I’ve blogged on many occasions over the past couple of years about how important the Auckland Spatial Plan will be to Auckland’s future. Yesterday the government released its initial thinking on the Spatial Plan and what it thinks Auckland Council should focus on when putting it together. The full set of documents is available to read here – and I have only had the opportunity to read through the transport document so far.

But that is enough to have me extremely concerned.

The document is entitled “Transport trends in Auckland”, and generally seeks to give a bit of a background to the Auckland transport “situation” and then suggest areas that should be prioritised for investment based on the needs of the situation. Overall, it reinforces my worry that central government is particularly antagonistic to the former Auckland Regional Council’s thinking on land-use and transport matters, and doesn’t have much belief in the balanced direction of the Regional Land Transport Strategy.

It starts by outlining the government’s interests in the Auckland transport situation: These interests are fair enough at a broad level. Of course we want our transport policy to support economic growth and productivity. Of course we want to try to have central and local government reach common positions on future land use and transport matters. I hope the second one doesn’t actually translate to “we want Auckland to do what it’s told”. I have my suspicions.

After hammering the RLTS for wanting to spend far too much money on public transport, the paper goes on to justify why we apparently need many more roads: supposedly never-ending traffic increases: So public transport use declines and private transport use increases dramatically when you build yourself a motorway network while spending nothing on improving PT. What news is that? The more worrying thing is using very out of date data (what were petrol prices back in 2006?) to justify how Auckland should develop over the next 20-30 years. It seems a very backward way of approaching the matter.

When looking forward, once again there’s a mismatch between where the region sees things going (a far greater use of public transport) and where NZTA see things going (a much more modest use of PT). Given recent board papers by NZTA seeking to pave most of Auckland in motorways, I do wonder whether they have a vested interest in over-estimating future traffic growth:

A further graph in the document, that is quite interesting, shows the level of investment in Auckland transport infrastructure by government over the past 10 years. You can see for state highways, the amount of money has skyrocketed: The most obvious thing to read into the graph above is how enormously screwed over Auckland was 10 years ago – getting almost no transport investment dollars. With Auckland experiencing around 60% of the country’s population growth over the next 30 years it’s likely that significant investment will need to continue – the question is mainly what to invest in and how cost-effective the investments we make are.

The government’s current position on all these matters is laid out below. It’s worth taking the time to read this all very carefully as I can see some enormous battles brewing between Auckland Council and Central Government over the spatial plan in the next few months:

To be fair, some of this makes sense. We do need to make better use of our existing transport resource – to use it more efficiently and effectively. For arterial roads this means getting greater numbers of people through them – in my opinion through more bus lanes, in the government’s opinion through more higher-occupancy vehicle lanes. However, I worry about other aspects, like the desire to spread development throughout Auckland rather than concentrating it at various nodal points (I discussed this matter in great detail a couple of weeks back). I also worry about playing off the CBD Rail Tunnel against another Harbour Crossing – it would seem the expectation here is that either would come after the Puhoi-Wellsford road is completed.

But most of all, I just worry about the whole backward thinking nature of the entire approach in this document. Where’s the analysis of how the world is changing in the next 20-30 years? Where’s the analysis of how higher fuel prices may change transport patterns? Where’s the analysis of whether concentrated or dispersed employment makes for a more efficient transport system? It seems, overall, to be a document based on 1960s transport thinking – predict and provide. Assume that car traffic is always going to grow (even though it’s currently not growing) and then work out where all the new and widened roads are going to go. I’m not aware of any other comparable city to Auckland undertaking this approach to transport policy internationally. Most are investing heavily in expanding their public transport networks, most are working out ways to reduce the dependency of their transport system on oil – which is becoming increasingly expensive. Most want to shape their cities in ways that are friendlier to people, not necessarily cars.

Why must we be stuck in the 1960s?

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  1. Gaaaaahhhhh! This Government thinks that because the roads are full of cars with one person at peak times, then the solution is to widen the road. And we all know that less than half of all people traveling to the CBD do so by car. Presumably this was written before petrol prices hit recent highs. Who the hell writes these kinds of plans? Steven Joyce himself?

  2. #33 is a worry. It seems to be saying decentralise and not worry about growing the CBD, in complete contrast to what is done in other cities which have a strong commercial hub in, er, the Central Business District.

  3. #37 and #38 seem to equate economic growth with the ability to drive trucks around freely… the freight industry is subservient to the industries that actually create genuine economic growth.

  4. If only more people were aware of how god damn stupid this current government is when it comes to transport planning. Maybe rapidly increasing petrol prices over the next few months will lead to public outcry and this sort of discussion can enter the mainstream rather than only taking place amongst transport nerds : p

    1. @Andrew – I agree with your point on the current government being stupid when it comes to transport (road and rail), but they aren’t so stupid in the other areas of governing the country. Then again Labour is completely clueless right now and not much of an opposition when it comes to Transport. It is only the Greens that have the balls to stand up, but the problem is that the majority, who voted blue, shoot the Greens down – just because they are Green and they brought the anti-smacking law in (unfortunately this is the reality) . Our newspapers are also rubbish; look at the NZ Herald, when last have they done a good piece on the CBD tunnel? Oh, um never!!!

      I agree with you that we need these discussions to move from ‘transport nerds on blogs’ to the mainstream media – or are they also funded by the trucking groups, like National?

  5. *sigh*

    Almost every announcement or proclamaition by this current government makes me hate them just that little bit more. Its a pity that Labour are almost no better.

    Hell would have to freeze over or I’d have to have a multi-million dollar bribe from Key to make me vote for him this time around.

  6. I like the way the vehicle figures stop in 2006…just when passenger transport trips began shooting up. I mean yes, they’re using census data and the last census was in 2005 but at the same time NZTA collects data all the time about trips on state highways. The councils collect data about trips on local roads. They know that vehicle numbers started dropping after 2008 and have never recovered. I also like the way that they don’t even include the trips by foot and cycle in their predictions. Cos, obviously we can’t actually change those at all…yep, I really can’t think of a single thing we could do to encourage more trips by bike in Auckland (IRONY).

  7. I guess the key questions for me are:

    – Where are you going to put all these roads..? If we sprawl we’ll need to widen our existing SHs and arterials on the isthmus and in many cases that just isn’t possible.
    – If we are going to build more SHs they’ll be tunnels, viaducts, new SHs bowling whole suburbs, i.e. incredibly expensive, so where do the economic rationality come into it?

  8. I can’t believe this. This is what happens when you change the name of your national highway building agency and assume that they can then make rational unbiased policy decisions for all forms of transport.

    Every time I start thinking about moving back to Auckland I come across a document like this that makes me think “Jesus, it’s only going to keep getting worse, why would I bother”.

  9. Thankfully even the government themselves have said it’s up to the Auckland Council to develop the spatial plan – admittedly they said a lot of this back when they thought their mate Banks would be in power. They can of course basically stall the plan by not funding it as they appear to plan – but it doesn’t change the fact that planning rules and areas where development can occur will be decided by the council not Joyce. The current high oil prices I’m sure don’t worry Joyce as he’s likely confident they’ll soon crash. It will be a very interesting election year if they remain high and if politicians like David Shearer and Gareth Hughes are successful in making PT a major issue much as Len Brown did in the mayoral election.

    I do wonder how National will attempt to undermine the council by basically banning certain controls eg banning urban limits, much as they did by banning tree protection-a ban that only benefits property developers.

    1. I don’t have a problem with the tree protection ban, it was a pointless invasion into property rights, whatever benefits property developers for infill work – we need it and more apartments, especially on the isthmus – benefits all of us in lower house prices and higher densities for PT…

      On this National were right, the predicted chainsaw army hasn’t materialised… Who would have thought it, people like trees on their property…

        1. While the blanket tree protection rules are going on 1st January 2012, some notable trees will be listed in the district plan and will thereby be protected from summary execution.
          If you live in Albert-Eden, Howick, Mangere-Otahuhu, Manurewa, Otara-Papatoetoe, Papakura, Rodney or Waitemata and there is a big tree in your neighbourhood that you would like to nominate for specific protection you have until 31st March 2011 to submit a nomination. You can find the form here. Nominations are subject to review and approval by Council officers.

      1. I don’t see how chopping down trees along Auckland’s waterfront areas will benefit infill housing, it’ll simply be done to improve people’s views. I’ll be laughing when all the housing slowly fall down the cliffs that have been destabilised through chopping down the trees. But seriously, if this ban was so stupid why did almost every council in NZ have it? It was a popular ban and the reason why cities like Auckland are (soon perhaps were) so green. I don’t agree with the logic that just because you temporarily own a piece of land that you therefore have the right to chop down anything that happens to be growing there and if it was big enough to be protected, something that is probably older than you are. In cities we are living in a society and people’s actions affect others, IMO people need to consider how their actions affect people surround them, rather than taking a view of ‘I own this land, I can do, build, destroy whatever I want here, screw everyone else’.

      2. Also, the areas most likely to be affected by this are city fringe (e.g. the Waitakere Ranges) where the density is too low for PT, and the innercity more established neighbourhoods which already have the density to support PT. Places that need more density already have plenty of desolate patches of former light industrial and car parks that could be developed.

  10. They are trying to do the impossible: what happens when the line goes off the graph? Will they fill Auckland harbour with ashphalt?
    Just because car trips are rising does not necessarily mean you need to extend the roads- because transport is about moving PEOPLE not VEHICLES.

    Here is an economics paper talking about the “fundamental law of traffic congestion”:

    First, we show that the ‘fundamental law of congestion’ holds not only for urban interstates but also for major urban roads and non-urban interstates. Thus, our data suggest the following law of road congestion: adding road capacity will not alleviate congestion on any sort of major urban road or rural highway within metropolitan boundaries.

    Public transport also does not reduce VKT (vehicles kilometres travelled) they find. I suspect that this is because when you move 1 person off the road, someone else finds it convenient to take up their ‘slot’ on the road. However, this could be interpreted as a way to make sure that NEW trips are made on PT if you hold the road network constant.

    As much as some people may not like it: if you want to have a well used PT system that has lots of customers and therefore doesn’t require so much subsidy to run, you have to do something about cars.

  11. There seems to be a nice correlation between $ spent on highways and amount of car trip growth. The question then becomes- what direction is this going in? Are more motorways inducing more car trip travel, or are the car trips increasing overall regardless of what is happening on motorway investment?

    It would be interesting to compare this to Wellington, NZ, where I don’t think they have had as much motorway spending (correct me if I am wrong) and test for a correlation between highway spending and car trip demands.

  12. Documents like this provide the perfect argument for decentralisation of transport decisions. If the transport planners in Wellington knew anything about Auckland they would now that it is the poor state of the local road network that causes the choke points in the SH system (ie bridges over rivers, estuaries and the harbour as well as the total lack of alternative routes about these choke points).

    So why spend so much on new SH’s when it’s the local road network that is the problem? Whats the point of having a multi-billion dollar motorway system which can’t access before the roads about the interchanges are clogged?

  13. The paper is an absolute shocker and the author/s have clearly been told to justify the governments current stance rather than look at what the best for the city. They seem to have a big disconnect between what currently happens and what is the best way forward to Auckland by arguing that because most people currently drive we should cater more for that. Taking this logic to other areas, if there was a big increase in the murder rate they would be arguing that because many people want to kill others we should make that legal as well.

    The data they use is so far out of date it is laughable and many of their suggestions are more like orders rather than things to consider. About the only thing I think is useful is the idea of ensuring that things like plan changes happen before big projects start i.e. if the business case for the CBD tunnel relies on being able to increase the building height of specific areas so more development can happen then the council needs to make sure that happens first (after all we don’t want to build great new infrastructure then have NIMBYs stopping intensification that will support it).

    It is also interesting to see them suggesting that we need to fully utilise the capacity of all of our transport networks and I am surprised no one has yet linked this post to the previous one about how the only real way to do that on the rail network is to build the CBD Tunnel. We can now say “If you want us to use our network better then you need to help pay for the CBD tunnel”.

    Last night I also read the paper on Urban Form and Land use. It has clearly been written by a different author as it was much more balanced and more constructive. In that they discuss the ARC’s desire for intensification and the targets set haven’t been met. They then discuss some of the reasons for that and make a sensible suggestion that if the council wants to continue with this then they need to do more to encourage it (i.e. it won’t magically happen). They do make the suggestion that Auckland should look at other urban forms and that the council should be able to justify why they pick the one but that at least is better than the transport paper where they say we should sprawl more as it spreads out the transport loan (which is rubbish)

    1. The thing about decentralising transport is that there is no guarantee that people will move close to where they work or vice versa. The assumption around decentralisation is that the city gets divided into villages where people work, live, study, shop etc and should very rarely move out of the village in order to free up transport space for commercial transport. This theory assumes that people are rational and will either change jobs or move houses in order to have the shortest possible distance between the two.

      1. That’s right. But the fly in the ointment is that the really high value businesses will want to continue to be located in the CBD so that they have the biggest possible catchment of specialised employees. Same with any city you care to name – London, NY, Sydney. Even Taihape and small towns have a town centre. In fact I’d be interested if anyone can name a city that does not have a CBD.

      2. I read a paper regarding Perth yesterday that said that 70% of households with at least one worker had two or more commuters. I.e. almost three quarters of working households had multiple people commuting to different jobs each day.
        Kinda makes the idea that people can just live near where they work (or vice versa) a bit foolish. Even if one person can manage to get an affordable home that suits their needs and desires close to their workplace, it assumes everyone else in the house can find an appropriate job nearby too.
        I’d say if you really disperse employment odds are every worker in a given household is going to be going to a different part of the city to work. That means more pressure on the transport system, not less.

        1. That’s right- often both persons will work and they’ll be working at different places around the city.
          And then there’s schools as well, and you have schools everywhere.

          Interestingly, Perth is also car lover central, and that hasn’t stopped them from building a successful rail system, or getting passengers on that system, I take it both the population and the density of Perth is below that of Auckland too, so it casts a shroud of doubt over the whole ‘you can’t have good PT if people like cars’ line.

        2. I think it was actually a link from your blog Bris?

          Population is a touch more (about 1.5 million vs. 1.4) but Perth is way lower density. Just shows how irrelevant density is.

          The ironic thing is Auckland’s topography is basically perfectly designed for public transport, yet poses significant design constraints for motorways…. so what do we build exclusively?!

  14. The historic price of 91 petrol (in main centres) (cents/litre) compared to the USD:NZD1 and the price of a barrel in USD:
    NZ price – USD:1NZD – USD/barrel
    Jul 2005: 139 – $0.6837 – $ 52.13 (“a record level for petrol”)
    Jul 2006: 177 – $0.6105 – $ 66.28 (“the highest price yet recorded.”)
    Jul 2007: 158 – $0.7830 – $ 65.96
    Jul 2008: 207 – $0.7657 – $126.16
    Jul 2009: 164 – $0.6402 – $ 56.16
    Jul 2010: 176 – $0.6825 – $ 67.91
    Jan 2011: 200 – $0.7679 – $ 92.20 (the latest data reportable)

    A cursory analysis shows that a significant slump back to a more modest USD:NZD rate would have a significant impact on the price of fuel here. Further review of the price of crude reveals it really is not going to get any cheaper than now – just more volatile on an upwards trend.

    To build transport infrastructure (let’s be honest: roads) on the basis of a strong exchange rate *and* outdated assumptions on the price of oil and the relationship it has with user behaviour is folly in the extreme, and our descendants will not thank us for our lack of foresight – or inaction in allowing it to happen this way(!)

    NZ Petrol prices: http://www.aa.co.nz/motoring/owning/running-costs/petrolwatch/Pages/default.aspx
    Forex rates: http://www.x-rates.com/cgi-bin/hlookup.cgi
    Crude oil prices: http://www.ioga.com/Special/crudeoil_Hist.htm

    1. Thanks Chris that’s really useful information. It seems fairly likely that our exchange rate will weaken against the $US over the next couple of weeks, given today’s OCR announcement. That means even if oil prices simply stay where they are, pump prices are likely to go up.

  15. Reading this, and hearing all of the comments from the public, it makes me wonder if MOT/NZTA do any independent peer review of their work? Don’t tell me it’s Mr Joyce’s role…

    It just shows the current ACT/National Government are doing about as much for the development of transport as Elvis impersonators are for music.

    1. I doubt they do any peer review, Joyce tells them what he wants them to ‘prove’ and then they write a piece showing that what he says clearly is correct.

  16. ‘I own this land, I can do, build, destroy whatever I want here, screw everyone else’.

    Sums up Nactional’s policies in one sentence!

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