It’s a short week but still lots to talk about. Here’s our roundup.
Transmission Gully omnishambles
Transmission Gully continues to be in the news and not in a good way. A few days ago Newsroom reported that it now might not be completed till 2022 and that as well as the issues we’ve already heard about before, such as workers no longer being in the country, there are a bunch of new issues too. This includes possible issues with the design/physical works.
However, sources close to the project have alleged non-perforated pipes were used in some places where perforated pipes should have been, and in other instances pipes did not lead out into waterways. Both errors would allow water to keep building up beneath the subsoil and threaten the road’s stability.
Sources close to the project have said there are problems here too with rocks not up to specification and a stabiliser that was meant to bind those rocks together not having been spread evenly through the road base.
Stabiliser spread too thinly?
The change allegedly arose because a machine was altered to allow it to spread stabiliser over a wider area. That would make it possible to do the same job with the machine in fewer passes, saving time and money.
This was also covered by Radio NZ yesterday including that the time the route was proposed, back in the 19th century, it was originally intended for trains.
There are more issues than just this expressed in the article. Not all may be 100% true but does raise serious concerns. All of this appears to be leading to a big legal mess. The below comments from Julie Anne Genter.
Speaking in her capacity as Green Party transport spokeswoman
“They can always threaten to walk away from the project, whereas the Government can’t do that, leaving a motorway half built. So, predictably, Governments end up having to amend contracts, delay and pay more.
“So now we’re also having to pay extra legal costs for variations to National’s PPP contracts and this is making the motorways even more expensive.”
It seems PPPs only benefit the private financiers – who squeeze the contractors and government, and the lawyers. We should be steering well clear of doing any more.
New Trains in service
The first two of the 15 new trains we’re getting have gone into service.
These trains are basically identical to the first batch and the most noticeable difference is in the interior where the seat backs have been changed from a dark grey to white – which I assume would hide scratches better. AT say they also have darker carpets and lino. I’m not sure if the doors open any faster. The photo below is from reader Alan.
This should mean that a few more trains are able to run as six-car sets. Once the rest of this batch arrive and are put into service, AT should be able to run all trains with six-cars – with the exception of Onehunga.
Seems the new trains are finally coming into service just in time to increase capacity for Covid19
This Onehunga train is impossibly clean, but the white seat backs, slightly different sound, & that the hand holds are made out of blue cows rather than brown really gives it away pic.twitter.com/yUIQw5k0mG
— Sam Hood (@Samhood8) June 1, 2020
While on the subject of rail, if you live out west near the rail line you may have noticed the lack of freight trains over the last few days (there were only a couple a day anyway). That’s because on Monday the line was closed past Swanson for a number of upgrades to take place and will stay closed till about Christmas.
The start of major work replacing bridges, improving tunnels and upgrading the rail line to Whangarei will result in more reliable train services and enable more freight to be carried by rail, KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller says.
As part of the Government’s $204.5 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to revitalise Northland rail, KiwiRail is upgrading the Northland Line to improve journey times, resilience and reliability.
From today, no more train services will run between Swanson and Whangarei to allow substantial upgrade work to begin, including replacing five aging bridges and lowering tracks in the 13 tunnels. When complete, trains will be able to pull hi-cube containers on the Northland Line.
“While our teams were able to continue design and planning work during the lockdown, COVID-19 halted most work on the ground. We’ve also been waiting on the arrival of specialist track laying equipment which has been held up by pandemic disruptions,” Mr Miller says.
“The work will be completed in stages, with the first objective being able to carry hi-cube containers through the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland by Christmas.
Also on the Western Line, over Queens Birthday weekend Kiwirail installed a new crossover near Grafton to enable trains run on a single line through Mt Eden while it is closed for CRL works. We really need a lot more of these all though the network to help in those times when something goes wrong on the network.
Living in a low-traffic neighbourhood
We’re big fans of the idea of low-traffic neighbourhoods – places where it is easy to walk and cycle locally because traffic volumes are kept down by preventing things like rat-running. Our COVID-19 lockdown essentially delivered this for a few weeks and Women in Urbansim have published a great report on the experiences people had from it and what policy implications this could have. Here’s the Executive Summary.
This report explores the experience of living in a low-traffic neighbourhood during the five week ‘lockdown’ or stay-at-home period that occured in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in Aotearoa in 2020. This stay-at-home order confined large numbers of New Zealanders to their homes and local neighbourhoods, and dramatically reduced all forms of travel. The decline in the use of motorised traffic in neighbourhoods was particularly marked during this period. With high and growing levels of car use in New Zealand, motorised traffic is playing an increasing role in shaping community life. It is interesting to explore what New Zealanders noticed about this brief reduction in levels of traffic in their neighbourhoods.
In general, the decline in vehicle traffic on local streets was experienced in positive terms, as improving the quality of neighbourhoods at a time when they were a particularly critical site for recreation, restoration and connection. This research identified a number of things that New Zealanders valued about living in a low-traffic neighbourhood, including quieter streets that enabled them to hear more birdsong and ‘people sounds’; feeling less rushed when moving around the neighbourhood; new opportunities to walk and cycle; and a sense that their streets felt more social or ‘friendlier’. The participants also made a number of observations about the experience of, and challenges associated with, social distancing at the neighourhood level that could be used to maximise community resilience during future periods of confinement.
Auckland Innovating streets
Yesterday the Council’s Planning Committee met and one of the items on the agenda was about applications for the NZTA’s innovating streets fund. I didn’t see it myself but was passed this transcription of a discusion between Waitemata Councillor Pippa Coom and Jenny Chetwynd who is charge of Planning and Investment at Auckland Transport.
Pippa: “My question is to Auckland Transport. I just would like to know in terms of tactical urbanism – and doing things quickly, lighter, quicker, cheaper: We don’t have a good track record of that as a Council family. I can think of multiple occasions where there has been huge internal resistance to taking an approach that takes opportunities like this. And I just would like to know what is being done internally to turn the culture and the skills to empower people within the organisation to really be able to grab this opportunity, and work to develop these projects and to do co-design and to do a whole new approach that hasn’t been done before and that might challenge Auckland Transport? So my question is what skill development is happening, and internal culture change, to ensure that we can deliver these projects successfully?”
Jenny: “I think you’re absolutely right to point out that this is quite a different way of working and quite a different approach, and I had this exact conversation with NZTA last night. And to their credit they are learning as well in terms of their approach and how all this works together and they have a huge expectation that we will be agile, we will codesign, we will work together. I can’t give you specifics right now, Pippa, as to what we’ve got internally in terms of programmes to help us get there but it’s very firmly on Shane and the ELT’s mind about how we enable AT to do this differently and do this better, so I think I’ll just have to give you some confidence that we are committed to it and ah just watch this space.”
I’ll have some confidence that they’re committed to change and doing better when I actually start seeing it – there’s been little to no evidence of that so far.
We’ve featured some interesting tweet threads from Marco Citti before and here’s another one in which he compares light metro systems in Europe compared to rail developments in North America. In it he compares how some of these systems, with trains only 40-50m long but running frequently are often carrying more people than systems in North America designed for trains 2-3 times that but run less frequently.
1/ As many North American cities are trying to catch-up with rail transit, it's very important to do it properly. A thread about the relation between vehicle-platform length, frequency and automation that shows that Europe and NA are taking different paths, but they shouldn't pic.twitter.com/WY09QcNkSN
— Marco Chitti (@ChittiMarco) June 3, 2020
I think there’s a clearly a relationship between frequency and usability but I do think he misses one key aspect, the impact of land use and demand. In particular, in many North American cities, like in Auckland, the PT demands are for long trips from the suburbs to the city centre. They’re more commuter trips with a clear ‘peak load’ point on the edge of a city centre whereas many European cities don’t have as defined of a core and so a wider variety of trips occur. To put it another way, in a system like ours, a ‘seat/space’ will generally carry one passenger for their entire trip. In systems like he describes, that one seat might be serving multiple passengers on a single run. They’re also likely to have stronger counter-peak flows and better all day usage.
To me there’s no clear ‘winner’ as it’s horses for courses approach that’s needed but I do agree that frequency is king.