Seattle moves on Transit

Another great video from the ever excellent Street Films highlights the work being done in Seattle to make the city particularly more PT friendly but also more bike friendly. Seattle is a perhaps one of the more useful comparator cities for Auckland due to its similar geography and topography challenges.

One big takeaway is the off board fare collection and all door boarding on their RapidRide bus services which sound equivalent to the frequent network Auckland Transport are rolling out as part of the New Network. I especially was surprised to see they achieved a 20% increase in the speed of the service. This is something AT need to roll out to the Northern Busway as soon as possible and eventually to the entire frequent network.

It was also interesting to hear that now, 70% of trips to the city centre are by non-car means and that is expected to increase to 75% in coming years. By comparison, Auckland currently has around 50% access by car and the numbers arriving by car are about the same as 15 years ago with all the growth coming from PT and active modes – and this doesn’t even count all the people who now live in the city centre who don’t cross the motorway boundary.

via Transitcentre

While on the topic of Seattle, if you have a spare hour or so, you may also be interested in this Auckland Conversations style video from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies from Seattle on the findings of their trip last year to Auckland about the things they learnt from us.

LRT: The Seattle example

Auckland Transport have published a new version of their airport rail video, essentially stripping out the heavy rail parts while also adding a little bit more detail about the airport.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects is it shows a bit of how light rail would get through Onehunga. It appears the plan is to elevate the light rail line over Neilson St right where AT are about to remove the bridge that lifts the road over the rail corridor.

Airport Light Rail Video - Onehunga

Every time rail to the airport is discussed, here or in other places, there are a number of people who question AT’s decision to use Light Rail to connect to the airport. The biggest complaints/misconceptions I’ve seen against the idea of using light rail to the airport are:

  • Light rail is slower – especially on Dominion Rd with lots of stops
  • That it will be like Melbourne mixed traffic
  • Light rail doesn’t have enough capacity
  • It will mix with trips on Dominion Rd
  • It’s light and so heavy must equal bigger and better

So let’s step through some of these and to do so, I’m going to use Seattle as an example. The reason for using Seattle is that its Link Light Rail has many characteristics that appear to be almost identical to what Auckland Transport is proposing.

First a little bit about the system.Seattle Link Light Rail Map

Seattle has only recently started building its light rail system and the first section opened in July 2009. Since then there have been a couple of extensions, to the airport in the south (six months later) and just in March this year, a 5km, 2 station extension to the north. Further extensions in each direction are already under construction with other lines and extensions planned.

As of now the entire light rail system is just over 30km in length which is almost identical to the distance between Papakura and Britomart. It does have fewer stations though and outside of the city, much wider station spacing. The route is a mix of grade separated right of way with a mix of tunnels and bridges, median running and in the city centre it shares one tunnel with buses. Below is an image from Streetview showing Martin Luther King Jr Way which a 6.2km long section of median running and is similar to what we can expect along Dominion Rd. As you can see it is not mixed with traffic and the rail is separated from the road by a small kerb. Access across the tracks at intersections is controlled by lights.

Seattle Link Light Rail Martin Luther King Jr Way 2

 

 

Speed

The light rail vehicles used in Seattle are capable of speeds up to 105km/h which at maximum is only 5km slower than our heavy rail trains are capable of, and which ours don’t often get close to achieving in normal service. Seattle has some fairly lengthy sections which over which I imagine it is able to make the most of it’s speed. That means it only takes about 44 minutes to travel the 30km for an impressive average speed of just over 40km/h. That is about the same average speed as the Eastern line from Manukau but considerably faster on average than the Southern, Onehunga and Western lines, the latter two average less than 30km.h.

Even if you exclude the section from the Airport to Rainier Beach and from Westlake to the University of Washington, the system achieves similar average speeds to our network.

Seattle Link Light Rail Travel Times

Obviously our existing trains need to be faster but that is a discussion for a separate post. What is clear is that at the very least, it is possible to get light rail up to a similar speed as what we’re achieving now with our rail network.

To achieve the times Auckland Transport claim, LRT would only have to average 30km per hour, the same as being achieved on the Rainier Beach to Westlake section. With AT planning to create a corridor like shown above (but with a single traffic lane instead of two), that should be possible. There’ll be no light rail mixing with cars and also no stopping ever few hundred metres like many buses and many traditional tram networks such as Melbourne do.

Capacity

 

It’s all very well saying that heavy rail has more capacity but just because you can build a rail line capable of running trains with a capacity for 1,000 people every 90 seconds, it doesn’t mean you should. It is very expensive both to build and run so most cities only do it if they absolutely need to. Better to build enough capacity for what you’re going to need (plus a bit of redundancy).

As we know, AT are planning on using up to 66m long light rail vehicles (two 33m coupled together) that can carry up to 450 people running every 5 minutes. Looking over at Seattle, they have 29m long vehicles that can carry around 200 people running at up to every 6 minutes in the peak. They too can couple vehicles together and until recently were limited to joining two trains together but their system allows for up to four to be coupled. Four vehicles connected together would be around 116m long and carry up to 800 people – more than one of our 6-car trains are designed to carry (ours carry 750 people). Given the technology is obviously already available, there doesn’t seem to be a technical reason why we eventually couldn’t see longer light rail trains here – assuming we designed for the possibility.

Seattle Link Light Rail - Int Dist Station

Another way of looking at capacity to see how it’s performing. Sound Transit who run the system publish ridership data monthly. The opening of the extension to the University of Washington in March has seen ridership soar at up to a staggering 83% compared to the same month a year prior. That means over the last few months, this single LRT line is carrying more than Auckland’s entire rail network combined. The results suggest that by the time the extension has been operative for a year that their system will be carrying 20 million+ trips a year. Seattle’s weekday numbers are about the same as what we have but they do much better on weekends, something we’ll hopefully see the new network improve.

Seattle Link Light Rail Ridership 2016-06

 

On both speed and capacity, the example for Seattle shows that Light Rail can be every bit as good as our current heavy rail system. For me the key is not the name of the mode but how it’s designed. The pressure that needs to be applied to Auckland Transport, the council and the government is to provide the funding needed as soon as possible and to ensure that it’s implemented to the level advertised in the video above (or better). Light or heavy, it’s still rail to the airport.

Postcards: Street Facing Units

One of my favorite aspects of  Vancouver urban design is the way that buildings meet the street. This reminds me of classic urban neighbourhoods of New York and Philadelphia with their stoops or the humble porch of bungalows and cottages across California.

Great attention is paid to the interface between public and private realms. The tension and interaction is resolved through a variety of design patterns and features both in the vertical and horizontal plane. Individual unit access is located immediately from the footpath and private space is provided overlooking the street both from the steps and also from small porch-like terraces.

Here is an apartment building built in the 1990’s in the Downtown South neighbourhood next to the Roundhouse Community Centre. This is how people experience the street. This street, like most in the neighbourhood, take the famous Vancouver form of point and podium where the street level maintains a modest height and narrow towers extend to great heights (10 to 38 storeys) to achieve the desired neighbourhood densities while maintaining view corridors across the water.

eyesonthestreeteh

Street facing townhouses, Roundhouse Neighbourhood, 2-story podium, 9 and 17 story towers

The ultimate height and form of the the building is not as important as how the first several stories frame and address the street. Regular, closely spaced street trees and dwelling entrances reinforce the townhouse character of the street. Landscape amenity (for lack of a better word) is provided both along the public street but also within the private boundary creating a sense of a shared public realm.

A slight elevation change brings residents a degree of authority and ownership over the street and the steps reinforce the transition from public to private space. In conjunction with low fences and landscaping, this elevation change provides clear views of the street from the townhouses but restricts direct views into the living spaces.

Increasingly this podium and point form of Vancouverism is being updated in a more mid-rise form with more consistent but lower heights across the block. Below is a very similar street level response but the building takes a more consistent mid-rise scale (8 storey). This is a new residential building on East 7th Avenue. Conveniently a small brewery has opened up across the street adding to the half dozen others in the vicinity (talk about the benefits of intensification!).

New mid-rise apartments near Broadway and Main St, Vancouver, 8 storeys. Main Street Brewery left.

Street trees play a significant role in modulating the vertical space and creating a scale that is feels comfortable along the street. Like neighbourhoods in the West End and along 7th Avenue, these mature street trees create a very subdued, almost suburban feeling.

Recently I stumbled upon research on the subject of street facing units by Elizabeth Macdonald the urban scholar famous for her co-authorship of The Bouvelard Book with Allan Jacobs. The research, Street-facing Dwelling Units and Livability: The Impacts of Emerging Building Types in Vancouver’s New High Density Neighbourhoods documented the design guidelines that shaped these outcomes and made observations about street activity, sociability and value/desirability of street facing units.

It turns out the main rules governing the interface are quite simple. While they vary a bit across the city depending on the context, they have the following key components (source: Macdonald, 2005):

  • Individual entries for all ground floor dwelling units,
  • Terraces or gardens at ground floor dwelling unit entrance,
  • Individual dwelling units must be raised 1 meter above ground level,
  • Maximum and minimum setbacks along street frontages.

In some cases the guidelines require more detailed consideration including:

  • Articulation of building massing so that individual units are expressed in the building’s facade,
  • Specific design elements within the setback area (eg additional row of street trees as shown in images above).
guidelines

Example of guidelines for ground floor direct entry units. (Source: Street-facing Dwelling Units and Livability, Elizabeth MacDonald)

Macdonald’s research consisted of surveying both residents and people walking along along the street. She found that that the regular and close spacing of front doors, ranging from between 6 to 10 meters apart, contributes to the visual interest along the street-from their individualised terrace gardens and stairs that attract the attention of passers-by.

Both residents and people on the street felt that the direct entry units provided a sense of “eyes on the street’. Personalised gardens, windows, and regular entries give the impression that people care abour the transitional public-private space along the street. And 80% of the ground floor residents felt that they paid more attention to the street activities than their neighbours on the upper levels.

Macdonald also found that the ground-floor direct access units contribute to social interaction and street-oriented activity on the street. Most of the residents use the front door as their primary method of access, though this is diluted somewhat from the direct access provided from the parking structures located underneath most buildings.

This simple formula seems to have been adopted recently in Seattle as well (which is the inspiration for the post). Seattle is experiencing a massive building boom. By some accounts as many as 25,000 units have been developed over the span of two years most of which are in central locations. Below is a photo showing the ground floor interface of a new building in Capitol Hill on Broadway, I also saw a similar technique being used in the downtown Queen Anne neighbourhood.

a

New perimeter block building Capitial Hill Seattle (8 storeys)

I wonder if it is possible to build like this in Auckland? Can street trees of a form, scale, regularity ever be (re) introduced along a street? Are there places that haven’t seen so carved up and compromised by the roading network that we could recreate a traditional Street-Building-Block typology where people would want to live on the street? Will the Kiwi the obsession with indoor-outdoor flow ever include the street?

 

Postcard from Seattle

On first impressions Seattle is a lively and interesting place, but perhaps a little, er, grungy. It’s a hilly city with a downtown built across a reclaimed tidal beach and nearby cliffs which have overtime been regarded into some very steep streets. There is a very cute, if crumbling, historic downtown where fancy restaurants and hipster spots sit with some unease in amongst a precinct with a bad reputation and a large homeless population.

Overall Seattle seems quite a road heavy place despite the abundance of pedestrian activity. Actually I get a very Auckland vibe, it seems a place that is embracing its urban life and activity but doesn’t quite reach it’s potential just yet. The most obvious manifestation of Seattle’s highway history is the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This hideous beast is a giant double decked motorway viaduct running right down the waterfront of the city, with finger ramps snaking off into the city blocks. Counting the street underneath that’s three levels of heavy traffic severing the city from the beautify Puget Sound waterfront. A few businesses struggle to attract people down to the water, but I doubt they’ll ever achieve a nice waterfront while the viaduct stands. Auckland came close to building an exact clone of this monstrosity above Quay St, boy we dodged a bullet there!

20140607-232336-84216141.jpg

The classic symbols of Seattle are the Space Needle and the Monorail, two icons of one vision of the future from the modernist age. The monorail is fun, if basically useless from a transport perspective. Initially a temporary installation to shuttle people from downtown to the site of the 1962 worlds fair in a park a couple of miles away, it still does that only that today. It shuttles back and forth between the two termini stations every ten minutes.

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I caught the southbound Amtrak from Seattle King St station. America is filled with beautiful grand rail termini like this, most of them crumbling and vastly underused.

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Seattle has a fine fleet of buses of all types. Most seem to be articulated with metro style interiors, many routes are trolleys under wires while others are electric hybrids. They also run double deckers, single level rigids and seemingly everything else.

20140607-232634-84394092.jpg

Perhaps the crowning glory of transit in Seattle is the underground bus and light rail tunnel. Yep, it has both in the same tunnel. This looks and feels very much like a metro line, except for the vehicles the three city stations are quite reminiscent of the Washington DC metro. The tunnel takes buses from all over the city, originally special trolley buses but now they are fairly conventional low emission hybrids. It used to be just buses but they’ve recently added tracks for the airport light rail line. I’m of two minds of whether this is a good idea, and in wonder if it was a political outcome rather than a planning one. You see the station platforms are very long with multiple bays, capable of raking several light rail trains and a half dozen articulated buses. However they cannot overtake each other or pull in and out around stopped vehicles. This means the light rail trains have to wait for all buses to clear the platform before they can stop, likewise buses have to sit behind stopped trains. Several times my train sat stopped in the tunnel for that reason, and at one point I counted more than seven buses backed up on the approach to the station waiting for a single train at the platform. I believe this requirement to stay inline was added when the rail tracks went in because there is actually enough room for buses to pass otherwise.

I think Auckland could really do with a smaller version of one of these bus metro stations under Customs St to take all the Britomart buses. Also riding the light rail has made me consider this as a possibility for new lines in Auckland. It was very frequent with high capacity vehicles, and presumably is a lot cheaper than heavy rail due to the easy geometry.

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Oh and some very unique, if slightly gross street art. This is the Gum Wall, ’nuff said.

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To finish, an interesting factoid for urbanists, the street level of the old downtown is some two or three levels above the actual ground level. Years ago a great fire swept through the town, which gave the founding fathers an excuse to deal with the perennial problem of tides swamping the muddy streets. They used the reconstruction from the fire to raise the streets on retaining walls many metres above ground level, while the original footpaths and building entrances remained below. A series of municipal ladders were constructed at intersections to overcome the grade change of up to ten metres in places. After several years of inconvenience and numerous deaths from falls, they started to enclose the footpaths into vaults and converted the windows of the upper floors into new ground level entrances. Initially the old lower footpaths and levels functioned as a colonial era shopping mall, but overtime fell into disuse and were converted into subterranean speakeasies, brothels and gambling dens. They were latter condemned in the mid twentieth century, and only saved from being filled in by a local historian. Well worth a look if you’re ever in Seattle.

Campbell Live’s great urban episode

On Monday night Campbell Live dedicated an entire show to urban issues.

The first segment looked at density in Seattle showing that done well it can be popular and not a blight on the landscape.

Campbell Live - Seattle

Next up was an interview with Janette Sadik-Khan

Campbell Live - JSK

And lastly a few vox-pops from what appears to be on Ponsonby Rd.

Campbell Live - city views

I do find it funny when people slam the central city but then say they haven’t been there for five years. Back then Wynyard Quarter didn’t exist, the shared spaces didn’t exist and places like Britomart weren’t as developed and neat as they are today. It’s easy to forget that they are only really new additions to our urban landscape.

All up it was a great show and I hope more mainstream media start looking at these issues.

Don’t believe the traffic projections

We have frequently raised concerns about projected future traffic growth, given that in recent years there has been an extended flat-lining of traffic growth. What’s perhaps most concerning about these projections is how they ignore what has actually happened in the recent past and how those producing the projections don’t seem to learn from past mistakes.

This isn’t just an Auckland problem. An article I came across recently looks at projections for a bridge across Lake Washington in Seattle highlights how stubborn the projections of growth are despite evidence to the contrary:

traffic-projections-678What’s crazy about this graph is how persistently wrong the projections have been – yet without any change to reflect the reality of declining traffic volumes over a 15 year period between 1996 and 2011.

Yet it’s not just a specific example of a bridge in one American city where we see these persistently wrong projections coming through. Let’s look at a comparison of official traffic projections across the UK over the past 20 years and compare those with what actually happened:

uk-traffic-projectionsIt’s hard to know whether these repeated mistakes are just accidental, ignorant or wilfully neglectful of reality.

Our own local example of this ignorance is in the traffic projections being used for the stupid Additional Harbour Crossing Project, where modelled traffic growth rates completely ignored recent trends and therefore were calculated from a base that was significantly too high:

This graph was from a year ago and in the past when I’ve posed it, there have been some that say “look it’s starting to rise again” but the reality is it isn’t. The most recent monthly data shows traffic have flat-lined and volumes are still less than it was a decade ago (monthly figures only started in late 2007).

AHB Monthly Traffic Sep 13

Similarly another frequent comment we see when this is discussed is to the effect hat the downturn is only due to the current state of the economy. However many economic indicators are pointing to the economy being much healthier today than it was a few years ago. Other indicators highlight that while on a per capita or percentage basis we might not be doing as well as in the past, on a total basis we are doing well. For example despite the percentage of people who are unemployed being higher than it was in 2007/08, in total there are actually significantly more people employed at the moment.

I suspect traffic projections keep making these mistakes because they are calculated using models with fundamental problems in them. They are generally designed to predict the future based on extrapolating our behaviour from some point in the past. That may have worked in the 90’s (and earlier) but it doesn’t work now and one of the key reasons is that we are seeing generational changes occurring with young people choosing not to drive as much as older generations. Yet while road models might be well over estimating vehicle trips, PT models have been doing the opposite. One of the best examples is Britomart where we exceeded the 2021 projected daily patronage in 2011.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

And even the Ministry of Transport in their response to the City Centre Future Access Study said that private vehicle trips were probably being overestimated.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

When there are tens of billions of dollars of public money is riding on these faulty projections, it suggests we need a new approach starting with not believing the current projections.

Zero Parking Developments

For good reason there has been a lot written recently about the influence of parking policy on good urban outcomes. Parking policy strongly affects trip generation, mode choice, urban form, and housing affordability. While parking reform may seem radical today in Auckland, it is already being widely implemented across North America. Here is a snapshot of what we might expect to see in Auckland if we remove minimum parking requirements and developers recognise the pent up of demand for urban living in transit-rich places.

In 2010 San Francisco removed their minimum parking requirements and imposed limits on the construction of new parking spaces in certain neighbourhoods. And today housing developments are being introduced that respond to the new rules reports SF.Streetsblog.org.

Parking-free development recently proposed in San Francisco. Image: Curbed SF, Stephan Antonaras

“The building at 1050 Valencia Street will be targeted toward residents seeking the kind of car-free lifestyle that’s increasingly popular in neighborhoods like the Mission District, which is short on housing but among the most walkable, bikeable, and transit-rich parts of San Francisco. The project will include no car parking and 28 bike parking spaces.”

In Portland the trend is even stronger with as many as 2/3 of all new development going without parking according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.  Developers are responding to the city’s desires to build more densely especially downtown and in transit-accessible neighbourhoods:

“Of 40 apartment building projects to be filled in the last year and a half, 25 offer no parking.”

Zero car parks but plenty of bike parking at the Irvington Gardens Apartments, image: Rob Manning OPB

The housing affordability advantage of building zero car parking is significant. This Portland article claims that the monthly rent in apartments without parking is $700/month compared to $1,200/month for conventional apartments with car parking.

Mixed use apartment building under development in Portland with 0 car parking (Photo by Sam Tenney/DJC)

These types of projects are not without controversy. In Portland nearby residents expressed concern that the apartments were compromising the sacred cow of on-street parking (entitled a bit?). Both city official and developers argue this is not the case and refer to research by Ellen Bassett, an associate professor in the Urban Studies and Planning program at Portland State University who determined that is was not the residents of the zero parking apartments who were clogging the streets, but rather, visitors from outside the neighbourhood arriving by car. Developer Dave Mullen with the Urban Development Group concurs with these findings and provides the money quote:

“There is a perception in the neighborhoods that the impact of these buildings to their ability to park is great. But most of the people that are leasing these new units don’t see parking as a problem because they don’t own cars.”

And finally, not to be outdone, the City of  Seattle has also recently been tweaking their parking policy to keep up.

I see zero parking housing as being popular to a small but increasing portion of the population in Auckland.   Who wouldn’t want to support the development of more affordable housing in neighbourhoods with good transport?

 

Auckland’s PT: expensive and poorly used

An Auckland Council report on various aspects of our transport system makes a number of comparisons of Auckland’s public transport system with various cities in Australia, Canada and the USA – as well as Wellington. The cities used to compare Auckland against, including their population and what different technologies their PT system includes, is shown in the table below: These are a good range of cities to compare Auckland’s performance against, in my opinion. We have a number of cities with fairly similar population densities to Auckland (Sydney, Vancouver) cities with a similar population (Portland, Calgary, Adelaide) and cities with a variety of PT systems. On the key statistic of boardings per capita, it’s clear to see that Auckland is the very bottom city on this list. The per capita boardings of the Canadian cities are pretty amazingly high.

If we just compare with the Australian cities (and with Wellington) we can also see that while Auckland’s patronage has grown over the past decade, it hasn’t increased as much as many other Australian cities, particularly Melbourne and Perth: It’s interesting to remind ourselves that Melbourne has a railway link tunnel fairly similar to what’s being proposed in Auckland, and the ability to get heaps of people into Melbourne’s CBD by train has played a major role in the revitalisation of downtown Melbourne over the past decade, obviously contributing significantly to its rising patronage.

If we look at modeshare comparisons, once again Auckland lags behind the other cities – although it must be remembered that this is 2006 data and undoubtedly things will have changed in Auckland since then. It’s a shame that the Canadian data wasn’t able to be broken down by PT type, but for many Australian cities it’s notable that generally rail has a similar, or greater, modeshare than buses for peak time travel. Auckland is very much the exception to that rule, which probably highlights a PT system that is a bit too dependent on buses (due to our historic neglect of the rail network).

So why are things so bad for Auckland? Setting aside the obvious historical reasons, it’s clear by comparing Auckland with these various overseas cities that we provide a lower quality and quantity of services than elsewhere, but we charge the highest price on a per kilometre basis. Firstly, the quality & quantity: In short, we’re providing a pretty rubbish service compared to all the other cities used in the comparison. But what are we charging compared to all these other cities: So despite having the lowest quality PT service out of all these comparative cities, we then go and charge passengers the highest fares out of any of the cities. Not content with that, we are also then one of the few cities not to have a properly integrated ticketing/fares system. The reasons for our low patronage levels are starting to become pretty obvious I think.

Another element to consider is the cost-effectiveness of our service delivery. Obviously the cost of providing our rail system is pretty high, because we’re running incredibly old trains and use an incredibly outdated, overly labour-intensive, ticketing system. Our bus service seems relatively normal to provide on a per kilometre basis: While our services don’t seem particularly expensive to provide on a per kilometre basis, because we have the lowest average loadings of our PT vehicles, Auckland then stands out as close to the most expensive city to provide public transport on a per-person basis: Looking at the graph above it seems fairly obvious that the key way for Auckland to improve the cost-effectiveness of its public transport network is by increasing passenger loads and thereby reducing working expenses per passenger kilometre. Nevertheless, because our fares are so incredibly high on a comparative basis, Auckland’s farebox recovery level actually isn’t bad when compared to many of the other cities: There are quite a few pages of pretty good analysis and suggestions about how we can improve Auckland’s situation towards the end of the document, but for me the information above is extremely helpful in outlining quite a few things:

  • Despite an improvement to Auckland’s PT system over the past decade, we’re still doing very poorly compared to comparative cities in Australia, Canada and the USA. Furthermore, most of those cities have been increasing their patronage at even faster rates to Auckland.
  • Compared to other cities, Auckland’s PT service quality is considered to be extremely low, while quantity of service provided is also fairly low (although somewhat understandably given our low use). Improving service quality (better reliability, faster speeds, value for money etc.) is likely to be the most effective way of increasing use.
  • Compared to the other cities, Auckland’s fares are incredibly high – particularly as we don’t have integrated ticketing. Making fares for unlimited daily, weekly or monthly travel quite a bit cheaper is likely to be quite effective at boosting patronage and making PT seen as better value for money. Peak/off-peak pricing splits are also likely to be a good idea.
  • Compared to Wellington in particular, we are paying too much for the provision of services on a per kilometre basis. Compared to all cities we’re paying too much on a per passenger basis. This suggests that we’re running too many empty/underloaded buses or trains around, particularly during peak times when it’s most expensive to get a vehicle on the road. I also wonder whether this makes a good case for a publicly owned bus company to do what Kiwibank has done to the banking industry and keep prices a bit sharper.
  • Our farebox recovery levels are actually quite high compared to many overseas cities, suggesting that efforts to improve cost-effectiveness should come from boosting patronage through service quality improvements, rather than by hiking fares.

This pretty much matches up with what I’ve thought for a long time (although I am surprised how comparatively high Auckland’s fares are). One hopes that now Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have all this information, it will become more obvious what interventions will be most useful. Things like better bus priority measures, a more efficient bus network, a more intensively used rail network and and improved ticketing system.

I hope that eventually we can get off the bottom of all these public transport statistics.

1960s thinking alive and well in Wellington

As much as I think Puhoi-Wellsford is a stupid project and a complete waste of money, I have now been convinced that it is nowhere near the worst of the Roads of National Significance. That incredibly dubious prize must, without a doubt, go to Wellington’s Northern Corridor RoNS. Not only does its Transmission Gully section have a pathetically low cost-benefit ratio of 0.6, its Kapiti Expressway slice through sacred grounds and split the community in half, but now we finally find out the details of exactly how horrific the Basin Reserve flyover will be in terms of its impact on the area. How bad is it? Pretty bad: Wow. These kinds of drawings always under-estimate the adverse impact of big structures (notice how the viaduct doesn’t cast much of a shadow) so in reality the roadway is going to look unbelievably horrific. Here’s another before and after: This is an iconic part of Wellington that is going to be completely ruined. The Basin Reserve is easily New Zealand’s most iconic cricket ground and is a massive landmark for the city. The long vistas along Cambridge and Kent terraces, looking towards the cricket ground are going to e ruined completely.

Typically, NZTA have offered a couple of options: the horrific and the slightly less horrific. The two options are outlined below: In the 1950s and 1960s many similar viaducts were built overseas (and in Auckland, see Victoria Park Viaduct as a shocking example). We had the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco – which fortunately got nailed by the 1989 earthquake and has now been replaced by a brilliant open space: The Alaskan Freeway in Seattle is also going to be torn down – it was badly damaged in an earthquake, plus the city has come to the realisation that the freeway is destroying its waterfront: Both Seattle and San Francisco have come to the conclusion that elevated freeways through iconic parts of their cities are not really acceptable. Yet Wellington is about to have a 1950s solution forced on it, an elevated motorway through one of the most iconic parts of the city – potentially ruining it forever.

I know that the transport problem around the Basin Reserve is a very tough nut to crack. But there are other options here, with the bus tunnel in particular avoiding the whole mess. Why not focus on measures to further improve public transport along this corridor, to take pressure off the Basin Reserve bottleneck? That’s the beauty of public transport – you can achieve mobility without ruining the city. But I guess NZTA (and their political masters) really don’t care about ruining our cities.

Frequent Network Mapping

I have mentioned on many occasions in the past how Auckland’s bus route maps look like someone “threw spaghetti at a wall”. Let’s have a look at the eastern isthmus area as a classic example of this:

This map is actually completely useless – except for reinforcing the point that Auckland’s bus network is extremely complicated and difficult to understand. Perhaps one of the most annoying things about this map is that there’s no distinction between the quality of different services. Some routes like the 011, which operates just a few times a week, are shown in exactly the same way as other routes that operate far more frequently. What we really need to know, when planning how to get around the city by bus, is a simplified map that offers some sort of indicator of the service quality that you’ll get: particularly in terms of frequency.

The Seattle Transit Blog has put together exactly the type of map Auckland needs:


Auckland Transport really should create a map like this for Auckland. But in the meanwhile, are there any readers brave enough to dig through timetables, and with some skill in image editing software to put together something like this? It would be extremely useful.