On Saturday we learned that Auckland Transport’s light rail plans will be an outstanding success. We learned this not from anything Auckland Transport has told us but from a column written by the Herald’s John Roughan. He ended the piece with:
An underground link to give Auckland’s lines a central turning loop is said to be the key to unlocking their potential for urban commuters. It’s not. It would remove just one of several reasons the trains are too slow.
Light rail in the streets with traffic and stoplights is even slower. Yet the fascination remains. Something about iron tracks makes them hard to let go. They may be a solid line to other places and to the past, but they’ve had their day.
Roughan rubbishing LRT is great as he’s proven to be one of the best reverse barometers we have for public transport so if he thinks a PT investment will flop it means it will be fantastic. Just take a look at some of his previous predictions
In July 2001 he lamented the then plans for Britomart and the then ARCs plans for rail and bus upgrades, more deregulation and shuttle buses were the solution he said.
This is all about what the council wants, not what is most likely to work. If they opened their eyes they would notice that a little bit of deregulation worked a treat 10 years ago.
Take the airport shuttles, as many now do. When minivans where allowed to compete with taxis and buses to Auckland Airport, they found immediate demand.
They were soon getting calls for other destinations, too, but were not allowed to provide them. Imagine if they could. An untapped dimension of public transport is right there.
Later in October that year there was this masterpiece where he urged people to vote for candidates who would oppose PT. He also promoted the group named “Roads before Rail” – now only found on the wayback machine
There will come a time, maybe in 10 or 20 years, when it will be apparent this election was the last chance to prevent a minor disaster and we might wonder what we were thinking of in 2001 that we didn’t stop it.
There were, we will remember, one or two greater disasters happening at the time, so possibly the voters of 2001 will be forgiven. But every time we drive past one of those light rail things we will wonder at our capacity for collective folly.
If, 20 years hence, our children can track down Mrs Fletcher or Mr Harvey and ask why they are lumbered with this little-used railway, they will hear a remarkable story of what was supposed to happen.
They are wasting their time and our money. And they are neglecting – wilfully one suspects – the need for more and wider motorways.
Auckland is a car city and always will be. Its people much prefer their own cars to any form of public transport and, contrary to the claims of the rail lobby, there is plenty of room for more roading.
History shows us that Fletcher’s decision to push ahead with Britomart was inspired and the station has been successful beyond all expectations – as we know from the chart below showing actual daily passengers compared to what was predicted in the business case.
In 2002 he again claimed Britomart and investment in rail would be a financial disaster that will hurt not just Auckland but the nation’s economy
He will not stop the rail scheme. For better or worse, as with corporate regulation, he will probably get it done. It may be merely a financial disaster but it will hurt the economy of Auckland and the country badly enough when the costs hit.
In 2003 he said no-one would use park and ride and said the solution to traffic problems was walking school buses.
Driving to work these mornings, I pass a brilliant bit of traffic engineering. It is not the “park and ride” bus station they are building down at Barry’s Pt, although I pass that too.
Somehow I can’t believe Auckland commuters are going to drive to a suburban transfer station to make the rest of their journey by bus or train. Ask yourself, honestly, would you? Will you?
In 2006 it was that Britomart was built too big for the city – of course we now know it’s too small and will soon run out of capacity
It went ahead and built the Britomart railway station regardless of the scale of rail the region was likely to afford. Britomart, which will shortly farewell the last intercity railcar, is a magnificent terminal for a train that might never come.
In 2007 we have him claiming the busway wouldn’t work
The public transport entrepreneurs intend that we forsake the car entirely and take a bus to the busway. I hope they are right but I really don’t think so.
While not directly related to a Roughan piece, this image was in the herald when the busway opened and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a hand in it.
This of course is just a small sample and there are a lot more columns from him talking about transport, complaining about spending on PT and calling for more motorways. As I said, if he’s rubbishing it then it will probably be good.
Coming back to his column on Saturday perhaps my favourite part is where just after saying that he caught a poorly implemented tram once we therefore shouldn’t build light rail in Auckland (or the CRL), he says this:
The Government doesn’t take much interest in AT’s operational decisions for Auckland’s buses and trains and when the Government contemplates the city’s congestion it prefers the advice of the NZ Transport Agency.
Thanks to the national transport planners, the part of Auckland that is probably best served by public transport is the one part that has no railway. The North Shore’s busway is probably the fastest flowing artery in the region and it is about to get better. AT has posted out a plan to Shore households this month that simplified all bus routes into loops between busway stations. It looks ideal.
So now not only is the busway good but he likes the new bus network AT is proposing. I’d agree with him on both those points but the thing I find quite funny is his inability to consider that the same people who developed the new network he praises are also behind the plans for light rail. How is it they can be both so right and so wrong in the space of a few paragraphs.
Just to note, there are a few other areas where Roughan can occasionally be right such as the examples below but they tend to be few and far between:
- Two years ago he claimed that an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing isn’t something we need as the issue is the capacity on either side (he also praises the busway).
- A month prior he urged the government to support the general direction the council have been pushing saying that above all else it is a vision and no one is presenting an alternative – interesting as we later learned the business groups were saying the same thing behind closed doors.
- He has also noted a few times that we should consider road pricing as a way to get better use out of our existing road infrastructure such as this one.
We have been sent more LRT details from AT. Light Rail is undergoing investigation at this point, but slowly more of their thinking is emerging:
Clearly access to Wynyard is the most difficult part of this route. Queen St is so LRT ready and at last a use for that hitherto hopeless little bypass: Ian Mackinnion Drive. The intersection of New North and Dom Rd will need sorting for this too- Is there nothing that LRT doesn’t fix!
They are planning for big machines, 450 pax is at the top end of LRVs around the world.
At 66m, these are either the biggest ever made, or I guess more likely 2 x 33m units. 33m is a standard dimension, and enables flexibility of vehicle size.
The contested road space of Dominion Rd. Light Rail will create the economic conditions for up-zonning the buildings here; apartments and offices above retail along the strip. But the city will have to make sure that the planning regulations support this. Otherwise it will be difficult to justify the investment. Something for those in the area who reflexively oppose any increase in height limits, reduction of mandated parking, or increases in density and site coverage rules to ponder. If they prefer to keep the current restrictions they need to be aware they are also choosing to reject this upgrade. More buses will be as good as it gets, and AT’s investment will have to go elsewhere. I’m not referring to the the large swathes of houses back from the arterials, no need to change these; it’s the properties along the main routes themselves that need to intensify; anyway these are the places that add the new amenity for those in the houses. And not just shops and cafes, also offices with services and employment for locals, and apartments for a variety of dwelling size and price. Real mixed-use like the world that grew up all along they original tram system city wide, before zoning laws enforced separation of all these aspects of life.
On the day that the Sydney Morning Herald runs an intelligent editorial showing a grown-up attitude to the disruption that comes with important infrastructure builds…
The Herald remains a strong supporter of the light rail project to run through the inner city and eastern suburbs, and urges the Baird government to prosecute the case forcefully for the line.
Construction of the project, due to start on George Street in October, will be painful and frustrating. Mistakes will be made, and they must not be excused.
But any conception of the transport needs of central Sydney must begin on the basis the status quo is unsustainable.
That status quo represents an over-reliance on bus transport through crowded city streets.
The streets are so crowded that the buses are unreliable. They consistently fall behind timetable well before they have left the city and entered the suburbs.
…AT has released more LRT images:
Note in both images all cars are gone, and there is a sort-of cycle lane, that in practice will really be part of the big shared space, yet indicated. Personally I think this is a good arrangement for this pedestrian dominated place and means that it is a slow speed and take care place for riders. The parallel routes of Nelson and Grafton Gully are for getting places at pace; good crosstown cycling connections will be needed to link these all together.
This would be a spectacular upgrade to the Queen St valley in terms of access but even more so in place quality. And just at the right time, or at least the proposal certainly isn’t ahead of the need; downtown is booming and development is spreading up the hill. We will be able to taste the sea air again in the city! I just can’t wait to get the fume-belchers out of our main spine.
Also from a purely transport capacity angle this will add a whole new access point for people into our uniquely motorway severed City Centre, as currently buses have been restricted on Queen St to the local access only City Link, and the AirBus, because of the unattractiveness of too many diesel buses in core pedestrian places. Adding Queen St to those other two north-south streets of Albert and Symonds as a route to move high volumes of people, while reducing the total bus numbers.
As the SHM goes on:
The Herald does not support any one mode of transport over another. In a metropolis like Sydney, trains, buses, the private car, light rail, cycling and walking all obviously have their role to play.
But the government should invest money in the mode of transport that fits the particular need of a particular space and of a particular travelling public.
And in central Sydney, the use of a growing number of buses to get people to and from work is no longer fit for purpose.
Without major changes to the city – without replacing some of those buses by new rail links – it will be impossible to increase the frequency of bus services to those areas not served by rail.
This argument represents much of the benefits inherent in the CBD light rail project down George Street, as well as the North West Rail Link and its eventual connection to the inner city.
This is exactly the situation Auckland finds itself in; the City Rail Link for connection to and through the core and the further out West, East, and South, and buses upgrading to LRT when capacity limits are hit on surface routes elsewhere. Including, in my view, across the harbour from Wynyard in tunnels to a balancing North Shore network, instead of the bloated and destructive third road crossing. Or a bridge, either way it would be direct, fast, and way way cheaper than NZTA’s current, yet last century, plans:
Light Rail Bridge
All up it renders Queen St just like Bourke St in that other Australian city:
Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014
I have requested an image of Dominion Rd LRT too, so will follow up with that and other info in the days ahead.
This is an image from Mark Bishop. Here are the previous posts: Queen and Wellesley, Newton Rd, Kingsland
These images were developed by merging together various historic black and white photographs (all from the “Sir George Grey Special Collection” – Auckland Library) with contemporary colour photographs taken at the same location.
The black and white photographs were taken between the years 1900 to 1940, and cover a number of areas of the city and the outlying suburbs. The colour photographs were all taken in early 2015.
The intention of these images is to use photography to help show how much has changed – or not changed – over almost one hundred years by focusing on locations that are familiar to Aucklanders.
It is interesting to think that the people, horses and trams seen in these images passed by around a century ago where we walk and drive today.
Mount Eden Village. View looking north up Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden Village. Black and white photograph (1910-23) from “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 35-R243.”
In some ways this is also a glimpse into the future with Auckland Transport looking at installing Light Rail down Mt Eden Rd and other Isthmus streets.
On the closed session agenda for tomorrow’s Auckland Transport board meeting is an item asking for a decision about Light Rail. Hopefully this will see the project move forward and the public provided with more information. With that in mind I thought I’d chuck together a few thoughts I’d had that hadn’t been discussed too much.
Dedicated Right of Way
Modern on street based rail transit generally falls into two categories, Streetcars/Trams and Light Rail. The difference is generally associated with the quality of the right of way. With Streetcars/Trams the tracks are often located in the road surface and share lanes with cars – much like buses on streets without bus lanes and are therefore subject to congestion. Light Rail is more commonly seen as a separate system and separated from vehicle lanes by barriers, kerbs or even on completely grade separated infrastructure. As with most things these definitions aren’t always 100% accurate and often systems will mix various elements together i.e. some parts on dedicated infrastructure and some parts shared with cars.
If Auckland Transport is going to bother implementing a street based rail system it absolutely needs to be more light rail variety and less streetcar one. That would mean dedicated right of ways down the streets the tracks are on which as it needs to be permanent – i.e. can’t be used for carparking off peak – would be a significant improvement for PT in the area. While this can absolutely also be done for buses it seems to me that it would be politically more difficult to do – and that’s before the issue of capacity is taken into account.
I suspect that any implementation of Light Rail most likely mean the tracks would be run down the centre of the road as is done in many cities and how the original trams were. There are a couple of impacts of centre running as opposed to being next to the kerb. These include:
- It’s simpler for drivers – with centre running looking out for trams only needs to happen if a driver needs to turn right and cross the tracks whereas with side running drivers turning both left and right need to check for trams in either direction.
- It may make right turns more difficult or only allowed at certain intersections. This is something that will potentially upset some residents – although in return they get a much better PT system
- It gives more prominence to PT which in turn can help attract more patronage as well as development.
- A narrower corridor can potentially be used as the Light Rail vehicles can pass closer together thanks to being on rails.
The Gold Coast is a good recent and local example of a recent Light Rail installation that we could probably learn a lot from.
Photo: Wayne Duncan
A single light rail vehicle can hold 300 people which is the equivalent capacity as around 3-4 double decker buses as is shown in the graphic from AT below. AT haven’t said what kind of frequencies we can expect however approximately one service every 5 minutes (12 per hour) on routes like Dominion Rd seem about right. AT that frequency it should be quite possible to employ signal priority to further speed up the Light Rail vehicles. Of course prioritisation is also possible with buses however when getting to the volumes needed on the routes suggested is unlikely to work very well. This is because the headway between the buses is shorter than the normal phasing of the traffic lights and so buses will tend to bunch up at lights and at the next stop two or three buses will turn up at the same time – a common pet hate of users.
In essence utilising signal prioritisation along with Light Rail could help improve reliability as the LRT vehicles would be given a relatively non-stop route.
As I understand it, one of the major issues with a bus based solution for these corridors is terminal capacity. Put simply you need to be able to turn all of the vehicles around somewhere so they can make a return journey. As mentioned above a single light rail vehicle can hold 300 people which is the equivalent capacity as around 3-4 double decker buses. When bus numbers get high that can take up a lot of space and is highlighted quite well in the CRL design showcase image below of post CRL bus routes where each route needs at least a loop of some form to turn around. That takes up valuable space in the city which could otherwise be used for something else. As an example if we didn’t need to turn buses around using Albert St, Quay St and Hobson St we could instead have a greater public realm on Quay St.
With Light rail is considerably easier to deal with terminal capacity as all that’s needed are some cross overs next to the last station. With that Light Rail vehicle pulls into the final station, the driver changes ends, heads off and changes tracks to go in the other direction. It’s all very simple and is done within the existing corridor. It is also made easier by not having so many vehicles to turn around.
Faster and easier stations
Improving the customer experience by making it faster and easier to get on and off a PT service can have important benefits.
As mentioned above, rails mean the right of way can be narrower as the vehicles are kept on the tracks rather than moving about in a lane like rubber tyre vehicles tend to do. Those tracks can also be useful at stations for ensuring a minimal gap (horizontally and vertically) between the vehicle and platform thereby making it much easier for all customers to get on and off.
In addition to this, while Light Rail vehicles can hold a lot of people, because they also have a lot more doors passengers can use to get on/off simultaneously thereby reducing dwell time. By comparison double deckers are prone to longer dwell times as people take time to move about inside the bus. With having to run higher frequency services the longer dwell times could become an issue at some stops.
So far Auckland Transport haven’t said too much about funding Light Rail other than it would probably cost at least $1 billion for all lines and that they are looking at alternative private funding options. This is most likely to be a BOOT (build–own–operate–transfer) whereby AT either pay an annual fee and/or grant certain concessions for a private company to build and operate the system for set period of time.
While the capital costs would effectively be kept off the council’s books, any payments to the private company would still need to come from AT/AC and potentially the government and that will inevitably raise questions about where the funding for it comes from. Perth’s Professor Peter Newman has wrote this post recently suggesting that one option could be for cities to require LRT builders to also develop the land – which the city could then tax.
To go for a full private-sector approach you must integrate redevelopment into every stage of the project. This is how you do it. Call for expressions of interest for private companies to design, build, finance, own and operate the light rail link and, crucially, make sure this includes land-development options (rather than letting in outside developers). This would help to create funds that can be used to finance and to operate the system.
Government needs to contribute a base grant and an operational fund that could be more specifically focused along the areas where the biggest benefits are felt in the corridor itself, where land values will go up most. Private expertise will ensure that the best sites are chosen for the light rail route. These land-value increases will flow through taxes into treasury and can be set aside in a dedicated light rail fund for ongoing operations and/or for raising finance (rather than instituting a city-wide levy as the Gold Coast did).
He is talking about Tax Increment Financing which would likely be difficult here due to the need for the government to allow for it but a more localised targeted rate might also be appropriate.
Hopefully we’ll hear soon if AT intend to carry on looking into Light Rail.
Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.
CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht
First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].
So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.
This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.
This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;
This problem is mathematically inevitable.
As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America. This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit. In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population. Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing. But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service. Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.
And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:
As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel. Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses. I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles, Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.
Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed. In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight. In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.
As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.
1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground
Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.
However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly. The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.
But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.
These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].
The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening
, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now
], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.
So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:
- for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
- to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
- adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
- for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
- to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
- to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St
and possibly because:
- it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines
With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status. It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
On Thursday the Herald reported the latest on Auckland Transport’s plans for Light Rail across the isthmus which came following an update to the Council’s Infrastructure Committee. From the presentation online there doesn’t seem to be much new other than what we’ve already seen and unfortunately the meeting wasn’t one filmed under the council’s new webcasting service so we can’t see exactly what was said.
What the Herald picked up on was that cars may be removed from Queen St.
Cars may be squeezed out of Auckland’s main street as the city’s transport authority looks to modern trams to move growing throngs of commuters.
Auckland Transport chief engineer Steve Hawkins warns there will be insufficient space in much of Queen St for general traffic to co-exist with trams running in each direction every few minutes between the waterfront and Dominion Road.
“For the section between Wellesley St and Customs St, we would essentially have just light-rail vehicles and pedestrians,” he told Auckland Council’s infrastructure committee.
But he said allowing cars to keep using Queen St south of Wellesley St “would be possible” and there would be enough room for a traffic lane each side of tram tracks along routes such as Dominion Rd and Fanshawe St.
Far from being a problem this is probably the ideal outcome and would turn the main people focused part of Queen St a transit mall – like as seen in many cities overseas.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France
The key reason this is even possible is that there isn’t a single need for a car to even be on that section of Queen St. Take a walk along it and you’ll not find a single driveway opening out to the street until you get south of Mayoral Dr as the buildings that do have carparks all have entrances to them on side streets. In addition none of the side streets north of Wellesley St are dependent on access from Queen St and so blocking them off would not remove access – maybe just affecting how some are accessed.
Making such a change would deliver big benefits to the up to 60,000 pedestrians that ply the street every day. It would enable the removal of both the Wyndham and Shortland St intersections which means less chance of having to stop and wait for a traffic phase. At Victoria St the existing intersection could be significantly improved due to it being simplified. No turning traffic means the lights only need to flip between a North-South transit movement and East-West car movement. Perhaps even more important than these changes to intersections is it would also allow the footpaths to be extended further giving more space to the thousands walking and/or allow for some dedicated cycle lanes.
Such a change would also tie in with our growing network of shared and pedestrian only spaces with the light rail acting as a people fountain giving them even more life.
Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.
Of course LRT being electrically powered also means those pedestrians aren’t being subjected to emissions from petrol and diesel powered vehicles – although of course electric buses are certainly a possibility in the future.
The only question really should be why wait?
Because of the factors mentioned above there should be no reason why we couldn’t quickly implement a transit mall even using just buses until such time as the tracks are ready to be installed. Combine that with some temporary place making to make use of the space that’s freed up and we can trial the impacts.
The only major issue that I think would need to be dealt with is that of deliveries and emergency vehicle access – neither of which should be too hard to sort.
The Auckland City Centre is entering a phase of profound change. The rest of this decade it’ll be undergoing a more extensive and disruptive renovation than your average Ponsonby villa. The designers and financiers are at work and the men and machines are are about to start. The caterpillar is entering that difficult and mysterious chrysalis phase; what kind of butterfly will emerge?
Some of the probable additions to AKL’s skyline [image: Luke Elliot]
If even half of what is proposed gets underway almost every aspect of the centre city will be different.
Precinct Property’s 500 million dollar total rebuild of the Downtown centre and a new 36 storey commercial tower is confrmed to start next year. The 39 storey St James apartment tower is also all go [with the re-opening of the ground floor to the public soon]. An apartment tower on Albert and Swanson has begun. There are a huge number of residential towers seriously close to launching some of which are 50+ floors. These are on Victoria St, Customs St, Commerce St, Greys Ave and more. The biggest of them all Elliot Towers is rumoured to underway next year. Mansons have bought the current herald site and said to looking at residential there. On the same block 125 Queen St is finally getting refurbished bringing much needed new commercial space in the city [+ about 1000 new inner city workers]. Of course the Convention Centre and its associated hotel will start too. Waterfront Auckland have announced new mid rise apartment developments and a new hotel beginning as well. This list is not by any means exhaustive. Auckland is now a builders’ boom town. And it will resemble nothing other than an enormous sand pit for the next few years.
Regardless of the forms of these buildings they are going to have profound impacts at street level; flooding the footpaths with people, stimulating more and more retail and especially hospitality services. Add to this the disruption of the works themselves, for example later this year the first stage of the CRL is going to start. Digging up everything from Britomart through Downtown, up Albert St to Wyndam St. If the proposed Light Rail system goes ahead that will mean the [no doubt staged] digging up of the whole length of Queen St and other places, Dominion Rd, Wynyard Quarter. Street space is becoming more and more contested. Driving in the city is going to get increasingly pointless, most will avoid it. But unlike last century that won’t mean people won’t come to the city. One, because it’s become so attractive with unique retail offers, unrivalled entertainment attractions, and a fat concentration of jobs. Two, because people are discovering how good the improving Transit options are becoming, so why bother driving. And three, because increasing numbers are already there; it’s where they live anyway.
And that Transit boom is going to continue, or even accelerate. Britomart throughput is now running at 35 000 people daily, when planned it wasn’t even expected to reach 20 000 until 2021 [see below; the blue line is still growing at that angle; it is now literally off the chart]:
Why is this happening? A lot of people in wider Auckland still think the city is unappealing or unimportant. Aren’t we spreading new housing out at the edges? Aren’t new businesses building near the suburbs in those business parks? Well ironically one of the reasons so much growth and investment is happening in City Centre is because those same people, the ones that prefer their suburban neighbourhoods to the city, don’t want any change near them. The City Centre is one of the few places that it is possible to add new dwellings or offices at scale, and because it is a very constrained area with high land value this can only be done with tall buildings. The more suburban people refuse to have growth near them the more, in a growing city, investment has to concentrate where it can, and in Auckland that means downtown.
Auckland’s first electric tram 1902
Auckland is still spreading outwards and businesses are growing in suburban centres, but these areas are not appealing or appropriate for all people and all businesses, and nor are they sufficient; the City Centre is growing by both these metrics too, and at a greater pace. The 2013 census showed that AKL city is the fastest accelerating place to live in the entire country, growing at over 48% between 2006-2013, and currently the city is experiencing a new shortage of office space and an interesting reshaping of the retail market. The education sector is also still strong there, with Auckland Uni consolidating to its now three Central City sites and building more inner city student accommodation. City growth is strong and broadly based: residential, commercial, retail, and institutional.
There are risks and opportunities in this but what is certain, outside of a sudden economic collapse, is that the City Centre will be a completely different place in a few years, in form, and in terms of how it will operate. And the signs are promising that what we are heading to is an almost unrecognisably better city at street level than it has been in living memory.
What is happening is simply that it is returning to being a city of people. Ten of thousands of new inner city residents, thousands of new visitors in thousands of additional hotel beds each night, hundreds of thousands of workers and learners arriving daily from all over the wider city each day too. All shopping, eating, drinking, and playing within the ring of the motorway collar. Auckland is moving from being one of the dullest and most lifeless conurbations in the world to offering a new level of intensity and activity. Well that is certainly the possibility in front of us now.
Auckland has had boom times before, and each of these leave a near permanent mark on the built fabric of the city [the Timespanner blog has examples in great detail]. So it matters profoundly what we add to the city this time. We are at the beginning of the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the postwar outward boom that came with such a high cost for the older parts of the city. By forcing the parts of the city built on an earlier infrastructure model to adapt to a car only system we rendered them unappealing and underperforming, and the old city very nearly did not survive this era. Only the persistence of some institutions, particularly the Universities, enabled it to hang on as well as it did. The car as an organising device is ideal for social patterns with a high degree of distance and dispersal. It is essentially anti-urban in its ability to eat distance but at the price of its inefficient use of space; it constantly fights against the logic of human concentration that cities rely on to thrive. It not only thrives on dispersal, it also enforces it.
Queen St 1960s
But now the wheel has turned and cities everywhere are booming on the back a of model much more like the earlier one [see here for example: Seven cities going car-free]. This old-new model is built on the understanding that people in numbers both already present in the city and arriving on spatially efficient Transit systems providing the economic and social concentration necessary for urban vitality and success.
This seems likely to lead to a situation more or less observable in many cities world-wide where there is an intense and highly walkable and Transit served centre surrounded by largely auto-dependent suburbs. Melbourne, for example, is increasingly taking this form. And, interestingly the abrupt physical severance of Auckland’s motorway collar might just make ours one of the more starkly contrasting places to develop along these lines. A real mullet city: one made up of two distinct patterns.
Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014
Frankly I think this is fine, it could make for the best of both worlds. Those who want to live with the space and green of the suburbs can continue to do so but are also able to dip into a vibrant city for work, education, or especially entertainment, on efficient electric Transit, ferries, and buses when that suits. A vibrant core of vital commercial and cultural intensity sustained by those who choose to live in the middle of it 24/7. The intensity of this core plus any other growing Metro Centres [will Albany really become intense? Manukau City?] meaning the sprawl isn’t limitless and the countryside not pushed so far away that it is inaccessible. Auckland as Goldilocks; not all one thing or the other; neither all suburb nor all city. People will use or ignore which ever parts they want, and soon members of the same households will be able to indulge their different tastes without some having to leave the country.
What are the threats to this vision? Well we do actually have to build the Transit, this means completing the CRL soon as is possible, and ideally replacing a good chunk of the buses with higher capacity and more appealing Light Rail. To connect these two halves; the success of both the centre and the region it serves depend on it. But also we have deliver a much better public realm on the streets and especially at the water’s edge. We have to retain and enhance the smaller scale older street systems to contrast with the coming towers, like we have at Britomart and O’Connell St. All these moves require leadership and commitment and an acceptance that the process of getting there will be contested and difficult.
I have no fear that people in the wider city won’t be happy to choose to leave their cars at home for some journeys, especially into the city, then jump back into them for others across the wider city or out of town. After all it’s happening already. This is not then a bold prediction, merely the extrapolation of current trends. And it is the trend that tells us more about the future than the status quo. More of this:
CPO Lower Queen St 1960s
AKL Grafton Gully 70s
*This is a guest post by regular reader and occasional contributor, Warren Sanderson.
RAIL AND THE CITY – Shrinking Our Carbon Footprint While Reimagining Urban Space
Unlike Paul Mees‘ book ‘Transport for Suburbia’ which deals in depth, among other things, with what went so terribly wrong with Auckland’s transport planning in the second half of last century, Roxanne Warren does not mention New Zealand once. Her book is almost totally focused on the transport problems of the United States but she does refer frequently to Europe and Japan where transport policy has been handled so much better.
But don’t let the concentration on US problems put you off. This is a great read for anyone who is unhappy with what auto dependency does to the liveability of our cities and especially here in Auckland.
I like the organisation of this book. It has a preface in a tight precis form plan which sets out exactly what it is going to say and then chapter by chapter gets on with it, in a fluid and engaging style. And there are extensive references at the back of the book.
I enjoyed particularly her comment on the basic reasons for rail’s practicality and popularity, including the operational, aesthetic and permanence advantages for the city. This includes standard surface rail or light rail. Furthermore a public preference for rail has been revealed in surveys and generally attributed to a smoother and faster ride and to rail’s permanent presence – a preference that has been reflected in increased property values around stations.
The last chapter deals with the question of climate change and the desirability of shrinking the very large footprint that we are placing on the earth. While always keen to reduce a personal footprint, I find it hard to get worked up about the science of climate change. What astounded me however, was the idiocy of the US tax cum subsidy set–up as outlined. Fossil fuel have benefited from a full century of subsidies and the oil industry in particular receives generous tax breaks at every stage of the processes of exploration and extraction. Ditto for corn ethanol i.e. food for our cars rather than for people. These subsidies create market distortions that encourage wasteful consumption and undercut the position of clean energy, while effectively exacerbating climate change.
The author points out that regardless of general resistance to change, population increases and migratory trends toward cities, thus increasing congestion in cities, is making ever more obvious the need for a more rational use of urban space and for more compact and sustainable forms of mobility, namely, walking, cycling and transit. She reports that the common wisdom that has it, that only ‘progressives’ (read lefties) favour the support of public transport which denies the movement of prominent conservatives in support of passenger rail transport for the reasons she cites in Chapter 3.
I believe that MOT/NZTA/AT should not employ anybody who has not read this book by a deadline date of 30 April this year. Why? Books like this were not around when many of the older hands commenced work. We need big changes in our transport policies and the government and these three institutions are charged with operating in our best interest. Yes, change is needed……………and fast. This is an excellent read.
Finally, about the author. Roxanne Warren is an architect and principal partner in Roxanne Warren Architects in New York. Her prior experience included a period with I M Pei and Partners but since 1999 she has dedicated her time increasingly to advocacy of Vision 42 which is a proposal for ‘River to River’ low floor light rail in a landscaped auto-free 42nd Street, New York.
42nd St LRT route
Warren Sanderson 2015
A presentation from Auckland Transport to the council provides us with a lot more detail about what they’re proposing with Light Rail and how it complements the CRL rather than competes with it.
We’ve covered some of these aspects in other posts before but it’s worth highlighting some of them again. Public transport has been increasing rapidly in the last decade as improvements have been made. This is most evident in the City Centre where since 2001 use of PT has accounted for all the growth in trips to the area – car use actually declined slightly.
There is also a lot more growth that is expected to occur in the area that will drive more travel demand. The City Centre Future Access Study found a combination of the City Rail Link and on street buses was the best way to improve access however more work was needed on the bus aspects. In the presentation AT say:
- Access crisis into the city centre by 2021 with medium population growth and despite completion of all (pre-CRL) planned transport improvements.
- Auckland’s growth will outstrip its road capacity and maximising rail is an essential part of an integrated access solution
- Bus-only investment will meet demand for only a few years and require significant land take for priority lanes and depots
The pre CRL planned improvements includes projects like Rail Electrification, The New Network and bus lane improvements.
As mentioned above a serious issue that AT are finding is that there’s simply not enough room on city streets or in key terminus locations to handle the number of buses that will be needed. AT say more of the same means bumper to bumper cars will be replaced by wall to wall buses. They started the CCFAS 2 project to look at how to address this and the objectives were:
- Significantly contribute to lifting and shaping Auckland’s economic growth
- Improve the efficiency and resilience of the transport network of inner Auckland and the city centre
- Improve transport access into and around the city centre to address current problems and for a rapidly growing Auckland
- Provide a sustainable transport solution that minimises environmental impacts
- Contribute positively to a liveable, vibrant and safe city
- Optimise the potential to implement a feasible solution
CCFAS 2 looked at and included a range of improvements that could be made including double deckers/bendy buses. They say the focus was on was on corridors with significant patronage and/or connections to significant land use. They also say that there was no solution to city centre road congestion identified that doesn’t involve light rail.
In the image below the top graph suggests terminal capacity starts to be exceeded around 2023 and the corridor capacities around 2035. The busiest corridors are the ones from areas not served by the CRL which means the North Shore and the Central Isthmus. I assume the lower graph shows what it would look like with light rail implemented. If I’m reading it right, it suggests AT are looking to have light rail rolled out to Dominion Rd by around 2021, Sandringham Rd around 2023, Manukau Rd in 2032 and Mt Eden Rd 2037.
One of the big advantages of light rail is that it can be much easier and more space efficient to turn a vehicle around.
With the CRL sorting out the constraints on the rail network the map below shows how Light Rail would integrate with other parts of the PT network. I assume the dotted lines are future potential high quality routes and major feeders to the RTN and LRT networks.
The map below indicates how light rail might work in the city centre along with the other buses that will still be there. This also highlights how they would access the Wynyard Quarter meaning that rather than a bridge across the Viaduct it would go via Fanshawe St, presumably sharing a corridor with buses. It also shows that the routes would operate as two pairs, Dominion Rd and Sandringham Rd would join together and travel down Queen St while Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd would use Symonds St.
Lastly they list some of the features and benefits of light rail over other options.
At this stage there has still not been any further information on just how AT plan to pay for the project.