As we round out not only the year but also the decade, I’ve decided to join the ranks of end of decade reviews.
Thinking about the overall macro trend of the twenty tens, I think it’s one of Auckland starting to come of age as a city. A city that is starting to make more mature decisions that will set itself up well for the future – although not always consistently. In thinking about what’s happened I also think this quote sums things up well:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
There has been a huge amount of change and improvement over the decade. Many projects and changes that were a big deal even just a few years ago now seem minor and ‘part of the furniture’.
This is far from an exhaustive list but here are some of the key changes we’ve seen.
It seems like they’ve been around forever but one of the first major things to happen at the start of the decade was the amalgamation of Auckland’s various council’s along with the creation of Auckland Transport and the other big Council Controlled Organisations near the end of 2010.
While there was much criticism at the time and since about the change, I think a lot of it hasn’t been justified and by and large the change was a key in Auckland finally being able to move forward toward addressing many of the big issues the city faces.
It’s because of the amalgamation that we’ve seen the development of:
- The Auckland Plan – a 30-year strategic vision for the city
- The Unitary Plan – a complete re-writing of the planning rules for the entire city. Since the UP was approved in 2016 we’ve seen housing building consents soar to their highest levels ever at just under 15,000 within a calendar year – up from just 3.5k at the start of the decade and following the GFC driven decline.
- The City centre Masterplan – a 20-year vision for the city centre that has already helped shape many improvements.
One aspect that’s been notable about the amalgamation is that in the four elections we’ve had under the structure so far, transport has played a key role in all of them and each time the main candidate with the most ‘progressive’ transport policy has been victorious.
In fact the way transport discussion evolved during in the initial election, primarily between Len Brown and John Banks, was one of the key reason for us creating our original Congestion Free Network. It and it’s subsequent version have helped play a role progressing the overall transport debate.
Getting the PT basics in place
When it comes to public transport I think there are two key trends that have emerged over the last decade. The first of these is that we’ve overhauled our entire PT network to put in place the basics of a proper public transport system – picking that low hanging fruit if you will. A number of independent projects have combined to significantly improve on the quality and usefulness of the PT system. Each project on their own was important and necessary but combined the impact was greater than the sum of the parts and many had a multiplicative effect that translated to a lot more ridership than expected.
Over the decade we’ve seen the following key changes:
- Completion of Project DART – was started in the middle of the previous decade, Project DART was about upgrading and expanding our run-down rail network. As a result of it we saw:
- Rail Network Electrification – was confirmed at the start of 2010, the rail network was electrified between Swanson and Papakura with the first electric trains began running in May 2014 and all lines were operated by them by mid-2015, resulting in the sparks effect occurring in Auckland (as expected).
- Integrated ticketing – was instrumental to making it easier to catch buses, trains and ferries, ending the tyranny of each operator running their own independent systems. However, the project spent the first few years of the decade in turmoil thanks to Snapper saga. Once that was finally sorted, HOP as we know it today, rolled out near the end of 2012 to trains and ferries. It then took till early 2014 till all buses were on the system.
- Integrated Fares – simplified the fare structure and meant passengers were charged for where they travelled, not what or how many services were used to get there – removing the penalty for transferring between services
- New Bus Network – the entire bus network was reorganised between 2016 and 2018 to improve coverage, frequencies and quality.
On top of this other changes such as the introduction of double deckers – now common on many routes, some increases in bus priority, a number of significantly upgraded train stations, such as Panmure and Otahuhu.
Combined these changes have contributed to a massive increase in usage. At the beginning of the decade there were less than 59 million trips annually on the PT network. At the end of the decade that figure stands at over 103 million, a 75% increase in usage. Once population change has been taken into account, the number of trips taken by the average Aucklander each year increased from 44 to 67.
The Future RTN
The second key public transport trend we’ve seen is the agreement on, and the start to building of, the next major stage in the development of the network – a region wide rapid transit network (RTN). It wasn’t that there weren’t previous plans for this RTN network but they had tended to be more like a theoretical wish list of lines than anything serious. It was also not really something considered as part of a coherent network.
As such, the first half of the decade was dominated by disagreement and distrust between the council and the government to the point that if Auckland proposed something, the government would oppose it for the sake of it. A significant shift in that came in 2016 with the launch of the first Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), which for the first time saw the government admit that we couldn’t build our way out of congestion with more roads and that we needed a rapid transit network, and one more extensive than had been previously considered. Subsequent iterations of ATAP have refined, enhanced and put more certainty around this.
The need for the RTN has come about in part due to the huge success of the existing investments in rapid transit, the rail network upgrades and the Northern Busway. Usage on the existing RTN more than tripled over the decade, rising from 9.6 million trips to 29.6 million and showing that when high quality, frequent and congestion free alternatives are provided, Aucklanders will flock to use them.
Many parts of the overall RTN are now underway and the next decade will be exciting as much of it gets completed.
- City Rail Link – The CRL dominated discussion in the first half of the decade. The first business case for the project was released at the end of 2010 by newly elected Mayor Len Brown but quickly opposed by former Transport Minister Steven Joyce and then his successor Gerry Brownlee, who was once quoted in parliament saying “I take big issue with the suggestion that the City Rail Link is useful or popular“. That rhetoric changed in early 2013 though when Prime Minister John Key publicly supported the project, although not as early as Auckland wanted or needed. He set a number of targets in place for an early start and being on track to meet those years early plus business demand, including so the Commercial Bay development could go ahead led to the project formally started in 2016. Since then there’s been positive news with the stations being future-proofed for longer trains but that combined with the delays brought on by the previous government have contributed to the cost increasing.
- Northern busway extension – The busway was opened in 2008 and has been immensely successful, now busier than any of the rail lines thanks to it’s superb frequency. An extension north to Albany was desired but at one stage didn’t look like happening after former Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee removed it from the Northern Corridor project against advice. It was eventually added back in and is now under construction with AT building an additional station at Rosedale.
- Eastern Busway – what seems like one of the longest running projects, and one that has been being worked on throughout the entire decade, finally started construction at the end of the decade.
- Airport to Botany Rapid Transit – Getting rapid transit to the airport has long been a high priority and throughout the decade just how that will happen solidified. One part of that is a busway connecting the airport to Puhinui and Manukau eventually extending to Botany and beyond. Construction started on that this year.
- Light Rail – While the debate about the CRL dominated the first half of the decade, light rail dominated the second half. Much like the CRL this was initially opposed by the (former) government but they eventually agreed it would happen in the future. The new government in 2017 prioritised the project but things have not been as smooth sailing recently. This will continue to be a big talking point in the years ahead.
The next decade is going to be exciting as these and other RTN projects get delivered.
While we’ve seen great strides made over the decade with public transport, there’s also been a lot of road building going on. We’ve probably had more large motorway projects completed in this decade than nearly any other.
Within Auckland some of the big projects that have been completed during the decade,
- SH20 Manukau Harbour Crossing (2010) – duplicated the motorway bridge across the Mangere Inlet. Cost $218 million
- SH20 to SH1 Manukau Extension (2011) – extending SH20 from Puhinui Rd through to SH1 at Manukau. Cost $220 million
- SH18 Hobsonville Deviation and SH16 extension to Brigham Creek (2011) – new motorway from SH16 through to the Upper Harbour Bridge and the extension of SH16. Cost $220 million
- Victoria Park Tunnel (2011) – SH1 northbound was put in a tunnel under Victoria Park. Construction began right at the start of the decade and was completed in less than two years. The project also stands as a testament to how quickly our perception of cost changes. At the time it started it was Auckland’s most expensive ever roading project at $340 million.
- Waterview Tunnels (2017) – The Waterview tunnels at $1.4 billion are the single biggest motorway project New Zealand has seen so far and extended SH20 from Maioro St through to SH16
- Northwestern motorway widening – multiple separate but interrelated projects have seen the NW motorway widened from St Lukes all the way to Westgate.
- St Lukes to Gt North Rd (2016)
- Causeway upgrade (2017)
- Te Atatu Interchange (2017)
- Lincoln Rd to Te Atatu (2017)
- Lincoln Rd to Westgate (2019)
- SH20A to Airport (2018) – the Kirkbride Rd intersection was grade separated and SH20 upgraded.
- SH1 Ellerslie Widening (2016) – Adding a single northbound lane to SH1 between Ellerslie Panmure Highway and Main Hwy
- SH1 Manukau to Papakura (2019) – Widening this section of motorway, in part to cope with the extra traffic generated by the completion of the SH20 to SH1 project.
There are also a couple of big projects still ongoing
- Northern Corridor – the final section of the Western Ring Route, creating a motorway to motorway connection between SH18 and SH1 as well as widening from Constellation through to Albany and the extension of the Northern Busway.
- Puhoi to Warkworth – extending the motorway north from Puhoi to Warkworth
A couple of big projects that thankfully haven’t happened (yet) include
- East West Link – a project that even those who support it admitted would cost more per km than a corruption ridden project in Russia. The new government told the NZTA to review the project but we’re yet to hear what the outcome of that is.
- Warkworth to Wellsford – another massive project but this is one that delivers few benefits due to small traffic volumes
There are plenty more local projects that have been built or talked about. The two biggest of these that that have seen a lot of discussion are Penlink and the Mill Rd upgrade. I expect we’ll hear a lot more about them in the coming years.
A growing issue in the latter part of the decade has been that of safety. This came about in part as a result of the country seeing the number of deaths on our roads increasing after a sustained period of decreases. This has started to track back down again – although this is is looking to be the worse December since 2008.
Cycling / Micro mobility
The decade finally saw us start to build proper cycling infrastructure. A particularly big step change occurred after the previous government announced their Urban Cycleways Fund in the lead up to the 2014 election. Since then we’ve seen a number of great projects completed.
One big disappointment is that the initial surge in projects that the delivery of projects slowed down and nearly five years on we’re still yet to see many of the initial UCP projects even started despite it meant to have been a three-year programme. We have started to see some movement on a few projects in the last few months but there’s lots of catching up to do.
At the end of the decade we’ve also seen the wider micro-mobility scene explode with lots of new devices coming, in particular electric scooters. It’s clear that bikes/micro-mobility are here to stay and when tied with good public transport is going to play an increasingly important role in the transport system for years to come.
The City Centre
Last by certainly not least we have the city centre. The twenty-tens are the decade we finally got serious about improving the city centre. It seems hard to believe now but just a decade ago there was no Wynyard Quarter, no shared spaces, no cycleways, cars dominated the city centre and about 35% fewer people living in it. These are all now a reality and the city is now thriving under a sea of cranes and orange cones as it goes through a massive building and improvement boom.
The success of the changes so far has helped to emboldened the council to go further and planning is underway for the next big shift which will see the city become much more pedestrian friendly.
We end the decade with most of the downtown area under construction in a range of both private and public projects that when complete will contribute to a significant improvement to the area.
So there it is, a wrap up of some of the big projects and trends we’ve seen over the last decade. It’s been an exciting time and there’s plenty more to come in the coming decade. See you in 2020.