55 Symonds Street

This school year Auckland University will be opening up housing for 600+ students at the City Centre Campus, including the 55 Symonds Street building pictured above. This is a welcome addition to the meager (though increasing) supply of student housing of about 3,100 units.

For reference 600+ people is close to the number of cars on one traffic lane running along Symonds Street through the campus during a peak AM hour. Of course, very few students travel by car, so the new residents are more likely to be releasing valuable seats on packed public transport services during the already oversubscribed peak period.

Students living in these new facilities will travel much shorter distances overall than their counterparts scattered across the city. People located in central locations travel shorter distance since they are located close to their primary place of “work” and have a concentration of services and destinations close by. As students they are not captured in conventional journey to work surveys and their daily walking trips aren’t even considered.

Here is a map of the average travel distance of commuters from the 2013 census.

Average commute distance, 2013 Census (Data: Stats NZ)

Here is an interesting article by California planning guru William Fulton in Governing Magazine, “A Low Cost Solution to Traffic” where he poses one obvious solution to the 21st century transport challenge as described in Austin Texas.

A couple of generations ago, we would have solved this problem pretty simply, by foolishly spending a lot of money to plow new freeways through existing communities. But attitudes have changed…

Which brings us to proximity. One of the few ways around this problem is to build more housing close to the urban cores — or, at least, close to the dense suburban job centers. Urban planners often argue for locating more housing along high-frequency transit lines, which makes sense because many people can commute by transit.

What’s not well understood, however, is that well-located housing can cut down on the amount of driving — and hence the need for additional road space — even if people are still tethered to their cars. One famous study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that people living in Berkeley and Oakland drive only half as far as people in the outer suburbs — not because they take transit more, but because the places they have to go are closer together.

As we develop transport solutions for the wicked challenges of regional transport and city centre access, this is one area where it seems we could do much better. Every new housing unit comes with a built-in transport requirement.

What if centrally located or rapid transit proximate housing  was funded/supported as a transport investment? As the housing cycle inevitably slows, is there a role of government to step in to support housing options that will also help to solve the city’s transport problems instead of exacerbating the problem by focusing on far flung, car-dependent development?

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17 comments

  1. Back to the future. Build a factory and a factory town next to it for the workers to work in it, like Manchester, and locally Onehunga. Should be easier with office jobs, no pollution or noise to discourage housing nearby.

  2. The Unitary Plan should have gone full force with high rise buildings and terraces around the proximity of the rapid public transport. We cant just rely on the CBD to produce these high-rise. We need them in the suburbs close to reliable public transport.

  3. You mean using Panuku and the proposed Urban Development Authorities to build public backed housing in the ten Metropolitan Centres given six sit on the rail network and one sits on the bus-way as we start heading into the downward part of the supply cycle.

    Would work well given by the time the projects were completed in five years there would be a new housing stream complete as the demand part of the cycle starts cycling up again and we would have some latent supply all set to go as a measure until new supply kicks again.

  4. Big transit agencies/operators overseas (thinking of MTR in Hong Kong and MRT) in Singapore are also land developers, building housing and shopping areas next to or on top of stations. In fact, the MTR in Hong Kong are reluctant to add any more stations unless they can buy all the land around it for housing development.

    Recent news of Urban development authorities coming to NZ is welcome, I can imagine a combined AT/Panuku authority that does transport and land redevelopment together.

    1. That would be great if AT actually ‘enabled’ development. Instead their job seems to be obstructing or financially penalising development as much as possible…

  5. As the housing cycle inevitably slows, is there a role of government to step in to support housing options that will also help to solve the city’s transport problems instead of exacerbating the problem by focusing on far flung, car-dependent development?

    You mean the council.

    Proximate suburban developments are mostly forbidden on the edge of Auckland City as Auckland Council choses instead to direct development to far flung exurbs. For instance it is forbidden to develop the horse-paddocks next to Swanson railway station, yet the productive crop land south of Clarks Beach is to become new sprawl. The taxpayer is spending $billions to improve the rail network and the council is stuffing it up.

      1. Yes.

        Also at the corner of Tramway Valley Rd and Swanson Rd is a flat paddock, Auckland classifies it as a foothill of the Waitakare Ranges to ensure it is never sullied with intensive housing.

  6. The minimum car parking requirement should reduced if the property is near a rapid transit or a major employment centre.

    That encourages more affordable dwelling near transit and employment.

  7. Distance is a proxy for proximity (I know that sounds incredibly stupid, but bear me out)

    If I live 1km from work but travel time is 15 minutes, I am actually less proximate to work than if I live 20km away but it only takes me 10 minutes.

    1. +1, just need to modify it to: “if I live 20km away but it *reliably* only takes me 10 minutes”

      To get that sort of reliability you need to be free frojm congestion so congestion pricing, walking, or on an RTN route, or both.

    2. True, but keep in mind that we probably can afford a transport system where lots and lots of people can cover 1 km in 15 minutes, while we probably can’t afford a transport system where lots and lots of people cover 20 km in 15 minutes.

  8. I remain completely unconvinced that university students are responsible for March Madness.

    While I have no idea how you would generalise the observation I think it is informative to compare and contrast the busyness of Auckland (as opposed to AUT) around 9 (i.e. using same morning public transport as the normative 9-5 commuter) and around 10. It should be immediately obvious.

    Furthermore, if the above impression is wrong and the end of March Madness is as a result of university students realising that that they don’t need to show up at 9am if they’re not starting until, say, 11 or 1, why is it that students forget this year on year? They apparently remember for semester two.

    Finally, if it was university students with no prior experience, things should get busier the week before March because of Orientation activities.

    The influx of university can’t help (some is not none), but I rather suspect you need to direct attention to other tertiary institutes or find some data that shows the thought exercise to be wrong/offbase.

    The point is that the above housing will probably do absolutely nothing, drawing away users who don’t catch services you catch or simply drawing from the pool of people who would otherwise be flatting traditionally… and therefore also not catching services you catch.

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