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.
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?