As well as the Metro and an excellent bus system -Bilbobus- Bilbao also has a small tram system. Running CAF built Urbos 1 Light Rail vehicles, the route covers different sections of the city to the faster and longer reaching Metro, offering a highly visible distributor from a couple of Metro stations it connects with to important destinations like the Guggenheim Museum. It runs both on the city streets and on dedicated and grassed corridors by the river. The Quay side has a wide promenade and cycleways on both banks. The revitalisation of Bilbao is built on the back of investment in high quality public realm with thorough attention to Transit and Walking and Cycling networks. The Guggenheim Museum is really the icing on the cake of this rebirth, not the starting point.
Photographs by Patrick Reynolds.
From our now exiled oh.yes.melbourne Photographers and Urbanistas comes this Melbourne tram clearly posing as a brightly coloured caterpillar:
As Auckland develops I find it’s always useful to compare how Auckland performs in relation to other similar cities around the world. It allows us to see what they do well and what they don’t and use that information to guide us in making our city better. There are two cities we frequently use as examples Vancouver and Perth. Both cities are larger than Auckland – 2.4 million and 1.9 million respectively – on average have less population density (not that I particularly like that measure) and have similar levels of CBD employment as Auckland. Both cities have also invested quite a bit in public transport over the last 30 or so years. Vancouver has built their Skytrain system after having no rail network at all while Perth started out with a diesel network carrying about the same number of passengers our network currently does, it has electrified and expanded the system considerably and patronage has grown. They even managed to find a city to sell their old trains to (us).
But with this post I want to suggest a new city we should be adding to the comparison list – Calgary.
So why Calgary? Well first of all unlike the two cities already mentioned which have larger populations than Auckland- and therefore are useful to compare where Auckland might be in 20-30 years’ time, Calgary’s population is slightly smaller at about 1.15 million. Yet over the last 30 years the two cities have shown remarkably similar growth with Auckland’s population having increased by 81% while Calgary’s increased by 85%.
Like the other cities mentioned, on average Calgary is also less dense than Auckland and being on a river plain there is little geographically to stop development from spreading in all directions. It does seem to have a slightly higher share of its population work in the CBD but the numbers are on par Auckland if you included the fringe areas like Newmarket, the Hospital etc. Further if you look at the CBD from satellite maps you can see massive amounts of car parking on otherwise empty sites all around the city. So by most measures you would expect that Calgary would perhaps perform fairly similarly to Auckland when it comes to public transport – and by similar I mean poorly. But it doesn’t as you can see from the graph below (note the big dip in 2001 was due to an almost two month strike).
When you combine the population and PT boarding’s you can see that the key difference between the two cities is that Calgary managed to slightly increase its per capita PT boarding’s while in Auckland the number more than halved in the 10 years from 1984 to 1994.
What was different between the two cities that meant Calgary was able to keep its PT system performing and improving while in Auckland things went through the floor? I’m sure there are quite a range of reasons however one of the most obvious has been the effort that has been put into developing a rapid transit network for the city. Starting in 1981 the city built its first light rail line and have expanded it quite a bit since then. But this isn’t just an old school street running tram system, like the one that used to exist in Auckland but a rail network that runs on exclusive right of ways through much of the urban area with occasional level crossings. In many parts it runs in the median or to the side of motorways, much like the Northern Express. The only place that the system runs in the street other than a level crossing is through the CBD where the route is only shared with buses and emergency vehicles. The Calgary Transit site has a useful history of the system showing how it has been frequently been extended.
1978 – construction of the first leg of the CTrain began.
1981 The 10.9 km south line from Anderson Road to 7 Avenue S.W. was officially opened on May 25.
1985 – Service commenced on the northeast leg of the CTrain. The northeast, 9.8 km line extends from the east end of 7th Avenue, across the Bow River and northeast to Whitehorn Station.
1987 – The third leg of the CTrain system was completed in the northwest. The northwest line extends from the west end of 7th Avenue, across the Bow River and north to the University of Calgary.
1990 – The northwest leg was extended to Brentwood Station, increasing the line to 6.6 km.
2001 – The south CTrain line was extended to Canyon Meadows (2.0 km) and to Fish Creek Lacombe (1.4 km.
2003 – The northwest CTrain line was extended to Dalhousie (3.0 km).
2004 – The southwest CTrain line was extended to Shawnessy and Somerset/Bridlewood (3.0 km).
2007 – The northeast CTrain line was extended to McKnight-Westwinds (2.9 km).
2009 – The northwest CTrain line was extended to Crowfoot (2.2 km).
2012 – The northeast CTrain line was extended to Martindale and Saddletowne (2.9 km).
2012 – The West LRT CTrain line opened, between downtown and 69 Street W (8.2km).
The map below shows the reach of the system with each colour representing one of the extensions above, the most recent of which was less than a year ago.
Calgary Transit doesn’t break down the patronage by mode but some figures they do release suggest that the LRT system accounts for 50-60% of all PT trips. The LRT network is also supported by a bus network that has a similar design to what Auckland Transport is about to roll out with buses that connect into stations and allow transfers rather than try to be everything to everyone.
But it hasn’t just been a case of extending the LRT network as Calgary has also focused a on a number of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs). The one in the image below is a place called Saddletowne, a greenfield site at the end of the North East line. The satellite images cut off half way the centre through however you can quite clearly see the beginnings of a town centre (looks like a strip-mall though) next to the station. Houses radiate out from it. The LRT line was extended to the town centre just over a year ago and a recent study suggests that over 8,700 begin or end at the station every day with 63% of people getting to the station by walking. To put it in perspective, that is busier than Newmarket. What’s more you can quite clearly see that the city has planned for potential future expansion by leaving a corridor of development heading north for the next sprawl suburb.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Calgary is how they are planning for future PT expansion. They have just completed a 30 year plan called Route Ahead which looked at exactly how they will expand and improve the PT system. But this wasn’t just planners deciding how they will develop the system but they involved the public all the way along, including what corridors and modes would be used. Most of the plan is fairly typical including stuff about how people will access the system, what the customer experience will be etc. As part of the process they have created and published a future RTN map showing how they intend to connect the rest of the city up with a comprehensive system of LRT, BRT and Transitway (Bus Lanes).
Now this on its own isn’t unique and many cities have these types of plans however the thing that interested me the most was that the city is planning to fast track a large proportion of the network over the next 10 years. That plan also includes starting to build the patronage on what will be the third pair of LRT lines but starting off initially with a cheaper BRT solution. The future RTN and the 10 year fast tracked system is below.
Why this is so interesting is that it is a similar approach we have suggested that needs to be taken in Auckland with the Congestion Free Network. We have shown a vision for how we could develop a high quality RTN network that covers much of the city that is a fraction of the price of the massive roading spend up planned and have said that we should fast track it to really reap the benefits. By doing so we could quickly get a much greater balance in out transport system giving Aucklanders some real choice in how they get around.
The development of places like Saddletowne – while not perfect – also provide an example of what we should be doing with the greenfield Special Housing Areas recently announced. If we have to sprawl then we should at least be trying to do a much better job of it than we have in the past by designing them right from the start to be easy to serve with public transport.
The one thing that is clear from the example of Calgary is that the on-going development of an RTN quality service has been absolutely critical in the performance of their PT network and making it attractive to use by a large number of people. Auckland didn’t really start developing its RTN until 2003 with Britomart, over 20 years later. Further, to get to where they are now (and what they are doing in the future) they have put effort into creating an easily understood vision and getting the public on-board. I firmly believe that if AT/the council were to present a comprehensive vision for PT in Auckland like we have done with the Congestion Free Network then many of the conversations and arguments we as a city would be having would be quite different. They would largely turn away from bickering about individual projects to discussions about how we get if built sooner.
Some big news out of Wellington yesterday with the release of the Public Transport Spine Study as well as more news on the Basin Flyover and Duplicate Mt Victoria Tunnel. Both are actually fairly intricately tied together. Here are the two press releases from the NZTA about the spine study (why did we need two). First let’s look at the PT spine study. It was described by the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) as:
The Public Transport Spine Study (PTSS) is about determining what a future public transport solution for Wellington city might be – one that is high quality, modern and meets the longer term aspirations and demands of our city.
The study has been undertaken by AECOM, and was commissioned jointly by Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council and the NZ Transport Agency. These three agencies are working in partnership to ensure this work is aligned with economic and transport developments in Wellington City and the wider region.
This PTSS is a key action from the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan (2008), which seeks major improvements to public transport to provide a high quality, reliable and safe service between the Wellington Railway Station and the regional hospital. It sits alongside significant improvements to the strategic road network that are now being planned and designed as part of the RoNS programme and major upgrades to rail network.
The study initially looked at a number of different options from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network. From there the options were narrowed down to three:
- Bus priority – $59 million, which involves more peak period bus lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, along the Golden Mile and Kent Terrace, through the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the Hataitai bus tunnel to Kilbirnie.
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – $209 million, which involves a dedicated busway, for modern, higher capacity buses separated from other traffic as much as possible, along the Golden Mile and Kent/Cambridge Terrace then around the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.
- Light Rail Transit (LRT) – $940 million, which involves new tram vehicles running on dedicated tracks along the Golden Mile, Kent and Cambridge Terraces then around the Basin Reserve along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through a separate Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie
One I noticed straight away which is odd is that the LRT option required its own tunnel under Mt Victoria whereas the BRT option was using the duplicated road tunnel. I imagine that this is a large part of the cost difference between the two. The NZTA say that the road tunnels will be limited to 50kph so I’m not sure why buses can use it but why LRT can’t (the official reason given is concerns over fire and safety issues of LRT in mixed traffic – something that doesn’t seem to be a problem elsewhere in the world). It’s also worth noting that buses through the tunnels wouldn’t have any bus priority. One thing that is crucial to later on in this post is the report notes that buses would also be able to run in the LRT corridor. Anyway here are the routes that were assessed.
The report also contains cross sections of various parts of the routes showing where the lanes would be located within the street environment. For both the BRT and LRT options this means on either one side of the road or down the centre. But it isn’t just routes or modes that are important, so on to the impacts these options would have. As you would expect, each option seems to have been assessed multiple ways. The ones I’m most interested in are the impacts on patronage, travel times and the economic assessments.
The travel time savings for both the LRT and BRT options seem fairly impressive. From Kilbirnie these two options each save over 10 minutes while they also save 6-7 minutes from Newton.
Each option has been assessed at both a regional level and in the South and East, the area served by the infrastructure and here is where I think things get interesting. The modelling only looks at the AM peak period – something that has been happening in Auckland too – and even in the reference case shows patronage dropping between 2021 and 2031. Presumably this is caused by the RoNS making it easier to drive. At the regional level the report suggests that even the best performing option – BRT – will only add 900 passengers (2.6%) to the morning peak period by 2041. By comparison it suggests that LRT will only add 400 (1.1%).
The impact in the South and East gets even weirder with LRT only being suggested to increase patronage over the base case by 80 passengers (1.1%) compared to 220 (3.1%) for bus lanes or 550 (7.8%) for the BRT option.
To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is something funny going on in the modelling. We know from the CCFAS that our modelling of PT usage is very poor, and even after a lot of effort is put in to improving it. Considering that we don’t have any cities in New Zealand using LRT for PT purposes the impacts of it are probably not being assessed properly. Further when considering just how much time the BRT and LRT routes save, it seems even weirder that patronage numbers are so low.
All of the options appear to perform very poorly in an economic assessment however reading through some of the report it is clear that there is a massive issue identified in the standard assessment.
There is no limitation on the number of car trips that can be made to the CBD, the implication is that parking will increase to meet demand.
So effectively I read this as saying is that the RoNS will create a whole heap of road capacity which will encourage people to drive and that our economic assessments assume that more parking will magically appear in the city centre to cope with this. The report says that capping parking would increase the patronage from both the BRT and LRT options by 1600-2100 peak trips which is a fairly significant increase. Even with that in place the BRT option only just scrapes over the line.
One other comment from the press release caught my attention
The benefits are calculated using NZTA guidelines. These apply a monetary value to travel time savings experienced by existing and new public transport users and are offset by ‘disbenefits’ experienced by motorists because road space has been allocated to public transport.
Now I agree that when assessing these options the impact on road users from less road space being available needs to be taken into account however I would almost guarantee that the opposite thing isn’t taken into account when roads are being assessed.
Looking over all of the different aspects of the report it is fairly clear that the BRT option is what has come out on top. This doesn’t surprise me and as much as I might like to see light rail installed, even if it were half the price it just doesn’t seem feasible.
The other major piece of news mentioned is that hat NZTA has lodged applications to the Environmental Protection Authority for the Basin Flyover. They like to call it the Basin Bridge to make it sound cuter than it is but that doesn’t change the fact it is likely to end up a very imposing piece of infrastructure. This kind of thing is what cities around the world are now starting to tear down. Even the NZTAs own very pretty videos don’t make it look appealing – unless you are driving.
We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.
And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.
It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….
Above is a chart from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].
Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].
Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.
Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.
And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.
There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!
There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.
Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.
Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.
We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand
So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.
Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.
Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.
Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].
Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.
But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?
-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe
-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this
-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.
-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.
I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.
But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.
My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.
And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.
So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.
* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.
The following is a guest post by regular reader and tram and heritage aficionado; the always analogue Geoff Houtman.
Last February, the Western Bays Community Group was asked to come with a “Ponsonby Road Plan”. We have received hundreds of suggestions to the deliberately open questions,- “What would you like more of?”, “Less of?”, and “None of?”. This is the first in a series of posts based on the answers received.
Ponsonby Rd Lane Uses
Three options are presented below, incorporating those ideas relating to the Roadway. Firstly though, let’s look at what we currently have.
Ponsonby Rd is a little over a mile long (1724m) running basically North-South. The Roadway is generally 18-19 metres wide and divided into 6 or 7 lanes; the two outermost being parallel street parking, with two general traffic lanes each North and South bound and a central median designed to facilitate right hand turning at nearly every side street and intersection. There is no cycling priority at any point. And very scant bus privilege at the southern end plus the mostly mid block bus stops. Clearways operates to speed peak traffic on the section between Williamson and Crummer Rds. At its northern Three Lamps end Ponsonby Rd is one-way, just before it meets Jervois and Crummer Rds. Redmond St and the top of Pompallier Tce have also been one-wayed to handle all of Ponsonby road’s north bound traffic movements for this section.
Can we make it better? Here are three possibilities based on community suggestions.
Traffic cut to one lane each way, Cycleway runs beside the footpath with vehicle parking between it and the traffic lane, Light Rail or buses use dedicated centre lanes.
Footpaths are pushed out a lane on each side, bike lane, then parking and one lane general traffic each way, PT lanes removed, painted median/turning lanes retained.
Parking lanes contain spaced trees, one general traffic lane each way, Cycleway brackets PT lanes.
Do any of these choices seem like an improvement? Do you have any better ideas?
UPDATE: Thanks to all the commenters, based on your helpful advice an Option D has been created. The cycles lanes are now buffered from moving traffic by footpaths and combined parking/ tree lanes. A bus has been added in the PT lanes to indicate their continued viability until the next oil price rise and the possible return of light rail/ trams. On a technical note the parking lanes are now only 2m wide instead of the previous 2.5.
There’s an article in yesterday’s NZ Herald which notes ridership on the Wynyard Quarter tramway has, unsurprisingly in my opinion, dropped away quite a lot in the past few months.
Figures given to Auckland Council member Cameron Brewer show the two heritage electric trams carried fewer than 20 per cent of forecast passengers over their 1.5km circuit in March, when patronage slumped to 1933 people.
That was well below October’s figure of 15,322 – after which patronage previously boosted by the Rugby World Cup plummeted to 2391 before rising to 4357 in December and then falling again.
But council organisation Waterfront Auckland said yesterday that the figure for April – which was not given to Mr Brewer – rose to 4664 passengers after a successful Easter holiday programme for children.
As the tram is currently rather overpriced and goes from nowhere to nowhere, it’s unsurprisingly that hardly anyone catches it. I certainly haven’t been on it and don’t really see the point of it while the only route is takes is a loop around Wynyard Quarter. However, the whole point of the Wynyard Quarter tramway was to be a “beach-head” as many people described at the time, to just get some tracks in there before Wynyard got built up, get things going so it was then possible to look at options for taking the tramway to Britomart and then potentially elsewhere.
Which means that it’s pleasing to see later on in the article that thought is being given to extending the line to Britomart – so that it can actually be linked in with the rest of the network and serve a useful transport purpose:
The council had also included $8.2 million in the first year of its draft long-term budget for an extension of tramlines across Viaduct Harbour.
There will always be endless arguments about trams versus buses, but I think if you ask most Aucklanders they generally consider the ripping up of our tram system to have been one of the biggest mistakes in the city’s history, and the effect of ripping up the tracks on PT patronage was disastrous. The vertical line in the graph below shows approximately when the tracks were ripped out:
Of course the network was quite extensive back then and just as a reminder, here is a map of our former tram network:
If we can get the tram tracks across Viaduct Harbour to Britomart then we really open up the possibility of further extending trams in the future – most likely up Queen Street and potentially in the longer term along Tamaki Drive. We also provide a really good transport link from the main PT hub of Auckland to a fast-growing employment area.
We’ve had a bit of time for the trams at Wynyard to be a tourist plaything. Now it’s time to make the infrastructure actually useful.
This is a Guest Post by Peter and continues his series on overseas cities.
Los Angeles is a poster child for automobile dependent sprawl – a moniker that is somewhat justified, even if it also happens to be one of the denser American cities (if you use the rather dodgy measurement of average density). But Los Angeles’s story is actually a bit more complicated than the normal story – especially if you look at where LA is now heading with its transport policy and its funding priorities.
To start with, Los Angeles’s highly dispersed urban form was not originally the result of the automobile, but rather the result of it once having the world’s most extensive electric railways network – the Pacific Electric System: At its greatest extent in 1925, the Pacific Electric Railway system had over 1600 km of track – linking towns with each other and with downtown Los Angeles. Coupled with the “Los Angeles Railway“, a system of streetcars in the very inner suburbs of LA, you would have struggled to find many cities in the world in the 1920s with a more extensive rail network: particularly as population wise Los Angeles wasn’t the huge conurbation that it is today.
Obviously in later years Los Angeles decided to go down the “build motorways exclusively” path, arguably to a greater extent than just about any other city in the world – particularly in terms of constructing such an extensive system relatively early (the Arroyo Seco Parkway opened in 1940). By the 1970s Los Angeles didn’t have a passenger rail network – quite staggering for the second largest city in the USA, and leading to pretty massive congestion and pollution problems. So for much of the last 20 years, a major focus for Los Angeles has been the construction (or in many cases reconstruction) of the city’s rail network. A lot has been achieved:
- The Blue Line (opened in 1990) is a light rail line running between Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown Long Beach.
- The Red Line (opened in 1993) is a subway line running between Downtown Los Angeles and North Hollywood.
- The Purple Line (opened in 1993 as part of the Red Line) is a subway line running between Downtown Los Angeles and the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles.
- The Green Line (opened in 1995) is a light rail line running between Redondo Beach and Norwalk in the median of the Century Freeway (I-105), providing indirect access to Los Angeles International Airport via a shuttle bus.
- The Gold Line (opened in 2003) is a light rail line that runs between East Los Angeles and Pasadena via Downtown Los Angeles.
- The Metro Expo Line is Metro’s newest light rail line that will open to the public on April 28, 2012. The line has been delayed for nearly 2 years.The line will initially operate between Downtown Los Angeles to La Cienega/Jefferson and in the summer 2012 to Culver City. It will share 2 Metro Blue Line stations (7th Street/Metro Center and Pico).
Along with a couple of bus rapid transit lines, Los Angeles has managed to build a fairly decent network over the past 20 years – pretty much from scratch: But what makes Los Angeles particularly interesting is looking at where it’s headed now. Despite the investment over the past 20 years in the network shown above, as well as a pretty clever bus system, Los Angeles remains a car dependent city that continues to suffer from congestion and pollution. However, unlike Auckland – where we remain under the illusion that perhaps if we just widen one more motorway we might finally fix congestion for good – Los Angeles has come to the realisation that the only solution is to offer people alternatives to sitting in their cars getting stuck in traffic. In short, there’s a general realisation that the vast bulk of investment in transport needs to go into these alternatives.
Reflecting this general understanding in the population, in November 2008 Measure R was passed by a two-thirds majority in Los Angeles County. Measure R added 0.5% onto the existing county sales tax over 30 years, with the money raised from that sales tax increase being specifically allocated to transport projects. Over the 30 years, the tax is expected to raise around $40 billion – with all money raised needing to be split across different transport activities in the following way:
- 35% for transit capital projects (i.e. new rail and bus rapid transit lines).
- 3% for transit capital on the Metrolink commuter rail system.
- 2% for transit capital on things like rail cars and rail yards.
- 20% for highway capital projects.
- 5% for operations on new rail lines.
- 20% for bus operation improvements.
- 15% for local return (i.e. transportation money that individual cities decide how to spend).
The graph below also illustrates the funding split quite well:While there probably remains some uncertainty about where the local improvements money will end up, generally the funding split for Measure R funds is tilted extremely strongly towards public transport projects, as well as ensuring there’s sufficient money available to also improve services.
The map below shows that a pretty extensive range of projects are able to be advanced due to Measure R: The biggest project of the lot here is the Westside SubwayExtension, with the full project expected to cost around $9 billion (but is hugely needed as it runs under Wilshire Boulevard, an enormously dense activity corridor).
What becomes increasingly clear, when you look at the long-term transport plans of supposedly auto-dependent cities like Los Angeles, is how they’ve realised the pointlessness of continuing to add more and more motorway capacity, just to watch it fill up again. But for some reason Auckland doesn’t quite get this yet, for some reason even a 50/50 split between roads and public transport funding is seen as “too extreme” – the Auckland Plan shifting away from that general funding split that had been in the Regional Land Transport Strategy. It seems that anywhere else in the world a 50/50 split would be seen as extremely roads-focused, yet in New Zealand it’s the complete opposite.
Why are we so out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to transport matters?
As Brian Rudman noted so eloquently in his NZ Herald column yesterday, there are so many plans out there relating to Auckland’s future at the moment that it almost makes your brain freeze. Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan, Waterfront Plan and an economic development strategy for the city. It’s a challenge to know where to start.
This post focuses on the City Centre Master Plan, which as I’ve noted in previous posts, is an incredibly exciting plan – focusing on making Auckland’s downtown a more people-friendly place, taking back much of its public space from the private vehicle and giving it over to pedestrians. While the plan is over 200 pages long, fortunately those pages comprise of a lot of picture so it’s a relatively easy read. Furthermore, it focuses on eight strategic ‘interventions’, which will hopefully mean that many of its great goals don’t become lost in time – with the plan confined to becoming yet another door stop – as was the case with a large number of previous plans and strategies in Auckland.
While the plan certainly does have all the high level aspirations and visions that you’d expect, but be slightly skeptical of in terms of that key word implementation, one thing that makes me more confident many of the ideas from this plan will actually happen is the listing of these eight key interventions:
1. Uniting the waterfront and the city centre – the North-south stitch
2. Connecting the western edge of the city to the centre- the East-west stitch
3. Queen Street Valley CBD and retail district – the Engine Room
4. Nurturing an innovation and learning cradle
5. Growth around the City Rail Link – new public transport stations and development opportunities at K Road, Newton and Aotea Quarter
6. Connecting Victoria Park, Albert Park and the Domain as part of a blue-green park network – the Green Link
7. Connecting the city and the fringe – City gateways to the villages
8. Revitalising the waterfront – Water City
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what these key interventions are trying to achieve is through showing a number of before and after pictures. I will go into more detail on some key issues in this plan in future posts – this is just designed to give an overview of the Plan as a whole.
The ‘north-south stitch’ is designed to link the city back with its waterfront, right from Wynyard Quarter in the west to the Port in the east. Key barriers to overcome in achieving this vision are Fanshawe Street and Quay Street – with the image below showing a possible future treatment of Quay Street as much more of a ‘boulevard’. The light-rail line could potentially link Wynyard Quarter with St Heliers along Tamaki Drive, an idea quite similar to something I came up with some time ago: Another key part of the north-south stitch is the removal of the Lower Hobson Viaduct and the redevelopment of the Downtown carpark. This particular point in the CBD is a cross-point between the north-south stitch and another priority, the east-west stitch, so is quite critical in driving the outcomes desired by Council. Compared to what we have now, the proposal looks pretty spectacular: Strong north-south links through this area – from Federal and Hobson streets down to the viaduct, will be crucial for its success. Shifting further westwards, we see the proposed “downtuning” of Fanshawe Street to make it a more pedestrian friendly area. Obviously Fanshawe is the crucial public transport link between the city centre and the North Shore – so I imagine any redevelopment would probably need to provide a dedicated busway corridor, something that seems to be missing in the image below (although there’s another tram): The second key intervention is the “east-west stitch”, to link back the part of the city west of Hobson and Nelson streets with the Queen Street valley – where most of the ‘action’ is now. A key part of this is once again a project that I’ve been a fan of for quite some time, ‘downtuning’ those two defacto motorways to more normal streets. Whether we could get away with narrowing the streets down to quite the extent in the image below is debatable, but certainly something that I think would be great: Another key part of the east-west stitch is a focus on turning Federal Street into the High Street of the west, progressively turning it into a shared space along its whole length: from Aotea Square in the south down past Sky City and St Patricks, to Fanshawe Street in the north.
The next key intervention focuses on Queen Street and its immediate surrounds as the real “engine room” of downtown Auckland. There are some great ideas about making Queen Street more pedestrian friendly, at first through temporary closures (goodness knows why we have been so reluctant to do these during the World Cup), and then eventually through introducing shared spaces along parts of the street (hey look, another tram, surprise surprise): A great upgrade to High Street is also proposed – though I wonder whether it would work best as fully pedestrianised rather than as a shared space:The fourth key intervention, which is to focus on developing the area around the Universities into a key innovation ‘cradle’ is logical and sensible, even if it does lack some of the prettier pictures elsewhere. I often think that in the ‘dark days’ for the CBD of the late 1980s and early 1990s (after the sharemarket crash but before the apartment boom) it may have been the presence of the universities in the city centre that kept the place from completely dying. We are pretty lucky to have such big tertiary institutions right in the middle of the city.
The fifth intervention is one of the more longer-term ones, but perhaps over time one of the most important – and that is truly taking advantage of the City Rail Link project to create high density development nodes around the three proposed stations. The images below show the likely development potential around Aotea and K Road stations: Interestingly, the proposed Newton station ends up having the largest amount of development capacity – even though it sits just outside the current edge of the city centre: The next big strategic intervention is to create “green links” that connect up many of Auckland’s great parks: the Domain with Albert Park via improvements to Grafton Gully, Albert Park to Victoria Park via a narrowed and ‘greened’ Victoria Street, Victoria Park to a new park at the headland of Wynyard Quarter – via a linear park along Daldy Street. This is shown below: I would look at adding Myers Park into the network, via a connection along Elliott Street, the walkway between the Bledisloe Building and the movie theatre complex and Aotea Square. But otherwise the idea is fantastic – and includes some potentially awesome changes to the structure of central Auckland: One of the best things about the changes to Victoria Street is that they could probably be done fairly quickly, and relatively inexpensively – just the cost of ripping up half the street’s worth of asphalt, putting down some nice pavers and planting a few trees.
A more expensive, and long-term, project would involve the ‘capping’ of the motorways through parts of Grafton Gully, and then building open space sports fields on top of that cap. That’s Wellesley Street winding its way through the new area, looking towards the domain. The capping of parts of the Grafton Gully motorway system also plays a key role in the next strategic intervention – connecting downtown better to its surrounding suburban villages. Auckland’s city centre is encircled by motorways, leaving it somewhat cut off from the rest of the city. This is a shame as often the most interesting and exciting parts of cities are the places where downtown meets the suburbs – places with a great mix of uses, a great variety of building types and places experiencing a lot of interesting change. Certainly it’s these ‘city fringe’ parts of Sydney that give that city a huge amount of its character.
A series of projects are proposed to help overcome this issue of having the city centre ‘cut off’ so much. An exciting idea is the reuse of the abandoned Nelson Street offramp into a linear park and walkway – much like what has been done with New York City’s High Line. Once again, I really like this idea because I think it could be done relatively cheaply and quickly: The final strategic intervention relates to the waterfront, and encapsulates much of what’s outlined in much greater detail in the Waterfront Plan. Key projects include a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf, the continuing development of Wynyard Quarter, better connections to the city from the waterfront, and something I really like – ‘bookending’ the waterfront with parks to the far east and west. Here’s a summary of what’s proposed: I can definitely say, without a doubt, that the City Centre Masterplan is the most exciting vision of the future for Auckland’s City Centre that I have ever seen. Of course there’s always that lingering nagging worry that none of this will happen, but fortunately along with a list of extremely expensive and long-term projects there are also a number of shorter-term, and cheaper, things that can happen which will make a big difference. The narrowing of Victoria Street is a good example of that, the redevelopment of the downtown carpark is another thing that definitely should happen, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s likely to actually make a profit for the council.
A great series of little projects is also highlighted in the plan, including important steps like ensuring pedestrian crossing opportunities on all parts of intersections, slowing traffic down along key corridors, decluttering streets, providing more drinking fountains and so forth:
If even half of what’s proposed in this overall plan actually happens, Auckland’s city centre will be an utterly fantastic place in the future. Auckland Council should be seriously congratulated for coming up with such a fantastic City Centre Master Plan.
It’s heartening to read in today’s NZ Herald that plans are advancing quite quickly to extend the Wynyard Tramway loop over the Viaduct Harbour and to connect with Britomart transport centre in the relatively near future.
Waterfront Auckland planning and design manager Rod Marler said the carnation-red heritage trams were a great short-term attraction for capturing the imagination and emotions of Aucklanders but the tram tracks, future-proofed to take light rail, offered a bigger opportunity along the waterfront.
The tram extension is expected to cost $8.1 million plus the cost of a new crossing, which is expected to be a lot less than the $47.3 million cost of an earlier plan for a permanent bridge across the Viaduct Harbour.
Auckland Council transport chairman Mike Lee said extending the trams less than 1km to Britomart would increase their value as a tourism attraction, picking up cruise ships visitors along the way.
Mr Lee, who as chairman of the Auckland Regional Council championed the $8 million set-up costs of the Wynyard Loop, said he favoured another crossing for trams as close as possible to the new $3.7 million pedestrian and cycling bridge across the Viaduct Harbour.
Work on laying tracks to Britomart could start at Christmas, and the project could be completed in about a year, he said.
I’ve always had some reservations about the tramway loop being so isolated from the rest of Auckland’s transport system – although I certainly understand that building the loop as quickly as it has been constructed was only possible because the connection to Britomart was pushed back into becoming a future project. Once the trams are connected to Britomart the opportunities are endless: continue along Quay Street and Tamaki Drive to St Heliers (much like the F & Market in San Francisco) or head up Queen Street and then along Dominion Road with modern light-rail vehicles as a way to cope with increasing public transport demand along that critical corridor?
In terms of the first step, to link with Britomart, I also like the idea of building a second bridge to carry the trams, rather than trying to rebuild the existing pedestrian bridge to do that job – as the new bridge could probably be a fair bit shorter and could be quite narrow if it doesn’t have to be shared with pedestrians. A very short second bridge on the eastern side of Te Wero island is probably going to be necessary as well, because of clearance issues with the old lifting bridge.
The tram plan forms part of a “Waterfront Plan” that the Waterfront Auckland CCO has been formulating. It has a number of great ideas:
It contained a lot of relatively inexpensive “quick hits”, such as a $9.2 million walking and cycling boulevard from the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Teal Park, and expensive “aspirational” projects, such as a new island off Westhaven Marina, built from dredgings, where people could live on boats.
The plan includes many projects already proposed, such as the boulevarding of Quay St from lower Hobson St to Britomart Place, creating a 4.25ha headland park at Wynyard Quarter, building a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf and a $4.4 million upgrade of St Marys Bay beach.
New ideas include a salt-water pool at the end of Queens Wharf similar to Sydney’s Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, a wharf extension at the end of Wynyard Quarter for historic ships and waka, and spending $700,000 to tear up the bland paving at Waitemata Plaza to create a green space in the Viaduct Harbour.
Another idea is to extend the Halsey St wharf outside the Viaduct Harbour for a new sheltered water space that could be used for dragon boat racing and other recreational activities.
So many great plans. So many great ideas. This is an exciting time for Auckland.