This is not a post about Busway’s vs Rail as modes, but a fun comparison of my experience on the Northern Busway to our Rail Network.
I recently went to the North Shore for an appointment where I had the pleasure of using the Northern Busway. I had not used it for some time, well before Double Deckers were a regular occurrence. As a person who usually uses the rail network it was interesting comparing my experiences, so I decided to create list of where I think each excels.
- The dwell times – The dwell times are good even on the Double Decker’s, as a rail user it was pleasant for it to feel like a stop, not a whole century.
- The motorway alignment – I swear nothing is more awesome than sitting top deck watching yourself race past all the cars at standstill on the motorway, you partially have that experience on the Southern, but the long dwells kinda ruin it.
- Double Decker’s – That view of the Waitemata from the top deck going over the bridge.
- The stations – I like the stations, they feel accessible, easy to use/transfer (when the bus turns up on time, curse you 881) and many have extra useful amenities inside.
- The ride – Smooth and so quiet, except the ADL’s to Puke but they are the fun part of any trip the Puke, though understand the people using it would rather have the Class AM’s for everyday use.
- Single deck – Yes I know I said I loved the Double Decker’s but it can get quiet frustrating having to wait for people who only used the bus for a short distance coming down from the top deck, use the bottom for short journeys >:(
- Speed – It’s always fun on the Eastern when you speed through the Meadowbank-GI section especially the Purewa Tunnel.
- The Stations – We’ve not got some fantastic stations. Britomart & New Lynn are my favourite, there is something about underground stations under fantastic architecture, and I always love coming into the New Lynn trench. Grafton is ok but I rate it 0/10 would not try Wifi through again.
- Fully separated – the Busway is great but it can be frustrating when it ends, you have some bus lanes on the Motorway but not in all sections, and when I was using the NEX a car was using the Bus Lane slowing us up around Onewa Interchange.
So what are your favourite strengths of the Northern Busway and the rail network?
‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol
Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.
It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.
We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:
1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?
People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.
Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.
2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.
However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.
This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.
3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).
There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic]. For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.
This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.
Same as it ever was.
Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work
Not sufficient, but essential: The provision of a high quality spatially efficient Rapid Transit Network in a city may not guarantee city quality and a flourishing urban economy, but neither are likely without one. In this century.
The Unitary Plan is a crucial document for improving housing in Auckland, by enabling a lot more of it. As we’ve discussed, the Independent Hearing Panel’s (IHP) Recommended Unitary Plan enables almost double the “feasible” capacity from what the originally Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) did – from 213k dwellings to 422k dwellings. We also know that of those 422k additional dwellings, around 270k of them are expected to be within the existing urban area.
It’s worth pointing out some of the comments/decisions from the IHP. As part of the process the panel have examined and then agreed to the Auckland Plan’s development strategy of a quality, compact city with development focused around centres and transport corridors. In the overview report they say this:
The Panel has been careful to recommend a spatial pattern of capacity that promotes the centres and corridors strategy and a more compact urban form. This pattern is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.
As mentioned above, this clustering of capacity is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.
Further, as part of the justification for their views on parking provisions they say:
This overall approach is expected to improve development opportunities and support public transport and alternative modes of transport in and around centres rather than commit resources to potentially inefficient use as car parking, while retaining parking requirements outside of centres to ensure that the amenity values of those areas are maintained.
Those are some fairly significant comments in support of how the city should develop and a recognition of the importance of proximity to jobs, local amenities and social interaction. The aim being so that it’s possible to live without driving being the only realistic option all of the time, which in turn means less space needs to be dedicated to transport along with other benefits too.
I’ve already seen some asking what is being done to ensure the city doesn’t descend into gridlock as a lot more people in Auckland makes it even more important we work to fix our already struggling transport networks. It’s important because as the sayings go: “transport and land use are two sides of the same coin” and “the best transport policy is a good land use policy” (and vice versa).
As you likely know, over the last year the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been running with the aim of developing a preferred approach to Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years. We’ve already seen the:
- Foundation Report which saw the parties involved agree on the assumptions to be used and analyse the current transport plans – finding them lacking.
- Interim Report which looks at and analyses a range of possible alternative plans to help identify ways to improve the final plan
At the end of August (likely public in September) the final report is due which should come out with the recommended plan and the politicians aren’t allowing for that timeframe to change. While it will likely be fairly broad in many areas with more analysis needed on the exact timing of projects, it is likely to give us a good indication as to what will be needed, especially over the next decade. To do this, ATAP relies heavily on modelling to try and predict future transport demand based on a range of factors and one of the big ones is predicted land use.
With the IHP so significantly increasing the feasible capacity that immediately raises alarm bells as to just how valuable ATAP will be. It also happens I asked a question about this at the release of the Interim Report in June as my understanding of the complexity of the modelling rules out the option of assessing everything again with the IHP’s recommendations. We were told that the ATAP team will likely only have enough time to do some light analysis based on the recommended changes while providing a professional opinion as to what impact any significant changes could have. As an example, some of the substantial increase in capacity on the isthmus – like has happened – likely strengthens for light rail to be approved and built sooner.
So I thought I’d take a look at the ATAP Interim Report to see what it said about this, and it turns out the document is fairly useful in this regard. A page appropriately titled “Land Use Assumptions”. They say they’ve assumed substantial household growth will occur throughout Auckland and that includes the inner parts of the urban area. On growth uncertainty they say:
- Where and when growth occurs is subject to a wide variety of factors including the extent to which it is enabled by planning documents, infrastructure provision and market attractiveness. This leads to unavoidable uncertainty about future growth assumptions.
- There are some substantial differences between the growth assumptions used in this project and what is enabled by the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP). This is particularly true in the balance between inner urban and outer urban household growth with the PAUP providing feasible capacity for approximately 50,000 fewer dwellings on the Auckland isthmus than the growth assumptions used in this project.
- Where and when growth occurs affects the timing and priority of transport investments as well as the overall size of the transport challenge faced by Auckland. Depending on the outcome of the Unitary Plan, a greater balance of growth towards outer areas will need to be reflected in the prioritisation of investment.
The middle of those three points is the most important showing that ATAP has allowed for around 50k more dwellings on the isthmus alone. That would likely put the numbers used in ATAP much closer to the IHP recommendations than the PAUP. Given some of the earlier comments from the IHP it made a lot of sense to expect zoning to increase in many areas, especially on the isthmus and it looks like a good thing they did that – although perhaps not by far enough.
The difference between what is being used for ATAP and the PAUP is shown below. It can be a bit hard to tell but one area you can see a bit more development allowed is in the western isthmus and that was matched to some degree by the IHP’s recommended plan.
As a comparison he’s the heat map from the IHP’s version which goes further again.
But what impact will all of this have? It’s hard to tell exactly but my hunch is that if the recommended plan is passed by the council it will only make investments in many of the key PT projects even more crucial. In particular the Rapid Transit projects such as AMETI + Pakuranga Rd, Light Rail on the isthmus and to the airport, the NW Busway, rail to the North Shore are going to be vital to providing enough capacity for people to be able to get around the city free of congestion. For those local hotspots it will also likely represent AT needing to focus to ensure there are quality walking and cycling networks so that residents can access amenities in the immediate area easily without having to drive.
What impact do you think the recommended Unitary Plan should have on Transport and importantly, would the government agree?
Auckland’s budding rapid transit network is already starting to make a significant difference to public transport in the region. Despite only being a few routes, now around 25% of all PT trips in the region are made on either rail or the busway, up from just 5% a decade ago – and the numbers continue to growth strongly with over 20% growth currently being seen. I’ll probably look at it in more detail in a separate post but I suspect in the future we could easily see that increase to over 50%, even improvements that are coming to local buses.
The overall goal of the RTN is to provide a strategic network of high capacity, high frequency routes which are largely free of congestion. Recent conversations about light rail and other topics got me thinking about the capacity of AT’s proposed RTN and in particular, just how much capacity do those plans allow for and is it enough?
For the foreseeable future, I think it’s safe to say that outside of the city centre the capacity of rapid transit is likely to easily exceed demand so for the purposes of this post I thought I would focus on just the level of capacity to the city centre.
Starting with the heavy rail network we will effectively have what we have now plus the CRL. The image below gives an indication as to the level of frequencies we could possibly see in the future – I think we will likely need higher all day frequencies but doing so wouldn’t affect the peak calculations I’m working at here.
At the peak this pattern gives us a total of 18 trains per hour in each direction so 36 all up. But just how much capacity is actually available would also depend on how we deal with Onehunga. For the purposes of this I’m going to assume that Onehunga trains remain only a single EMU so only three cars in length. I’m also going to assume that the three services an hour that turn around at Newmarket before heading back do so empty.
We know a 3-car train can comfortably carry around 375 people while a 6-car train can hold around 750 people. They could of course carry more by adjusting the seating to have more sideways and/or expecting people to cram in more but for now we’ll leave it at the current setup.
Based on the info above we have both the Eastern and Western lines able to deliver around 12 trains an hour while the Southern/Onehunga line delivers nine trains an hour. Accounting for the Onehunga line as mentioned this suggests the network could be able to deliver almost 24,000 people and hour (Britomart currently sees just over 10k during the two hour AM peak). That’s impressive and would be even higher if the Onehunga line could handle either longer trains and higher frequencies.
Light rail is perhaps the trickiest of the modes listed here, simply because we don’t have any of it yet installed to compare to so that means we need to go off what AT say. They suggest that light rail like being proposed for the isthmus and to the Airport could have a frequency of up to one vehicle carrying 450 people every 2.5 minutes. Given the map shows both Dominion Rd and Sandringham Rd LRT, I assume it means they could each be running with five minute services. Whether those volumes are over one route or two doesn’t make a difference for these calculations. Based on these figures suggests that light rail could carry nearly 11,000 an hour each direction at peak.
That’s obviously less than the rail network, but then again LRT could potentially only be one line while the rail network is three and a bit. With the individual heavy rail lines carrying possibly up to 12 services per hour and with up to 750 people on-board each service that one LRT line could have a slightly higher capacity.
The plan above still relies on a lot of buses to the North Shore and in future to the North West potentially clogging up our city streets – not to mention all the local buses from various non-RTN routes that will still be around. Recently AT and the bus operators have started rolling out double deckers many routes and by 2041 I expect they’ll be the main style bus in service. For the busways I’ll assume that they’ll be running with a frequency of one double decker every minute. That gives us a capacity of around 6,000 an hour per busway so all up another 12,000 people.
Of course if we did link up the planned Isthmus Light Rail to the shore this could increase capacity further.
So based on the figures above we get:
- Rail – 24,000
- Light Rail – 11,000
- Busways – 12,000
- Total – 47,000
So a total of around 47k per hour or 94k people during the two-hour morning peak and on top of that is a plethora of other bus services from places not directly served by the RTN such as the western North Shore and on the isthmus on routes such as Mt Eden Rd.
To put that in a little perspective. As of last year there were about 105,000 people working in the city centre and on top of that there are also 10’s of thousands of students. Of course across both employment and education, not everyone is going to be turning up each day. The last figures I saw suggested around 80,000 people enter the CBD in the two hour AM peak of which around 50% do so on PT. With the RTN routes alone being able to deliver more people to the city than currently arrive by all modes, that represents a significant increase on what we have.
A lot of debate over the last week has focused on rail to the airport and Auckland Transport/NZTA’s decision to dump heavy rail as an option, primarily due to costs but also because they believe light rail could deliver similar benefits. As has happened pretty much every time in the past when discussing this topic, the focus of many commentators here and across the media spectrum has been squarely on connecting the airport and the CBD. That’s somewhat understandable given both are significant destinations but when focusing on a singular use outcome it naturally results in a misunderstanding of what is trying to be achieved and people trying to come up with alternative ways to achieve that.
The two prime examples of this is the suggestion that we need to have a non-stop express service between the two main destinations and that we could save money but just building a connection across open land from Puhinui to the airport. The latter was even the subject of the herald editorial on Friday.
When most of us look at a map of Auckland’s railways, a spur line to the airport appears obvious and easy. The main line south runs through Wiri and its Puhinui Station is about 5km from the air terminals. A track could be laid through largely open land to the airport perimeter. What could be simpler?
Alas, simple solutions seem not to be welcome in the organisations charged with planning Auckland’s transport.
They are looking at the wrong route
While a faster and/or a cheaper connection would be nice for those just going to the CBD, the numbers doing that exact trip are never likely to be higher enough to justify the scale of investment that rail requires. More importantly, the issue with both of those positions is they ignore one of the key strategic goals that are trying to be achieved, to improve public transport for those that live and work in the Southwest and this is a goal regardless of the mode used.
Currently the Southwest is estimated to be home to close to 50,000 people and growing to an estimated 66,000 by 2043. Some of that growth is already underway with developments like the Walmsley Rd SHA set to deliver around 1,600 new dwellings which is likely enough to house another 5,000 people. There are also around 31,000 jobs in this area of which about 12,000 are at the airport itself with the rest in the industrial areas to the north or in and around Mangere and Mangere Bridge. The airport company expect to employment numbers around the airport will increase significantly as more land is developed. That will help to make
Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of people and a lot of jobs and it would be short-sighted and unfair not to give them some form of quality PT option – this equally applies to other parts of the Auckland urban area too.
Looking at Stats NZ commuter view for two of the area units included in the figures above, we can see that the biggest single destination (outside of working within the same area unit) was working in the Mangere South area which includes the Airport and the Ascot/Montgomerie Industrial area. But while not to the same individual level, there are a number of people who also travel north to work in other parts of the city.
Workers at the Airport itself come from all over the region, a lot from the east but also a significant numbers the north. The numbers from the east will be partially why AT have said they’ll start the early stages of investigation into an RTN route between Botany, Manukau and the airport.
So rail to the airport is actually about serving three separate markets
- Travellers themselves
- People working around the Airport and nearby employment centres (this is likely to be the biggest share of potential users)
- People living in Mangere and its surrounding suburbs
Spending the kind of money needed to build a rail line to serve any one of these uses is almost certainly not going to be able to stack up but with all three uses combined it can. What’s more from a PT perspective a Southwest line likely has a couple of big advantages that could make it one of the busiest on the network. Compared to our existing RTN lines, having very strong anchors at each end of the line in the form of the city and the airport will help get good bi-directional usage. Added to that the inherent nature of airport arrivals and departures throughout the day would help drive off-peak usage. As such frequencies are likely to need to be kept fairly high which also benefits others on the route.
Like how some people have incorrectly assumed that because the CRL is in the city, it’s all about trains going around the city, rail to the airport is assumed just to be about people going to the airport but as I’ve discussed it’s really about serving the entire Southwest. Formally the project is called Southwest Multimodal Airport Rail Transit (SMART) but that’s a name that will never catch on. People understand the term Airport Rail and also like the CRL, some people probably won’t realise/understand just what it is trying to do till it actually opens.
Takapuna is considered one of Auckland’s key metropolitan centres – which the Auckland Plan describes as:
Metropolitan centres, such as Takapuna and Manukau, will accommodate a large proportion of the city’s future residential, retail and employment growth. Generally these areas will serve a sub-regional catchment and be supported by efficient transport networks.
Outside of the city centre there are 10 existing or future (emerging) metropolitan centres across the region as shown in the map below from the Auckland Plan.
The comment about these centres being supported by efficient transport networks is interesting as one thing you may notice from the map above is that all metropolitan centres sit on the current or proposed Rapid Transit Network of rail lines or busways with the exception of one, Takapuna. This is also confirmed with the latest version we’ve seen of Auckland Transports proposed rapid transit network.
As I’ll hopefully explain below, I think Takapuna needs to be added to our rapid transit network.
As a major centre and urban area within Auckland, Takapuna is quite unique being situated next to both a beach and a lake and those factors help to make it a very desirable location. With the strategy of developing the area the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan allows for quite a bit of development by way of the Metropolitan Centre (pink & purple stripes) and Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings (Gold), although we’ll have to wait till later this year to confirm the final zones and rules. Much of the area including most of the THAB has already been listed as a Special Housing Area.
Zoning is one thing but we’re already starting to see a lot of proposals for the area popping up, particularly on and around Anzac St. Here are some of them:
Whether these exact proposals all go ahead remains to be seen but over 30 years many will and so it’s quite likely the area will look very different in the future. Regardless we can count on the centre itself looking quite different with Panuku Development Auckland looking to “unlock” it including developing some council sites such as the Anzac St carpark.
Takapuna has the chance to become one of Auckland’s urban jewels but accessing it can be already mixed bag when it comes to non-car transport. Its geographic location means the highly successful busway sails by about 1.6km away. Currently the primary bus services linking the Takapuna and the city are made up of a number of routes from the mainly the East Coast Bays that funnel through Takapuna – although given they often have long windy routes and little bus priority it means trips to the city can have very poor timekeeping at times.
The new network deals with Takapuna by way of a frequent route (N4) that starts in Milford and a couple of routes that pass through Takapuna on their way to/from Akoranga Station. In the city the N4 route will go via the middle of town.
Even with the new network, accessing Takapuna by bus from the city – like I do on a daily basis – can extremely frustrating. It’s not so bad for those that can start or end their journey in the middle of town but for those like me need to get to/from Britomart, the changes to accommodate the construction of the City Rail Link mean that it now requires two buses or one bus and a long walk. Some of the issues will be resolved by the completion of the CRL which will link in with North Shore buses along Fanshawe St giving a direct connection.
AT’s info on the services show that the N4 route would run ever 7-8 minutes in the morning and afternoon peak along with every 15 minutes during the day. With the level of growth planned that might not be enough and while more services could be added, just like in the city centre there are some real issues with not enough space on the roads.
When it comes to PT, Takapuna needs a better long term solution, and it needs to be a RTN in my view.
Using a bike to access Takapuna can be equally arduous. The main approach roads of Taharoto Rd and Lake Rd have painted cycle lanes (despite the former being massively wide) but those cycle lanes stop short of the centre itself leaving riders to brave the roads which can be particularly unpleasant on Anzac St. That of course could be fixed and along with Skypath and Seapath would provide a cycle route to the city or elsewhere.
So what options are there to include Takapuna on the RTN? We know that AT have recently been looking at RTNs to the North Shore but we don’t yet know what’s been recommended, or in fact any details about it. Despite that I think there’s quite a good chance some form of light rail will be seen as the preferred option to eventually be used on the busway and if we did that it could allow us the ability to send light rail spur off to Takapuna, perhaps something like the route below. It would require a little work and a bit of property acquisition but seems doable.
From Akoranga the route could head to the city then perhaps join up with one of the isthmus routes shown the RTN map earlier. We’ve suggested in the past that this spur could even be part of the first stage of any rail connection the shore with the second stage seeing the busway converted.
With Takapuna already a popular destination and that only likely to increase in the future with both residential and commercial developments this route is likely to be quite popular. Even today buses in the middle of the day can get very full, especially in summer.
So what do you think, should we start thinking about light rail to the sea?
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “the end of Auckland’s old growth model“. In that post, I argued that the old pattern – build roads and pipes into some paddocks and orchards, and subdivide away – is now kaput. It isn’t the 1960s anymore:
A land-constrained city with pinch-points on all its key transport corridors cannot afford to provide sufficient road capacity to serve all new demand. More space-efficient transport – which means rapid transit for long-distance trips and walking and cycling for local trips – is a prerequisite for ongoing growth.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at what’s happening to the cost to add road capacity in Auckland. A decade ago, we could build urban motorway extensions for less than $10 million per lane-kilometre. Over the next decade, we’ll be lucky if we can keep costs to $50 million per lane-km.
Rising costs to add new road capacity reflect fundamental spatial challenges. Due to geographical constraints and the existing built environment, new roads must go in tunnels (VPT, Waterview), on viaducts (Reeves Road), or reclaimed land (East-West). All three options are expensive.
Space for rapid transit is also expensive… but the difference is that rapid transit systems allow many more people to move on busy corridors. Consequently, the space required per user can be significantly lower.
But: can rapid transit also play its role in supporting land use and development?
Evidence from the US suggests that it can. A recent article by Colin Woodard (in Politico Magazine) reviews Denver, Colorado’s successful development of a new rapid transit system:
Denver has done something no other major metro area has accomplished in the past decade, though a number of cities have tried. At a moment when aging mass transit systems in several major cities are capturing headlines for mismanagement, chronic delays and even deaths, Denver is unveiling a shiny new and widely praised network: 68 stations along 10 different spurs, covering 98 miles, with another 15 miles still to come. Even before the new lines opened, 77,000 people were riding light rail each day, making it the eighth-largest system in the country even though Denver is not in the top 20 cities for population. The effects on the region’s quality of life have been measurable and also surprising, even to the project’s most committed advocates. Originally intended to unclog congested highways and defeat a stubborn brown smog that was as unhealthy as it was ugly, the new rail system has proven that its greatest value is the remarkable changes in land use its stations have prompted, from revitalizing moribund neighborhoods, like the area around Union Station, to creating new communities where once there was only sprawl or buffalo grass.
In other words it’s taken Denver only two decades to build a successful rapid transit system from scratch. Further expansions are underway. To be fair, Auckland’s accomplished something similar. The city’s rail network had a near-death experience in the early 1990s but its fortunes have turned around due to some far-sighted decisions – purchasing surplus railcars from Perth; building Britomart; rail electrification; and the Northern Busway.
However, Denver has arguably done better than Auckland at using rapid transit investments to enable urban development. This has included a mix of urban redevelopment and more intensive greenfield development:
Denver’s leaders had, by accident, built something extremely valuable, but because they had misunderstood its real purpose at the outset, some potential had been squandered. “They were really asking the wrong question: How do you reduce congestion on highways?” says Wesley Marshall, a transport engineer at the University of Colorado Denver. “The obvious answer is to put transit adjacent to highways and to surround the stations with park-and-ride lots.”
Problem is, while transit really does mitigate congestion in the long term, it does so by facilitating better, often denser land use, rather than by offering an alternative to getting from point A to point B on the interstate…
One of the best examples of this is the area around the 10th and Osage Station just south of the city center. The Denver Housing Authority wanted to replace the South Lincoln Homes, a distressed, low-slung 270-unit public housing project on 15 acres with mixed-income housing. The two key criteria critical to attracting middle- and market-rate tenants, DHA Director Ismael Guerrero says, were proximity to downtown and a light rail station, but they also wanted to ensure nobody was unwillingly displaced.
“This is a close-knit community and a lot of history, where people live for generations and have family close by,” Guerrero notes. “Residents told us they wanted to make sure that we weren’t just replacing housing but improving the quality of life.”
The result is Mariposa, a 900-unit development of energy-efficient three- to nine-story buildings with shops and office spaces mixed into a network of parks, bike paths and community gardens, some of them on land transferred by RTD to the city. Osage Café, a breakfast and lunch place, is actually a culinary academy training local teens. Arts Street, a non-profit providing arts-oriented “learn and earn” sessions for at-risk youth, moved into the complex from temporary digs at DHA’s invitation.
Mariposa Phase II apartments (Source: Politico Magazine)
[…] Mariposa, now nearly complete, has retained more than 40 percent of South Lincoln Homes’ residents, Crangle notes, about four times the national average for similar projects. The net result has been diversification, not just gentrification, according to Todd Clough, executive director of the nearby Denver Inner City Parish, which helps the poor. “I was anticipating eight or 10 years ago that we would be gone by now, but because of light rail and Mariposa, we’re still relevant,” he says. “I’m a cynic; I serve poor people, that’s what I do. But, you know, this project is about as good as you can do it in a city that’s on fire.”
Basically, if it’s done well, rapid transit works. If you put in a system that is useful to people – i.e. one that connects them to places they want to be, in reasonable comfort – it will in turn shape urban development. If it goes into an existing urban fabric, it will be a lever for getting better outcomes from future redevelopment. If it goes into greenfield areas, it will shape its development form for decades to come.
I’m actually going to be in Denver at the end of this week – one of my brothers has moved there. Will be interesting to see how the place works, if only as a tourist.
This is the fifth in a series of six posts, looking at a collection of articles written by Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in the mid 1970’s promoting and clearly trying to build support for his rapid transit plan. They come from a booklet I stumbled across while in the Takapuna Library one day. The first post is here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here
This was published in the NZ Herald on 27 June 1975
Rapid-Rail Helps City Development
Statements such as, “Auckland can’t afford it,” or “It will cost too much,” indicate how little many people know of the benefits of the proposed bus and railway plan for reorganised transport services in Auckland, or how necessary and urgent it is, and how much more any alternative scheme would cost, both financially and socially.
Whatever steps may be taken to slow down and better control the growth of Auckland, one fact stands out clearly: We cannot stop it, even if we wished to.
Therefore, to control growth better and to provide the essential public transport services needed, something much better than the kind of all-bus system which we have now is required.
The Auckland City Council central area plan has placed emphasis on the need for an efficient public transport system. The underground rail with its centrally situated stations is an integral part of this plan. It will provide a fast and silent means of moving people to their destinations within the central business district, free from the problems of traffic congestion that would inevitably occur with any surface means of mass transportation.
If for any reason the bus and railway scheme is deferred or abandoned, the City Council’s central area plan will have to be reconsidered, which could involve several more years’ delay in completing zoning and building ordinances.
The Auckland Regional Authority transport committee recently ordered a complete review of routes and services for its bus fleet. But officers of the division will not be able to do much in the way of reorganisation of services until they know if and when feeder railway services will be available. to enable them to plan for the improved bus and rail services then possible.
An early decision on the location of the four city and 10 suburban stations will allow the officers to plan bus services circumferentially to run to and from these strategically placed stations.
It will be seen, therefore, that many urgent town planning, development, redevelopment and transport reorganisation decisions await the outcome of negotiations between the ARA and the Government.
Ill-informed statements that ‘ ‘it will cost too much” or “Auckland cannot afford it”, must be weighed against the social, as well as financial, costs of alternatives. People who measure the value of everything in dollars and cents, without asking if the benefits are worth the costs are fooling themselves.
The old saying “you cannot get anything worth having for nothing,” is very appropriate in this case. Do we say we cannot afford to have a first-class water supply or adequate sewage or rubbish disposal schemes, or dozens of similar services that are essential in modern communities, because it is going to cost a lot of money?
Although the public growls about the cost of them, and local bodies do their best to keep down the cost of them, no sane person would say that because they are costly, we must do without these essential services.
The same arguments apply to public transport. More than half of the population does not have the use of personal private transport. They depend on local authorities such as the ARA or private companies, to provide public transport.
Because public transport is as essential in modern cities as water supply, sewerage and other services, any cost (or loss) on public transport has to be borne either by the local ratepayers, or by the country as a whole through the taxpayers, or by a combination of rate and tax payers.
The fair allocation of costs of running the new bus and rail scheme between the ARA (representing Auckland ratepayers) and the Government (representing the tax payers) is now entering the final stages.
The satisfactory outcome of these discussions will determine whether Auckland is to get adequate public transport in the future. If not, the city will have to put up with the present unsatisfactory system steadily growing worse and worse until the complete disruption of the central area of the city and the surrounding isthmus compels the city or the Government to do at a later date, what is now proposed, at many times what it will cost to do now.
In the meantime, the inconvenience and social and economic loss to the city, of inadequate transport, would cost it many times more than the cost of providing a satisfactory service.
However this is looking at the worst side of the picture.
It is appropriate to review briefly the basic facts about the financial capital and operating costs, as explained in previous articles in this series.
- The Government has already agreed to accept responsibility for providing the capital for the railway part of the scheme and for capital service charges (repayment of loans and interest). Therefore ratepayers of Auckland need have no fears of increased rates on this account.
- The ARA and the Government are at present negotiating the allocation of costs of operation (if any). Present indications show that a satisfactory outcome of these negotiations will mean that from 1981 (the year the is to come into operation), the annual costs of the improved services will be less than the forecast of the loss of S6.4 million for this year (1975-76) on the present unsatisfactory bus services.
- Indications are that when the scheme comes into operation, there is more likely to be a reduction in the levies for, and losses to, the public for public transport in Auckland, than an increase.
- Of even greater importance than the financial benefits from the scheme, are social benefits which cannot be evaluated in dollars and cents.
It is quite impossible to over-estimate the social benefits likely to be expected from this scheme — benefits which will
be worth many times any probable costs in dollars and cents.
The following extract from a report to the Southern California Transport Authority by the “Stanford Research Institute” (a department of the University of California) expresses this very clearly:—
“Finally the additional benefits are not expressable in dollar terms, but perhaps most important will be the opportunity that rapid transit will present for the community to regain control of its urban environment; to shape the land use closer to its desires, to reduce the trend of sprawl, sterility and burdening Government costs; to make what appears to be the best first major step toward a more balanced and diversified community.”
An example of the sort of nonsense being talked by those who are wedded to motorised (polluting) road transport are the recent published statements that electric trains are more polluting than buses. Such stupidly misleading utterances demonstrate the lack of factual basis for most of the other exaggerated statements being made by the opponents of the scheme.
In examining recently published costs of car and bus transport in Auckland, it becomes clear that, unless
fully loaded, the cost of using a car is much dearer than using bus transport. Research in the United States has produced some interesting comparisons between the cost a passenger mile of bus and rapid-rail transport.
Using the same basis of comparison buses use eight-tenths of a gallon of fuel for 50 passenger miles, rapid-rail uses four-tenths of a gallon. Using rapid rail, up to 1000 passengers require only one driver. To carry the same number in buses would require 14 to 24 drivers.
Also, bus transport is a highly labour intensive industry. Today, the ARA bus costs show about 70 per cent of costs and about 90 per cent of total revenue is paid for labour wages alone.
While the capital cost of providing motorways for exclusively bus use is about equal to providing the right of way for railways, a comparison of the carrying capacity makes any proposal for the exclusive use of buses financially ludicrous.
Buses have to use heavily congested roads and are subject to frustrating delays (reducing their average speed to 10 miles an hour) plus costly accidents and repairs.
Electric railway coaches running on exclusive rights-of-way on steel rails are relatively silent, average about 40 miles an hour, and the cost of maintenance and repairs is much less than buses.
In summary, it can be shown that the cost a mile of railway travel is much less than buses, and the average speed, safety and comfort of trains is much higher than buses.
As stated at the beginning of this contribution, it is not a question of whether Auckland can afford the proposed scheme; it is a question of how much extra it is going to cost Auckland not to have it.
Much of what he said still applies today and so it’s great that tomorrow the CRL officially kicks off with a sod turning ceremony, around 100 years after first proposed and 40 years since Robbie pushed it.
Update: AT have advised they’ll be live streaming the groundbreaking which starts at 10:30 and includes John Key and Simon Bridges. Will be details here
The New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development’s public shark-jumping exercise the other week got me thinking. While their flagship policy of a new megabillion eastern tunnel project is a bit mad, their report does a reasonable job of diagnosing one of the core problems facing Auckland. That is, the city’s land-use and transport plans are not always well aligned.
That’s illustrated nicely in their maps of intensification opportunities around rail stations – red circles indicate places where apartment and townhouse development is generally discouraged under the draft Unitary Plan.
In short, we’re fixing our city’s rapid transit network – and it’s long since time we did that! – but we may need to do more to get the best out of the investment by enabling intensive development around train stations.
As a point of contrast, I recently visited Sydney on the way back from a work trip to Australia and spent a day wandering around the city looking at stuff – it’s a great walking city. And I’ve got to say: they don’t waffle around with upzoning there. When they choose to redevelop a brownfield area, the debate isn’t between whether two or three storeys should be allowed. The question is whether to go ten, twenty, or thirty storeys. And they’re willing to back that up with new rapid transit where needed.
Auckland is different. We build rapid transit infrastructure haltingly, in fits and starts, and when governments choose to accelerate road projects, busways are left to progress through the queue. And while the Unitary Plan is a fine step forward, it’s really just the start of the conversation about how we should modernise our planning rules for a 21st-century city.
But change is needed. Because, as NZCID’s report unintentionally illustrates, Auckland’s arrived at the end of its growth model of the past 50 years. It’s kaput. We may be able to kludge it back into action for a bit, but make no mistake: it will seize up again. And so we need to design a new growth model.
The old growth model was as follows:
- Build some roads and water pipes out into the countryside
- Build some houses on the paddocks this opens up for development
- Repeat when necessary.
This isn’t necessarily a bad model. It’s simple, and it works reasonably well provided that some schools and shops and jobs move outwards as well. But it’s got some subtle pathologies – e.g. street networks that preclude future transport choices, environmental impacts, etc.
And, more importantly, this growth model is inherently self-limiting in a location like Auckland. There are two reasons for this:
- First, geographic constraints. Auckland is situated on a narrow isthmus between two harbours. We run out of proximate land for housing much more rapidly than other cities – which means that we must build up much more rapidly than other growing cities.
- Second, the spatial cost of road transport. Geography gives Auckland many pinch points – over the Waitemata Harbour and across the portages at either edge of the isthmus. It’s intrinsically challenging to keep pumping cars through narrow pinch points. Adding motorway lanes will only get more costly in the future – as NZCID’s eastern motorway proposal demonstrates.
We can’t avoid the consequences of these constraints by metamorphosing into a polycentric city… because that’s already happened. Only one in five jobs is located in the city centre and fringe. The rest are elsewhere. If there are major gains to be had from dispersal, we have already achieved them. We can’t count on more of the same to help us escape the geometric realities.
And here’s the thing: If we insist that we must keep on doing more of the same, we will instead do nothing. If it is truly necessary to build something like NZCID’s eastern motorway tunnel to enable urban growth in Auckland, we probably won’t grow. It’s not feasible to spend a decade of Auckland’s transport infrastructure budget on a single road. (And it’s not ethical to borrow the money from future generations, who don’t have a say in what gets built.)
So we need a different growth model. I don’t have all the answers – who does? – but here are a few thoughts on what that might look like, focusing on the transport infrastructure part of the picture. (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the role of pricing and the need to rethink policies that limit housing choice.)
First and foremost, we must recognise that this growth model is self-limiting due to its reliance on a single transport mode – cars. Cars are great for lots of things, but they occupy a lot of space both when in motion and when sitting around. This is not an advantage in a city as geographically constrained as Auckland.
If we invest in a way that ensures that all new entrants to the city must use cars for most travel, then it will come back to bite us. If people know that new housing in their neighbourhood will inevitably mean more people parking in their preferred spot on the street, they will oppose it. (No matter how mindlessly hypocritical it is to claim a property right over a public street!) If they know that a new suburb on the edge of town will mean more cars jostling for space on the road during their morning commute, they will oppose it.
And if they’re presented with the bill to build all the new roads needed to keep the cars flowing, they’ll vote against it. Roads are expensive, and people don’t like it when their rates go up.
Second, we must recognise that there are alternatives. Public transport and cycling can offer great mobility at a much lower spatial cost than cars. If we want to increase mobility in a growing city, we need to make much greater use of these transport modes.
It can be challenging to make the transition, as developing these networks means thinking about infrastructure and transport services differently. It means paying much more attention to how humans may behave out there on the street – i.e. what will make them feel safe in a cycle lane, or what will make it possible for them to transfer painlessly between buses. But it’s fundamentally possible.
Third, one key consideration when building these modes is that they should be built in advance of growth, so that they can lead and shape development rather than trying to catch up with it. At present, we very much take a “roads first” philosophy to greenfield areas – i.e. building lots of lanes on day one, and coming back years later to retrofit public transport to address the resulting congestion.
The perverse consequence is that this locks in a largely car-dependent urban form on the edge of the city, exacerbating the self-limiting features of our current growth model. Unwinding that is costly and difficult. A “rapid transit first” approach would save us a lot of that trouble.
Fortunately, as Matt highlighted in a recent post on Auckland Transport’s consultation on transport for future urban growth, that’s a realistic option. We’ve got the ability to develop rail stations in Drury and extend busways to Silverdale and Northwest Auckland.
But change doesn’t happen of its own volition: policymakers have to choose to change. So here’s a simple message: If you start a sentence by saying “we need more land for housing…” the next words out of your mouth should be “… and therefore here are some rapid transit investments we should make to support it.”