An article in the Herald on the weekend had MP Nikki Kaye complaining about the amount of works in the city centre.

National’s Nikki Kaye yesterday instigated a crisis briefing with Auckland Transport to explain the planning logic behind the “perfect storm” of road work reducing the city centre to a standstill.

The Auckland Central MP is calling for a review of the consent planning for government and private developments as 63 Auckland CBD streets will be disrupted by public projects alone in 2020.

The traffic cone minefield is founded on the two major projects of the City Rail Link along the length of Albert St – lasting until 2024 – and the plethora of downtown street and marina upgrades rushed through for the 2021 America’s Cup.

However, more than 50 other roadwork and public space projects have been scheduled by AT across city streets in 2020.

This is not to mention the private developments which make up 30 to 70 per cent of CBD construction projects approved for resource consent by Auckland Council.

Kaye was compelled to arrange a briefing with a group of AT senior staff on Friday morning, after numerous complaints from constituents on the scale of works in central Auckland.

“Better co-ordination and sequencing of AT, City Rail Link Limited (CRLL) and private development works is needed to deliver a more efficient way of dealing with congestion and impacts of roadworks,” Kaye said

“I realise some would say the perfect storm has emerged with the CRLL progressing, works for the America’s Cup, cycleways and buildings being progressed.

“All are worthwhile initiatives but there comes a point when people are stuck in traffic or feel shut out of the city, Aucklanders and businesses suffer.

I appreciate it might not be what she intended but this comes across to me a bit as complaining that there’s too much going on when at the same time we have her colleagues saying the opposite is happening and we need to do more to help the construction industry.

Auckland is a sea of cones right now

This thought also side-tracked me into thinking about how we often have politicians from across the political spectrum and at all levels, as well as a number of lobby groups, who like to talk about New Zealand, and specifically Auckland, having an infrastructure deficit, or promoting how they’re the ones helping us “catch up on decades of under spending” etc. I doubt there’s a city in the world that thinks their infrastructure is perfect and don’t want more of it. So just what is the level of infrastructure we should have for a city our size (population and spatially) to know how far behind we are? Is there ever a point where we can say we’ve caught up to where we should be? I doubt it’s something we’ll ever have an agreed answer on.

Back to the topic at hand though, I do feel that there’s an element of opportunistic and unfair bashing of Auckland Council and Transport, something that’s sadly not uncommon these days. That’s not to say they’re completely without blame here. Here are a couple of things they should have done better.

  1. Communicating to the public has been lacking. In particular, most of the messaging implies that all this work is a temporary thing, that it’s a bit of pain now for improvement. Almost by omission they suggest things will go back to how they were prior to the works which in most cases is not what’s happening, for example, Quay St is never going back to four lanes. Both AC and AT should be using this opportunity to be much bolder and to highlight how much the city is transforming for the better, so people should be getting out of their cars now instead of the only very subtle suggestions to consider other modes. Furthermore, the Access for Everyone proposal will mean that even more so the city will focus on being a destination and not something just to drive through. Councillor Chris Darby has done this to a degree but the message needs amplification and repeating.

    Access for Everyone will divide the city into cells that you can drive to but not through as part of helping make the city more people friendly
  2. It’s all very well telling people to change modes but with so much going on, buses are being diverted in a number of areas but they haven’t got the priority to support them. As such, the congestion that Nikki is complaining about is also holding up thousands of people on buses. For example the NX1 buses have been moved from Lower Albert St to Customs St while Lower Albert is being upgraded. I happen to think the temporary bus stops are a better location except for the fact buses are getting caught in congestion more so are either late to arrive in city or late to depart. It is now not uncommon for buses to take 10-15 minutes to crawl the 500m from when the reach Sturdee St till the bus stop on Customs St – although most of the delay would have still affected them if they were using Lower Albert St.

    Buses are getting caught up in the congestion because AT haven’t added bus lanes to support them

On top of all of this there also needs to be a greater recognition that the city is a large and fast-growing neighbourhood. It means suggestions such as more night works may need to take account of all the people living nearby. Those residents along with tens of thousands of people arriving by public transport will need to walk the streets at some point and at least anecdotally it has been feeling like they’ve been tweaking traffic light phases to squeeze a few more cars through.

It will be interesting to see how AT respond to Kaye’s meeting, if they do at all.

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41 comments

  1. I think that she got the space in the Herald as it has always been the mouthpiece for the National Party and I think that it still believes that it must report anything that National says.

    Having said that you are correct that AT hasn’t done the best job of communicating with the citizens who are funding them. Another problem I see is that the CRL is taking “forever” with, at the moment, only promises that it really will improve things, however the hype is concentrated on the benefits of the Underground and not what will be improved above ground.

    1. Minor side note regarding the Herald & communication: I saw a full page ad regarding city centre or downtown works the a week or two back in it (paid for by AT I’m sure) saying how disruptive it is at the moment & you can still travel to the city centre, to allow more time etc. (I had a free subscription for a few weeks offered by them, thought be handy to see the premium content for free).

  2. Auckland is growing up. This is most evident in the city centre (always the urban pattern, the centre is, after all, the centre!). It has already lost its postwar last century quality of only being a business district, only busy in business hours. It is already a proper mixed use; working, learning, playing, living place. This is fantastic, and to be celebrated.

    However the built form needs to catch up with this change. Much of the current works are doing that. But the comms from AC and AT mostly don’t own this. Either those communicating don’t understand it, or (looking at you AT) don’t believe in it. This needs to change or the push back from those resisting change (always with us) will get worse.

    Own it, communicate it, celebrate it.

    It isn’t going back.

  3. Grandstanding is clearly the key here.
    This is another example of government failing to do their own role, and instead wasting tax payer resources so they can move attention off their own failures.
    Central government ministers should not be in “crisis talks” unless someone is asking for central government changes (which there is no mention of, and doubt in this case).

    Would also be interesting to know if AT may have failed in the job in even having such a meeting. AT after all would presumably have no more obligation to meet with her than meet any other member of the public (as she is not a representative in regards to auckland council topics). As such this typically only occurs with community groups, who was she representing to get senior staff from AT?

    Not sure if possible, but would be interested if an OIA could be requested regarding who she was portraying to AT she represented on the topic (to get the meeting), and how was she nominated as spokesperson.
    Also the cost of AT staff time of having the meeting.

    Separately, I do though think a lane tax, would be great though. Made massive difference in London. This would mean better coordination before it even reached council.
    She would never suggest this as even a beneficial tax needs to be assigned to Labour to meet their narrative, and would mean she was actually doing her job not someone else’s.

    1. Agree she is grandstanding but central government fund AT at 51%. She’s the MP for Central Auckland and has a role to represent her constituents.

      Your suggestion of an OIA and LGOIMA would just waste more tax payer and rate payer money.

    2. “AT may have failed” if they actually met with Nikki Kaye . . .

      This completely misunderstands AT’s relationship with politicians. As the “elected representatives “ of the people, they’re treated just as that – representatives. And when an MP seeks a discussion on a matter, AT will arrange one, just as it would with a Councillor, Local Board Chair or member. She’s the local MP for the city area – her legitimate interest is obvious.

      Just because AT meets with a politician, though, it doesn’t mean that it has buckled at the knees and capitulated to unreasonable, unrealistic or strategically nonsensical demands. Many many many times AT staff have to communicate things to politicians that are completely at odds with that politician’s hopes, expectations or demands. And then have to suck up the angry response. Just part of their job.

    3. “This is another example of government failing to do their own role, and instead wasting tax payer resources so they can move attention off their own failures.”

      What’s this got to do with Central Government?

  4. The whole left lane for the block of Fanshawe Street between Nelson and Hobson is now a bus stop, taking out a lane of traffic and filling it instead with a long line of buses chugging diesel fumes right below our apartment all hours of the day and night. There was no notification from AT that this would happen. Also Hobson Street has had the left lane built into a footpath to create even more bus stops. Again, nothing from AT to notify residents. Lower Hobson Street has been closed for weeks, with construction workers parking on the flyover. With all the chaos in the area, it’s a wonder why they don’t just rip down the flyover while all the cones are set up. If Quay street traffic is being reduced, do we even need this ugly concrete flyover anymore?

    1. I think you know already but… it has been Ludo Campbell Read’s dream to demolish the flyover, and he included it in the 2012 Waterfront masterplan. I think everyone knows its gonna happen, they’re just going through a process of making it redundant by effectively shutting down Quay Street with the new layout. Once that is completed they’ll be able to say the traffic volumes on the flyover are so light there is no reason to keep it. And then down it comes.
      The only reason it might stay is if AT want to keep it for buses only (and maybe include a cycle lane on each side).

  5. AT particularly, must change its poor communication culture. Not only do they communicate terribly during any infra/service build but after-build, they are equally awful at communicating the value of what they’ve deployed. It shows a complete lack of empathy at senior management level along with an unwillingness to back their products…and when they do support something, its often tone-deaf to the reality on the ground.

    One of my colleagues is a former Hong Kong PT senior executive. When he joined the company, he knew very little about public transport service operations so put himself through the company’s bus driver training programme and after some months as a regular double-decker driver, he began his senior exec role in earnest. He still maintains his bus driver license in HK, even though his job now is training other transit agencies around the world in service design and operations. He says his bus driving work has been and still is, his way of keeping in touch with what is happening/changing at the frontline. Listeners/communicators/doers like him are needed at exec level in every transit service agency – to make better decisions on customer communication and service performance.

  6. Hosking’s got a rant going now too. Apparently they shouldn’t be building bus lanes and bike lanes because there already isn’t enough room for cars!
    I have no sympathy for anyone who drives into the city. Surely they must recognise that it just can’t scale, that at some stage Auckland will get too big to allow so many to drive. If you choose to drive in and get stuck in traffic, what did you expect? Its like that in any city.
    I did expect more from Nikki Kaye. She seemed to be one of the more progressive National candidates, but it turns out she is just as bad as the rest…

    1. ‘Hosking’s got a rant going now too’

      Haha yeah, just saw the headline and moved on. Clickbait at its finest!

      Understand Nikki Kaye getting it in the ear from her constituents, but its her role to relay back to them why it is happening and the value of long term gain for short term pain. She is a politician however and that is what politicians do, can’t be trusted in the slightest.

        1. That one does annoy me. The long term winners are the owners of the property. They should be giving much lower rent in the short term to compensate the retailers. But I doubt that is happening; the property owners are trying to win both ways.

        2. Why are transitional costs like compensation to existing businesses and neighbours not built into the business case and budget of each project?

      1. It’s not Nikki Kaye’s jobs to run AT’s comms for them, or sell AT’s projects to the electorate. Or is the argument here that CCOs need more comms staffers?

  7. If they are just going to do the Access for Everyone, it could be a good timing and just do them together while the roads are blocked anyway.

  8. This is a good post & timely. You can see the noise coming out from the public & through the media as people return to work & the congestion is more intense. AMETI works are another example, some lanes were more aggressively closed off while it was a quieter traffic time, but still had quite a big impact. I think it was good they could make good progress while they could.

    Most people I’ve talked to just want works over and done with quicker, rather than dragging them out. Though to be fair these are usually the people just passing through them and not living beside or among it.

    Buses, walking, cycling need priority even if it’s temporary is a good point.

  9. Well it has to said – the way the business owners of Albert street have been treated is disgusting, and will forever be a stain on the CRL project. And businesses all over Auckland are now rightfully fearful of being completely shafted by transport infrastructure disruption.

    1. I want to know whether their building owners have given them huge rent/lease reductions. If that is the case and they are still struggling then I agree with you they should be compensated. If not then the real finger pointing needs to go to the building owners for not adjusting the rent to the (temporary) desirability of the location. I am sure they will be adjusting the rent upwards when the location is much more desirable!

      1. Nonsense. The disruption has entirely been caused by the CRL work. Imagine being a business owner watching your how you make a living, you investments in time and goodwill, just be destroyed with little more than a insincere bit of sorry not sorry? It is disgraceful abuse of power.

        The disruption was entirely predicable and an amelioration strategy should have been in place from day one. Simply, the project should have offered to compensate at the very least the small retailers affected. The CRL is a 4-5 billion dollar project. Finding a couple of million to help people who livelihoods have been destroyed should have been a no – brainer.

        1. I don’t think it is that simple. Whatever applies to the CRL really has to apply to all building projects doesn’t it? Should businesses always be compensated for infrastructure upgrades? What about home owners? Who decides who and how much?
          My understanding is that the CRL could not compensate by law – and I think that should remain the case.

        2. So CRLL are building an infrastructure project that will give local building owners a windfall of 10s of millions of dollars each, but CRLL should compensate the afected businesses who rent from the local building owners? That sounds a lot like government subsidy of wealthy land owners to me.

          I tell you what. If CRLL gets 50% of land uplift, CRLL can pay 50% of business losses for tenants, too.

        3. Jimbo – the main gripe from business owners appears to be the impact caused by delays to the project, which is a fair gripe. If you are told there will be three years of construction and it stretches out to 4.5 then that is very hard to plan for.

        4. Perhaps ask Gerry Brownlie and Stephen Joyce to chip in. There is the major reasons for the delay, right there.

          Dialogue should be with the building owners. If its so bad, who is going to rent their buildings at the current rate when their tenants go under?

        5. KLK – the delay they are complaining about is they delay that has occurred since construction commenced, not the delay in beginning construction so has nothing to do with Joyce or Brownlee.

  10. Coordinating this many projects will always be very hard.
    The biggest problem I see with the current situation is that govt/council contracts don’t require 24/7 construction or offer incentives to minimize the length of disruption. These might lead to more offsite prefabrication for instance.

  11. One “problem” I see about the CRL is that it is all “cake tomorrow if you have stale bread today”. There are all the projections and pretty pictures but, because nobody can see into the future, nothing positive can actually be seen.

    Given some of the projections given in the past about infrastructure projects I don’t blame people for being sceptical.

    1. ‘There are all the projections and pretty pictures but, because nobody can see into the future, nothing positive can actually be seen.’

      Is this not applicable to literally anything that doesn’t exist? AS such, what is your point?

      ‘Given some of the projections given in the past about infrastructure projects I don’t blame people for being sceptical.’

      You have been sceptical in the past about building the CRL, what alternative would you offer ?

    2. “Given some of the projections given in the past about infrastructure projects I don’t blame people for being sceptical.”

      You must be talking about roads and traffic modelling. If you want an example of how under-played major PT infrastructure is, look at Britomart rail station and the Northern Busway – hitting targets and capacity years ahead of the projections.

    3. Christopher – you could use a similar analogy for the SH1 widening, or waterview project works on SH16. These took ‘years’ and lots of disruption and general public calls for ‘why can’t it be built quicker’.

      It’s just part n parcel of big works.

  12. “how we often have politicians from across the political spectrum and at all levels, as well as a number of lobby groups, who like to talk about New Zealand, and specifically Auckland, having an infrastructure deficit, or promoting how they’re the ones helping us “catch up on decades of under spending” etc. ”

    …goodness me, you are the very narcissistic lobby group that often takes credit for influencing Auckland Transport, as does Patrick Reynolds, and you have badgered and pestered both Council and AT for years, applying a self appointed critique based on your opinions. Auckland is an absolute mess, and you have a part to play in that Matt.

    1. How is Auckland a complete mess? I travel into the city every day and my journey is a few minutes longer because of diversions – so what?

      If you are in a car then take another route. Or take PT? We should be heading towards a world where most people drive less to reduce emissions. If it started yesterday, due to road works, then for me that is a great start. Sorry, but I am really struggling to have any sympathy for car drivers who think that life will always be as it has been. I have even less sympathy when I think of the people of Northland and now the Wairarapa who are struggling to have enough water because the rest of the world refuses to ameliorate behaviour that is causing deterioration of the world’s climate on a frightening scale.

      1. How is Auckland a complete mess? You must be joking.
        I live north west Auckland and there is no worthwhile public transport that does not share the awful congestion mess on SH16 every morning. There is no non congested alternate roads from NW to cbd.
        The only alternate is a drive to Swanson or Henderson to park up and catch a train. The train could go to Huapai. but the light rail and busway proponents are so blinded by this govt’s false promises that they oppose any rail suggestion to help relieve sh16 congestion.

        1. I think this is a very valid question for Nikki Kaye to comment on in regards to ‘do it once’ – it was her government that pushed through all the NW motorway works that will have to now be dug up again to add the missing bus lanes. 2 city blocks of cycle lanes being redone is annoying, but the NW motorway disruption is 100s of times more disruptive and costly.

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