A briefing to Councillors (from page 251) included in an attachment for the Council’s Planning Committee meeting for next week says that both the NZTA and Auckland Transport boards have now agreed on a way forward for the city to airport corridor. And that decision will see the route upgraded to light rail, eventually.
The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) shied away from saying light rail was needed and instead just referred to a number of strategic public transport routes as “Mass Transit”. We know that following ATAP, the NZTA commissioned a study to see if buses could meet the expected demand on the City to Airport route instead of Auckland Transport’s preferred light rail option. This was called the Advanced Bus Study (ABS) – as it happens I have an OIA request in for this report which was due back today but the NZTA have extended it by another 3-weeks. They even went as far as getting overseas consultants to do the study so it was completely independent to AT’s previous investigations on the issue.
The presentation states that like other recent studies, the ABS confirmed the proposed Queen St/Dominion/SH20/SH20A route which has helped “provide confidence and a degree of investment certainty” that they should get on with protecting it for mass transit. They also say it highlighted the need for better PT access from the East.
Here is a map of the route planned by the ABS showing it almost identical to the route AT planned for light rail.
The agreed way forward appears to be sensible. I read it as essentially being to make a range of short term improvements both north to the city and east to Manukau to help buses move around easier, which would likely take some of the current pressure off, while working to protect the route to the city for an eventual upgrade to light rail.
The short term improvements include infrastructure changes and it appears, additional services.
The changes to services are shown on the map below and would entail a number of new routes or changes to existing routes.
One interesting slide shows what the unitary plan allows for development in a rough walking distance around the proposed stations of both the North and East route. One aspect that stands out is the amount of almost white (single house zone) around some of the Dominion Rd stations. There is some mixed use density allowed close to Dominion Rd that is hard to see in these maps but the density does drop of quickly.
Light rail certainly feels like it’s going through the same sort of obstructive process as the CRL did before the government finally agreed to help pay for it and that it’s needed now. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long as the CRL did to get to that stage. The biggest unknown of course is the government who have been hostile to the project so far. I can’t understand what they would lose by supporting it, even if it was built in a decade or more, as the numerous reports back up the need for light rail and it’s a project that would be popular with voters.
Overall, it’s good to see there’s progress being made on this project and even better news that modern light rail continues to be the plan.
Many people comment to me how driverless technology will make transit obsolete, but I disagree, many of the advantages driverless cars have will apply to driverless transit too. Of course, we already have cities already have driverless transit by way of their metros and further, I’d argue that driverless technology will provide greater advantages to transit. This is due to the fact driver constitutes a large portion of the operational costs of running services so driverless technology will allow more frequent and therefore more useful services without increasing costs.
I also hear a lot about driverless buses, but not about driverless light rail. Having a quick google it turns out that people are in fact working on it and I found a great article & video about the technology Boshce is delivering in Frankfurt that they argue is just one step towards driverless Light Rail.
“The driver assistance systems being developed now, Bosch says, are the first step towards automated light rail. The systems are being engineered to work in all terrain, weather, and congestion scenarios.”
So when someone says driverless cars, say driverless vehicles, because transit will be able to take advantage of that technology as well to deliver cheaper, more frequent and more useful services.
Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.
Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail
The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.
The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.
The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).
While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.
The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.
The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.
There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):
Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:
a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded
By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.
Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.
Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.
One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.
But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.
Light rail on Dominion Rd is one of the big projects being discussed right now and is being actively investigated.
An impression of what Light Rail on Dominion Rd would look like
During the Unitary Plan debate I saw many people raise concerns that Dominion Road does not have the zoning to support Light Rail. While the zoning was been increased following the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) Recommendations which the council ultimately agreed with (subject to appeal), I believe there is still some low hanging fruit to increase zoning without affecting the Heritage Areas zoned Single House Zone (SHZ) in the Final Plan. Here’s a comparison of the two versions, the operative plan having a bit more:
- Terraced House and Apartment Buildings (THAB) – orange – up to four storey apartments
- Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) – peach – up to 3 storey terraces
- Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) – yellow – up to 2 storey terrace
I have come up with 4 low hanging fruit suggestions, with 1 potential opportunity for Land Use for Dominion Road Light Rail, there is also a map with the options areas highlighted below.
- The MHU around Mt Roskill close to Dominion Road could be rezoned THAB
- Some of the MHS could be be rezoned MHU
- The MHS could be rezoned to MHU & some of the MHU be rezoned as THAB.
- For the Mixed Use Zone & Town Centre Zoned Areas along Dominion Road, remove Height Variation Controls that reduce the standard height limits, and consider implementing height variation controls that increase the height limit slightly. This would allow store frontage to be redeveloped/renovated keeping the Character of Heritage Shops while allowing Apartments to be built on top.
- The last potential opportunity is areas close by Dominion Road who would prefer to catch the Light Rail & with good cycle links, or using Crosstown services would do so. This is due to potential time savings due to the priority the Light Rail has, as well as access to both Downtown/Uptown/Midtown, current Bus Routes do not give the same access to all three. As we’ve already seen in Auckland, many will often prefer to travel further for a service they perceive is of higher quality. One example of this could be seen during the roll out of electric trains where some people changed when they travelled so they caught an electric service rather than a diesel one. The two areas in question are Stoddard 5A on Map & Royal Oak 5B. These areas are already highly zoned, however Stoddard would likely not have Light Rail until after Dominion Road while the modelling in the Central Access Plan now says light rail on Mt Eden Rd is not needed until post 2040. By providing access to the Light Rail through good reliable Crosstown Buses (For Royal Oak this is Crosstown 7 & for Stoddard Crosstown 8) as well as cycling links these areas could have greater access to the Light Rail Network, while taking pressure of Sandringham Road, and Mt Eden Road bus services, admittedly due to the distance this may not be successful but is still possible.
Overall these options would allow the Heritage Areas to stay untouched, but would Upzone other areas close to the Light Rail route, this would align Land Use better with any potential Light Rail for Dominion Road. Of course any changes would have to go through at current the standard Resource Management Act process, and some of the Upzoning is potentially limited due to Heritage Protections of some of the Shops, as well a Viewshaft Overlay Controls which restrict height.
So what do you think, great, not bold enough, or the Decisions version will be fine?
On the weekend, the Labour Party, as part of the Mt Roskill by-election campaign, announced their intention to fund 50% of the cost of the proposed light rail line from Wynyard to Mt Roskill via Dominion Rd, one of the routes Auckland Transport first suggested in January last year.
The government have responded with both barrels, accusing Labour of pork-barrel politics but also quite worryingly, reverting to with many of the same arguments and contempt they showed for the City Rail Link – and we know how that worked out.
The Spinoff were clearly thinking of many of the same things I was on the issue yesterday but here are a few others in no particular order.
Government already agreed improvements were needed
One of the oddest aspects of this whole debate is that the government, through the recent Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), have already agreed an upgrade of the road is needed. The main report says this about central access:
Access to this area is physically constrained, and there is competition for limited street-space between vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and public amenity. This means it is imperative over time to move more people in fewer vehicles. This requires a continued modal shift towards public transport, walking and cycling.
Although bus efficiency improvements can help cope with increased demand in the short term, there are limits to the extent to which such improvements can continue to provide sufficient capacity. A mass transit solution will be required in the medium term. Key criteria for determining the best long-term solution should be the ability to meet projected demand in a way that integrates with the broader strategic network, provides for and stimulates ongoing growth along these corridors and in the city centre, and delivers value for money.
In the supporting information they also say:
Based on current forecasts, we concluded that the constraints in central Auckland can be managed through bus efficiency improvements for the next 10 years. Efficiency improvements over the next decade include continuing the roll out of double decker buses, changes to bus stops, and improving the routes taken into the central city.
On that basis, we concluded that a higher capacity mode, possibly light rail, is likely to be required on the central isthmus in the medium-term (2028-2038), and subsequently extended to Auckland Airport.
So the report talks about the need to move more people to catching PT and that more buses are only short term solutions.
Perhaps the biggest problem with ATAP, and what is reflected highly in this situation is the timing. As we’ve discussed before, ATAP relies heavily on old school transport modelling, the same stuff that has regularly over estimated driving demand and well underestimated the growth in PT use. That means many of the PT projects are likely to be needed sooner than ATAP suggests and light rail down Dominion Rd is probably the most likely of the proposals to be pulled forward. This is also partially confirmed by the table below showing the two main packages assessed as part of ATAP. Light Rail is teetering between decade 1 and 2 depending on the package suggesting at the very least it will need to be near the start of decade two.
In his interview with Radio New Zealand yesterday morning Prime Minister John Key was trying to pour as much cold water on the project as possible. He did highlight that Mass Transit was listed in ATAP as a second decade project that could mean light rail but that the Transport Agency are also looking at bus options. The term Mass Transit as used in ATAP is deliberately ambiguous as the reality is, some members of the government and their various agencies have an almost allergic reaction to the term rail. Some believe that whatever a train can do, a bus can do too, and do it cheaper.
The reality as it’s always been. is that we’ll need a mix of modes and it depends a lot on the route. In some. cases heavy rail is needed, in others light rail will be fine but in most cases buses will do the job well.
Dominion Rd is already the busiest bus corridor outside of the Northern Busway. The issue is that just chucking more and bigger buses on Dominion Rd – and other roads on the isthmus – isn’t a long term strategy for the simple fact is that there’s only a limited capacity on city streets to be able to handle those buses plus all the rest from other parts of Auckland. According to the Central Access Plan, the business case for Light Rail, Symonds St is already over capacity and that only gets worse as more buses and demand get added over time.
Symonds St Bus Numbers
Unless the government and their agencies address how putting more buses on an already over capacity routes, they’re just wasting everyone’s time.
“Buses use roads”
John Key also reverted to this old chestnut during his talk on Radio NZ to defend his government’s investment in so many roads. It’s a line they’ve used many times before but as with previous times it is fundamentally flawed. The issue is that buses need to be able to pick up and drop off passengers and that happens on local roads, not motorways like the government have focused on. As such you’re not going to see any AT services running through the Waterview tunnels, or on any of the widened motorways. The big exception to this is along State Highway 16 west of Pt Chev however there, the government and their agencies refused to build a busway to enable buses to work properly. The upgrades aren’t even finished and not building the busway at the same time is already looking to be a massive and costly blunder.
The real reason for the government opposition?
I’ve long wondered if the real reason the government have often been so reluctant to support rail projects is they know they’ll actually be too popular and everywhere will want one. This is a point Stephen Joyce himself raised in his opposition to the plan – which has also served to see it discussed much more than it probably would have otherwise.
To say nothing of every other electorate in Auckland looking for multi-billions in new railway lines.
It’s not just Auckland that will want them either, I can imagine Wellington, Christchurch and maybe a few other cities wanting rail investment.
Why only half Labour?
A key part of Labours policy of supporting Light Rail is that they’ll pay for half of the costs with Auckland paying the rest. This is the same as what’s now happening with the City Rail Link. Yesterday Mayor Phil Goff raises a point I’ve been meaning to write about since ATAP, why should Auckland pay half. I’ll discuss this issue in greater detail in a separate post but there are a couple of key issues I have.
First, the government’s contribution would come from either general taxes or from a reformed National Land Transport Fund. Even based on that 50:50 arrangement Auckland actually contributes about 68% of the costs because an approximately 36% of the governments contribution would also come from Auckland, as that is Auckland’s proportion of the national economy economy. So while paying for 68% of these urban Transit project Auckland will still be contributing 36% of the cost of every State Highway everywhere else in the nation. In effect this is using transport capex funding as a kind of city penalty; a way of redistributing from Auckland rate payers to the rest of the nation.
Second and a point also raised by Phil Goff yesterday, why should Aucklanders be stumping up 50% for a national scale project. Auckland’s Strategic Road network (the motorways) are all paid for, 100% by the government. ATAP also agreed on a Strategic PT network as shown below with the Dominion Rd route clearly visible. I’d argue that the strategic PT network should for the most part be funded the same way as the strategic road network.
The project is a PPP
One aspect missing from the current conversation is that the project isn’t expected to be funded like most transport projects. It has been previously discussed that this would be built and operated as a PPP, something the government have said they want more of. While in most cases PPPs are just another name for debt, with transit systems and the right incentives it might help encourage the private operator to also boost development along the route to make the project even more successful.
Some certainty is needed
Upgrading Dominion Rd has been an on again, off again discussion for the last 20 years and upgrading it is way overdue. As the local business association pointed out yesterday, they need some certainty as to what’s happening
The Dominion Rd Business Association has today called on both the National and Labour parties to stop playing politics over the future form of mass transit along Dominion Rd, saying that businesses along the 7km iconic strip want certainty over what transport will look like over the coming years, not political posturing.
Mr Holmes says the uncertain future for Dominion Rd has been a constant source of worry and confusion for businesses and landlords alike, holding back any significant investment in the area.
It’s time that Mayor-elect Phil Goff, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport work constructively with political parties across the political divide to come up with a definitive answer for mass transit in Auckland.
Given the history I don’t think that’s too much to ask
Regardless of whether light rail or some other form of better buses happen on Dominion Rd in the future, as ATAP points out, some improvements are needed to happen now. The bus lanes have too many gaps, especially through the town centres, they don’t run for long enough each day and double deckers are needed.
This is a guest post by our most august regular reader Warren Sanderson.
Over many years I have developed a dislike for what the concentration of motorway/roading only expenditure is doing to our cities and particularly Auckland. This heavy concentration on roading expenditure with ever widening multi-lane roads is promoting unsustainable car dominance and frequent severance of neighbourhoods from parts previously closely aligned. In other words, it is not doing much for “quality of place”.
I have been reading Transport Blog regularly for some years now because of my interest in architecture and city design and why some cities have so much more appeal as places to visit and live in than other cities.
And over the years Portland is frequently mentioned and photographed in Transport Blog as one of those desirable urban places for living.
So seeing that Portland was the only North American west coast city of any significance that I hadn’t visited, it was time for my wife and me to go.
But first I have to confess to recently attaining 80 years of age. I didn’t aspire to reach this age – it just crept up on me. And going forward there can’t be many advantages in reaching 80 but the reason I mention it is twofold:
When entering the U.S. this time they did not want to fingerprint me or make me take off my belt and shoes when going through security. The terrorist potential of 80 plus’ers must be considered low. My ‘young’ wife however, who in any event would cause far less trouble than me, got the full treatment.
The second advantage, although one only needed to be 65 for this, was one of nomenclature. We were not merely ‘pensioners’, not even ‘senior citizens’ but were ‘Honoured Citizens’ (Generation Zero take note!) and as such were entitled to half cost of the already modest cost of public transit on the TRI-MET System.
Upon arrival the volunteer information staff at Portland Airport quickly provided us with a ‘Journey Plan’ to the Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland. Other volunteer staff watched over our ticket machine purchase and another directed us to a substitute bus – all so friendly. Because the light rail line was undergoing maintenance a free shuttle bus took us to Kenton N Denver where we transferred to light rail for the remainder of the journey.
And wow! The cost for each of us was $ US 1.25. Unhonoured citizens pay double. If you choose to go by taxi I am told the cost is $ US 39 – 40.
On this basis, Auckland Airport, New Zealand Government policy, NZTA and AT together, have enormous scope/margin for improvement and it is fair to say that the travelling consumer with the lack of alternatives in Auckland, is being totally ripped–off, both financially and by insipid policy.
Our hotel was the Benson Hotel. It was well located on the corner of SW Oak and Broadway. I am not sure when it was built but it is impressively Edwardian in character and especially in the lobby area.
From the picture you can see that a considerable portion of the façade is red brick and visually set on a solid base. It was designed to impress which is nothing less than you would expect from Simon Benson, the original owner.
The Benson name crops up frequently in Portland. Benson made a fortune in the timber trade and then moved on to other ventures, activities and also to philanthropy. He gifted land including impressive waterfalls for state parks along the Colombia River Gorge. In Portland itself, he donated the ‘Benson Bubblers’ (a complete water system) that you can see on so many street corners. See picture below –
Portland’s street pattern is mainly organised on a grid system. Because each block is of fairly small dimension the city is reasonably pedestrian friendly. Most crossings do not have a beg button but don’t let your attention stray as there is no pedestrian buzzer. As a pedestrian you need to keep watch or you will miss your turn.
With some notable exceptions the buildings are not usually more than 5 or 6 storeys in height. Many are pared back Louis Sullivan Chicago Style which I find aesthetically pleasing – c.f. our General Building on the corner of Shortland and O’Connell Streets.
And yes, in Portland there are many buildings both older and more recent that are faced in brick. Portland has a high winter rainfall just like Auckland and brick certainly evokes the feeling of shelter and warmth far better than ever grey concrete can do. See pictures below –
On my return to Auckland I am pleased to note that Ockham’s new Bernoulli Gardens apartment development at Hobsonville Point will offer a European brick façade with some white relief and contemporary detailing. I hope this is a trend and that architects and builders stop trying to con us all, that we are part of the Mediterranean.
Let us return to the reason for visiting Portland – that is to use and explore their light train transit system.
Well wow! It is so easy to use – even for strangers. We walked three short blocks up to Pioneer Courthouse Square and purchased a number of HR (remember Honoured Citizen) Day Pass tickets at $ US 2.50 each. They need to be validated before use, at the little machine at the train stop. In the centre of Portland itself the trains run each way a street apart but with the aid of the TRI-MET System Map you soon get used to it.
For our first trip we took the Beaverton train westwards which soon enters a long rail only tunnel under the Washington Park hills before arriving at the Beaverton Transit Centre. We then took the Hillsboro train which comes on the same route but continues much further out to Hillsboro where Saturday Market was in full swing.
The light rail train goes fairly slowly on its tram style rails in the city but goes much faster on its railway style rails once it is on its own dedicated way a little further out.
On another occasion we went south crossing over the Willamette River on the much noted Tilikum Pedestrian and Rail only Bridge to Milwaukie.
On our final day we returned to the airport, initially part way by bus because of the maintenance and the rest of the way by light train from the Gateway Transit Centre – again the cost was $ US 1.25 each.
TRI-MET advertise that 45% of commuters and 45% of students use Transit every day and I understand that in Portland 6% of commuters bike to work each day compared with .5% of commuters in the U.S. nationally.
Not everything in Portland is perfect however. On the eastern side of the Willamette River there is a plethora of freeways flanking the river. You only have to go to the 30th floor of the U.S. Bankcorp Building to obtain a great view of the city and of these motorways including entries and exits snaking and weaving on the far river bank. Many are elevated like our motorways in the sky at Auckland’s Waterview and frankly all are rather ugly.
And then there is the question of stigma – the belief among some that only lower status people use transit. For example, when checking in for our departure at the airport, I commented that we had used Portland’s excellent public transit system to reach the airport and the attractive airline girl replied “Yes, it is very cheap but you get some funny fellow travellers”.
I thought about this comment afterwards and to a very limited extent had to agree with it on that particular route. In the other direction to Beaverton and Hillsboro all passengers had seemed ‘very normal’ so I guess in large measure, passengers are reflective of areas transit serves. Furthermore the latter route goes through a long tunnel because of the natural barrier of the Washington Park hills which may make driving at peak over more winding roads a less attractive alternative, thereby upping the patronage.
Maybe too, the overcoming of the significant natural barrier of the Washington Park hills, would in turn, appear to be an indicator of success for light rail from the new Aotea Station under Auckland Harbour to the populous North Shore.
So bring it on.
I can’t wait !!
Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.
But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.
Why Are There Cars on Queen St?
This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine
Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.
People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.
No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.
It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.
And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.
If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.
Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.
And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.
Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.
Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:
- Pedestrians in all directions
- Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
- General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs
And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.
So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.
Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.
Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…
In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.
Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?
‘…Five Years, what a surprise’
Auckland Transport have published a new version of their airport rail video, essentially stripping out the heavy rail parts while also adding a little bit more detail about the airport.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects is it shows a bit of how light rail would get through Onehunga. It appears the plan is to elevate the light rail line over Neilson St right where AT are about to remove the bridge that lifts the road over the rail corridor.
Every time rail to the airport is discussed, here or in other places, there are a number of people who question AT’s decision to use Light Rail to connect to the airport. The biggest complaints/misconceptions I’ve seen against the idea of using light rail to the airport are:
- Light rail is slower – especially on Dominion Rd with lots of stops
- That it will be like Melbourne mixed traffic
- Light rail doesn’t have enough capacity
- It will mix with trips on Dominion Rd
- It’s light and so heavy must equal bigger and better
So let’s step through some of these and to do so, I’m going to use Seattle as an example. The reason for using Seattle is that its Link Light Rail has many characteristics that appear to be almost identical to what Auckland Transport is proposing.
First a little bit about the system.
Seattle has only recently started building its light rail system and the first section opened in July 2009. Since then there have been a couple of extensions, to the airport in the south (six months later) and just in March this year, a 5km, 2 station extension to the north. Further extensions in each direction are already under construction with other lines and extensions planned.
As of now the entire light rail system is just over 30km in length which is almost identical to the distance between Papakura and Britomart. It does have fewer stations though and outside of the city, much wider station spacing. The route is a mix of grade separated right of way with a mix of tunnels and bridges, median running and in the city centre it shares one tunnel with buses. Below is an image from Streetview showing Martin Luther King Jr Way which a 6.2km long section of median running and is similar to what we can expect along Dominion Rd. As you can see it is not mixed with traffic and the rail is separated from the road by a small kerb. Access across the tracks at intersections is controlled by lights.
The light rail vehicles used in Seattle are capable of speeds up to 105km/h which at maximum is only 5km slower than our heavy rail trains are capable of, and which ours don’t often get close to achieving in normal service. Seattle has some fairly lengthy sections which over which I imagine it is able to make the most of it’s speed. That means it only takes about 44 minutes to travel the 30km for an impressive average speed of just over 40km/h. That is about the same average speed as the Eastern line from Manukau but considerably faster on average than the Southern, Onehunga and Western lines, the latter two average less than 30km.h.
Even if you exclude the section from the Airport to Rainier Beach and from Westlake to the University of Washington, the system achieves similar average speeds to our network.
Obviously our existing trains need to be faster but that is a discussion for a separate post. What is clear is that at the very least, it is possible to get light rail up to a similar speed as what we’re achieving now with our rail network.
To achieve the times Auckland Transport claim, LRT would only have to average 30km per hour, the same as being achieved on the Rainier Beach to Westlake section. With AT planning to create a corridor like shown above (but with a single traffic lane instead of two), that should be possible. There’ll be no light rail mixing with cars and also no stopping ever few hundred metres like many buses and many traditional tram networks such as Melbourne do.
It’s all very well saying that heavy rail has more capacity but just because you can build a rail line capable of running trains with a capacity for 1,000 people every 90 seconds, it doesn’t mean you should. It is very expensive both to build and run so most cities only do it if they absolutely need to. Better to build enough capacity for what you’re going to need (plus a bit of redundancy).
As we know, AT are planning on using up to 66m long light rail vehicles (two 33m coupled together) that can carry up to 450 people running every 5 minutes. Looking over at Seattle, they have 29m long vehicles that can carry around 200 people running at up to every 6 minutes in the peak. They too can couple vehicles together and until recently were limited to joining two trains together but their system allows for up to four to be coupled. Four vehicles connected together would be around 116m long and carry up to 800 people – more than one of our 6-car trains are designed to carry (ours carry 750 people). Given the technology is obviously already available, there doesn’t seem to be a technical reason why we eventually couldn’t see longer light rail trains here – assuming we designed for the possibility.
Another way of looking at capacity to see how it’s performing. Sound Transit who run the system publish ridership data monthly. The opening of the extension to the University of Washington in March has seen ridership soar at up to a staggering 83% compared to the same month a year prior. That means over the last few months, this single LRT line is carrying more than Auckland’s entire rail network combined. The results suggest that by the time the extension has been operative for a year that their system will be carrying 20 million+ trips a year. Seattle’s weekday numbers are about the same as what we have but they do much better on weekends, something we’ll hopefully see the new network improve.
On both speed and capacity, the example for Seattle shows that Light Rail can be every bit as good as our current heavy rail system. For me the key is not the name of the mode but how it’s designed. The pressure that needs to be applied to Auckland Transport, the council and the government is to provide the funding needed as soon as possible and to ensure that it’s implemented to the level advertised in the video above (or better). Light or heavy, it’s still rail to the airport.
Within the Auckland Transport Alignment Process Interim Report is the news that the six lane highway across the harbour as currently planned, the Additional Harbour Crossing, just doesn’t work, and is now at least mortally wounded, if not actually dead.
Clearly a total re-think of ways to serve the growing movement demand between the city and the north east is required. In January the Waterview connection and the supersizing of the North Western will open, and later a new interchange between SH 18 and SH 1 will complete the next road connections between the upper harbour and the wider city.
Additionally the SkyPath, SeaPath, and improvements to ferry services will also be added to the mix for the inner harbour, for the Active modes.
The great missing piece in the movement jigsaw for this part of the city [as elsewhere] is a Rapid Transit connection across the harbour and through the Shore. The case for the next major connection across the harbour utilising the high capacity, smaller foot print, and traffic reduction outcomes of Rapid Transit is now all but made.
Here I want to explore the options for an actually successful harbour crossing, particularly in light of recent announcements about the Mangere/Airport RTN, but also because of the need for a viable near term system that fits into the longer term needs of our growing city. I can’t emphasise this enough; for a system to actually get funded and built it surely must fit both those criteria, and that is not easy.
What follows is an exploration of possibilities done with a fairly broad brush; a high altitude view, with a lot of scope for variation in detail.
In 2012 I wrote a couple of speculative posts proposing the Shore Line as an extension of our current rail network. Here and here. I was interested in looking beyond the CRL to examine future improvements to the Shore and through Mangere to the Airport. In particular in offering an Albany to Airport one seat ride through an east-west CRL II type project, like this:
CITY CENTRE ‘The Cross’
While there is some elegance to these proposals [and some problems] it is clear that I started from an unexpressed assumption that all future rail systems would be extensions of the current network. This is no longer my view primarily because our current network has very firm structural upper limits for train movements, that means at some point it becomes limiting to try to add ever more arms to this body. Adding an additional high demand area like the North Shore will bring those limits forward, especially to hard to expand pinch points like Newmarket Station and Junction. Remembering too that freight movements are growing on parts of the network too. This isn’t to criticise our re-born urban rail system, it will remain the vital core of Auckland’s RTN, growing quickly post CRL to 50m trips pa. and beyond. But rather to recognise that it needs to be free to serve these core roles, supported by other existing and enhanced networks, and some new ones.
I also suspect that the required crosstown tunnel would be prohibitively expensive, especially when combined with a cross harbour one. Together these costs could be sufficiently high to kill the plan.
Instead, adding a new and complimentary network, making connections by transfer at interchange stations, adds resilience as well as more capacity, in that problems on one network won’t affect the other. This also allows us to tailor the next network to our current demands and utilise all the latest technology and thinking without needing to accommodate it to the physical parameters of the existing system [freedom from the ‘happenstance of yore’].
On the assumption that the current Busway can be relatively easily converted to Light Rail, the obvious opportunity is leverage off AT’s Light Rail plans for a Queen St-Dominion Rd system through Mangere to the Airport so that this:
becomes this, an idea we have explored in the past:
So the return of the highly desirable one-seat ride from Albany to the Airport, on a high catchment spine; the A-Train, but this time via Light Rail, on a combination of higher speed grade separate paths, and high access street running. The advantages and disadvantages of these conditions have been debated at length on previous posts, what I want to examine here are future network possibilities of such a system, because networks are always greater than their parts. However it is worth a visit to this analysis of the recent addition of Light Rail to Paris’ Transit mix on this very issue; degrees of separation, I guess you could call it. Basically it concludes that while it is always better to strive for as much separate running as possible, this needs to be balanced against both capital cost and quality of access. And especially the quantity and quality of the transfer nodes with other major Transit Networks.
It takes just a few seconds looking at the RATP map to see why the Paris trams are so useful. In Paris’s hub-and-spoke transit network, they are the rim of the wheel, connecting the ends of Metro and RER lines in far-flung parts of the region. All nine lines offer at least two stations that connect to other modes of transit. Some offer many more:
||No. of transfers
||No. of total stations
||Pct. of stations with transfers
So returning to Auckland and the proposed A Line we can see that while it would be a great complement to our existing fast growing Rail Network, and likely further RTN extensions including AMETI, and the North-Western, it still only connects with it at the four stations indicated with blue dots above. However the possibilities for leveraging off this system to create a second route with a rich abundance of connectedness:
The western section carries along the grade separate SH20 alignment to a new station at Owairaka, then continues to Mt Albert Station, Unitec, and to the future RTN station at Pt Chev on the North-Western line, on-street [The RTN connections are why I prefer this possible extension over one to the metro-centre of New Lynn]. The southern to Puhinui Station and the Manukau City Interchange Station down Lambie Dr, again mostly on its own alignment.
Which of course can be extended to include AMETI:
The simplest idea would be to run these as two overlapping lines A and B, giving the Airport and Mangere great connectivity west, south, north, and east. Direct to the City Centre and great connectivity with every branch of the RTN, including of course the Onehunga line. Or say three lines all converging on the Airport. Such a system is also highly stageable, and you all can haggle over your favourite technology for each part….
The key principle though must be future proofing for upgrades. I think it is vital, for example, that the harbour crossing, if it is to be Light Rail, is built so it can take Light Metro for the time in the future that the demand from the Shore is high enough to justify a tunnel from Wynyard to Aotea Station and the option of implementing a fully driverless system as then it would be 100% grade separate. I’m sure some would like to start straight off with such a system, but I think it is clear that designing systems that can grow with the city is the only viable way forward.
Without trying to put a date on it, below is a pretty good integrated RTN future to aim for:
Rail running at 5min frequencies on the outer lines so a train every 2.5 mins in the CRL and other places [Red and Green]
LRT also at varying frequencies depending on place, perhaps even two routes from Wynyard to the city
More Ferries, Rapid Bus on Gt North Rd and the NW and across the Upper Harbour, although especially from Pt Chev to the city could be LRT too.
When or whether parts of this are Buses or Light Rail, are not so much my focus but rather getting the coverage optimised, and the routes protected.
No doubt it will change but here’s a potential version. Discuss:
Following on from my post a few days ago on light rail being preferred to the airport – which has been one of the most commented on that we’ve ever had – by far the most common concern is around the speed of light rail, particularly on the section along Dominion Rd.
I’ve taken a look in the past at what other cities who have built similar light rail systems to what AT are proposing and I found that a number of them are capable of the speeds suggested. But of course they aren’t Auckland so I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the things we know that AT are proposing that will help ensure light rail will be quick and reliable along this important corridor.
Fewer stops and more direct route
Buses along Dominion Rd between the Southwestern motorway and the centre town have almost 30 stops to pass along the way. There are of course bus lanes along a lot of the route but they stop short at key intersections which can cause delays. Before light rail came along, AT had planned to lengthen these bus lanes right to the intersection to help speed up buses further. The current timetable shows travel times between Denbigh Ave close to the motorway and the city taking between about 23 minutes and 41 minutes depending on the time of day.
With light rail Auckland Transport plan to significantly reduce the number of stops along the route with just eight on Dominion Rd itself and only 10 to get to the same point in town. Of course one down side to some residents is it means they may have to walk further to get to a stop. For light rail it appears they’ve effectively picked one stop in the main centres along the route with intermediate stops between them.
You can see the difference in the two in the map below. Fewer stops means vehicles can travel faster as they’re not constantly accelerating or braking.
Buses can also suffer from dwell time issues from boarding and alighting passengers. It is possible to address some of these, such as restricting cash payments, allowing all door boarding which could speed up buses a bit but off line ticketing and fast boarding are a fairly standard feature of light rail so provided that AT implement it properly that will help compared to the current situation people compare to.
In addition to fewer stops, you can see from the map above that light rail takes a more direct route to the city and so has fewer intersections to negotiate.
Buses currently are at the mercy of traffic lights and at the big intersections with long cycle times this can slow them down and cause buses to bunch. When bus frequencies get too high it results in there almost always being buses waiting to get through lights, which is often a leading cause of them bunching and is not good for operations or passengers.
One reasons we heard AT were for looking at light rail on Dominion Rd in the first place was that it allowed fewer but much larger vehicles to run. The advantage of that is it allows for signal priority to be effective and so depending on how it is set up, it could mean the light rail never has to stop at Intersections other than at its stations. Again that could end up being a significant time saving.
On a related note, we know that light rail will be able to skip one major intersection with AT have suggesting that they will tunnel under the K Rd ridgeline as part of building that part of the line. I believe this is mainly for operational reasons – removing a steep part of the hill – but it will also benefit travel times.
Centre running protected route
Running light rail down the centre of Dominion Rd means it won’t get held up by cars turning left into side streets or driveways, parking to run into the shops or drop someone off/pick them up. Cars would only be able to turn right at specific intersections and not when a light rail vehicle is around. It is also common for the light rail corridor to be protected by a raised kerb to prevent cars from accessing the tracks or using them as a median, in much the same way that kerbs are used to stop people driving in cycle lanes. Examples include the Gold Coast as shown below and Seattle.
A raised kerb can also be seen in some of the concept images AT have released in the past such as this on of Ian McKinnion Dr
When you combine all of these elements it means that light rail is able to travel down Dominion Rd pretty much completely unimpeded by other traffic and only needing to stop a few times along the way. The speed limit for light rail would almost certainly still be 50km/h but even if it could average half that, it could travel the 7km between the centre of town and SH20 in just 17 minutes. As a quick comparison, in the same timeframe leaving from Britomart would be at about Ellerslie – although admittedly we expect AT go get that time sped up a bit.
Once the route reaches SH20 the LRT route appears to be almost completely separate from traffic with the exception of a small section in Onehunga and so for most of it could easily travel at up to 100km/h if the vehicles and tracks were designed to do so – and that has been suggested by AT in the documents they’ve produced so far.
This gives me confidence that for LRT at least, the times AT have suggested are realistic but I’d add that a lot depends on just how well they implement everything.