Image Credit: KiwiRail
A plan being released this week will have implications not just on how we move stuff around Auckland, but on safety in our road corridors and on our climate response. Its summary, the Auckland Freight Plan Summary Report was presented by Auckland Transport at the September AT Board meeting.
We’ve been in need of a plan for a long time.
Freight movement in Auckland was last reviewed in detail and documented in 2006. The resulting Strategic Freight Network (SFN) was not formally adopted or well communicated and has not been updated in response to changing needs.
The plan has the potential to help Auckland become a more productive, sustainable and liveable city. Some areas in which the plan could achieve good progress are:
- logistics plans for construction sites to aid both site management and improve safety for passersby
- accommodate logistics at the design and consenting stages of development
- trialling consolidation hubs and alternative last-mile delivery methods
- restricting general traffic access to improve deliveries:
- fleshing out the delivery aspects of the City Centre Masterplan:
The plan says:
Population growth, constrained geography and increased travel demand has meant many parts of Auckland’s transport network are over-capacity, leading to a decline in network performance over the past few years. In response to the demand for the timely pickup and delivery of goods, freight vehicles move around Auckland during the day when customers want things delivered, picked up or serviced.
The plan shows the following profile over a day for each type of traffic:
Many customers are small businesses, and logistics is labour intensive. Freight carriers are restricted to deliver when the customer is available to receive, usually within core business hours, therefore peak period travel is unavoidable.
The plan will:
investigate feasibility of ‘out-of-hours’ and ‘out-of-rush hour’ freight deliveries… with a focus to consider and mitigate negative externalities.
The plan supports investment in active and public transport to encourage modeshift, due to the benefits such investment lends to freight movement:
Public and active transport investment also supports the movement of freight in Auckland. Targeted investment through the RLTP to provide quality integrated land use, safe access to and from public transport, and safe infrastructure for active modes, will support the city to move away from the dominance of single-occupant private vehicles, to a city where public transport and walking and cycling play a more important role. This will see a better use of network capacity, ease congestion and network constraints, and aid safer and more efficient movement of freight.
On mode-shifting freight from road to rail, an increase in rail freight within Auckland is dismissed quickly in the report on the basis that rail:
is better suited to much longer trip distances.
For modeshift of regional road freight to rail, Auckland Transport say the Crown funding to move more freight to rail is recognised in this plan:
through a focus on key Freight Strategic Network [SFN] connections to ports, the airport and major distribution depots which will enable inter-regional rail freight movement.
Yet amongst the actions listed, there is no use of the word ‘rail’. I hope the final plan will clarify how this Crown funding will be used for rail itself. The following words make me wonder if they’ll just be used for the road connections to the rail depots:
The Auckland rail network is a key component of the SFN. However, the network review centres on the role and functionality of the SFN within the wider Auckland road network
Written at almost the same time was the Auckland Climate Plan, which requires 8% of freight in Auckland to be moved by rail, by 2030, and 20% by 2050.
The safety challenges of moving freight are acknowledged, with a mention of rat-running by freight vehicles, and trucks’ over-representation in serious crashes:
With Vision Zero adopted, the focus is on safety over efficiency or speed:
The Freight Plan recognises and embodies the Vision Zero principles and, whilst cast through a freight lens, also recognises that safety is paramount to ‘get freight there safely, and as efficiently as it can’.
This is a freight version of Auckland Transport’s Vision Zero statement. It’s a shift from thinking we will get the freight there efficiently, as safely as we can.
Here are the specific safety actions:
Of concern is that no extra funding is identified as needed for these actions. Can Vision Zero really be incorporated into freight planning within existing programmes and budgets, in the face of Vision Zero cynicism – without competing with other safety initiatives for funding?
The innovative ideas in the plan show the benefit of experience from industry, with the Freight Reference Group including representation from:
Auckland Transport, NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Council, Ministry of Transport, KiwiRail, Automobile Association, Road Transport Association NZ, National Road Carriers Association, Auckland Airport and Ports of Auckland. Together, this group is tasked with overseeing the development and implementation of the Freight Plan
But the lack of representation of other road users in this working group is likely to have created the plan’s shortcomings. For example:
Ratrunning: The plan misses an opportunity to resolve the commercial vehicle ratrunning problem with actions to implement cost-effective low traffic neighbourhoods throughout the city. Advocates for decarbonising transport have been keeping up with advances overseas, and know the popular neighbourhoods don’t just improve safety, they deliver benefits for the freight sector, via lower overall car use and traffic volumes.
Parking removal at intersections: To reduce delay to freight movements, the plan intends:
to investigate removal of parking near intersections
Unsafe intersections on Auckland’s arterial roads already prevent healthy modeshift. Faster turning movements by trucks is likely to worsen safety for walking and cycling. Parking near intersections does need to be removed, along with slip lanes and many directional lanes, but for different reasons:
- To increase footpath width, reduce the crossing distance, and provide space for bus shelters,
- To accommodate bus stops at the intersections in order to reduce walking distances for passengers transferring between bus routes, and
- To provide space for safe cycle infrastructure through intersections.
Safety advocates could have ensured the plan’s approach to intersections was pragmatic and contributed to the modeshift goals.
Cycling and the Freight Strategic Network: The plan talks of a:
balance of road space allocation with the provision of safe and dedicated pedestrian and cycle paths.
For a plan in which safety is paramount, ‘balance’ is too vague. Auckland Transport is struggling to create safe cycling on arterial roads. Cycling experts on the working group could have explained the need to move past the shortcomings of the ATAP Arterials Report, which said:
some arterials could be prioritised for through traffic and freight, while others could be prioritised for public transport and cycling.
It’s only fair on truck drivers to separate them from people riding bikes. Similarly it’s only fair on people lowering emissions and congestion levels by hopping on a bike, to separate them from trucks. Separation is needed to all properties on arterials.
Also, freight deliveries by e-cargo bike will help to de-congest our roads, but is only practical if the entire journey is safe.
So while the arterial roads can be divvied up between trucks and buses, separated cycling is needed on every arterial road. This includes all the routes below that are key links or that have amenities or properties to access on them:
Modelling, Emissions and Congestion
The plan acknowledges:
the C40 2030 target of reducing Auckland’s emissions by 50%. (across all sectors, including transport)
The Auckland Climate Plan has since firmed up that a reduction of 64% in transport emissions is needed to achieve this, and only 55% of the reduction will be through a switch to lower emissions vehicles.
So while the freight plan talks of electrification and switching to hydrogen fuel, these are insufficient – decarbonisation measures that get to the heart of transport change are needed.
Problems in transport planning are obvious in the plan:
Review SOI ‘pain point’ locations… to improve the efficiency of freight movements…
freight priority measures, including opportunities for priority signalling and lanes in key strategic locations…
The delivery of capital projects proposed in the RLTP and Auckland Transport Alignment Plan that improve transport options, network capacity and connectivity, will support and shape Auckland’s development through improved freight movement…
The action plan assumes that the projects delivered through the RLTP hold congestion steady through better travel choice and mode change…
Taking them in turn:
“Pain points”: Attempts to ease congestion at each “pain point” in turn (eg with extra turning lanes) is a short-term measure. The strategy fails because smoother flow at that location increases traffic through it. That traffic impacts the network, ultimately creating congestion at other pain points in the network.
“Priority signalling”: Unless freight has its own lane, priority signalling for freight will mean general traffic is prioritised, requiring people on foot to wait longer. And if freight does have its own lane but bikes and public transport don’t, the downgraded priority for the general traffic lanes mean people on bikes and in buses will wait longer.
Therefore, priority signalling cannot be widely used – it requires separated freight, public transport and cycling lanes and signals, or it will push modeshift in the wrong direction.
“Network capacity”: Increasing network capacity by adding general traffic lanes induces more traffic across the network, which ultimately delays freight. Freight-only lanes might be added instead, but this usually requires property purchase and adds climate and maintenance burden. Even attempting to reallocate space from general traffic to freight lanes can be problematic in the finite resource of our road corridor width, as that space is likely to be required for wider footpaths, bus lanes or for micromobility.
Essentially, increasing network capacity isn’t the best way to improve freight movement, which leads to the next point.
“Holding congestion steady”: This is the unambitious result of our current plans, which Auckland Transport forecast will result, for the 10 years to 2028, in:
These traffic and fuel forecasts are not an inevitable result of population growth. Forecasts like this are used to “justify” the very road-widening and road-building projects that induce the traffic, create the congestion, and hold the freight up. ATAP should be sent back to the drawing board until its balance of projects can deliver significant reduction in vehicle km travelled, fuel use and emissions.
The Freight Reference Group members need to understand the limitations of the “predict and provide” ideology, as “holding congestion steady” like this is keeping the trucks stuck in congestion. Better freight movement can be achieved through reducing general traffic volumes considerably.
Where to next?
The Auckland Freight Plan explores some of the concepts and technologies suitable for handling freight in Vision Zero environments. It has been written while our agencies are still internally conflicted about creating a safe, climate-ready system. The freight sector and the wider community will see better outcomes if experts on Vision Zero, decarbonisation, cycling, walking and public transport are introduced to the Freight Reference Group.
The plan is feeding into:
the forthcoming Future Connect 30-year integrated network plan for Auckland
It’s critical that both the Auckland Freight Plan and Future Connect are living documents, flexible to accommodate the enormous shifts in transport thinking that are on their way.