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.
I checked out the opening of the Wynyard Quarter area today – taking Adele on her first ever bus ride in the process. It was actually pretty awesome, and it seemed like half of Auckland was there. The lifting bridge providing the connection between the area and the rest of the CBD worked well and was pretty impressive size-wise:
Once we got over the bridge there was tonnes going on – with the tram loop being a particularly popular attraction. I was tempted to go on the tram but the queue was a bit long – maybe we’ll come back another day to ride it.
Further along we came to Silo Park, which was pretty damn impressive actually. It was good to see the “Wind Tree” sculpture back on display: The viewing structure you can see on the other side of the Wind Tree sculpture offered some great views over the whole Wynyard Quarter area. You can see how much redevelopment potential there is – it will be amazing to come back in 10 years time and see how much things have changed:
There were further good views to be had from the walkway that wraps around the new Events Centre building:
All up it’s a pretty cool area and there were an enormous number of people checking the place out. I hope that the momentum and popularity of the area can be maintained – I guess as anchor tenants like the ASB Headquarters and further residential buildings are developed the place will develop a critical mass that ensures its success.
But for today it was just nice seeing so many Aucklanders enjoying their city.
When I first heard about Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye’s proposal to create something of a tram loop around the neighbourhoods of the western part of her Auckland Central electorate, I wasn’t really quite sure what to make of it. Of course I’m not averse to the idea that trams probably do form part of Auckland’s transport future along particular corridors, but at the same time I was also skeptical. Was the idea just there to distract people from the government’s stubborn opposition to the City Rail Link project? Was it Nikki Kaye’s attempt to recapture some lost support amongst a PT friendly electorate – but critically with a project that the government wouldn’t need to stump up some funding for?
I’m kind of struggling to see whether the tram proposal is a serious transport plan or whether it’s more to do with tourism, heritage and so forth. I’m also not quite sure what exact route we’re talking about here in any case: extending the Wynyard Quarter loop up College Hill and then along Ponsonby Road is fairly obvious – but does it then go down Richmond Road to Grey Lynn shops? Or Williamson Ave? Or Great North Road? Indeed, descriptions a possible route are fairly vague:
National’s Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye wrote to Mayor Len Brown, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and and the New Zealand Transport Agency yesterday asking them to consider investigating the merits of a tram link.
Kaye proposed the link could travel through Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Karangahape Road, Queen Street and downtown Auckland.
The MP wants the council to “properly” investigate “the feasibility of trams in central Auckland”.
“This needs to include an analysis of the costs, funding options, routes and types of trams – because different trams can accommodate different numbers of people,” Kaye said.
While Kaye is determined to investigate the loop connecting Auckland central with the western bays, the MP said she “will make it clear that we are also open to other routes”.
I generally think that an approach of “trams are great, where can we run them” falls into the technology-fixation trap that leads to dumb decisions. Surely a better approach is “buses don’t seem to be the best solution along this route anymore, maybe we should examine whether an upgrade to trams might work better”.
Herald columnist Brian Rudman was also pretty skeptical in his initial assessment of Ms Kaye’s idea:
Seizing on the sexiness of “heritage” to her villa-dwelling constituents, Ms Kaye is dangling the hope of a network of trams across her electorate. In the latest Ponsonby News she writes of how the “villages” of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, K Rd and Wynyard Quarter all “have a uniquely special character that are cherished by their communities” and that while the Link Bus does a good job, she wants something “faster and easier”.
She is reported elsewhere as saying “today trams are at the cutting edge of a number of cities’ urban transport”.
Odd then, that just a month ago in her Herald blog item called “Is Auckland’s public transport busted?” there’s not one mention of trams – except a passing reference to Auckland having abandoned them in the 1950s. Instead she claims to have supported the CBD rail tunnel since 2009.
She also said “most people I talk to say they would catch public transport more frequently in Auckland if it were more reliable, frequent and safe”, adding: “The redesign of the bus network needs to be a priority for the Auckland Council.”
If that’s her belief, then why is she confusing the issue with a nostalgia trip down some dead-end tram track. A conspiracy theorist might think she’s been put up to it by her colleague Mr Joyce to try to split the united front Aucklanders have formed against the Government’s delaying tactics over the CBD tunnel.
However, the tram scheme seems to be gaining support, from some quite interesting places, with right-wing commentator Deborah Coddington announcing that she’s strong supporter of the idea:
Kaye’s nuts about trams, and trams, as anyone knows who’s spent time in Melbourne, San Francisco or other great international cities, are terrific forms of transport. They’re quiet and clean. They appeal to tourists and commuters alike. They can be faster than buses, and construction requires considerably less capital than rail links…
…Take, for instance, last week’s spat over Kaye’s idea for a tram loop from Ponsonby to Grey Lynn, to Karangahape Rd to Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct and Britomart. In July last year she wrote to Mark Ford, now chair of Auckland Transport, then head of the former Auckland Transition Agency, pushing for a feasibility study. Kaye sees the project as complementary to the Link buses, and the city central underground rail link.
From my purely selfish perch on Shortland St, this would be great. The rail link won’t be ready for at least seven years. I’ll be in a Zimmer frame by then. Two cohorts of students will have been through Auckland University. If we get trams on the tracks in the next three years, us inner-city apartment dwellers could trot down to Britomart and hop on a tram to the western suburbs. Uni students could come across to their campus. The more of us who are out of cars – greenies and lefties take note – the less clogged the motorways, and therefore a reduced need to keep building more roads.
Coddington also takes a swipe at opponents to the tram idea – including Mike Lee and Labour MP Jacinda Ardern, both of whom seem to share Brian Rudman’s skepticism over the sincerity of the whole concept.
All up, this is really quite a strange situation for everyone to be in. In times of incredibly constrained funding for public transport, we have a centre-right MP and a ‘more to the right’ commentator suggesting that a big focus for our transport spending should be on a mode of public transport that’s internationally often criticised for being excessively expensive compared to its benefits. Something you might think such politicians and columnists would be concerned about.
It’s also a bit difficult to see how such a tram proposal would be the ‘congestion-busting’ panacea that is hoped for too. Like buses, unless trams run in their own right-of-way, it is physically impossible for them to be faster than driving. This is because they must stop to pick up and drop off passengers. Along high-volumes corridors such as Dominion Road, which has a reasonable amount of width, it is obvious that any future light-rail transport solution would run in its own lanes – therefore bypassing congestion and offering its users a faster trip time than by car. It’s tough to know whether Nikki Kaye really wants to narrow Ponsonby Road down to a single lane of traffic each way, or to advocate for the removal of on-street parking, either of which would be essential for giving a tram line its own right of way. When I mentioned this matter to her on Twitter, the response was that the line could go down the middle of the road. That might be fine for one track, but we’d clearly need two tracks if the tram is to be a serious transport solution.
Of course there’s little detail on how much such a scheme might cost. Remember that the current Wynyard tram loop is around $7 million for a single-track 1.5km loop and you start to see that we’re talking some pretty serious money in order to create anything like a useful system.
Mind you, if Nikki can convince Steven Joyce to come up with the money out of the $26 billion he’s planning to spend on roads in the next decade, I won’t have a problem. I just don’t think such a scheme is a priority to spend our very limited public transport budget on here in Auckland. If we want to improve public transport in this part of the city, the best thing we could do quickly and cheaply is try to extend bus lanes around as much of the Link Bus route as possible. And, of course, to push on with the City Rail Link project.
Much like broken hearted souls pining over lost loves, too many transport conversations in Auckland lament “missed opportunities” rather than celebrate “what could be.” Self-centred navel gazing is never attractive and rarely worthwhile; we risk taking transport too seriously. I hope this post can slap us out of our overly serious mood.
The key question I want to consider is “how can we make travelling in Auckland more fun?” First I’d like to coin some new jargon: transport solutions whose main aim is fun shall be known as “funsport”. So we’re talking about transport that puts a smile on your dial; that you use because of the joy it brings you, not so much the mobility it provides.
We’re most certainly not talking about LRT or BRT – only freaks like me get excited about them. One Auckland initiative that comes close to “funsport” is the Wynyard Quarter Tram. My initial scepticism about this project has fallen away, because I realised that I was considering its merits from the wrong perspective. It’s not about mobility, it’s about fun.
Just imagine the Wynyard trams (shown below) bumbling along the waterfront filled to the brim with toothless kids and their equally toothless grandparents? Only Montgomery “Release the hounds” Burns would not smile at that.
But in my opinion the Wynard Quarter Tram sits at the unexciting end of a reasonably long funsport stick. Here are some of my ideas for other, potentially more exciting, funsport initiatives that Auckland could develop:
- Flying foxes – I’m not joking. I think there are places in Auckland where a flying fox would be flaming awesome. Imagine a flying fox running from K’Road down Queen street? Or Albert Park to Britomart? Or Three Lamps/St Mary’s Bay to Victoria Park? I realise there are safety issues that need to be considered, but if companies can run a vertical bungy jump in the middle of town and people can jump off the Sky Tower than I see little reason why we could not get some flying foxes up and running. I also think we need to stop seeing Auckland’s hills as a barrier and more as an opportunity, which leads nicely onto the next idea …
- Volcano Ventures - run a gondola up Mt Eden to the summit along the existing road. Ban cars/buses from driving up and use the parking space to provide some nice green space for people to have coffee/tea/waffles. Then develop a downhill luge (like you have in Rotorua) for people to zoom back down if they want (those that don’t can always use the gondola to get back down). Luge carts could be automatically returned to the top by being attached to the bottom of the gondolas. One Tree Hill could have a similar treatment, although I think a cable car might be more appropriate here because there’s less room at the top for a gondola. Here’s an image of the cable car that runs to the top of Fløyen in Bergen (Norway). I travelled on this in January this year and it provides exceptional views.
Of course there’s many other potential funsport solutions. Many scenic trips can combine public transport with cycling. My particular favourite, for example, is taking the train out to Waitakere, from where it’s only a 30 minute cycle out to Bethells Beach (first picture below). Or, you can take your bike on the ferry to Waiheke and cycle around golden beaches and green hills for the day before forgetting your aching muscles over a glass of your favourite pinot (second image).
Funsport initiatives target recreational and tourist users, which are of under-rated importance. Auckland does not seem to realise that it must compete to attract mobile labour and capital. Basically, if we want to grow then we have to get people and businesses to be based here. So quality of life is not just important; it is essential (of course a large part of quality of life comes from having a good job, so quality of the business environment is also important).
At the moment I think that Auckland fails to give visitors memorable experiences that make them want to stay in the city for a week, let alone live here. As much as I value effectiveness and efficiency, I think there’s a need for Auckland to look seriously at funsport initiatives (ignoring the inherent irony in trying to take funsport seriously!).
I see an obvious role for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to coordinate funsport outcomes. Not only do many of these initiatives involve public land, but they could be integrated with the HOP e-purse. Visitors could then use a HOP card to pay for all of their funsport initiatives, as well as general public transport.
I’m actually wondering whether we should be giving international visitors to Auckland a HOP card, pre-loaded with some small money (say $10) to encourage them to get out and about, thereby overcoming some of the barriers to their Auckland experience. Together HOP and funsport could help create an image of Auckland that is welcoming, efficient, and exciting. That’s the image I want to present to the world.
Or maybe I’m in lala-land. If so slap me and bring me back to (grey old) transport reality . If not, then please share your own ideas – I’d love to hear them.
My last post explored the merits of BAM. For those who missed it, a BAM (bus tram) attempts to combine the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of buses with a ride-quality that is normally associated with light rail. The BAMs key attributes include: electrical motor, advanced guidance systems, and high vehicle capacity.
The BAM avoids the need for expensive overhead wires and steel tracks, which saves big on capital costs. I also think that BAMs are more well-suited to Auckland conditions than traditional LRT technologies – mainly because BAM’s rubber tyres help it to get up hills better than steel wheels can. This additional traction also reduces the amount of work required to fix up road geometry when retrofitting BAMs into existing corridors.
From what I can tell there are two BAMs currently being developed; one is the Phileas (developed by a Dutch company called APTS) and the other is eBRT (developed by the German company Siemens). Only the Phileas is actually up and running (illustrated below) so most of this post focuses on exploring this technology in more detail.
The Phileas was first trialled in Eindhoven back in 2004. Since then it has been rolled out in Douai (France) and Istanbul (Turkey). A detailed appraisal published in the TEC magazine in 2007 asked whether the Phileas was equivalent to light rail and concluded (para-phrased):
To all intents and purposes, yes. From the perspective of the passenger, the Phileas vehicle and to some degree the infrastructure does have the look and feel of a tram system. The guidance technology, when working, will provide a high quality ride-experience and interfaces to the stops, very much in the guise of light rail as if working on fixed running rails. It does have the apparent capability to provide many of the benefits potentially without the same degree of capital investment.
The combination of advanced guidance and all-wheel steering makes the Phileas extremely nimble: It can “float” side ways in quite an unnatural but cool fashion, as illustrated in this video “Docking to platform.” So not only does the guidance keep the Phileas running along magnetic “tracks” (providing a better ride quality and more certainty for pedestrians), but it can allows the Phileas to quickly and precisely dock at platforms.
But what about cost-effectiveness? Capital costs of developing the Phileas in Eindhoven clocked in at about EUR 4 million per kilometre, which is about one-third to one-half of the costs of similar light rail projects developed around the same time (e.g. Nottingham). Operating costs are apparently 30% less than a standard bus, on a per passenger basis, although the cost savings would have to be even higher if the Phileas’ guidance systems allowed for driverless operations.
But the development of the Phileas has not been trouble-free. In Istanbul, for example, a combination of high passenger loadings (300 people on vehicles designed for 185) and steep terrain showed the vehicles were under-powered. But none of the problems encountered thus far seem terminal, rather they are the types of problems that tend to crop up when trying new things in new places. Phileas vehicles still operate along Istanbul’s more well-graded sections (photo credit).
So I have to ask: Why don’t we try to bring a BAM to Auckland? More specifically, why doesn’t Auckland request expressions of interest from companies to develop a demonstration BAM on one of our more sensitive, high-demand corridors? One potential corridor that immediately springs to my mind is Tamaki Drive (possibly helping get over the snob stigma attached to buses). Then in ten years time we might be able to start a large scale roll out.
The aim of the proposal would be to allow companies to demonstrate the advantages of their technology over an extended period of time. Phileas is not the only company in this space. Obviously Siemens will be casting about for cities to run demonstration eBRT projects. And there may well be others that I don’t know about. I have no idea what sort of industry interest could be drummed up though some form of competitive public process, but it would be interesting to see.
One would expect that the capital and operating costs would initially fall on the provider so as to encourage them to manage risks, but these could then be transferred to the Council over time – provided that the technology demonstrated its worth. At the conclusion of the trial (say 5 years) companies would reasonably compensated for costs incurred.
I personally think it’s time for Auckland, and other large cities, to mature beyond simply being a passive receiver of public transport technologies. Through careful and considered (competitive) demonstration projects, Auckland could help stimulate the timely development of transport technologies that better meet our needs than either buses or light rail.
I’d be interested in hearing your ideas …