One of the aspects I thought odd about the NZCID report released the other day was the revival of the 1965 De Leuw Cather motorway network plan and a comparison of Auckland’s motorway network to the motorway networks of “other liveable cities”. Here’s what they say:

The comparative decline of Auckland’s once ambitious motorway system, which for half a century has enabled the city to function in spite of deferred investment and poor public transport, can be seen in comparison to other liveable cities. Figure 31 superimposes to scale the motorway networks of various comparable metropolitan areas with populations between Auckland’s existing 1.5 million and its 2045 future of up to 2.5 million (Brisbane, Portland, Vienna and Vancouver each have urban populations of around 2.3 million, Zurich around 1.8 million). In all cases, the motorway networks today are more comprehensive than Auckland’s is projected to be in 2045

The limited reach of Auckland’s strategic road network in comparison to the city’s international competitors is not the only problem. Disproportionate dependency upon several key parts of the network where capacity is constrained has ripple effects across the entire transport system. Pinch points around the CBD, Mt Wellington and Greville Rd compress traffic, stymieing movement many kilometres away throughout busier periods. Although Greville Rd is now being addressed, there are no plans in the next thirty years to address capacity issues at either Mt Wellington or around the CBD.

Similar efficiency improvements to capacity-constrained parts of the strategic network appear less problematic in most liveable cities. While Vancouver has enforced a moratorium on motorway improvements near its congested urban core (but has expanded the network elsewhere), other cities address bottlenecks. Vienna’s Prater Interchange, for example, is currently undergoing a major renewal and capacity improvement to meet demand.

NZCID - ATAP response - cities motorways

Superimposing other cities motorway networks over Auckland in is just plain silly, for a few reasons.

  1. it ignores the unique geographical conditions of each city which severely affect how their transport system has developed.
  2. it ignores the urban of these cities. Some such as Vancouver, Vienna and Zurich have quite dense cores and no motorways running through them
  3. it ignores the other transport networks that help to complement the motorway networks

So let’s have a look at some of the factors for these other cities (maps not to scale)


Vancouver was one of the few Anglophone new world cities to not build motorways in its city centre – which came about as locals rejected the plans to do so. To mimic Vancouver for motorways we’d be pulling out the central motorway junction and motorways would just be in outer suburbs.

Vancouver Map with motorways

In the 1980’s Vancouver decided to start building their fantastic Skytrain system. Now over 30 years later and with a number of additions and extensions the network has over 117 million boardings as of 2013. That’s out of a total of over 350 million boardings for the entire PT system. The city has also been improving its cycling facilities and seeing good growth. As of 2015 for trips to work it is estimated that 10% of people cycle, 24% walk, 24% catch PT and only 41% drive. Below is Vancouver’s rapid transit network and that is also supported by a large number frequent bus routes – much like Auckland Transport are starting to introduce later this year.

Vancouver Rapid Transit Network

To be more like Vancouver is we’d need to invest in our PT and active networks and not new motorways to and through the city.


Vienna is a great city with a lot of history and no motorways through the middle of it. Like Vancouver the motorways stop short of the city centre with one passing to the side of it.

Vienna Map with motorways

Of course within Vienna there is also a fantastic PT network consisting of extensive U-Bahn, S-Bahntram and bus networks. The U-Bahn was opened in the mid 70’s and that alone carries over 1.3 million trips a day. The map below shows just the U and S Bahn

Vienna U + S Bahn map


With Zurich, again there are no motorways blasted through town with them stopping short or going around the city and most of them through the countryside rather than through an urban area like the NZCID propose.

Zurich Map with motorways

Despite the motorways, it is estimated that about half of all trips within Zurich take place on their extensive train, tram and bus networks. The map below is just a small sample of their tram network

Zurich tram-map

Of course as I mentioned yesterday, at the time of the De Leuw Cather road network that the NZCID lament was never fully implemented, they also produced a rapid transit plan even saying it was needed first to avoid many of the issues we’re now facing.

If the NZCID want us to have transport more like some of the cities they mention then we’ll fully support that, but that would mean focusing on getting PT and active modes sorted first so their Eastern Ring Route would have to stay on ice for a while.

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  1. One further point on Vancouver. It may not be clear to people that have not spent time there but it’s worth noting that the city centre is on the water in the top left of the image. There are no motorways near there. The main harbour crossing is non motorway, it’s only the alternative to the far right that is motorway. The equivalent of down sizing Auckland’s bridge and leaving only the WRR as motorway. It has been a very successful urban growth model they’ve pursued quite unlike most north American cities.

  2. Moar Roadz advocates are always very ready to explain how our constrained geography with a lot of pinch points and water makes us unsuitable for public transport (which I have always found odd; surely constrained geography demands more spatially efficient transport). Do they mention that the reason some of those cities appear to have more motorways near the city centre is because they don’t have so much water? That’s a very nice pair of motorways going to Rangitoto in the Brisbane overlay.

  3. From what I have heard, Vancouver is becoming very expensive to live in, proving that just because you have density and public transport systems, housing is not necessarily going to be cheaper (32% increase in price in the last year alone apparently)

    There was an amazing example I heard of the other day of how much an apartment building kept increasing in value and being resold in a very short period of time.

    1. That is because like Auckland, Vancouver has been overrun with Foreign Chinese buyers buying everything in sight and pushing prices up. Vancouver now has many many vacant buildings to the point that it is actually causing many areas to go backwards in population density (and shops, cafes etc going out of business due to a lack of patronage).

    2. A lot of the stats we hear about are based on the City of Vancouver (roughly analogous to the Auckland isthmus), and don’t include data from the contiguous areas of Surrey, Burnaby etc, which are significantly more affordable. Vancouver itself has similar issues to the isthmus in that the areas where density is permitted are relatively limited (though I believe less limited than Auckland), with a lot of single-family dwellings in the rest of it, constraining housing supply and pushing up prices. It would be interesting to see stats for the entire metro area, which would be comparable to the supercity.

      1. The Vancouver Metro area has an apartment build rate about 3-4x faster than us, on a per capita basis.

  4. Choice of name: NZCID?
    To me the name New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development sounds like an official organisation, possibly even a government sponsored one. I suspect members of the public could be forgiven for thinking so, especially as the Herald and other media from time to time have published without criticism, hand-outs from Stephen Selwood advocating massive build transport solutions.
    The public would be better served if they renamed their organisation ‘New Zealand Infrastructure Providers Association’ to more truly reflect their membership and make their purpose clear to the public.

  5. The de Leuw Cather report was an exercise in cultural cringe. Back then if local people suggested anything it counted for very little. The public needed ‘overseas experts’ to tell them. So de Leuw Cather and company were commissioned and their junior staff wrote the same draft report they had sold to other cities. It was so deficient that the boss himself had to come over and fix it. The final report included a motorway plan largely straight out of the Ministry of Works motorways office and a rail system based on the existing tracks.
    Consultants will borrow your watch and then tell you what time it is.

  6. The Auckland motorway system could have avoided the CBD too. They could have skirted around it and knocked over houses in Ponsonby rather than the Newton Gully. But what would have happened to the CBD if they had done that? Every town centre that the southern motorway missed has struggled (Panmure, Papakura, Papatoetoe.) The centres it provides access to are doing well (Manukau, Sylvia Park, Ellerslie). In the age of the motorcar when fuel was cheap and parking plentiful the CBD would have been in trouble. Everyone who comments on this blog understands that landuse and transport are related until the big blind spot when it comes to the benefits the motorway had to the CBD. The motorway meant it remained the centre. If it hadn’t gone there it would not have had the development it got during that period.

    1. Our first motorways didn’t go to the city centre. From 1952 to 1981, the NW motorway terminated at Pt Chev. From 1953 to 1969 the Southern motorway had no connection from the city centre (Khyber Pass from 1966). Manukau and Sylvia Park weren’t town centres when the motorway was built, in fact 20 years elapsed before Manukau developed and nearly half a century before Sylvia Park mall was built. It’s arguable whether Ellerslie survived because of the motorway or inspite of it.

      1. Relevance? The whole time it has been possible to go past the CBD by motorway it has also been possible to get to and from the CBD by motorway. That is the only relevant point here. Sylvia Park only took as long as it did because Industrial zoning prevented earlier owners. My point stands. Had there been no connections to the CBD we would have had a different pattern of land use development and as people optimise it would have been worse than what we got. Everyone here understands that but instead puts the blinkers on and gets all teary eyed about what might have been with rail had the bad men not built motorways.

        1. The motorways had more of an effect on opening up greenfields areas of the north and northwest for housing, than they did on the CBD. Had the Morningside Deviation gone ahead (either instead of, or alongside of the motorways as recommended), then the CBD would have developed much as it has, with office buildings located within walking distance of the proposed stations. If the motorways were the saviours of the CBD, perhaps you could explain why department stores like Farmers and George Courts built multi-story carparks and yet still failed to attract the custom they had before then?

        2. Are you seriously suggesting that if the motorways hadn’t been connected to the CBD then George Courts and Farmers would still exist in the CBD? The CBD was dying as a place for retail, the parking buildings bought the big department stores some time. Retail left in the 1980’s and since the 1990’s offices have been growing faster in other areas too. Why would that be do you think? They are going to places that are more accessible by the main transport mode in Auckland. Saying “oh but people could all ride on a train” doesn’t make it actually happen.

        3. And you don’t generally take a train/bus to Farmers if you going to be purchasing anything of substance. Too difficult to carry long distances.

        4. Which adds even more extra cost. Something I purchased the other day would have cost me $65 to have delivered (not from Farmers). Car is much more effective.

        5. So you take a king size bed/fridge/freezer/lounge suite, dining room table back home in your car? Thought not….

          This inference that PT must be a viable solution in ALL circumstances is getting boring. Especially when cars are not a viable solution in those circumstances, either.

    2. Because Takanini’s town centre is totally near a motorway. I’m not sure this statement makes sense (I would not hazard a guess as to the “centre” of Takanini). The point is that Takanini’s development is not particularly close to the motorway off-ramp, although it is more directly connected to the motorway than Papakura… although they’re hardly far away… and, in any case, has really only taken off in the last five years or so (i.e. the motorway a feature for much longer). The changing fortunes of the area’s “centres” have little to do with motorways (Papakura residents, for instance, blame Church rents and Wikipedia the demise of the army base).

      Also, compare and contrast Pukekohe… also not near a motorway… and it now has a cinema in addition to the now not new library complex and all that development further along from and around the Warehouse.

    3. SH1 was originally intended to follow the now SH20 (after the Waterview connection is finished) and so avoid the CBD. It changed because the mayor at the time lobbied for it to connect with the bridge as he did not want the (then tolled) bridge to fail.

      Has the Vancouver CBD suffered for lack of a motorway? Is the CBD the same as Panmure or Papakura? Well obviously not and your dogged belief that the motorway is the only way areas can flourish is just nonsense. If the equivalent of the CRL (Robbie’s Rail) had been built in the 1960/70s I expect we would never have had the moribund CBD that existed until recently.

      1. If you look at page 40 of the Master Transport Plan you will see the focus of the motorway system was to connect to and from the CBD.
        They didn’t build a motorway system to bypass the CBD simply because nobody in Auckland was that stupid. They understood a strong centre needed to be connected. The CBD has been as good as it is in the past because of its transport connections not despite them. Finally had Robbies nonsense ever been started let alone finished it probably would have resulted in financial ruin. He was selling trains when nobody wanted them, unless of course they were provided free.

    4. How do the benefits of the motorway to the CBD stack up against the hypothetical case where the extensive tram system was not ripped out but was modernised, including overpasses and tunnels for speed?

      The examples of Vienna and Zurich seem to indicate they made the better choice.

      Of course that decision is made so the likes of Auckland and Sydney need to make the best of what they have.

      1. I don’t know much about Vienna but the key difference in Zurich is they have land use regulation and we don’t. When my sister lived there she wasn’t allowed to rent a cheap flat, she had top rent one that was at least a set % of her salary. You cant just build an office where it is convenient for you to put it. Basically the gnomes do as they are told and we don’t. They like rules and we prefer enabling planning rules and people making their own choices. The offices were never just going to sprout up in Auckland just because a PT advocate thought they should. The biggest boom in office space was probably the 1980’s and that was fueled by lots of parking, huge numbers of spaces. If they motorways had avoided the CBD then a new centre or centres would have popped up somewhere else.

        1. The office building boom of the 1980s was fueled by financial deregulation, and the move of corporate headquarters from Wellington to Auckland. I would be interested to see the statistics that show that “offices have been growing faster in other areas”, although there’s no question the growth of megamalls and weekend trading killed the traditional city department store (except for high-end retail).

    5. London has always kept motorways right out of its centre and there has been no sign of that city dying yet. But what it did do was INVEST IN RAPID TRANSIT .

    6. Pity these NZCID gurus didn’t think to do a similar overlay-comparison of the various other cities’ rapid transit systems superimposed on Auckland. That really would show Auckland up as lacking the basics.

  7. Classic chicken & egg problem. If we expand public transport now, it has only limited use because most of Auckland was built for cars. But new developments have to be built for cars because for a large part cars are the only realistic way to get around. To get out of this catch-22 we could start with a decent PT network in the relatively central areas, so at least there we can have some development not centred around cars. But now we will get the Unitary plan locking up the more central areas. Oooops.

    There are more advantages to having such transport system. Like the freedom to make the city a bit more nice to, you know, humans.

    In a lot of residential areas you have streets lined with high fences, to isolate the home owners and their yards from the car world outside. Malls are similar on a larger scale. Little bubbles in our city which are still hospitable to humans. Then there are the more commercial areas. Like Penrose, or Wairau Valley. Or the area around Sylvia Park. The area behind the old library in Onehunga. Where nobody in his right mind goes without his protective steel & glass cage. These cages can also be used to move people between their yard bubbles and the mall bubble.

    A big benefit of building Auckland on Earth instead of Mars is that you can go outside without any protective gear. Now that benefit is mostly squandered. Congestion is not the only downside of doubling down on car-based transport.

  8. Good point, Doug. We can rake over the embers of the past and reinterpret things to rewrite history’s narrative and it only serves to emphasise what divides us. Our focus here should be on how we move forward and I support the transport bloggers because their future is more inclusive giving greater numbers more choice with less environmental impact. So let’s stop this silly he said she said shenanigans and focus on getting to our multi modal future by building the missing links.

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