Location of freeway, Harbor Drive, Portland
Location of former freeway, Harbor Drive, Portland

Unfortunately, while freeways did provide vehicular access to downtown, they also disrupted the existing urban grid and street system. Freeways severed local commercial activity from customers, and many once vibrant streets now stand with shuttered businesses and negligible street activity. -Mayor’s Innovation Project

It is conventional wisdom that motorways or other high capacity, limited access roads have no place in productive urban environments. Increasingly, cities across the globe are pursuing projects which attempt to mitigate the problems and re-insert a transport structure that supports local accessibility and high value land use outcomes. In addition to the famous tear out projects in Portland (above), San Francisco and Cheonggyecheon, there are also dozens of other cities that are pursuing flyover teardowns, motorway caps, freeways-to-boulevard solutions, and in cases total removals.

A recent publication by the Mayor’s Innovation Project, Rethinking the Urban Freeway (PDF) gives a nice synopsis of the rationale behind motorway removals including the opportunity costs of motorways which  “occupy valuable land without paying taxes; reduce the value of nearby properties; and reduce quality of life in nearby neighbourhoods.”

Matt’s recent post Guess where this is?  showed a stark depiction of our own transport legacy. Here’s another look at the area using a figure/foreground diagram showing the disruption of the urban fabric caused by both the CMJ motorway and the Dominion Rd Flyover.

Figure/Field Diagram, Auckland
Figure/Field Diagram, Auckland

Below is a look at the same area using a diagram to illustrate intersection density. Intersection density is a useful tool to quantify the viability and walkability of a neighbourhood. In Julie Campoli’s new book Made for Walking she uses the same technique to demonstrate that all walkable and successful neighbourhoods have a high concentration of intersections that support movement choice. The drawing shows intersections in red which allow turning options (dark red showing 3 choices,  light red 2), and the black dots depict places where intersections have been cauterized by motorway-type roads.

Not made for walking: intersections removed
Not made for walking: intersections removed

We know that land value and productivity reach extreme levels in the city centre. The CMJ and the Dominion Road Flyover have almost completely disconnected Eden Terrace from the city centre causing a radical (and unnatural) devaluation of land. So while Eden Terrace, Grafton and Freemans Bay are ‘close’ to the city, the urban transport structure defeats the advantages of proximity. The relationship between urban proximity and land value is still  based on an urban structure of ‘cityness’ which is largely influenced by walkability and accessibility to local places and services.

Here’s a look at the disurban environment of Eden Terrace. Not only is the area now disconnected from the city and its associated value but the resulting road structure tends to concentrate through traffic further isolating the remaining bits into a sort of archipelago.

Dominion Road Flyover wasteland
Dominion Road overkill
Eden Terrace, disconnected and devalued

Finally, here’s a recent video describing the progress of some tear out projects in America.

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  1. Great post K., yes limited access highways and interchanges like these invert the central urban value metric: the ‘power of nearness’ . Why any authority dependent on land value based property taxes would support such place and value ruiners is hard to figure?

    At best they are an attempt to accept the sacrifice of already close places in order to bring further out ones a little closer. But to do that in an auto dependent system always risks any gains being lost through induced demand, and the endless need to sacrifice ever more urban place quality to driving and parking systems, in other words: Auckland of the late 20th century.

    1. “Why any authority dependent on land value based property taxes would support such place and value ruiners is hard to figure?”

      The answer, at least for 2013, seems mainly “They don’t – Central Government is pushing for that”.

    2. One thing to note is that increasing land value doesn’t increase the rates take. They council sets a given amount of rate income required, then divides that according to property values. There is no rates return on increasing the value of properties, all yo do is perhaps cause increasing value properties to pay more while others with no value change pay less.

        1. If everyone’s land value is lowered equally, no-one has an extra burden. If rates are 1%, your property is worth $500,000, you pay $5,000. If everyone’s property value is halved, rates become 2% to maintain the same overall rates take, so you now pay 2% of $250,000 = still $5,000.

          Local government has no (rates-based) interest in lowering or raising property values across the board – just raising or lowering some properties relative to others. But since it can charge differential rates anyway, there’s not much point even in that. But there’s already more than enough political pressure for local government to keep property values high from property-owning residents who make up the main voting block.

          1. But Steve this is my very point: it’s not a global lowering of value that these structures cause but a local one: The removal of thousands of properties in valuable inner city and inner suburb places and the blighting of a whole area, Newton, etc lowers the value and therefore the rates contribution of these places. A lowering that must be made up by the rest of the city’s ratepayers. Local government absolutely has an interest in growing the quantity and value of the properties it controls: what Mayor wouldn’t want to lower individual rate bills while maintaining or growing the gross city income?

          2. Oh yes, indeed. I was responding to your comment “So lowering land value increases rating burden for everyone”. Did you mean “everyone else”?

            You can only lower everyone’s rates bills by some combination of cutting expenses or increasing the number of ratepayers.

        2. But it was bizarre for Auckland City Council to support the trashing of most of its own territory in the 50s-80s, back when its boundaries stopped barely past Newton. It was a huge increase of property values in the outlying borough councils, at the expense of Auckland City’s own residents.

          1. I’m guessing it was justified as a measure to improve the viability and competitiveness of the cbd. This is common city-thrashing practice.

        3. The same argument could be made for removing parks. Central park in new york for example would be worth a fortune if it was turned into private land and developed.

  2. The hobsonville motorway is a great example of this. Back before that was built the place was booming with high property prices and all sorts of developments. Now that it has been built however land values have fallen through the floor and there isnt a single development in sight.

    Oh actually the complete opposite has happened.

    Going back to the point at hand you are very correct, back in the days we slapped in transport projects, be they road, rail or whatever, without a care for the impact we had on the place we were putting it. In recent times city planners are learning that there is a place for some things and not for others.

    In most of the cases above where roads are being removed this is generally after a replacement has been put in somewhere else.

      1. Actually it is. People were talking about how a motorway stuffs up an area making it less desirable and of lower value.

        If that was the case all the developments that are going on out there next to the motorway wouldnt be happening.

  3. The Dominion Road New North interchange could be torn down and no one would miss it. They only built two bits of the Central motorway- this interchange and the onramp from Hobson St which now kinks across to Nelson St and is used as an off ramp. The interchange has been a white elephant since it was built.

    1. Indeed, a simple traffic light controlled intersection with a couple lanes each way would more than account for the traffic volume.

      Even a relatively large intersection like Dominion/Balmoral would still free up acres of land, as well as reconnect some neighbourhoods and allow easy bus interchange to happen.

      1. Another thing is that by removing its size you could fit bus lanes in on New North Road. It’s kind of ironic that this stream-lined mega intersection is a standstill queue at peak times with no room for a bus or transit lane. The bus lanes further from the city can’t be reached, but they only begin after the bottleneck anyway where the ‘on ramp’ merges from Dominion Rd. A little unorthodox, but how about some NZTA style ramp signals to hold the cars back and let some buses through? I’m sure this should be #1 on Auckland Transport’s “Route Optimisation” programme, getting 50 in a bus ahead of a handful of stationary cars.

        1. It’s at a standstill during peak because of traffic lights further along the road. That’s why cities like Napier have a policy of always building roundabouts. The fewer traffic lights, the better. Keep the traffic flowing, lower vehicle emissions and generally create a better environment for the locals.

          1. You should come down to Mirangi Bay roundabout in the morning to see how good a job that does of keeping traffic flowing. Having traffic backed up both directions through the town centre and it’s approaches isn’t very good for us locals.

          2. Mairangi Bay roundabout? Mairangi Bay has traffic lights.

            City size isn’t relevant Patrick, traffic volumes are. Roundabouts should always be Plan A, with traffic lights as Plan B, only if space constraints prevent Plan A.

          3. You are mistaken, Mairangi Bay has a roundabout at each end of the main street and zero traffic lights. I spend every morning watching my bus crawl down the hill in traffic because of them.

          4. From this pedestrian’s point of view, roundabouts can make crossing the road very difficult. Lights are much better.

          5. Sorry Nick, for some reason I was thinking of Mission Bay, where traffic lines up for miles on weekends.

            The Mairangi Bay roundabout, if my memory serves me correctly, doesn’t have the standard slip lane that roundabouts usually have, so really it functions like a standard 4-way intersection with Give Way signs.

          6. Roundabouts do kee traffic moving better in single lane low speed environments you are quite right but they need pedestrian crossings on all legs and at least sharrows and preferably segregated priority cycle lanes to actually improve place making

          7. My observation of the evening peak is that the bottleneck causing delays through the flyover is the merge in from Ian Mackinnon Drive. This is a give way onto New North Rd so a roundabout would not help. After this it speeds up again for a while then queues for the lights. Perhaps getting rid of the lights at Bond St might speed cars freeing up space for those merging in, or more likely preventing them from being able to, but given the left slip lane onto Sandringham already queues, slow speeds through Kingsland, lack of room for a roundabout at Morningside, etc. I think this is unlikely to solve the problem of buses being stuck in the same queue as cars but rather shift a different problem.

            What I find intriguing about the whole situation is that the worst delays for buses through this flyover are when there is a crash on the Southern Motorway somewhere like Mt Wellington. Is this the Integrated Transport Network NZTA refer to?

  4. A very interesting post Kent and your diagram superbly illustrates the disconnect that the CMJ imposed on the peripheral inner city of Auckland.
    I have recently been in Seattle and San Francisco. As previously noted on this blog part of the two tier Alaska Highway has already has already been demolished and the rest will be knocked down once they have completed the tunnel under the city. In San Francisco, you now wouldn’t know that the Embarcadero Freeway ever existed and the Embacadero Boulevard is a marvellous promenade for walking and if you want to go all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf you just jump on one of the frequent tramcars – it’s really easy.
    Right now I am enjoying Jeff Speck’s book ‘ Walkable City’ And he says on Page 47 don’t worry about the traffic on what was previously considered a vital artery – if you pull it down it just goes away.

    1. Yes Warren that ‘no need to worry about the traffic’ is the good consequence of traffic behaving more like a gas than a liquid; it will find a new level. Having said, those cities do have much better Transit and cycling systems than Auckland does currently. Once the New Network, new trains, and fare integration is complete we will be in a much stronger position to really reduce road space, as drivers will also have much more effective options to leaving the car at home more often instead of just taking another route….

      1. The Prime Minister called affordable housing at Hobsonville “economic sabotage’. But the flyover is the real economic sabotage. Te Aro alone accounted for 27% of Wellington City’s growth since the last census, mostly through replacing light industrial and car-dependent commercial with apartments. Not a lot of chance of redevelopment happening next to an eyesore like that.

        1. Whats good about hobsonville point is that the government is making a $60k profit from each section. So rather than help people move into their first home they are making it harder.

    1. I don’t have a particular issue with flyovers themselves. In Auckland we even have beautifully decorated ones that include scallops or flax weaving.The problem I have is mostly invisible. They cut off streets causing a border vaccuum. This leads to auto-orientation and devaluation. Productive businesses are abandoned and replaced by low value uses and the requisite surface car parking. (no network connectivity -> no walking -> parking -> low value ->surface parking -> unproductive urban land). Another good example is the Victoria Park viaduct. One could imagine that being turned into a beautiful High Line, but the problem is not so much the viaduct but the invisible problem that it has created upstream which is Union St and the fact that everyone in Freemans Bay now has to drive 500m to the cbd. This problem is replicated all over town. Replace ‘flyover’ with ‘oversized arterial’, or ‘multi-lane one-way streets’ and you get the same outcome.

        1. Kiwi rail seems quite keen to do this for a dollar or 2. Has NZTA ever done the same? Even if it is expensive it’s not like land in the CBD is cheap and it would also increase the value of neighbouring blocks.

          K’Rd over ridge would be my first choice. Any idea of cost – something like Kopu Bridge? 1 or 2 of those big new car park buildings around New Lynn and Manakau?

    1. When San Francisco’s Embarcadero was torn down in 1991, nothing replaced it – and it was the main freeway connecting the Golden Gate bridge to both downtown and the two freeways that go further south. A pretty close analogue of our Vic Park viaduct. It was an easier decision for them, since the freeway had been hugely damaged in the 1989 earthquake, but no-one today wishes that they still had it hanging overhead.

      Marin County, like the North Shore, doesn’t have a rail link to the city. Mostly through traffic just avoids San Francisco altogether and uses the freeways on the eastern side of the bay – rather like our Western Ring Route. With our busway, we’d have much better connections between the North Shore and the city than they did, too.

      1. Yeah the other model cities for complete removal Cheonggyecheon, Korea and Milwaukee to name two, just removed them. And one of the most interesting solutions is the Octavia Boulevard design in San Francisco (with no replacement).

      2. It didn’t need replacing because it was not needed in the first place. There were other freeways providing the through-route function in SF. Auckland’s obviously is needed, as the Western Ring Route isn’t a viable alternative.

        1. There are no other freeways that go the whole way north-south through the Bay Area on the western peninsula. (Not that the Embarcadero did either, but it was tens of blocks from doing so).

          If you’re going from Marin County (slightly larger than the old North Shore City) to San Francisco, San Mateo County, or Silicon Valley north of San Jose (a combined area far more populous than all of the Auckland region put together), you’d either have to drive on arterials through San Francisco, or cross over to the eastern side of the bay to I-580/I-880 and then cross back.

          Crossing to the East Bay and back is very much the equivalent of our Western Ring Route – a 10-20 km detour depending on where you’re going to and from. It works. Why exactly do you think the Western Ring Route isn’t viable?

          1. Not on the Western Peninsula, no, but that’s the whole point – the necessary through routes are not located there, they are further east. Embarcadero was always additional to the necessary routes, whereas Auckland’s motorway is the only route.

            Embarcadero was never a necessity. SH1 is.

          2. Let’s not forget the the WRR was to be the original route for SH1, so obviously some pretty smart people thought it was a viable alternative. It is just a matter of accepting change.

          3. North Shore to south is obviously a lot more direct via CMJ than going the long way around, with its extra 40km or so.

            Remember, the number of lanes with the new harbour crossing is going to generate a lot more traffic into CMJ, so we should expect another CMJ upgrade. The chances of it being removed are zero.

  5. WRR is an extra 15km if you’re already on SH1 and not doubling back. It’s potentially a bit longer for parts of the North Shore than have to go north to get to it, but on the other hand it also serves a lot of other trips more directly than the existing SH1.

    The extra harbour crossing won’t be built for 15 years, at the very, very least – is it going to somehow happen before all the existing RoNS, the East-West Link, and all the other projects the government announced at the same time as the CRL? By then if current trends continue no-one’s going to be advocating that it’ll be a motorway. For all that the Nats are spending up huge on motorways at the moment, they’ve cancelled plans that were sane in comparison, e.g. Warkworth-Wellsford and Otaki-Levin. And that’s the Nats. Odds are we’re going to have at least two terms of Labour/Green government in the next 15 years.

    And even if they do build it, it actually feeds about the same amount of traffic into the CMJ as at present – six lanes both ways, exclusively, compared to the current setup, six lanes that are exclusive in the peak direction plus another lane that’s shared with Cook Street and Fanshawe Street. The only major change is that in the counter-peak direction the three lanes doesn’t have to share with traffic also going to/from Fanshawe Street. Which is not really that huge a deal.

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