In the comments, “Handlebars Matt” provided a link to this video about how nobody is using Portugal’s motorway system – which was built at vast cost over the past decade:
I often fear that this is the future for many of the Roads of National Significance that are either under construction or due to begin construction in the next few years. Particular candidates for incredibly low levels of use seem to be:
- Puhoi-Warkworth. Due to the new road not being much faster than what’s currently there, the Puhoi ramps providing a link between the existing Northern Gateway Road (which does provide a significant time saving) and the existing SH1 likely to be faster and cheaper for most people compared to a toll road that doesn’t even connect well to Warkworth and requires people to double back through the messy Hill Street intersection to get to the eastern beaches.
- Tauranga Eastern Link. We all know the history of toll roads in Tauranga and I struggle to see how this won’t be another empty toll road offering drivers little incentive to use it rather than the existing route.
- Hamilton bypass. Current projections only see 7,000 vehicles using a section of this $890 million section of the Waikato Expressway by 2021. This route seems unlikely to be tolled but will still be something of a “ghost road” even if the notoriously optimistic projections are correct.
The same might be true of many parts of the Wellington RoNS, although if they are “successful” and attract traffic the main impact will be worse congestion in downtown Wellington and reduced use of the railway line.
A shame we won’t be able to learn from Portugal until many billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money has been wasted.
We have frequently raised concerns about projected future traffic growth, given that in recent years there has been an extended flat-lining of traffic growth. What’s perhaps most concerning about these projections is how they ignore what has actually happened in the recent past and how those producing the projections don’t seem to learn from past mistakes.
This isn’t just an Auckland problem. An article I came across recently looks at projections for a bridge across Lake Washington in Seattle highlights how stubborn the projections of growth are despite evidence to the contrary:
What’s crazy about this graph is how persistently wrong the projections have been – yet without any change to reflect the reality of declining traffic volumes over a 15 year period between 1996 and 2011.
Yet it’s not just a specific example of a bridge in one American city where we see these persistently wrong projections coming through. Let’s look at a comparison of official traffic projections across the UK over the past 20 years and compare those with what actually happened:
It’s hard to know whether these repeated mistakes are just accidental, ignorant or wilfully neglectful of reality.
Our own local example of this ignorance is in the traffic projections being used for the stupid Additional Harbour Crossing Project, where modelled traffic growth rates completely ignored recent trends and therefore were calculated from a base that was significantly too high:
This graph was from a year ago and in the past when I’ve posed it, there have been some that say “look it’s starting to rise again” but the reality is it isn’t. The most recent monthly data shows traffic have flat-lined and volumes are still less than it was a decade ago (monthly figures only started in late 2007).
Similarly another frequent comment we see when this is discussed is to the effect hat the downturn is only due to the current state of the economy. However many economic indicators are pointing to the economy being much healthier today than it was a few years ago. Other indicators highlight that while on a per capita or percentage basis we might not be doing as well as in the past, on a total basis we are doing well. For example despite the percentage of people who are unemployed being higher than it was in 2007/08, in total there are actually significantly more people employed at the moment.
I suspect traffic projections keep making these mistakes because they are calculated using models with fundamental problems in them. They are generally designed to predict the future based on extrapolating our behaviour from some point in the past. That may have worked in the 90′s (and earlier) but it doesn’t work now and one of the key reasons is that we are seeing generational changes occurring with young people choosing not to drive as much as older generations. Yet while road models might be well over estimating vehicle trips, PT models have been doing the opposite. One of the best examples is Britomart where we exceeded the 2021 projected daily patronage in 2011.
And even the Ministry of Transport in their response to the City Centre Future Access Study said that private vehicle trips were probably being overestimated.
When there are tens of billions of dollars of public money is riding on these faulty projections, it suggests we need a new approach starting with not believing the current projections.
An interesting talk by the author of a book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).
A few of the things I found really interesting.
3:00 Signs put up encouraging people to merge early on the road due to road works create more congestion, driver frustration and safety issues than if everyone merged at the point of the restriction.
10:00 Being in a car changes who we are as we don’t have the same social intereactions.
11:00 Drivers change their behaviour around cyclists depending on who they are and what they are wearing.
15:00 People drive worse closer to home where they are most familiar with the envrionment
19:00 People have trouble judging how fast they are going after leaving a higher speed environment (like a motorway)
20:00 Small changes in the number of vehicles can have huge impacts on congestion.
Along with keeping a close eye on public transport patronage, I also like track what is happening with traffic volumes. The NZTA release traffic volumes for a handful of sites on the state highway network on a monthly basis and release a much larger number of sites on an annual basis.
We frequently talk about how traffic in general hasn’t really be growing for some time and in the past we have tended to just look at the Harbour Bridge data but with this post I’m expanding it to other sites that are monitored monthly. These are:
- ALPURT (Orewa to Silverdale)
- The Harbour Bridge
- SH1 at Panama Rd
- SH20 between Puhinui and Massey Rd
- SH1 at Drury
- SH1 at Bombay
So what’s happening with traffic volumes?
With the exception of SH20 volumes are flat and not really doing anything. The reason SH20 is increasing is likely to be primarily due to the recent extensions and upgrades the route has had including the motorway connections at Manukau, the upgrade across the Manukau Harbour and the extension through to Maioro St. I would expect that growth to continue for a while, especially after Waterview is completed. To help show this further the graph below is indexed to when the SH20 numbers first became available in Feb 10 based of the 12 month rolling average. It quite dramatically shows the growth being seen on SH20 and to a lesser extent on ALPURT compared to the other sites on SH1.
For the sites on SH1 in particular it is important to remember that this represents a discontinuity with past trends. Here are some of the annual traffic volumes for a few locations around the motorway network which shows just how much the trends have been changing in the last decade or so after previously having reliable growth year on year.
We frequently look at what is happening with transport trends and have looked in the past at measures around vehicle kilometres travelled and vehicle ownership. However we haven’t really looked at what is happening as much at a regional level and so that is what this post is about.
First up let’s look at car ownership. The Auckland vehicle fleet has grown by 32% since 2000 which is fairly significant, in fact the only region in the country that has had a greater level of growth is the West coast. Unsurprisingly cars make up the vast majority of the vehicle fleet at ~86%. The biggest areas of growth have been in motorcycles and buses however both are off a very low base so don’t really register on this graph but can be clearly seen on the following one which indexes vehicle numbers back to 2000.
So we have had some pretty big growth in vehicle numbers in Auckland. Does that mean we must love our cars? Well interestingly no, not really. While we have seen the vehicle fleet grow, on a per capita basis the Auckland region has the third lowest ownership rate in the country with only Wellington and Gisborne ahead. It is possible some of this is related to the fact that Auckland has a younger population and therefore simply are not able to buy a car.
Below is a graph just showing Auckland compared to the NZ total.
Auckland has lots of cars but by far not the most on a per capita basis.
We consistently hear from some quarters that Aucklanders love to drive however once again that doesn’t seem to be the case. In the 2012 year, despite the population increasing and over 20,000 vehicles being added to the Auckland fleet, there was in total fewer kilometres driven than the previous year. The changes are even more dramatic when you compare the results against the city’s population. On a per capita basis we are at the lowest level of driving since at least 2000, possibly even further back. Once again Auckland actually has one of the lowest per capita results with only Wellington below us (and by a significant amount at ~7000km per capita). Way out as the most driving region is Canterbury with the average person driving almost twice as far as Aucklanders do each year.
So what can we learn from all of this, well while the vehicle fleet is growing, Aucklanders simply aren’t buy as many cars as the used to on per capita basis. Further and perhaps key, even those that do have a car are generally not driving them as much. The amount of distance people travelled appears to have peaked in 2006 and has continued to fall. Just imagine what would happen to both of these figures if we have a fully operating Congestion Free Network giving people some real choice in how they get around.
Buried deep within the agenda of last week’s Transport Committee meeting is a report on the results of both the annual screenline and congestion surveys. The screenline survey in particular is a very long running (back to the 1980s) survey which counts the number of people crossing various points – most particularly those travelling into the city centre by various modes. In general terms the screenline survey showed a small increase in the number of PT users across most measured points (although a reduced modeshare due to a jump in the number of people driving to the city centre) while the congestion survey showed that congestion in Auckland has been decreasing since 2009 (someone please tell the transport model!).
Public transport modeshare dropped back to just under 50% of vehicular trips into the CBD – still much higher than the other two screenlines at the western and southern edges of the isthmus:
Total PT patronage entering the city centre increased slightly to 34,130 during the morning peak hour. It is worth noting that since 2001 this total has increased from around 21,000 – a 62% increase.
One of the most interesting elements of the screenline survey is the breakdown by street for buses entering the city centre and how this has changed over time:
Fanshawe Street has really asserted itself as clearly the busiest point of entry for bus passenger to the city centre. This is not surprising given investment in the Northern Busway and that for many other areas people have clearly shifted from bus to rail as investment in the rail system has delivered an increasingly attractive travel choice. It’s encouraging to see that Symonds Street has “built up again” in terms of its numbers – after taking quite a hit when a large number of services were diverted to travel over Grafton Bridge. The numbers for Quay Street appear quite strange – big fluctuations up and down in almost every year. Are bus users in the Eastern Beach suburbs just a particularly fickle bunch I wonder?
The rail numbers were down slightly on 2012 – although the report notes that two fewer trains were counted in the 2013 survey (presumably services were slightly late and therefore outside the measurement window), which means that only a small reduction is actually a pretty damn good result.
The ferry information breaks down passengers by the different service they took – which gives us a useful understanding of how dominant Devonport and Waiheke are when it comes to total ferry boardings:
The report also notes key entry point for people walking and cycling – although unfortunately the quality of the table is really poor:
The report doesn’t explain what’s behind the fairly big decline in both walking and cycling between the two surveys in 2012 and 2013 – perhaps the weather was different (this is a once a year survey).
The report also notes results from a survey into congestion and travel time reliability indicators. The overall result is a decline in congestion since 2009:
I’m not surprised that congestion has declined in recent years as traffic growth has stalled while there has been a lot of investment in transport during that time. This reinforces a feeling that we have articulated many times on this blog: that future congestion forecasts are likely overblown. Travel time reliability has also improved in recent times.
This is really interesting and useful information – quite surprising that it was buried so deep.
We’ve been discussing the ‘peaking‘ of car travel – not only in Auckland and New Zealand – but internationally too, for a long time on this blog. What’s really interesting though is to look at the breakdown of this data into things like drivers license rates, car ownership rates, distance driven per person and so on. The Atlantic Cities has a recent article which looked into this further:
The handy thing about “peak car” as a concept is that it can nominally be proven in many ways. You’ve got Peak Driver’s License. Peak Registered Vehicle. Peak Gas Consumption. Peak Miles Traveled. There are peaks per person, per household, per demographic. Then you’ve got your absolute peaks when you add up all of our vehicles and miles together, as if we were all cruising the highways at the same time.
The point of all of this is that any one number is a little dubious, especially in light of that inconvenient economic recession. But Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has been methodically slicing the question every which way. And the totality of the picture he’s built is starting to look pretty convincing.
Earlier this summer, Sivak released data showing that the number of registered light-duty vehicles in America (cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, vans) had peaked per person, per licensed driver and per household in the early to mid 2000s, before the onset of the recession. Because the U.S. population continues to grow, he predicted that the absolute number of vehicles had not yet peaked. But per person and household, we seem willing now to own fewer of the things.
Now he has released a follow-up study [PDF] of how much we drive. As a nation, our total mileage has leveled off (but again, because the population continues to grow, we may surpass this 2006 peak again)
The graph showing distance driven still blows me away at the extent to which this is a disruption from what’s happened before:
But what’s most interesting is looking behind this result into what makes it up on a per capita basis.
The article highlights that all these peaks occurred around 2004 – well before the recession of 2008 and at a time when the US economy (and indeed the NZ economy) was still ticking along quite nicely.
There are many questions which arise from this kind of analysis – that I hope someone is looking into in more detail:
- To what extent has the economic downturn in recent years contributed to these trends and is it likely a sustained economic upswing would revert things back to ‘normal’? I tend to think not as we have already seen a lot of economic recovery and little change in current trends – and even if that happened we’d still be way below previously forecast traffic volumes.
- To what extent will a decline in per capita travel eventually be outweighed by population growth? This is the key issue in Auckland where it’s pretty clear that each person will probably drive less in the future as the city intensifies and has improved public transport – but will population increase still mean an increase in absolute totals? By how much?
- To what extent are these trends being taken into account by future planning? We know that NZTA have been blatantly dishonest about the forecast traffic volumes for the $5 billion Harbour Crossing project – but how rampant is this blatant dishonesty? We also know that they have now removed the ability of roading projects to use constantly increasing traffic volumes as a justification
At a national level we charging ahead with a few hand picked mega roading projects that will tie up our transport spending for the next decade or so. Unfortunately it doesn’t get much better locally with billions upon billions of dollars of ratepayer and taxpayer money proposed to go into transport projects over the coming decades, pretty much all of them relying upon significant traffic growth to be justified.
We’ve discussed changing travel trends on this blog for quite some time now, in particular the plateauing of traffic growth for an extended period of time since roughly the middle of last decade. Here’s a nice graph that Stu put together looking at vehicle kilometres travelled and car ownership rates over the past decade:
Similar trends are starting to show through in a whole variety of countries around the world. With billions of dollars being poured into roads in the coming year the real questions relating to this trend is understanding why it’s happening and then figuring out whether it’s a short term anomaly or the start of a much longer pattern of stagnant or falling traffic.
While New Zealand specific research into understanding the causes of these trends is strangely absent (Stu’s superb analysis aside), an increasing amount of analysis is being undertaken in the USA to ‘get to grips’ with what’s going on. And while shorter term issues – like the economic situation of the past few years – seem to undoubtedly have had some impact on the trends, it seems that there are some more major underlying cultural shifts which are perhaps making the biggest contribution. The New York Times picked up on this recently:
For six decades, Americans have tended to drive more every year. But in the middle of the last decade, the number of miles driven — both over all and per capita — began to drop, notes a report to be published on Tuesday by U.S. Pirg, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
People tend to drive less during recessions, since fewer people are working (and commuting), and most are looking for ways to save money. But Phineas Baxandall, an author of the report and senior analyst for U.S. Pirg, said the changes preceded the recent recession and appeared to be part of a structural shift that is largely rooted in changing demographics, especially the rise of so-called millennials — today’s teenagers and twentysomethings. “Millennials aren’t driving cars,” he said.
In fact, younger people are less likely to drive — or even to have driver’s licenses — than past generations for whom driving was a birthright and the open road a symbol of freedom. Research by Michael Sivak of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan found that young people are getting driver’s licenses in smaller numbers than previous generations.
Online life might have something to do with the change, he suggested. “A higher proportion of Internet users was associated with a lower licensure rate,” he wrote in a recent study. “This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people.”
Of course this isn’t a particularly ground-breaking observation – various studies and articles have been talking about younger generations not being as keen on driving as previous generations were at the same age. What’s particularly interesting is that this report has taken the recent trends and then applied them to forward travel projections under a number of “what if” scenarios to get an idea about what might happen in the future:
Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001—a greater decline in driving than any other age group. The severe economic recession was likely responsible for some of the decline, but not all.
Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving.
If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years, even at half the annual rate of the 2001-2009 period total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040—despite a 21 percent increase in population. If Millennials retain their current propensity to drive less as they age and future generations follow (Enduring Shift), driving could increase by only 7 percent by 2040. If, unexpectedly, Millennials were to revert to the driving patterns of previous generations (Back to the Future), total driving could grow by as much as 24 percent by 2040.
All three of these scenarios yield far less driving than if the Driving Boom had continued past 2004. Driving declines more dramatic than any of these scenarios would result if future per-capita driving were to fall at a rate near that of recent years or if annual per-capita reductions continue through 2040.
The different scenarios are then graphed:The real kicker point is when you start comparing these scenarios with past traffic volume forecasts – as shown below: From what we’ve seen previously, it appears that pretty much all future transport modelling in Auckland is calibrated to a 2006 base year – pretty much exactly when we started to see transport trends change dramatically. Presumably that will be updated when results from this year’s census come through, but if projections do end up being updated to reflect not only changing travel trends going forward but also the fact that what’s happened in the past seven years is rather different to what was likely to have been expected back in 2006, we could be in for some huge shocks.
In short, it wouldn’t be surprising for the justification for new roads becoming significantly more difficult. Which makes a lot of sense if the demand for them isn’t going up anymore. This issue was also raised by Green transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter yesterday on Radio NZ.
Or listen here
Interestingly the NZTA responded to this.
Or listen here
Ernst’s claim that every road works for public transport and for active modes is almost comical. Just looking at Auckland, how many buses are using the Victoria Park tunnel, how many will use Waterview and why is there no cycleway planned for Puhoi to Wellsford and where is the promised walkway under the Newmarket Viaduct?
This a guest post by Tim Kvingedal, a student at the School of Architecture, University of Auckland. Tim is from Norway.
I´ve been living in central Auckland for 11 months now, and you know what? I’m getting sick of waiting for cars. Every time I step out of my flat I feel like I’m wasting my time and this is why I did this research.
First a little backdrop of the situation in Auckland
Tim K 2
This map shows all parking, which is run by the big companies like Wilson etc., in Auckland CBD. The ones marked with letters are all multi storey car parks and the red dots are “smaller” ones on the ground. You can also add all the parking that belongs to private offices, shops etc. There are so many parking spots but still not enough for the ridiculous amount of cars. So we need more car parks, you say? Well, if you want to dig your own grave, the answer is yes. If you’re more interested in making Auckland work as a well functioning city in the future public transport is the answer, and by public transport I first of all mean train.
Lets do a quick assessment of what kind of work cars and train are doing best. Well, one single railway has about twelve times more capacity than a single motorway lane. This means that you can ship a large amount of people in and out of the city centre ten times more efficient than a car would do.
On average there are 1.2 people in each car going in and out of Auckland CBD. This means that there is a lot of space wasted to get 1.2 people from A to B. The car is also running on fossil fuels and will pollute a whole lot more than an eco friendly electric train. What the train cannot do is to take you to rural places like your bach, which are miles away from the rail lines. So the car is good at transporting you out from urban places whereas the train is good at taking you in and out of the cities.
For my research I decided to see how much time I wasted on a single trip from my apartment in Union Street to Countdown grocery store next to Queen Street. This should be a 10 minute walk with 7 intersections. Lets see what happened:
I only need to walk 20 meters before my first red man. I started the stopwatch. 30 seconds, 1 minute, still no sign of the green man. So what do you do? Call a friend? Well, with all that traffic noise there’s no point in calling anyone. Better do nothing. So finally, after 1 minute 45s I’m allowed to cross.
I walk up Hobson Street and I spot this gap between two buildings. This is not the only one I’ve seen, Auckland is filled with these gaps and most of them are used for ‘temporary’ car parks. In this gap it looks like it´s one lucky car that found this secret little spot with great view.
The thing about these gaps is that people don’t see them, except people that are in a cars looking for a car park. The street life desperately needs these gaps to be filled, because they’re puncturing the whole experience of walking down the street and being activated by the programmes in the surrounding buildings.
This particular spot would be great for a café or what about just putting a big cow there to activate people walking down the street and open their eyes for that gap and what kind of potential it has.
I start walking again and I see people running like crazy to cross the street before the green man disappears. They simply don’t want to waste their time waiting for cars to cross.
So after a couple of red men and one lucky green I’m standing next to Auckland’s biggest wound, the gap next to Elliot Street. Not surprisingly this is used for parking cars, and this is just devastating for the area. Again, why not do something to activate the area before they start building there? There is already one carousel so yeah let’s have a temporary mini amusement park. Think of all the joy this will spread out to the area. Kids laughing, music, the smell of popcorn. I mean anything is better for the city than another car park.
Another thing that fascinates me when I’m walking are all the cars popping out of buildings like Jack in the box.
As a pedestrian I almost constantly have to be aware of that there might be a car coming out of this slot. It’s not that it’s really dangerous but you still have to be aware of it all the time. On my way home I clocked how long time I’d spent on passing these car slots.
This picture sums up the feeling as a pedestrian with all this cars popping out. It’s a battle:
It’s not just the cars crossing the pedestrian lane that is annoying, but also that the pedestrian lane itself sometimes disappear! There is no marking and no lights telling you when you can cross. So I guess if I want to follow the traffic rules I better go back and try another way?
So after crossing 14 intersections in total I’m home again and these are the stats from the walk:
So thanks to the auto-dominant nature of Auckland I will have wasted 91 hours of my time this year just to buy groceries.
And I’m not sure it’s working out so well for all the drivers either…
Somehow over the last 60 years it became an orthodoxy that the only way to deal with the problem of too many cars on our roads is to spend ever greater sums of money on more roads for more cars [and more parking, more fuel use, more accidents, more obesity, more pollution]. I have always found this to be a curious idea; there’s too much of something so let’s make more of it possible. Ah but of course, I’m just looking at it all wrong, congestion isn’t ever about there being too many vehicles, no, it’s only ever about there being insufficient road space for whatever number of vehicles can be imagined. Really, is there never a point that we might say; the problem here is that we are trying to squeeze too many vehicles into this place for it to function well, we need to supply this place with alternatives to driving as well?
This odd orthodoxy is behind the latest muddled-headed transport plan for Auckland, quoted here in the Herald by Brian Rudman:
“Even with the fully funded programme,” admit the authors, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.
Clearly business as usual; building more roads everywhere, isn’t going to work even on the terms of those who promote these plans, so it was very interesting to see a new study out of LA on the impact of Transit systems on road congestion. Researchers there were able to use the 2003 shut down of the Transit system by a strike for 35 days to compare the impacts on the city both with a functioning Transit system and without one. From the National Bureau of Economic Research here [USD$5].
Also there’s a summary here on Atlantic Cities which I’ll quote as there’s no paywall:
The intuition is straightforward: Transit is most attractive to commuters who face the worst congestion, so a disproportionate number of transit riders are commuters who would otherwise have to drive on the most congested roads at the most congested times. Since drivers on heavily congested roads have a much higher marginal impact on congestion than drivers on the average road, transit has a large impact on reducing traffic congestion.
Contrary to the conclusions in the existing transportation and urban economics literature, the congestion relief benefits alone may justify transit infrastructure investments.
Of course LA is a big car town, it has massive driving infrastructure, the Transit Systems there are improving, and have improved a great deal since 2003, but there is no way that you could claim that it is like London or Paris and completely dependant on well developed Transit systems built over a century or more. So the figures did vary. For arterials and Interstates that were close to shut down Transit routes the numbers were huge; the morning delay on the 101 was up 123 percent during the strike [90% average for the day], and 56% on freeways that didn’t parallel closed Transit routes.
Proof that even in this most auto-dependant city of the value of investing in quality Transit systems: yes a fully supported Transit network, especially one with its own right of way is the car users’ best friend. Investment in better Transit is almost certainly the best way a city can improve the quality and utility of the driving experience. Can somebody tell the AA?
Remember, when driving and experiencing congestion, you’re not stuck in a traffic jam; you are the traffic jam. Despite all the help those Transit users are trying to give you.
I 405 California