Transport planning must be pretty complicated at times. Different projects interact with each other, you don’t want to unnecessarily dig a road up when you might need to dig it up again in the near future, you need to try to align service changes with infrastructure improvements and so on. I imagine that at times this complexity leads to very little happening with the inter-relationships between different projects and plans essentially making it seemingly impossible to do anything with confidence.

Jarrett Walker discusses this issue in a recent post, which is a worth while read.

Whenever I present a bus network redesign plan, I’m always accused of ignoring important things.  How can I design a bus network, people say, without also planning for bus lanes, or bicycle parking, or road pricing, or parking policy, or urban structure? These things are all connected, they say!

Jarrett highlights one way of getting around this is to emphasise that things which are connected can still be separable.

Two projects are connected if they affect each other’s outcomes. For example, a network redesign and a bus lane project will certainly improve each other’s benefits over what either could do alone.  A rail line and a bus line parallel to it are competitors that will undermine each other’s outcomes, so they are connected too.  (Deep ecologists would say that almost everything is connected in this sense.)

Two projects are separable if one can be done before the others, and will achieve some benefits  by itself, even while waiting for the other connected parts to happen.

This is important, because progress always move at the speed of their slowest element, which means that separating things is the only way to get them done.

So separating projects is the only way for anything to happen soon. We are not denying that everything is connected. We are saying we have to start somewhere, and make some progress, even as other pieces of the puzzle are in the works.

Jarrett applies this concept to implementing bus network changes, which is a good example when you think about Auckland’s new PT network (which Jarrett was a key part of creating). There are a whole pile of connected parts to this network, more bus lanes will help route changes, as will creating a whole heap of important minor bus interchanges across Auckland. But most of these infrastructure changes were able to be separated, leaving a few critical changes like the Otahuhu bus/rail interchange that really and truly couldn’t be separated. The new network has taken six years to become a reality, but if we were waiting for the many connected elements to this network to be in place, we would still be years away from seeing any improvement.

A good contrast to the pragmatic approach of the new network, is the lack of progress on much at all within the city centre in recent years. There’s obviously a lot to work around in the city centre, with City Rail Link construction, light-rail planning, America’s cup improvements and much more. This seems to have resulted in progress towards a more people-friendly city centre having ground to a halt in recent years, with the main change seemingly a step backwards in the removal of double-phasing for pedestrians at key intersections along Queen Street.

This means that High Street is still a mess, that buses get stuck in congestion on Wellesley and Victoria streets, and that many streets around motorway ramps are basically a concerted design effort to kill as many pedestrians as possible.

It seems to me that transport planning in the city centre needs to figure out what’s truly inseparable and where progress can still be made in the face of uncertainty and complexity. Let’s keep improving things, even if they aren’t perfect at first and even if that means it might be a bit more complex in the future. Otherwise we will forever be stuck playing six dimensional chess in trying to find a way that everything fits together perfectly, and the current situation of achieving very little will continue.

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  1. The RASF has a good chance of bringing all the needs to the table at the same time. What frustrates me – and I find this in general life, not just urban planning – is that where a conflict exists, people often settle for solutions that only work by disregarding the future needs. In house design, that might mean getting the rooms laid out to perfection for all today’s needs, but ignores the flexibility that a dynamic household will require over time. In transport planning, it might mean squeezing all the modes in but only for today’s mode share, not for an intensified neighbourhood.

  2. Good post. Good example that came out of this mornings post and comments is perhaps pre CRL we need more 70 route buses at peak.

    As sort of related note, we have several new bus stops in reality & on the “apps” some are there some are not, some old ones showing that were subsequently removed etc etc. Very all temporarily un user friendly especially to casual users. Seems the priority of infrastructure is random. See nice new bus stops appear last few days on Great South Rd/Penrose Rd corner that would only service a M-F 30 min mainly 321 bus route that is also near the train station & sheltered stops just up the road?? Good to see normally but so many others I would of picked first. Ruawai Rd Mt Wellington has a one brand new design one go in before the new network, but isn’t actually an official stop now (except for school route & still has the old timetable up in in with no notice, sigh). New stops put in near have no shelter & only just painted bus stop yellow markings on road done at least. Old stops don’t have notices in them except random ones here and there.

  3. Grant, my impression as a frequent user of buses and trains is that there is no one at AT who cares; and if there is they have nothing to do with the service delivery.

    Little things like the percentage of buses that turn up on time, or at all. My frequent experience is to see buses that just “disappear” and sign boards where all services may be late. I just don’t believe their reliability figures.

    The most galling thing though is the huge disconnect between the supposed vision to have better transport outcomes and the reality. 4.6% annual growth just does not cut it.

    It is not as though they are short of ideas. I have not been able to work out how it happens: does Greater Auckland feed ideas to AT; or do some within AT feed ideas to GA who feed them back to AT? It doesn’t matter, they are not short of ideas – good ones.

    As Matt says they just have to do things – sensible things.

    (Here’s a clue – your key business is not to run electric shuttles to the Devonport wharf. Think Air NZ flying into Kaitaia for a model of how large transport operators work).

    I think I need to clear my diary to attend a Board meeting to see how things don’t work.

    1. It’s frustrating, Taka-ite, but imagine being one of the dedicated, talented, passionate people in AT who does care, but is being undermined and threatened for being on the wrong side of the people-traffic divide. I think it’s important to support those staff. Janette Sadik-Khan managed to change NY’s direction only because of grassroots support.

      1. Heidi, and sometimes revolution comes at the barrel of a gun. Many have worked with AT over the years and there has been little appreciable change.

        I realise that there are many young graduates particularly who know that there is a better way. I also know that some of them already believe that they have to compromise to achieve what they want.

        Let’s hope for meaningful change soon. I re-read Lester Levy’s words from the last Annual Report today. He gets it, but when is he going to start taking the organisation with him?

  4. Nothing is happening in Midtown until the CRL digging is completed in 3 or 4 years. We aren’t going to get a proper crossing between Federal Street shared space sections until Wellesley Street busway (and likely the linear park) are completed. Linear park won’t happen until CRL works done. CRL will take longer now with the added works, no doubt.

    No vision is being proposed, however, to just ‘do it’ in the meantime with known (tactical) placemaking toolkits they already have. AT treats the city like a project, not as people’s neighbourhood or place of work. 4 years of waiting is just a line on a gantt chart, an extra year is just a delay to a project, no concept of the consequences to the city. There are traffic management plans, but no ‘livability’ plans.

    Some tactical projects are coming (e.g. Sale at Wellesley – thanks!), but it’s through efforts to suggest to/convince the (small) team to do them – it’s not driven by AT at large to make up for the delays the city is having to meeting any of its residents’ and users’ needs.

  5. So Matt, the New Network became separated from the Connections puzzle piece. The New Network succeeded, and now we need the missing people-friendly connections between routes. What do you think is required to elevate a new Wayfinding and Connections Team to a level that means they will achieve the same level of success that the New Network team achieved?

    Our rates are being wasted if the New Network can’t reap the returns it should simply because of the lack of good connections. Will they start being rolled out now, or has something gone sour?

  6. This is an insightful post.

    The problem is for any change there is always opposition, even how beneficial the change can be.
    The issue is most of the majority supporters are quiet and does not make submissions.
    The noise is usually made by minority interest groups who can be ideologically/extremist, misinformed/naive or self-interested/lobbyist.

    Not all opinions weight the same and have good intentions.

    Unfortunately our current submission system requires absolute support in order to progress.

    In that case nothing can be done.

    We need a more progressive system.

    1. Yes, as Matt says: “This is important, because progress always move at the speed of their slowest element”. A coordinated approach affecting many sides of residents’ lives at once runs the risk that any one element could raise someone’s ire, and the whole thing gets lost. Whereas the complete package is probably what impresses the vast majority of residents – one element answers their concerns about another element, so they keep quiet.

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