Accelerating Modeshift was the subject of a workshop for Councillors last Friday. (Credit: Cathy Casey, via Facebook):
Modeshift away from private car use is important, for reasons of health, sustainability, safety, urban form, liveability and access. But private car use is both large, and rapidly increasing (due to road building). Percentage changes in modes with low modeshare have little impact on outcomes when the dominant mode is increasing so strongly.
Road building creates traffic. If this was properly modelled in the traffic models, most road capacity expansion projects wouldn’t even get funded. I like this graphic that Todd Litman shares about a bridge in Istanbul:
I’ve been looking at the latest figures released for traffic counts on local roads in Pt Chevalier.
Since the Waterview Connection opened on 2nd July 2017, we have seen considerable growth in the average daily traffic counts. The measurement dates vary, obviously, for the different streets, and there’s insufficient data in most locations, but you can see the trend from the following data. Using the 5-day average daily counts:
- On Pt Chevalier Rd north of Wainui Rd, volumes increased by 18% over 2 years.
6681 to 7884 between September 2016 and October 2018.
- On Walford Rd, volumes increased by 10% over 1 year.
3669 to 4054 between September 2017 and October 2018.
- Nearby, on Old Mill Rd, volumes increased by 10% over 1 year.
9218 to 10176 between April 2017 and March 2018.
Traffic data on the main arterial roads is more complicated because it was already near capacity at peak hour. At the Great North Road (southern) end of Pt Chevalier Rd there was
- a 1% drop over the year that included the opening of the Waterview Connection, then
- an 8% rise in 8 weeks, to a record high count, followed by
- a further 1% rise over the next year (to 17,780 vpd),
- combined with heavy congestion tailbacks that actually reduced the morning peak hour flow by 5%.
Congestion prevented a higher increase in traffic volumes on these main arterials. Since the daily traffic volume still went up, despite the drop in flow in the morning peak hour, this indicates that the peak morning flow is now spread over more hours.
One of the major trends has been people ‘taking alternative routes’ through the small residential streets and the street our secondary school is on (Motions Rd), often because they are following Google’s Directions about the quickest route. All this has led to a less safe walking and cycling environment.
But where the data has a clear story to tell is in the streets at the northern end of Pt Chevalier (Walford Rd and Pt Chevalier Rd). This is a dead-end system, so it’s possible to isolate some trends. An increase of 9 to 10% per annum on these roads is an extremely high result, because:
- These are not alternative routes for people from the NW heading to town; this isn’t a shift of route nor a result of growth in the NW.
- The increase has nothing to do with population growth. There has not been 18% increase in the population at the northern end of Pt Chevalier in two years. In fact, there’s been next to none as there has been very little increase in housing stock.
- This is not from increased vehicle ownership. The 1% to 2% annual increase in vehicle ownership for those years in Pt Chevalier will be a contributor – but cannot explain the 9% increase per annum in travel.
Yet Pt Chevalier has been a recipient of “accelerating modeshift” attention. Pt Chevalier is one of the best-connected suburbs by public transport, and the northern end received a new frequent bus route as part of the New Network. Also, although Auckland has so far been denied a proper cycling network, at least Pt Chevalier is connected to the NW and Waterview Shared Paths.
Pt Chevalier’s experience is clearly an example of modeshift happening in the wrong direction – because of road building – despite some good ‘modeshift accelerators’ being in place. Perhaps it should have been a case study at Friday’s workshop?
So what did cause this increase in private vehicle use? This chart by Todd Litman lays out different types of generated traffic. The traffic increasing in the northern end of Pt Chevalier is probably of the types listed in the 4th, 6th, and 8th rows (remembering of course, that people driving from Pt Chevalier to other parts of the city have seen some journey times drop despite the local congestion here):
But we’ve also seen some he doesn’t list, which have happened in large part due to the fumey, dangerous, unpleasant street environment, and the high congestion holding up the Outer Link buses at peak hour:
In the Waterview Connection Traffic Modelling,
- no allowance for any kind of “new trip” was made,
- no allowance for the effects of increased local traffic and congestion in Pt Chevalier was made,
- active modes are given lip service. No modelling based on pedestrian flows was made. (The limited pedestrian counts – probably taken to establish need for local pedestrian amenity – were valued so highly they were ‘lost’.)
And the long term effects are still to come. Heaven help us.
Before Waterview Connection opened, I asked AT, via the local board, what they were doing to improve the safety on the local roads around Waterview Connection for vulnerable road users, in readiness for the increase in traffic. The reply –
– showed an ignorance about generated traffic, and a resistance to consider the danger it poses to cyclists and pedestrians. We deserve better. To rub salt in the wound, the Traffic Modelling Report said one of the benefits of the project is:
More opportunities for walking, cycling and passenger transport
But is Pt Chevalier just the unlucky one that’s taken a battering while the rest of the city has been improved? Not from a modeshift perspective. Some areas are less congested as a result of the Waterview Connection, but they are steadily filling up with traffic again. During this period, people will make use of the lower traffic volumes by shifting from walking, cycling and public transport, to yet more driving.
Multiply this effect by all the road capacity projects, and it becomes clear why travel is increasing in the city as a whole.
The latest available figures for vehicle km travelled are for the 2016/2017 year, and they show an increase of 5% for the country, and of 6.4% for Auckland local roads. This is about 2.5 times population growth.
Population growth has been used as an excuse for our self-made transport problems for too long.
Which brings me back to Council’s workshop on accelerating modeshift last Friday. I hope they discussed that:
- Every modeshift strategy must first undo the modeshift towards driving caused by road building before we’ll see any effect in the desired direction.
- Every safety programme will use money just mitigating the risks introduced by the induced traffic before remaining funds can start to provide an improvement in safety.
- And when it comes to building a cycling network, the Dutch make it clear the first step is reducing traffic. It’s critical to reduce the number of conflicts wherever vehicles and bikes cross paths. Auckland Transport’s Cycling Budget Slashers have not only set back the cycling programme by two years, they’ve also prevented action on reducing travel in order to make the cycling programme work. Now that change is imminent, this needs to be addressed.
These programmes and strategies are important. But while we’re still increasing road capacity, they will have to work far harder, at higher cost to the public, and yet will still be less effective. Road building is reducing the value-for-money we get from everything we are funding in the transport sector.
Friday’s workshop could have been titled:
Aladdin and the Magic Modeshift
Our fantasies for accelerating modeshift at great expense
(even though we know our efforts will be swamped by the traffic we are creating by building roads)
People in positions of power throughout the transport organisations must shift in their thinking, and take responsibility for how the road building is increasing vehicle km travelled and shifting modeshare the wrong way.
To those holding the purse strings: There is money available for modeshift. It just needs reallocating from the road “improvements” budget. Win win.
(Lead image is from “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” episode of Ruffus the Dog. Copyright 2010 Hunky Dorey Entertainment Inc. This work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.