Yesterday we saw the feedback on the first consultation from the Transport for Urban Growth piece of work that AT/NZTA are currently undertaking. Now the next more detailed round of consultation has started and they’ve released their draft preferred transport networks. By in large the networks are very close to including most of what was initially consulted on. One thing that they haven’t given any indication on is what the timing will
The websites for each of the three main areas also gives a little bit of information as to how they’ve responded to the feedback received and for each of the key areas there is also a more detailed map which is on the AT website. In all of the maps below the mode/intervention uses the same colour scheme, Red = Rail, Green = Bus, Blue = Road, Gold = Safety improvements.
In the south it’s good to see AT specifically mention electrification to Pukekohe as that was something no mention was made of in the earlier consultation. It’s something we can only hope gets the go ahead soon as it seems fairly critical to some of the other parts of the plan for the South including a bunch of new stations and better services. On the roads the massive Mill Rd corridor is set to march on all the way to Pukekohe. The biggest omission from compared to the first consultation seems to be an east-west route from Pukekohe to SH1.
In this transport network, a key focus is increasing access to public transport, with more capacity and a well-connected rapid transit network at its heart. This would include electric trains to Pukekohe, express trains, new stations and rapid transit links, for example between the airport, Manukau, Flat Bush and Botany and a high frequency bus route between Drury and Manukau.
The plan focuses on great access to jobs, town centres and recreation within south Auckland and links to the wider region.
Another key focus for the south would be an extension of the Mill Road corridor from Manukau to Papakura and Drury. This would help improve safety, provide improved access to new growth areas and provide an additional north-south route. Connected to the Mill Road corridor is a new route to Pukekohe to improve safety or reduce congestion on SH22. An interchange with SH1 will also be further investigated at Drury South.
We’ve also identified further work is needed on how better connections between Waikato and Auckland can be provided.
The North looks like a much bigger roads fest compared to the with almost all of the proposed roads from the earlier consultation included in this consultation. For PT the busway will be the heart of the system in the area and s being both physically extended by going to Grand Dr but also and with more stations too.
At the heart of the network is the extension of the rapid transit network (RTN) by linking Albany to Dairy Flat, Silverdale, Wainui and Grand Drive.
Additional stations along the RTN would become hubs for extended public transport services into the growth areas and Orewa, providing fast and efficient access to employment, town centres and residential areas.
Dedicated walking and cycling networks linking to public transport hubs would provide a range of options to get to work or for leisure. New and upgraded arterial roads running both eastwest and north-south would improve connections and safety through the area as well.
Capacity would also be increased on State Highway 1 (SH1). An interchange incorporating both Dairy Flat and Penlink will be investigated to see if it would alleviate access from bottlenecks at Silverdale further north.
Like the others it appears that almost all of projects from the earlier consultation have made it through to this round. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is AT say they’ll do some more to look at the costs and benefits of extending rail to Huapai – although the website also suggests it could be compared to electric rail.
A key focus of the draft network is on providing high capacity public transport networks to move people efficiently and reliably between the places they want to go. This includes a rapid transport network (RTN) adjacent to the SH16 and SH18 to and from Kumeu, Westgate through to the city and the North Shore. Park and ride facilities are also identified to provide access to these services.
Further investigations are proposed on the extension of electric trains to Huapai to assess benefits and costs. Initial work shows a RTN along SH16 will have faster journey times and serve a wider catchment.
Another key focus is improving the safety and capacity of SH16 north of Westgate and the major arterials that intersect it. To help address congestion as the area grows and keep the Kumeu and Huapai centres as safe, local community-focused environments, an alternative through-route to SH16 is proposed.
A direct motorway to motorway connection between SH16 and SH18, improvements to Brigham Creek Road, and upgrade to the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway and arterial road networks in Whenuapai and Red Hills are also identified. The feasibility of a range of different types of interchanges at Northside Drive and Squadron Drive will also be investigated. Dedicated walking and cycling paths connecting to public transport and existing cycle routes also feature.
You may recall recently the consultation that took place for the piece of work AT/NZTA call Transport for Urban Growth (TFUG). Essentially over 2 Hamilton’s worth of people/homes are expected to be added to the fringes of Auckland in the North, North-west and South over the coming ~30 years. To accommodate that there will need to be significant public investment all forms of infrastructure and the two transport agencies say they are trying to work out what high level transport infrastructure will be needed now so it can be used for future planning and funding processes.
Today the Council’s Development Committee has an item on its agenda looking at the results from the initial consultations. Supposedly this has been fed into the next more detailed stage of consultation due to start tomorrow – but there are no details for that yet. Given how long it normally seems to take for AT to respond to consultation feedback, the whole process has a bit of a pre-determined feel to it.
There are over 160 pages in the consultation report so I’m only going to stick to the high level results. There is a very clear theme throughout the results of people really wanting much of the focus on public transport.
In the South a lot of the focus included the level of use of the rail network and extending Mill Rd potentially all the way to Pukekohe as an alternative North/South road corridor.
From the 98 submissions there was a strong support for various improvements to PT in the area.
- Improvements to public transport services in the area were considered highly desirable. In particular there was a call for improvements in rail services, including introduction of express services, extension of the rail network beyond Pukekohe, additional stations along the existing route (eg. at Paerata), further electrification of the network through to Pukekohe and beyond and more park and ride facilities. There was a clear preference to spend money and invest on public transport in the area and rail, rather than bus services, was seen as the key focus.
- Support for improvements to public transport services came from both residents and businesses.
- There was also support for improved road connections to reduce congestion on the Southern Motorway, such as by providing an alternative north-south route (eg. to the airport and the west via Weymouth and/or extension of the Mill Road corridor), or widening of the existing Southern Motorway. Reducing travel times was considered the highest priority and an alternative route was preferred as the best way to improve roads to achieve this. Others suggested that increasing rail freight services in the area would reduce the number of trucks needed to move freight by road and in the area, therefore helping to address congestion.
- While most comments and most comments and feedback focussed on public transport and road networks, there was a small number of comments regarding improvements to walking and cycling facilities in the area, including pedestrian and cycle access and connections to railway stations.
- Many participants were sceptical that only 20% of morning peak work trips would be further north than Manukau and the Airport trip data collected as part of the consultation suggested the Auckland CBD is a key destination for those living in the south.
One of the interesting features about the consultations was the use of a wallet that allowed people to divvy up $100 of spending across each of the proposed projects. Here are the results.
The North (Silverdale,Wainui), Dairy Flat)
In the north the focus was also on North/South routes with a number suggested along with extending the busway to Silverdale and possibly beyond.
Again public transport improvements received the most support from the 100 submissions received. A summary is below.
- There was a call for improvements to public transport services the area, particularly to bus services. Many people living in the area would prefer to travel by bus and wanted to see bus that were efficient, affordable and well-connected. Specific improvements included more frequent and express services, separate busways and bus lanes, extension of the Northern Busway and local bus feeder services. Increasing at park and ride facilities was identified as a key issue There was a desire to see heavy or light rail in the area and increased ferry services.
- There was a sense that many participants felt transport networks and infrastructure were behind housing growth and development the area, further contributing to existing traffic issues. Improvements to public transport were seen as key to alleviating some of the current congestion.
- Recommendations for improvements to road networks focussed on improvements to routes (eg widening State Highway 1, additional on/off-ramps), as well as east-west routes such as Penlink. Safety was also highlighted as an issue on roads in the Dairy Flat area. Strong links to through roads and motorways was considered a key focus for business areas.
- The Auckland CBD and Albany were key destinations tor people Wing in the Silverdale, Wainui and Dairy Flat areas.
- There was notable support for improvements to walking and cycling facilities in the area, such as separate cycle lanes and widening of roads to make them safer for cyclists and footpaths in places where people are currently forced to walk along main highways
And the spending priorities:
The North (Warkworth)
In Warkworth the focus of the consultation was almost exclusively on a range of roading projects.
Warkworth bucked the trend of the other consultations and was the only one where people wanted the biggest focus to be on road improvements. Given the town is much more disconnected from Auckland than say Pukekohe, this isn’t all that surprising. A summary of the findings from the 169 submissions received.
- For this part of north, improvements to roads in the area was the highest priority, In particular. participants wanted to see improvements to the Hill Street and reduced congestion generally, particularly in Warkworth itself and on Matakana Road. Addressing particularly around the Hill Street intersection. was considered a matter of urgency and one of the main ways to make the area a great place to live. This was considered a priority by both residents and businesses. East-west were considered a lower priority.
- Recommendations to address in the area Western Collector bypass, the Matakana Link to access to Elizabeth Street, changes to traffic light phasing and/or the intersection a roundabout instead. A Matakana Link Road extension in particular had a hotel level of support from locals in this part of the north.
- Public transport improvements were considered a priority, but secondary to improvements to road networks. Primarily, residents called tor improvements to bus services (such as regular bus services, new bus stations and bus service connections to the Northern Busway) and adequate park and facilities.
- Good walking and connections were also desired by participants. This included provision of footpaths in areas not currently served by them, wider and better quality footpaths and cycle paths.
- The Auckland CBD is a key destination for those living in the Warkworth area, followed by local trips within Warkworth and Abany. There was a preference for making journeys by car or bus.
And the spending priorities:
The Northwest was different to the others in that it presented quite a few potential PT options and of course some road upgrades too to SH16 beyond Westgate.
Like in the South and around Silverdale, the biggest response from the 254 submitters was for better PT as the highest priority. That trains to Huapai came out as the top request doesn’t surprise me as it’s something that sounds good as a soundbite.
- Public transport improvements are considered the key priority in the north west. In particular, participants called for re-introduction of a commuter train service from Kumeu/Huapai (and potentially as far as Waimauku and Helensville) to the CBD. Participants wanted to see a train service that was frequent, reliable and fast, with a timetable that met resident needs (eg. at convenient times tor commuters to the CBD). There was also considerable support for improved bus services, including express bus services and shorter journey times, separate busways and bus lanes, extension of the Northwestern busway to Kumeu/Huapai and bus services to locations such as Riverhead. Re-introduction of rail and improvements to public transport generally received support from both residents and businesses.
- Alongside public transport improvements, participants wanted to see accompanying park and ride facilities with sufficient capacity.
- Secondary to public transport improvements, improvements to road networks in the area was considered a priority to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow.
Recommendations included extending the North Western Motorway, widening the motorway and/or State Highway 16, bypassing Kumeu/Huapai, a direct connection between State Highway 16 and State 18 and improvements to intersections (eg. at the Coatseville-Riverhead Highway) to reduce congestion and improve safety.
- Many participants mentioned that improvements to in the area needed to happen urgently, given that infrastructure is already to cope and the population the area is to grow
- Improvements to walking and cycling facilities, particularly in the Whenuapai area.
- The Auckland CBD was the key in the area, followed by Albany and Westgate/North West Mall. There was a preference for wanting to make journeys by train or bus
And the spending priorities:
It’ll be interesting to see what the next stage of consultation includes.
The third and final consultation on Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG) has kicked off today and this time it’s the turn of the North-west. The intention of this work is to start working out what major transport infrastructure is going to be needed to support around 110,000 houses on undeveloped land in three main areas on the edge of Auckland. The first consultation was in the South and last week they kicked off the consultation for the North.
In the Northwest they expect that over the next 30 years there’ll be around 30,000 new homes housing 75,000 people. There’ll also be around 13,000 new jobs which suggests the area will continue to have very high commuter flows.
The development is expected to mainly be in two clusters, one around Westgate/Whenuapai/Hobsonville and a second around Huapai/Kumeu. This is shown below along with some of the transport projects already being planned
One question I continue to have is why AT are thinking of widening Hobsonville Rd when we’ve just built a parallel motorway. As someone who travels the road regularly (when riding home like I’ll be doing this afternoon) the road is has fairly light traffic volumes and is certainly not a priority to widen.
The main transport issues are listed as:
- Safety of State Highway 16
- Communities along State Highway 16, such as Kumeu and Huapai, have only single road access in and out, limiting travel options
- Severance caused by State Highway 16 and the rail corridor
- No rapid public transport connections between the north west and large employment areas.
When it comes to the list of potential options for the North-west there are quite a few.
- Alternative corridor parallel to SH16.
- Extend commuter rail services to Huapai.
- Improved east-west connections to Redhills.
- Extend the northwestern busway to Kumeu/Huapai (and future proof for light rail).
- Direct north west to North Shore connection between SH16 and SH18.
- Improved connections to Coatesville, Riverhead and North Shore.
- Westgate to Albany busway.
- Increased frequencies on Hobsonville and West Harbour ferry services.
- Improve safety and/or capacity on SH16.
- New north-south connection.
- Whenuapai new connections.
There are immediately a few quite interesting aspects but I’ll cover them further below as they are looked at in more detail in options for the individual areas.
In the Red Hills/Westgate/Whenuapai area a lot of growth is already under way. They say the housing is sequenced to happen around Whenuapai from 2017-2021 while the housing around the area around Red Hills will be between 2022-2026.
AT/NZTA say planning is already underway for the NW busway as far as Westgate but they also want to know whether it should be carried on to Kumeu (yes) or done via just bus lanes. They also want to know if a busway or bus priority should go over SH18 to Constellation.
NZTA also obviously want to give better north/east motorway connections which weren’t built as part of the motorway works finished about 5 years ago. It would be interesting to see just how much those connections will cost.
Looking further northwest at Huapai/Kumeu there are a few additional options. Along with the busway/bus priority there’s also the possibility of upgrading the existing rail line from Swanson. I think the busway/light rail wins hands down as the rail line is simply too indirect and not many travel from the area to stations along the western line – a trend that isn’t likely to change. Even without a full busway, improving services is something AT could be putting in place fairly quickly if they wanted. I also suspect that getting SH16 out of the Huapai/Kumeu town centre is almost certainly going to be needed as the area develops.
There is also a question as to whether SH16 should be improved through the town centre or if the town centre should be bypassed by a new road. If the goal is to make the area more like a town centre – like I think we should be aiming for – then a bypass is going to be a better option.
This consultation is open for two weeks while the consultation for the North finishes next week. Following this consultation, the team/s working on it will come up with a suggested package of projects for further consultation in April.
Last week Auckland Transport and the NZTA kicked off consultation they call Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG). This is looking at what high level strategic transport networks may be needed over the next 30 years to support over two Hamilton’s worth of population outside the existing urban area – concentrated in three areas, North (including Warkworth), Northwest and South. All up they think these transport networks could cost in excess of $10 billion. There’s more on the process in the original post linked above.
The consultation is lasting over four weeks with each of the three areas getting two weeks – that means you only have one week left to submit on the proposals for the South. Today starts the consultation for the North. The Dairy Flat-Millwater area is expected to get 30,000 new dwellings and 13,000 new jobs.
The future urban strategy basically sees a whole lot of development to the west of the motorway as shown below in the light yellow (residential) and light blue (commercial)
Transport issues in the Dairy Flat-Millwater area are listed as:
- Maintaining State Highway efficiency for inter-regional travel
- Significant transport infrastructure will need to be planned, designated and built to support these new communities, which could take up to 20 years to be in place
- Ensuring the transport sector works closely with other utilities designating and building at the same time
- Developing a significant public transport network to service commuters and local employment opportunities.
The potential network for the Dairy Flat-Millwater area is shown below and as you can see it’s potentially quite busy.
They ask if there should be a new north-south route and/or if there should be improvements to Dairy Flat Rd and East Coast Rd. At the very least upgrading East Coast Rd seems a bit odd when all of the development is to the west of the motorway.
They also want to know about extending the busway (and future proofed for light rail). They ask two questions, should it be extended to Orewa (yes) and should it run along SH1 like the rest of the Northern Busway or should it divert into the development area to the west of the motorway. The latter might provide greater walking and cycling coverage but would also slow down bus trips, a good old fashion trade-off between speed and coverage.
Linking the north-south routes they want to know where east-west routes should be included too. Some potential ones include
- Wainui Road connection
- Millwater South connection
- Pine Valley Road connection
- Spur Road connection
- Wilks Road/Kahikatea Flat Rd Flat Road connection
- Penlink western connection
- Bawden Road connection
Lastly they want to know about SH1 and whether there should be a focus on adding capacity or on providing better access to or from it.
Along with the Dairy Flat-Millwater area the North consultation also includes Warkworth where about 7,900 new dwellings and 4,000 new jobs are expected.
The government are obviously committed to building Puhoi to Warkworth and the issues are around what impacts that has on transport within Warkworth. Along with that is ensuring SH1 works well and that there are alternative local roads
Potential options include
- The Matakana Link Rd which is intended to run from the end of the motorway and avoid traffic heading to holiday spots from having to go through Warkworth. I understand the NZTA want this completed at the same time as the motorway.
- The Western Corridor which was meant to be a bypass of Warkworth till the government plucked the motorway out of thin air as a priority.
- New east-west routes
- Potential Park & Ride and bus services to further turn Warkworth into a satellite commuter town.
What do you think should be the priorities for transport in these new greenfield areas in the North?
While debate rages on about allowing more housing within the existing urban area, the other side of the development coin is also being progressed with the council planning for over two Hamilton’s to added to our urban fringes in the North, Northwest and South. This is shown in the video below with both already approved special housing areas and the other future urban areas highlighted. All up AT say 110,000 dwellings and 50,000 jobs will be accommodated for in these new greenfield areas which is about one quarter of the growth expected in the region.
The growth is based on the Future Urban Land Supply Strategy which was adopted last year.
Providing all of the infrastructure needed to support these developments isn’t something that can be done quickly or cheaply. One of the key pieces of infrastructure to get right early will be transport so we’re not adding to the areas that we have to go back and retrofit at even greater expense decades later.
As such the Council, Auckland Transport and the NZTA want to start planning for what transport these future urban areas will need and over the next month the Council, Auckland Transport and the NZTA will be conducting consultation about it. They say they want a range of views and not just those who live in these areas now – after all with over 100,000 dwellings most people living in them will be moving into the area. Each of the three main areas will have two weeks of consultation during that time, the dates for each of them are below.
- Southern Auckland consultation – 18 February to 3 March
- Warkworth and Silverdale/Dairy Flat consultation – 25 February to 10 March
- Northwest Auckland consultation – 3 to 17 March.
The consultation is at a high level looking at just the big pieces of transport infrastructure that might be needed to enable these developments to proceed. The consultation starts today and will be followed by a more detailed consultation on costs, routes and options in April. This work will also be feed in to the Auckland Transport Alignment Process currently under way between Auckland and the government. Until the exact options are sorted out we won’t know how much it will cost however it was suggested that just the major projects needed could reach $10 billion and that doesn’t include all of the smaller local and arterial roads that would be needed. If that figure turns out to be correct it would equate to around $91k per dwelling and that’s before all of the other road costs and the costs of other infrastructure (e.g. water, schools etc.).
The information below is just for the South Auckland consultation. The details for the other two will be released when those consultations start.
The map below is a bit more detailed version of the greenfield growth that is planned for South Auckland along with some of the key projects already underway. These new areas are predicted to have about 50,000 new dwellings, 120,000 people and 13,000 new jobs.
They say the key transport issues are:
- It is predicted that 80% of morning work trip destinations will be no further north than Manukau and the Airport
- The scale of growth will mean there is a need for stronger north-south connections
- Lack of east-west connections in the Takanini and Drury areas.
I personally think the suggestion that 80% will travel no further north than Manukau for work very wishful thinking.
Next is a list of potential projects over the whole area. The rail line is obviously already in place which is good but does need electrifying. For major roads, if you combine some of the suggestions there would be an extension of Mill Rd through to Drury and then potentially via a new State Highway all the way to Pukekohe, that’s essentially a parallel motorway or near motorway all the way to Manukau.
Looking a little closer at a few main areas.
They list the key issues as
- Safety of rail crossings
- Connectivity to rail and State Highway 1
- Providing north-south and east-west connections
- Issues with ground stability a challenge to providing integrated transport and storm water solutions.
Some of the key options suggested are
- Extend Mill Rd south to Drury
- Upgrade the three routes to provide east-west connections along with grade separating them with the rail network. One of these, Rangi Rd, they suggest tying in with Mahia Rd on to the West of the motorway.
- A new rail station at Tironui – There had been suggestions in the past of a new station at Walters Rd next to a commercial development – potentially as a replacement for Takanini but AT decided back in 2014 that the preferred option was one at Tironui
Drury & Opaheke
Moving south to Drury and Opaheke the issues listed are all about providing alternative routes and not stuffing up traffic travelling to/from the Waikato.
The key options suggested are:
- Should there be one or more new North-South corridors.
- Which of the two locations shown on the map would be best for a new train station serving these areas
- Should the focus be on upgrading SH22 or a new state highway linked in with Mill Rd and SH22 becoming effectively a local road.
- Should the widening of SH1 be carried on past Papakura to Drury. They ask “What is most important for these improvements? Focus on travel times, reliability, safety, access or other?”
Pukekohe and Paerata
Lastly Pukekohe and Paerata where they say the key issues are:
- Providing strong connections to Waikato
- Managing increasing pressure on State Highway 22
- Increasing capacity and efficiency of the passenger rail network
- Improving access to this area without making long distance travel between Auckland and Waikato worse.
The key options suggested are:
- How important is a station at Paerata
- Does Pukekohe need an east-west bypass and an upgrade to the connection to SH1
- Where should east-west grade separated crossings of the rail line at Paerata be.
- As with above should the focus be on SH22 or a new SH corridor
- Should rail or bus services be extended further past Pukekohe
The growth areas of the South have a big advantage over those in the North and North west in that while it needs upgrading, the rail line already exists. With the amount of development planned and the number of services that would be needed I’m guessing it will be likely that we’ll need at least a third main though the area if not more and we’ll definitely need those done north of Papakura. That would allow more capacity for freight and at times faster services to Britomart (once the CRL frees up space on the network).
On the road side of things upgrades to SH22 and Pukekohe East Rd seem like they would be the most appropriate rather than building what would probably end being a new motorway from Drury to Pukekohe.
Submissions on these future transport options should now be open.
To me one of the things this process is highlighting is that for once we might get a true grasp on the cost of greenfield development. Given how expensive it is appearing to be I suspect that it could have long term planning implications for Auckland and other cities. I think it also raises a lot of equity and timing issues. The same level of investment needed to support these new greenfield areas would also likely go a very long way to addressing transport issues within the existing urban area. That would not only benefit new dwellings enabled by those improvements (if they’re allowed) but would also benefit existing residents who would have better/more options.
What do you think should be the priorities for transport in these new greenfield areas South Auckland.
Back in 2014 I wrote a short paper exploring how population density had evolved in New Zealand and Australian cities. Among other things, the paper provided a rough estimate of the degree to which various cities were going “up” or “out” – i.e. whether population growth was increasing or decreasing the density of the neighbourhood that the average resident lives in.
Based on the data, you could divide New Zealand cities into a couple of different categories:
- Cities that are growing slowly or not at all, e.g. Dunedin, Whangarei, Gisborne
- Cities that are growing and becoming increasingly dense, principally Auckland but also Wellington to a slightly lesser extent
- Cities that are growing primarily by spreading out, e.g. Hamilton and Tauranga
- Christchurch, where normal urban processes were disrupted by the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake and the slow rebuilding effort since then.
There is an interesting comparison to be drawn between Auckland and Tauranga. They are both port cities with stunning natural environments, lots of sunshine, a fondness for urban motorways, and high growth rates. Tauranga is obviously much smaller, with less than 1/10th of Auckland’s population.
But whereas Auckland was the city that went “up” the most, Tauranga went “out” more than any other NZ city this millennium. Between 2001 and 2013:
- The population of Auckland’s urban area grew by 23%, but its urbanised land area* only expanded by 11%
- Tauranga’s urbanised population grew by 27%, while its urbanised land area expanded by 25%.
[* Defined as Census meshblocks with more than 3 residents per hectare. This isn’t a perfect measure as it tends to exclude industrial areas.]
In other words, Tauranga’s urban population expanded proportionately to its population, allowing it to remain a low-density suburban city. In order to accomplish this, the city opened up substantial new greenfield areas to the south, west, and east:
The future seems to herald more of the same. Tauranga-Western Bay of Plenty’s 2013 SmartGrowth Strategy identifies some opportunities for “possible intensification”, but largely commits to outward growth along motorways:
Tauranga’s sprawl serves as a useful “counterfactual” scenario for Auckland – does an abundant supply of greenfield suburbs necessarily result in cheap housing?
Perhaps. But it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way in Tauranga. According to the Demographia housing affordability survey, which compiles a range of useful data but is rather weak on interpretation of that data, median house prices in Tauranga-Western Bay of Plenty are currently 8.1 times higher than median household incomes – an increase from 6.8 the previous year. This is rather high by national and international standards.
Moreover, house prices in Tauranga appear to have followed a broadly similar trend to Auckland, with a run-up in the 2000s, several years of flat or falling prices after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and rapid price inflation in the last year or two.
What does this tell us about housing markets? Three things, I think.
The first is that people are willing to pay higher prices to live in cities with desirable amenities like harbours and sunshine. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. We pay more to eat in restaurants that offer better ambiance and tastier food. Why wouldn’t we pay more to live in nice places? And Tauranga, like many other New Zealand cities, is undoubtedly an attractive location:
The second is that greenfield land supply is not necessarily a solution for house price inflation. Tauranga is less than one-tenth the size of Auckland and its house prices are already high relative to local incomes. Adding greenfield land supply hasn’t prevented or reversed previous price increases. In larger cities, where fringe locations are much less of a substitute for desirable central locations, it’s likely to be even less effective.
The third is that Tauranga (and many other New Zealand cities) may have to rethink their approach to housing policy. This is especially true for cities experiencing rapid growth. According to Statistics NZ’s latest (medium) population projections, Tauranga’s population is expected to increase by a further 43% over the next three decades. So the pressure on Tauranga’s housing market is likely to continue unless something changes.
In this context, it’s worth asking a few critical questions:
- What is a reasonable expectation for house prices, given geographical constraints, environmental and man-made amenities, and demography and demand?
- If greenfield land supply isn’t sufficient to enable growth without accelerating prices, what other policies are needed? For example, how can planning policies facilitate choices of dwellings in various places at various price points?
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
You may recall the Draft Future Urban Land Supply Strategy that the Council consulted on back in August which looked at the greenfield land that was to be released along with the costs of the infrastructure needed to service it. The outcome of the consultation is due soon however Auckland Transport’s presentation that I wrote about yesterday gives some more detail on the future transport networks needed for some of these major areas.
The detail comes in the form of some maps with lines to show some of the major projects needed.
First in the South where combined 40-50,000 new dwellings are expected to eventually be built. As you can see in state highways, arterials and public transport infrastructure the transport costs are expected to be in the range of $2.8-3.7 billion. Some projects such as the widening of the Motorway are currently underway and Auckland Transport seem confident that they get electric trains to Pukekohe sooner than originally intended through the use of battery powered trains. You can also see some of the other major projects include extending the Mill Rd corridor all the way to Drury, some sort of bypass of Pukekohe and an east-west route linking Mahia Rd across the railway and motorway – which seems like a very tricky and therefore expensive piece of work.
Next up is the North West where 24-30,ooo dwellings could be built. The major transport infrastructure up here is expected to cost up to $1.5 billion and include an upgrade to SH16 – which is busier than any RoNS outside of the Auckland Urban area. Also included is to extend a number of arterials and potentially another one to serve parts of Kumeu. The map shows the busway stopping at Westgate however I understand AT are now looking to take it all the way to Kumeu.
Included with the image of Kumeu is a map showing where commuters who leave Kumeu are travelling to. As you can see the biggest destination is to the North Shore. With all of the employment growth expected in the area (Westgate and between Hobsonville Rd and the motorway) I’d expect most of the travel demand will shift there.
In the North around Dairy Flat/Silverdale there are a similar number of new dwellings as the Northwest that are expected to be built. The transport costs are a bit higher here at up to $2.3 billion and includes extending the busway to Orewa, widening the motorway, Penlink and an upgrade and extension of Dairy Flat Highway.
Speaking of Penlink AT have created this video for it which is in relation to their decision to push for the designation to be for a four lane road.
Lastly is the growth in Warkworth of around 5-6,500 dwellings. To put that in perspective the current urban/suburban area of Warkworth had around 1700 dwellings as of the census. You can see the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway to the west of the development and the proposed Western Collector – which was to have provided a bypass of Warkworth before the motorway came along – and the Matakana Link Rd. On the latter there’s been talk that it might connect directly to the end of the motorway but based on this map it now appears not. Once both the development and motorway are built how long will it be before there’s calls for for another interchange to connect to it?
A quick calculation suggests that all up the development will enable 94-117k dwellings. AT Auckland’s current average occupancy rates that suggests just over 300,000 people would be living in these greenfield areas which is about 40% of the projected growth Auckland is expected to get. This growth doesn’t come cheap though with the estimated cost varying between $5.9 billion and $7.8 billion. That puts the major transport costs alone at an average of almost $67,000 per dwelling.
Below is a schematic of current apartment development in a small area of Melbourne just north of the City Centre, next to the Victorian Markets. These are pretty tall; one already under construction is 88 stories.
And here is a blog post from our Melbourne friends OhYesMelbourne on another City Centre adjacent development site; Docklands. And I thought Auckland is experiencing a building boom. Well it is, and this growth is impressive, but of course Auckland is a small city by global standards, and the current boom is well in proportion. Across the world it looks like we are in a phase that is concentrating development pressure in primary cities. So while urbanisation is widespread it seems to be especially concentrated in the cities that dominate their regions, like the Australian State capitals and Auckland in the South Pacific. It’s not just in the new world either; that classic primary city; London, is building up at a new rate too.
Aside from issues of about the balance of this growth from a nationwide perspective or architectural style [blingy is the term that springs to my mind], what is the likely impact of this kind of additional dwelling supply coming onto the market in these cities? Currently Melbourne is getting about 1500 new residents a week [1838 per week last calendar year, in fact]; which at current household sizes means there is fresh demand for about 500-1000 new residences each and every week; pretty hard work to satisfy that demand you’d think?
Well think again; the boffins at the Reserve Bank of Australia are worried about oversupply according to this report from Business Insider. Here’s the recent apartment supply growth:
So while the RBA couches this situation as a warning to financial stability, or at least risk to property developers loosing their shirts in a saturated market, isn’t this exactly the sort of quantity of new supply that overheating urban property markets need, like Auckland?
Price growth is already slowing for inner city apartments in Melbourne and Brisbane, and there are signs that activity in the Sydney property market is beginning to slow after two years of breakneck activity. Supply and demand in all three regions appears to be nearing equilibrium, with significant more supply scheduled to come. It’s clear that downside risks to prices are building.
It seems there is a lesson from the cities across the Tasman that supply/demand equilibrium in cities can be achieved most effectively by building up, although at the risk of supply overshoot. But then isn’t that always the case in any attempt to rebalance a market? So what are the barriers to this sort of solution occurring in Auckland? Is it even possible? One problem is inner city land supply, is there that much available space? Melbourne certainly has a lot of city proximate available land. Auckland is likely to need this sort of growth to also occur in metropolitan centres as well as the Central City simply from a space perspective; given how tightly bound our City centre is. But in that case we will also need to complete the Rapid Transit Network in a timely fashion to make that model function properly. But then we have to do this however we grow; or we are just planning traffic gridlock.
Then there are our planning regulations, especially height restrictions and view shafts, limiting spatial efficiency, and Minimum Parking Regulations adding unnecessary cost to construction [as well as feeding traffic congestion]. I’m sure some will argue that Aucklanders won’t live in apartments, but recent growth in inner city living shows that we have yet to find the limit of those happy to make that choice. It seems likely that out of 1.5+ million there still more willing to live this way, especially as the quality of city amenities and distractions improve [especially public transport, the cycling and pedestrian realm, street quality and waterfront spaces]:
And this is even more likely to be the case if new supply is sufficiently scaled to affect property price growth; then these dwellings will become even more attractive; more affordable as well as proximate. Perhaps, if the RBA’s handwringing is prescient, at the cost of one or two over-ambitious property developers’ businesses…?
Is it happening already? Certainly all the growth in dwelling supply in the last couple of years has been in attached structures: Stand alone houses used to completely dominate Auckland’s housing supply; at three-quarters of the market four years ago to around half now.
The evidence from these nearby cities suggests that ‘up’ may well be a more immediately effective solution to rampant dwelling inflation in Auckland than distant, hard to service, and slow to deliver detached houses out on the periphery. Certainly in as much as it is a supply-side issue.
Sometimes something as simple as looking at things from a fresh angle can help clarify an issue. Here is a wonderful image from the International Space Station that really should help people understand the profoundly real geographical constraints that bind Auckland. Beautiful blue water and rugged green ranges:
Anyone who claims Auckland can have or does have the same pattern as Houston, or Atlanta, or London [like MP Judith Collins did recently], needs to go back to Geography 101. The physical geography of a city’s site is always the first determinant of its urban form. Technology, culture, wealth, history and infrastructure are all important, but still secondary, to those first facts of the place and its climate. And as we try to shape it; it shapes us too.
Doesn’t the privilege of seeing our city from this distance reinforce the responsibility to take greater care with what we do build, and to leave as much of the remaining wilder parts of this limited land in as unmolested a condition as possible?