I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.
The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].
Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.
But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’
Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.
This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].
‘AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.
Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.
Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.
There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.
All AT Experts Agree.
And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.
They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.
Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.
Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….
So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.
But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?
‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’
Butter wouldn’t melt.
The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.
The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite? Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?
But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?
By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?
We have long criticised the Ministry of Transport as being horribly outdated in their thinking on transport matters. It’s always difficult to know the extent to which the Ministry is just reflecting the government’s political direction or whether they truly believe what they’re saying, but in more recent times there have been a few signs that the Ministry might be getting its act together. For example, their Briefing to the Incoming Minister highlighted some important changing transport trends, particularly when looking at future funding issues.
It seems like some of the more interesting advice in the “BIM” might have come out of the Ministry’s “Strategic Policy Programme“, which has recently published information on projects in three key areas:
I’ll look to get to all these documents in a few posts over the coming days and weeks, but for now focus on the “Future Demand” work, which seems to have highlighted the uncertainty around the future of transport that comes through in the BIM more strongly than it has before. The summary highlights the key issue:
The road network is worth more than $60 billion and costs more than $1 billion a year to maintain. We are planning to invest $10 billion over the next ten years to change the shape of the network to improve its quality and capacity.
This would be relatively straightforward if we knew how demand would change. The challenge we face, however, is there have recently been changes to the patterns of demand for personal travel.
From 1980 to 2004 we saw annual increase in demand in the order of three percent per year. This highlighted the importance of tackling congestion and improving safety and gave us assurance revenue would grow to cover the costs of a growing network. From 2005 to 2013 total demand only grew by 0.25 percent per year.
We now face an uncertain future. We cannot be certain demand will return to pre-2005 levels of growth nor can we be certain it will remain flat. This means we can no longer rely on traditional forecasting models alone to help us to decide how to invest.
Importantly, the Ministry acknowledges a systematic over-projection of future demand has occurred in recent years:
As there are so many factors that may affect future transport demand, plus so much uncertainty around the short-term and long-term causes of these changes, the Ministry’s project developed four different scenarios for the future based around two-axis: whether the relative cost of energy would increase or decrease and whether technological change would lead to a preference for virtual or physical accessibility.
Perhaps what is most interesting in the scenarios is the modelling that was done on future total vehicle kilometres travelled between 2014 and 2042 and that they declined in three of the four scenarios. This is not a per capita decline, but an absolute decline. It is only the “traveller’s paradise” scenario which saw VKT increase over this time period.
The study draws some interesting conclusions:
When we think about creating a thriving New Zealand we should recognise we are trying to improve access not just mobility. There are three different ways we can achieve this: with good transport systems; with good spatial planning; or by improving digital access. We need to integrate our thinking across these three areas to achieve the optimal outcome.
To reduce the uncertainty we face we should seek to better understand the factors affecting the changing patterns of demand and refresh our demand models accordingly. We should look both at social trends and also speed in development, take-up and impact of new technologies.
To ensure resilience of the access system we develop for New Zealand we should seek to build in flexibility where we can. This will allow us to respond more quickly to changing patterns of demand and reduce the likelihood that we will make investments which will become unnecessary.
We need to recognise that the investment decisions we make will shape patterns of demand and not just respond to them. We should move away from the approach of seeking to simply predict future demand and then provide for it. We should instead debate the sort of access we want and decide how to invest to support the future.
That last sentence is exactly what I’ve long thought, our travel choices are a reflection of the system that we’ve invested in. It’s no surprise that so many rely on cars for transport options when for so long that’s the only thing we invested in improving while at the same time we allowing all alternatives to get substantially less attractive and useful. The changing trends that we’ve been seeing over the last decade are in part a response to the fact we’ve slowly started to improve some of those alternatives.
There’s a huge amount of additional background information on the project website, which is worth a read through as it summarises a lot of discussion about the issue of “peak car”.
While it’s great to see the Ministry doing this work, the real test will be to see whether this affects any policy changes. The draft Government Policy Statement seemed to write off the recent flattening of VKT as a “blip”, whereas this future-focused work suggests that, under the majority of scenarios, it’s here to stay and VKT could even start declining.
From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:
The NZTA flyover and recent appeal
The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve. There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:
- The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground. The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
- The Board decided that the flyover should not be built. This was the result of a 72 day long hearing. The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached). There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
- NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned. The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.
Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St. The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground. We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.
In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.
This means that we are off to the High Court.
It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court. We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard. It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.
If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.
- Spread the word. Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
- We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.
If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc. Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/
- Join the Architectural Centre. Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/. More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
- Donate any amount you can. Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
- Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.
We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too. But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.
nga mihi nui
Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding
on behalf of the Architectural Centre
The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.” A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:
Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.
Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew
Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there. No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.
Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canal, is still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.
Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908
The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.
These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can’t we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings….?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.
And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.
The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.
Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963
QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland’s first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:
Then just general traffic:
CPO Lower Queen
Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:
The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.
Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.
Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.
It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.
This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.
So the plan is a good one:
1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances
2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]
3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square
4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces
All at the cost of the current QEII Square.
However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.
Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.
This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.
Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:
Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre
Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France
This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.
Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”
We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.
Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.
Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.
But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.
Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.
If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.
In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.
The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.
If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.
This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.
In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.
If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.
We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this
The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.
One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.
Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.
Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.
Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.
That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.
I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.
So yes let’s start focusing on people.
An article on Philly.com highlights a number of new or expanded highway projects in the US are vastly failing to meet traffic projections:
Before beginning a $2.5 billion project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, turnpike officials said the construction was necessary to reduce existing congestion and to cope with future traffic.
“Turnpike traffic is on the rise,” the state Turnpike Authority said in its justification for the project. “By 2032 northbound traffic volume is expected to increase by nearly 68 percent [above 2005 levels]; southbound traffic is forecasted to increase by 92 percent.”
Now, one-third of the way through that 27-year forecast, turnpike traffic is actually about 10 percent lower than it was in 2005.
And this particular project is hardly a one-off:
Similar traffic declines have occurred around the region, challenging long-established assumptions about the need for bigger highways and bridges.
“If these trends continue, it would definitely change the way we need to plan for our transportation future,” said Chris Puchalsky, associate director of systems planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. “But I think the jury is still out on that . . . we need two or three more years of data.”
In 2007, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission assumed that traffic would grow 3 percent to 5 percent every year to help pay for debt as it took on a new obligation to contribute up to $900 million a year to fix other roads around the state.
Instead, traffic has been essentially flat.
And when the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace the 50-year-old, four-lane Scudder Falls Bridge on I-95 with a $328 million, nine-lane, 180-foot-wide toll bridge, it assumed that traffic would increase 35 percent by 2030.
In fact, bridge traffic has declined slightly and is now below the levels of 2002.
The implications of getting previous projections wrong are significant if funding was expected from toll revenue – which is what has sent a number of PPP transport projects bankrupt. For publicly funded projects though, the failure to meet expected usage hasn’t been so obvious. However, the implications for future transport planning are significant – as we’ve highlighted so many times before. Back to the article:
Highway planners misjudged the future because the Great Recession reduced both commercial and passenger travel, and because of an unexpected drop in driving by young adults.
Now, planners and policymakers must decide whether the last decade was an aberration or the beginning of a new normal.
The decisions are taking on new urgency, as Congress struggles to come up with a new transportation-funding plan by the end of September, when the current one expires. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects around the country, is nearly broke.
“The last decade was a really tough decade for forecasting,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
Traditional expectations of economic growth – which typically fuel traffic growth – were undone by the recession of 2001, the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and anemic job growth for the entire decade, Hughes said.
Add to that the unprecedented behavior of young adults, driven by technology, lifestyle choices, and economic prospects.
“The millennials are really changing the world dramatically,” Hughes said. “We have a younger generation that is driving less and doesn’t want to live in Valley Forge. They want to live in Center City Philadelphia.”
“We had a 50-year period of unrestricted suburbanization, and now there’s a dramatic shift.”
Cars and driving are less important to young adults, who find that trains and buses allow them to work and socialize on mobile electronic devices, he said.
That may mean fewer cars on future roads.
“Nobody was really anticipating this,” Hughes said. “The models have to be recalibrated.”
Some projections have already been lowered.
NZTA have already noted in changes to their economic evaluation manual that traffic growth can no longer just be assumed – and any assumptions need to be proved. It’s a shame though that complex traffic models still seem to defy reality and project traffic growth.
It makes me think about all of our recent state highway improvements, think Newmarket Viaduct replacement, Victoria Park Tunnel, Greenhithe Deviation, Hobsonville Deviation, Mt Roskill extension, Manukau Harbour Crossing Project, SH20-SH1 Manukau Connection, CMJ Improvements and Orewa-Puhoi extension. All have seen increases in traffic volumes in recent years as people shift their travel behaviour however I wonder how they are currently tracking compared to the traffic projections for 2014 when they were proposed and funded. That would be interesting information to get from NZTA.
Gerry Brownlee’s media release yesterday trumpeted up traffic levels in 2013 surpassing those in 2012 – apparently this is a sign of New Zealand’s economic recovery that we’re driving a bit more.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says increases in vehicle travel and vehicle registrations reflect New Zealand’s economic recovery and growing population.
“Total travel [measured in kilometres travelled] was flat between 2005 and 2012, but growth returned in 2013 with a 1.6 per cent increase in total travel nationwide, and more recent data suggests larger increases are on the way,” Mr Brownlee says.
“Data collected by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on State Highway usage from the first six months of 2014 suggests we will continue to see increases in travel demand.
“The highway data shows a 3.6 per cent increase in Northland and Auckland, and a 5.4 per cent increase in Canterbury in the six months to May 2014, compared with the same period a year before.
Setting aside the question of whether it makes any sense whatsoever to celebrate people driving more, further details in the release tell a more interesting story of what’s happened over the past few years:
As you can see, the total level of vehicle fleet travel (known as “vehicle kilometres travelled or VKT) in 2013 finally made it back to 2007 levels after a sustained period below 40 billion kilometres.
Of course New Zealand’s population has grown quite significantly since 2007, which means that VKT per capita is well below the levels in early years – despite a slight uptick in 2013:
It will be interesting to see the 2013 figures specifically for Auckland, as generally Auckland has seen a faster drop in per capita VKT over the past few years than other parts of New Zealand.
The additional Waitemata Harbour crossing is a crazy project for a variety of reasons. The blog has noted before that the project is both completely unaffordable and totally unnecessary because of the lack of the actual benefits when you look at the detail. One thing that hasn’t been noted before however is the huge environmental impacts this project will have the coastline, both and the northern and southern end.
In 2010 an extensive study was carried out, which outlined the major options, looking at both bridge and tunnel options. This was the study that finally put an end to the even more ridiculous bridge idea. Usefully the study for the first time provided some detailed plans of what each option would look like on the ground. The issues is not so much the tunnel itself, but the complex arrangements required to allow for traffic merging between the different routes at the north end south ends. To recap the existing bridge will be used only for city bound traffic, and the new tunnel will be directed straight to the congestion at spaghetti junction.
The plan above shows the motorway between Akoranga Drive (left), and Onewa Road (just out of picture to the right). The northernmost line is the railway line, however would be sure to take up much less space just built as a rail corridor, and would have a much higher capacity. The red hatched area is all of the land that would be reclaimed, while green is new viaducts or bridges. This would result in the corridor taking up twice as much space as it does now. As for what this would mean, this is the current view in the area. The large area of coastline to the right would be reclaimed.
Looking north from public footbridge accessible from east end of Exmouth Road.
This next plan shows the area in the vicinity of the Onewa Road interchange, as well as the tunnel portals of both rail (left) and road (right). Again a huge amount of reclamation occurs.
However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.
Looking towards the city from public path alongside motorway. Accessible from Sulphur Beach and Tennyson St beside police station.
Currently this beautiful area is not well known. However in a few years this will very likely change. With Skypath to go ahead within the next few years, this will be the route of Seapath, which would give a great easy link through to Takapuna. Once that happens people will appreciate this area much more, and won’t like to see it disappear under 6 lanes of motorway.
This area will also become a large construction yard, potentially for about 5 years. This will have major effects on areas of Northcote Point, with a large number of houses looking straight into the area. Their seaviews may well be replaced with views of more motorway lanes and flyovers. People on the Bayswater side of the harbour would also have their views affected negatively.
View from Beach Road on Northcote Point towards area of sea to be reclaimed
On the south side of the harbour things aren’t much better. Around Westhaven marina there is yet more reclamation. The yet to open Westhaven Promenade will have to be completely rebuilt, with part of the marina needing to be reclaimed as even more width is required to account for the sweeping motorway curves. The extra width required is highlighted by the need to extend the Jacobs Ladder footbridge by about 50% so people can still cross the motorway corridor. A number of marine related businesses along Westhaven Drive will also disappear, as the road needs to be pushed north to give the corridor the space it requires.
The Landscape and Visual report prepared for NZTA summarises the issues that will arise:
The landscape of Shoal Bay and the northern sector will be significantly affected by the scale and magnitude of roading and reclamation. Effects are: changes to landforms and natural features including increased separation of the bay from; loss of beaches, reefs, and open spaces; impacts on cliffs (including diminution of scale and loss of vegetation); loss of natural vegetation and potential change due to weed infestation; diminished/decreased experience and appreciation of natural landscape for travellers. In addition structures such as flyovers, bridges, tunnel portals, buildings and vent stacks are all expected to have adverse effects on existing landscape character and alter the balance between the natural and manmade landscape. The cultural and heritage of the existing landscape will also be affected by changes in the southern sector, particularly in and around Victoria Park. Such changes will include loss of buildings and trees but could also include positive effects due to the removal of the existing flyover.
Unfortunately it makes no attempts to actually visualize what the effects would be, including the vent stack, which would be a very dominant feature. Note 35 metres is about 10 stories high!
” Vent building estimated to be 70m long by 30m wide by 20m high and stacks 35m high”
The stack was rather contentious during the Waterview proposal due to the fumes of a high volume of traffic all begin released in a concentrated area. They will be located at the tunnel portals. One will be in the vicinity of Sulphur Beach, near where the second photo above was taken from the walkway.
The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).
While an additional rail crossing will require some small reclamation, it will be a large magnitude less than what is required for the road crossings. This is because 2 tracks take the same space as 2 motorway lanes, and there will be no need for complex ramps and mixing of lanes, and of course there will be no need for huge vent stacks.
Hopefully this post will highlight a number of the major effects this project will have on the environment and landscape. Surely this will make some North Shore, St Mary’s Bay and inner city residents think twice about the need for this project, considering the effect on their backyard and harbour. This should also awaken reporters, including one John Roughan who was horrified at the sight of a comparatively tiny reclamation for the busway in 2007.
On Friday transport minister Gerry Brownlee spoke to the Road Transport Forum (RTF) on the government’s key transport priorities. Over the years the RTF have been a generous donor (not just to National) and have certainly received a transport policy very much tailored to their needs. There was nothing new in the speech in terms of project announcements and I guess this was perhaps not the audience to talk about the cancelling the Northern Busway extension, for example.
However, there were a few paragraphs that pick up on traffic trends in recent years – with the Minister making some rather weird connections between these trends and the success of the RoNS programme:
Between 2005 and 2012 total road travel – in terms of kilometres travelled – was almost unchanged.
There are likely to have been a number of contributing factors, including the Global Financial Crisis, population changes, and technology changes affecting the way people meet and communicate.
Heavy vehicle traffic was affected more than light traffic, dropping by over 4 per cent in 2009 – clearly an impact of the GFC.
But now we are seeing that vehicle kilometres travelled are beginning to increase again.
Heavy vehicle traffic on all roads increased 2.1 per cent in 2013, while light vehicle traffic grew 1.4 per cent.
NZ Transport Agency traffic counts for State highways shows a 4.1 per cent growth in heavy vehicle travel in the year to May 2014.
New Zealand’s vehicle fleet is also growing.
Average vehicle ownership growth has increased more than twice the speed of population growth, and recently released data shows new car purchases at their highest level since 1981.
These increases are not only because of population increases and the improving economy, but also because of the choices people make about their preferred modes of transport, and this is in the face of the biggest investment in public transport seen in decades.
So the case for investing in strategic State highways through the Roads of National Significance programme has been proved correct.
Gerry seems to be mixing up a few stats here as vehicle kilometres travelled is quite different from individual traffic counts and they aren’t always going to move in unison – but it’s the strange logic of the final paragraph that is difficult to understand. There are a few options below for what he could be trying to say:
- The case for spending $11 billion on the RoNS is to make people drive more.
- With per capita VKT declining a lot in recent years, it makes a lot of sense to spend $11b on a few motorways to try (unsuccessfully) and reverse this trend
- Construction of the RoNS projects themselves generate heaps of truck trips to move earth around, which is the point of the projects and therefore they are a success
Just as a reminder here’s a comparison of per capita VKT and per capita public transport use in recent years:
What’s your interpretation of what Gerry means?
Like with public transport patronage, I keep a close eye on what are happening with traffic volumes on the motorways thanks to the monthly data released by the NZTA. The data doesn’t cover the entire motorway network but it does cover a number of key locations on it that can help to give an indication of what’s happening. I think the picture painted by these figures is extremely interesting. The sites we get monthly data for are:
- ALPURT (the Orewa to Puhoi toll road)
- Harbour Bridge
- Upper Harbour Bridge
- SH16 between Royal Rd and Hobsonville Rd
- SH1 at Panama Rd
- SH20 between Puhinui Rd and Massey Rd
- SH1 at Drury
- SH1 at Bombay
Excluding Wellsford, here are the six sites that we have the most data for
There are a couple of things interesting going on here. At most sites the traffic volumes continue to remain fairly flat and in the case of the Harbour Bridge the annual figure remains lower than it was over a decade ago. Another interesting trend with the Harbour Bridge is that the annual figure is now bouncing up and down between 150k – 160k per day (it peaked in 2006 at 169k). However you see a clear change in the SH20 site. This isn’t surprising as in recent years there have been significant extensions and changes to that motorway including the opening of the Mt Roskill extension in May 2009 followed by the Manukau extension to SH1 and Manukau Harbour Crossing duplication in August 2010.
The changes can be shown even clearer by indexing them to Feb 2010 which is the earliest the SH20 data is available from.
You will also notice that ALPURT has shown growth. Unfortunately what isn’t clear is if this is a result of total traffic volumes along the route growing or people becoming more comfortable with paying for the toll road and so a higher percentage of people choosing it over the free route. The NZTA previously to recorded vehicle volumes at Hatfields Beach would have allowed that comparison but stopped doing that at the start of last year when they handed the road over to Auckland Transport.
As mentioned, the graphs above don’t include all of the collection sites reported on, the ones missing being on SH1 North of Wellsford, on the Upper Harbour Bridge and on SH16 between Royal Rd and Hobsonville. I haven’t graphed them due to how low the traffic volumes are in the case of Wellsford and how little data there is for the other two (only two years worth). In saying that the data that is available is quite interesting in its own right.
SH1 North of Wellsford – Traffic volumes are very seasonal peaking over summer but overall they have been in decline since monthly figures began in September 07. This is quite important as we often get told that the reason behind the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway is to unlock Northlands economy. Both the SH20 and Upper Harbour Bridge sites are interesting as the annual figures show traffic volumes on those sections had been flat since 2003. The volumes over the Upper Harbour Bridge only started increasing again in 2008 after the Upper Harbour section of SH18 was completed while the SH20 site only started increasing in 2011 after the Westgate to Hobsonville section of SH18 was completed.
To me these figures show a couple of key trends. The motorways not widened or extended have shown little to no growth and in some cases volumes remain below what they were in the mid 2000’s. In the places where we have built motorways, vehicle numbers have been increasing. To me what this effectively points out is that changes traffic volumes are really just a reflection of what we’ve invested in, or in other words a case of build it and they will come. That might sound logical (and it is) but it also highlights the opportunity we have to determine just how much traffic is on our roads in the future. Build more roads like the current plans suggest and we’ll get more traffic.
Of course the opposite is true too, remove roads and traffic disappears with it. This has been shown quite well in Seoul, Korea where since 2002, 15 expressways have been demolished and more are planned. The most famous of which was in Cheonggyecheon where they removed an elevated expressway and ground level roads carrying over 150,000 vehicles per day and restored the original stream making a wonderful urban park in the process.
It went from this:
And the outcome was even more impressive:
- Traffic volumes dropped while bus and subway usage rose
- There were increases in fish, birds and insects in the area.
- Temperatures decreased and are on average 3.6% lower than other parts of Seoul.
- It became a centre for cultural and economic activity.
- And perhaps most interesting to the NZTA/AT, traffic speeds on other roads increased which is an example of Braess’s paradox
Now I’m not suggesting that we tear any existing roads down but more just highlighting that we have the ability to shape the city how we want it. If we don’t want traffic volumes to increase in the future that we should start by not building a heap more roads.