

Much of the trend of increasing transit use has come recently, in part because of the expansion of the city’s light rail network, C-Train. That system, which opened in 1981 and has been expanded several times (it now provides service on 36 miles of lines), has become the backbone of the municipal transit agency and now serves more rides than the bus network. C-Train is now the second-most-heavily used light rail system in North America.

Calgary C Train network

Calgary C Train Network

Don’t be fooled by the term light rail, Calgary’s C-Train is the equivalent of our rail network and the Northern Busway – a rapid transit network providing a high capacity core network on a dedicated (largely on street) right of way. Supporting the C-Train network is a bus network based on the same principles as Auckland Transports proposed New Network. Both light rail and buses have seen growth over the last 17 years shown in the graph below although the light rail has clearly grown the strongest. Strong growth in rapid transit is a trend we’re really starting to see in Auckland.

The presence of rapid transit is clearly a critical factor in Calgary’s outstanding patronage results but it’ not the only factor.

At the heart of the matter seems to be a radically different view about how to manage automobiles downtown. Decades of progressive thinking about how to run downtown have produced a Calgary where there are no freeways entering the central city. Citizens there have been vocally opposed to building highways there since the 1950s, with the consequence that it is simply not that quick to get into downtown by car. This has a number of related effects, including the incentivization of non-automobile modes and the reduction in outward suburban sprawl (since it takes a longer amount of time to get to the center of downtown).

Perhaps most impressive have been Calgary’s parking policies. For decades, the municipal government has managed parking supply downtown, in part by directly owning a huge proportion of the spaces. The city has also limited the number of spaces allowed to be built in the center. In 1981, the city had 25 million square feet of offices downtown and 33,000 parking spaces (1,320 parking spaces per million square feet), but today, it has more than 40 million square feet of offices (and more under construction) and 47,000 spaces (1,175 spaces per million square feet, an 11 percent reduction). The limitations on the number of parking spaces has resulted in an expensive parking market; the city has the second-highest parking rates in the Americas, after New York City.

For car users wishing to get downtown, the city has compensated by investing in 17,433 park-and-ride spaces at almost every light rail station, of which 36 percent are reserved for people who have paid $80 a month, a considerable discount off the downtown rates. This emphasis on park-and-ride spaces departs from the typical urbanist emphasis on transit-oriented development as a strategy for station areas, but it seems to have worked in Calgary.

Charging for Park & Ride is a relatively new thing for Calgary and is a response to ever increasing demand for more and doing so has had no impact on patronage. The city is also now looking to reduce the number of P&R spaces it has by using them for development so the total number will drop over time.

I don’t how much office space Auckland has but as a comparison there are around 50,000 carparks in the Auckland CBD and many more on the fringes outside it.

CBD Parking Supply

And what of the impacts of the policy of restricting carparking.

These policies have produced the overall city transit ridership noted above, and have been particularly relevant in affecting travel trends downtown. Between 1998 and 2014, the share of downtown workers using transit to get to work has increased from 37 percent to 50 percent; a rise has also been noted in the share of people walking and cycling, which has risen from 8 percent to 11 percent over that period. That transit share is just a bit lower than that seen in Chicago’s Inner Central Area (55 percent in 2000), a central business district that was developed far earlier and which has a far more developed transit system.

Pro-transit policies have not produced a dramatic move of businesses away from Calgary’s center city — the fear many politicians and business promoters point to when complaining about limitations on automobile access to downtown. In fact, Calgary’s office market is doing quite well, with five office buildings over 500 feet completed downtown since 2010, compared to just one in Dallas, one in Houston, and none in Phoenix. Calgary’s downtown population has expanded rapidly to 16,000 people and now hosts 140,000 jobs and eight shopping centers. It should be noted that the Calgary municipal government has also played an important role in advocating for a compact city and directed local policies to support that goal.

In other words, restricting automobile use and encouraging transit ridership not only don’t hurt business — they may be encouraging it.

Stuart’s 100 62: Carparking inside Character Buildings

62: Carparking inside Character Buildings

Day_62

What if forgotten spaces within buildings were used for more than just carparks?

When was the last time you looked up? Looked up above the street, often hidden by a crumbling verandah, to see what was happening in the upstairs of older character buildings?

There are many forgotten spaces either lying empty, or being used for very low-rent uses, that could be put to better use. This is of course a good thing, presenting opportunity to those who can see it and providing cheaper alternatives, even in desirable high-rent locations, to the shiny and new. Jane Jacobs knew this. Now everyone in Christchurch does too – they have lost most of theirs.

So it would be good if here in Auckland we started to see more people finding the opportunity in these spaces. Take the upstairs space above Mo’s Bar on the corner of Federal and Wolfe Streets in the city centre. Here we have a whole floor given over to car parking behind a row of huge art deco windows that would make an amazing characterful space. Wouldn’t it be good if spaces like these were used for more than just carparks?

Carparks are ten-a-penny in this town; characterful spaces like this much harder to find. To an extent, these spaces are starting to be rediscovered – nearby here, look at Heavenscent Café above St Patrick’s Square, or The Black Hoof tapas bar and Spitting Feathers pub, both upstairs on Wyndham Street in characterful loft-like spaces. Balmoral shops are bursting with upstairs noodle and dumpling houses. I look forward to seeing more spaces like this rediscovered and put to good use as Auckland continues to grow up into a richer and more diverse little city.

Stuart Houghton 2014

AT Earlybird parking to go

Yesterday Auckland Transport quietly announced that they were finally ending the silly tradition of incentivising people to drive at the time of the day when the roads are at their busiest. Even better is they’re being quite blunt about the reasons.

From 1 December 2014, early bird parking is being discontinued in Auckland Transport’s Downtown, Civic and Victoria Street car park buildings. Our daily rate of $17 will apply to all day parkers.

  • Historically AT has subsidised people to drive into the city at peak times, which is adding to congestion.
  • Our prices are increasing to dis-incentivise people to drive during one of the busiest times of the day (am peak).
  • Moving forward that money will be used to put into public transport, which is our number one priority.
  • View public transport options.
  • See what AT is proposing with the new public transport network.

This is a good move from AT who have been cheaper than the rest of the market for many many years, something they confirmed in their recent Parking Discussion Document which also hinted that these changes were on the way.

AT is currently charging less than commercial operators for long stay parking – $13 early bird versus $14 on average. Early bird parking encourages commuter trips and generally applies prior to 8:30am in AT car parks and 9:30am in commercial operated car parks. AT can influence a shift commuter demand away from the morning peak by reducing the amount of long stay parking, increasing prices to achieve parity with commercial operators, changing the conditions for early bird parking and moving toward more short stay parking.

They mention they want to focus on short stay parking and the discussion document highlighted the mismatch that exists between long and short stay parking availability. It also highlights how little of the cities off street parking is provided by AT with their parking being dwarfed by the private sector.

CBD Parking Supply

Not even all of AT’s carparks are part of this change and in total only around 2,500 carparks in the city.

One of the issues that AT’s carparks have had due to their low prices is that they’ve been too popular and I’ve heard they average over 95% occupancy during the day. The carparks fill up in the mornings with commuters and later in the day when people try to use them – say for a meeting in town or to visit town for shopping – they are often unable to find a space. It’s partly for this reason I suspect that Heart of the City have come out in strong support of the changes.

Of course not everyone will be happy. I expect the Herald and many other outlets give the changes plenty of coverage and there’ll be a steady stream of people ready to complain. Unsurprisingly one of those is the AA (who have been much better of late).

The AA says that if Auckland Transport (AT) wants to reduce the number of private cars commuting to Auckland’s CBD, the focus needs to go on making public transport a more realistic option, not raising parking charges.

AT today announced that Early Bird parking (priced at $13) would be removed from Auckland Council-owned parking buildings from 1 December 2014, and replaced by an all-day rate of $17. Prices for leased parking spaces would also be raised.

“For a lot of people, this change will be a kick in the teeth,” says AA spokesman Barney Irvine.

“Most Auckland AA Members who drive to work in the CBD do so out of necessity. Nearly half use their cars for work during the day, and many others live a long way from the public transport network or have household responsibilities that just don’t fit with taking the bus or the train.”

Public transport in Auckland had come a long way but was still not a viable alternative for many people, said Mr Irvine.

A recent AA survey showed that more than two-thirds of Auckland AA Members opposed an increase to parking charges to encourage greater public transport use.

Changing commuter behaviour would require positive incentives rather than punishing motorists.

“That means delivering real improvements in terms of frequency and quality of public transport, and doing more to find out what factors other than price might encourage people to change how they travel to work,” Mr Irvine said.

In any case, the proposed changes would do little to ease congestion.

“AT only controls about 16% of the off-street parking market, and only around half of that is long-stay,” he said. “So all this is going to do is hurt a small group of motorists financially, and open the door to private providers jacking up their prices.”

I wonder how many of those AA members are parking in AT parking buildings compared to other parking options in the city, probably not all that many.

So how does our parking rates compare with other cities. This graph shows the number of spaces per worker compared to their cost between NZ and the major Australian cities.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012)  Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012) Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

While Colliers International conduct a parking survey every few years of a huge range of international cities and Auckland doesn’t even rank in the top 50, again well below many of our comparator cities. Auckland is listed with a daily average of $22 (USD $17) which I assume hasn’t taken early bird rates or daily caps into account.

Top 50 cities parking rates

Lastly we also know that improved public transport is working. Over the last 14 years the number of people arriving in the CBD during the morning peak (7am – 9am) via PT has risen from 20k to 35k and combined with active modes have seen the number of people driving to the city falling. Now during the morning peak fewer than 50% arrive in the CBD by car. In fact my biggest concern with these changes is that many of our PT routes are already very full and need extra capacity

I support AT on these changes however it will be interesting to see how they react to the inevitable backlash from those who feel entitled to cheap/free parking.

Can public transport save households money?

People sometimes argue that we should provide more public transport because it will reduce households’ transport costs. But is that actually true?

I took a look at this issue in a recent working paper on Location Affordability in New Zealand Cities that I presented at the 2014 New Zealand Association of Economists conference. In that paper, I found that:

…housing costs tend to fall with increasing distance from city centres, while commute distances, which drive variable transport costs, tend to increase. All other things being equal, higher rates of public transport use did not appear to improve transport affordability due to the fact that New Zealand’s public transport fares are comparable to or higher than car operating costs. However, car commuting is likely to be more costly in areas where parking is priced – a factor that we were not able to robustly estimate.

Car ownership rates, which drive a large share of transport costs, tend to be fairly consistent outside of city centres. One of the benefits of providing public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure is that it enables households to reduce car ownership costs. Conversely, policies such as minimum parking regulations tend to encourage higher rates of car ownership by ensuring abundant and low-priced parking.

In short, public transport can save households money, but whether it does in practice depends upon what how much they would pay for parking and whether they own a car or not. (A classic case of an economist saying “on the one hand… on the other hand…“!)

Here, I’d like to take a closer look at transport costs using a concrete example: my regular commute from Mount Eden to Takapuna. Here’s the Google Map view of the route between Mount Eden village and central Takapuna that I use on the days when I have to drive. (Note: The addresses on the map do not show where I live or where I work.) At 12.9 km, it’s a little bit longer than the average Aucklander’s 11.5 km commute:

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 1.48.16 PM

Time for some maths. According to data from AA’s 2013 Petrol Car Operating Cost Report, a compact car costs approximately $0.25 per kilometre to run. This figure includes the cost of petrol, oil, tyres, and regular repairs and maintenance, but excludes the cost to own the car.

As a result, I’d expect to spend around $6.45 per day commuting by car (12.9km x $0.25/km x 2).

What would the same journey cost on public transport? According to Auckland Transport’s journey planner, the best way to do this is to take the 274/277 bus from Mount Eden village to Symonds St, walk down the hill, and hop on the 839/858/875/879 service, which runs to central Takapuna. Because both buses run frequently all day, this is a really easy connection. (AT’s New Network will be adding frequent, connecting services to many more parts of Auckland – which is really great news for south and west Auckland and the North Shore!)

As I use a HOP card, which offers discounts on the cash fares and also a $0.50 discount if you transfer between services, the entire trip costs me $4.05 – or $8.10 per day to commute in both directions.

So far, driving is coming out ahead – the costs to operate a car are a bit cheaper than the cost of bus fares. But wait: we’ve forgotten to account for parking costs!

Albany P and R

How could we forget about parking when there’s so much of it in Auckland? (Photo: Albany park-and-ride)

Wilsons operates the closest parking garage on The Strand in Takapuna. They charge $11 for all-day parking. If I pay them for parking – and I don’t have many other options in the area – that means that a car commute now costs $17.45 ($6.45 + $11). That’s over twice as expensive as taking the bus!

In short, when people must pay for parking, public transport is a much cheaper option. However, a lot of people don’t pay directly for parking, due to the fact that minimum parking rules have resulted in an uneconomic oversupply of parking in many areas. (They still pay for parking indirectly – through lower wages, more expensive groceries, or higher housing costs. But these costs, while significant, aren’t as obvious to people on a day-to-day basis.)

And we haven’t yet accounted for one of the big costs of driving to work – the fixed costs of car ownership. Based on data from the AA’s Petrol Car Operating Cost Report and the Ministry of Transport’s data on the NZ vehicle fleet, I estimated that it costs around $2,900 per annum to own an average car (i.e. not a new car). This includes the cost of registration ($288), insurance ($790), and warrant of fitness ($49, twice a year), as well as the interest payments and depreciation on the car itself (assuming that the average car is worth around $8,000).

$2,900 per car per year is obviously quite a big cost for most households, and I’m sure a lot of people would rather save the money and spend it on other things. Abundant public transport and walking and cycling options can give households the option to downsize on car ownership and save thousands annually.

Here’s a summary of my calculations. As you can see, by taking public transport rather than driving I save $9.35 every day I commute to work. Over the entire working year, this adds up to a lot of money – over $2,300!

And by choosing to take the bus and not to own a car, I save even more money – over $5,200 every year in total. If I choose to save that money instead, it will add up to a large sum of money over time. According to Sorted.org.nz’s savings calculator, if I put an additional $5,200 in my Kiwisaver account every year and get a modest 6% return, I’ll have more than $200,000 in retirement savings after thirty years – which is enough to let me retire three or four years early.

In other words, our driving habit is literally squandering our lives. Sell your car and retire early!

Commute costs Mt Eden to Takapuna

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on the policy implications of this analysis. The maths on transport costs suggest that:

  • Distortions in one market (parking) can affect outcomes in an adjacent market (public transport). When parking is available for free, it makes taking the bus or train much less attractive from a financial perspective. This in turn makes PT seem less viable than it would be if parking wasn’t heavily subsidised. And it’s simply unrealistic to expect parking to be free – space is expensive in cities!
  • Councils have in the past regulated for an oversupply of parking by setting highly prescriptive minimum parking rules. In addition to forcing property owners to pay for supplying too much parking, this makes it impossible for people and businesses to price parking to reflect the true cost of providing it. This is insane, and we need to stop doing it.
  • While public transport can save households money on a day-to-day basis, the big gains arise when people cut back on car ownership. Transport and urban planning can enable households to make this choice – or prevent them from doing so.
  • When councils choose to put in new PT services or infrastructure, they should always ask: what do we need to do to turn a neighbourhood with a frequent bus route into a neighbourhood where you don’t need to drive for daily necessities? Neighbourhoods need to pass the “five minute pint test“: can you get a pint of beer or a pint of milk within a five minute walk?

So, what would you do with an extra $5,200 in your pocket every year?