The Council’s Planning Committee meet tomorrow and perhaps the most interesting item on the agenda a paper about the sale and redevelopment of the Downtown Carpark. Concerningly, it shows Auckland Transport still fundamentally misunderstand their and the city’s transport objectives.
The council agreed to put the carpark up for sale last year after COVID wreaked havoc on their budgets. The site itself is huge, at about 6,400m² and given the other nearby developments, could easily support another large tower (or two).
Redeveloping the site has been suggested for some time and it is specifically called out in the City Centre Masterplan, saying:
In particular, the eventual removal of the Lower Hobson Street Flyover, and long-term aspiration to redevelop the Auckland Council-owned downtown car park site, have the collective potential to add:
- greater intensity
- higher value
- more active uses
- a more engaging and connected public realm that delivers the unrealised place potential in this prime location.
The images below comes from the previous CCMP which also called for it to be redeveloped.
Councillors are being asked to sign off on any redevelopment including a huge amount of space for a bus interchange and parking.
That the Planning Committee:
a) approve the transport outcome of a maximum of 6,000m2 of floor space for a public transport interchange to inform a competitive market process to redevelop the Downtown Carpark site
b) approve a transport outcome of 12,000 – 18,000m2 of floor space for allocation to a transport hub space in addition to the 6000m2 which would:
i) be flexibly designed to support a range of transport uses (and allow for their change over time)
ii) include public access to: short stay parking, car share/ride share, cycling and micromobility, mobility parking, freight distribution and dispatch and also end of trip facilities
iii) be designed to maximise the ease of conversion to non-transport uses over time should this achieve a better strategic outcome for the city centre.
Let’s look at these.
AT are wanting to change how buses work in the city centre going forward. I’ll have a more detailed post about this shortly but one thing they want to do is to turn essentially one floor of the redevelopment into a bus interchange and removing the need for the just about to be completed Lower Albert St bus interchange. This interchange would be used by buses from the West and central isthmus (NX1 services will be going elsewhere).
A bus interchange does sound useful on the surface but it does push it further away from connections to Britomart and while the site is big, it’s not that big and a lot of space is going to be needed for dealing with bus circulation. It also seems as if it will require another bridge
Multi-use transport hub Parking
The paper includes this interesting admission from AT that they only had a vision for parking because they didn’t understand the council’s goals – which they would have if they’d ever read any council plans like the CCMP.
AT originally proposed retention of short-stay parking capacity within the redeveloped Downtown site to support council’s objectives around economic and cultural vibrancy in the surrounding area, particularly the Viaduct. However, following the Planning Committee workshops we have understood that the use of AT-managed parking to support city centre activity is now less of a priority. Consequently, the option of leaving additional transport facilities to the developer is also canvassed in this report along with the recommended flexible transport hub. These options are additional to the public transport interchange.
AT say the 12,000m² – 18,000m² of space they want in the redevelopment separate to the bus interchange is a multi-use space but at least initially would be about still providing 400-600 car parks. This is less than exists now but still quite a lot and they even say it will “continue to attract cars into an area that should be increasingly pedestrianised through A4E and will slightly slow the speed of mode change into the city centre” and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. It also reduces the amount of money the council can get for the site.
They give a second option of not putting any parking requirements on and leaving it up to the developer, which would provide a bigger return for the council but AT claim it will have downsides such as still having parking and no ability to have end of journey cycle facilities included.
Of course, they don’t need 18,000m² for end of journey cycle facilities, that requirement could still be retained without needing space for all the parking they still want.
I’m not opposed to there still being some parking on the site but it feels like AT are pushing for more than is needed and overstating their role in providing parking.
A lot of the issue with AT’s position stems from their assumptions as to the amount of vehicle trips to the city centre they need to cater for.
These improvements have enabled the transport network to accommodate an increase in demand for travel to the city centre while yielding a major change in travel behaviour. Based on census data, the share of commuting by car has declined from 59% in 2006 to around 42% in 2018. Meanwhile, more recent and detailed traffic monitoring shows a decline in morning peak private vehicle trips from around 42,000 in 2015 to around 35,000 in 2019. However, during the course of a full day there are an estimated 196,000 trips by private vehicle into the city centre. This indicates a much higher use outside of the peak periods, most likely for business, entertainment or retail purposes.
Looking forward, a key objective is to ensure there is sufficient transport network capacity to support ongoing growth of the city centre. This is achieved primarily through investment in rapid transit links, along with improved bus capacity and walking and cycling to support mode shift and accommodate increasing demand through higher-capacity sustainable modes. The modelling results suggest car travel reducing from 44% of AM peak motorised trips in 2016 to 25% in 2038, while the interpeak reduces from 66% to 42%. Importantly however, the actual number of car trips is expected to remain relatively constant over time (although these figures do not factor in the requirement for A4E to reduce peak period travel
In summary, the modelling indicates a strong mode shift to sustainable modes as the city centre grows, particularly during the peak periods. However, the overall number of car trips into the city centre is expected to remain similar to today. Car travel will continue to play an important role in interpeak travel and trips for business, entertainment and retail purposes and this is likely to lead to a continued demand for short stay parking.
As they point out, car trips to the city centre in the morning peak fell by about 7,000 over just 4 years and that trend was showing no sign of letting up until COVID came along. There is no reason to assume that trend couldn’t continue or that it couldn’t/doesn’t also apply to all day use too, especially once projects like City Rail Link make off-peak trips even more viable. In fact, if with all the investment occurring we didn’t see a significant shift in interpeak mode share, it should be seen as a massive failure by AT.
Furthermore, it’s AT’s job to reduce car trips, and not just by growing other modes. The Auckland Climate Plan calls for a 12% reduction in kilometres travelled by motorised vehicles as well as significant growth in the modeshare of non-car modes across the region – 12.8% to 37.5% by 2030 and 48% by 2050. AT even note they haven’t factored in 30% reduction in trips as a result of Access For Everyone. While that target is AM Peak focused, it is likely to have a similar impact outside of the peak too.
It’s hard to reconcile that despite all of this, AT assume that private vehicle numbers will stay roughly the same and that they can’t or shouldn’t lead on pushing vehicle numbers down further.
Then there are the issues with just how much parking they say they still need to provide.
AT’s parking operations have undergone significant change over the last decade. On street parking has reduced from 5,000 to 2,460 to support reallocation of road space to other modes and purposes. Meanwhile, the price for commuter parking in Auckland Transport’s buildings has more than doubled to a maximum of $40 per day.
At present, AT currently controls 6,649 car parks in the city centre, of which 4,189 are off-street and 2,460 are on-street. Of these, just over 5,000 are short stay parks intended to support the economic and cultural vibrancy of the city centre. Although this is a small proportion of overall parking in the city centre, AT is a key provider of lower-cost short stay parking.
The Downtown car park has some 1,944 parks, of which 1,148 are for short stay parking and 796 are for lease.
There are two issues here.
- AT say it’s their job to provide lower-cost short stay parking. Now this is the role they set for themselves in their parking strategy but the question the council should ask is “should it be their job to provide this?”. Other than “people park and use the carpark”, is there any evidence to the claim that it supports the economic and cultural vibrancy of the city and not just that it’s used because it exists.
- While they mention it being a small proportion overall, they don’t quantify that all of AT’s on and off street parking combined is only about 14% of all parking in the city centre.
— AK CC ResidentsGroup (@CityAklccrg) March 28, 2021
It’s also worth noting that even pre-covid, the carpark was never all that full
Redeveloping the downtown carpark is a good step. The council should ignore AT though when it comes to parking provision in the redevelopment and if anything, also require any developer to provide even less too. AT should also be required focus into their efforts to make the PT viable for a wider range of trips instead of just the 9-5 commuters they seem to think is all they should serve.