As Matt blogged recently, Council is considering redeveloping the Downtown Carpark. A delegation from Auckland Transport, Council and Panuku presented on the topic to the Council’s Planning Committee early this month.
Auckland Transport were woefully unprepared for the meeting. This transport proposal didn’t align with the City Centre Masterplan, the Auckland Climate Plan nor Auckland Transport’s own modeshift plan, Better Travel Choices.
The Councillors had agreed last December on several outcomes that any redevelopment of the site would need to achieve, but:
There was one strategic outcome to resolve… The purpose today is to approve the transport outcome
The idea was to vote on a motion, similar to one of these:
The meeting proved frustrating, and the decision was deferred.
Let’s look at some of the problems.
Construction is likely to take three years – during which time drivers would adapt to the loss of the carpark. But AT proposed that when it reopened, it would contain 400 – 600 carparks. This decision would actively create modeshift in the wrong direction at the time of opening.
Councillor Stewart asked Auckland Transport about the balance between short stay and long stay carparking:
Not everybody can take public transport into the CBD to work… in a lot of the CBD and even going into Parnell, there’s a lot of short term car parking and staff every two hours are having to leave the building, move their car… back to the building… it’s becoming a nightmare…
Auckland Transport replied:
We see the need in terms of a market failure around short term parking. As far as long term long stay parking is concerned, there’s actually an oversupply in the city centre… I acknowledge the issue you’re raising… It’s an issue for the city as we transform from higher vehicle dependency to relying on alternative modes for travel to access the various destinations. The demand for parking reduces over time. There’s no doubt about that. And we’re trying to respond to that in the best way we can.
Claiming an over-supply of long stay parking and an under-supply of short stay parking appeals to listeners’ love of balance, but it is not based on evidence. Our city centre simply has excessive parking, with 15,000 or so more carparks than Sydney’s does, for example. Reducing parking supply is a very important tool for reducing emissions and increasing safety because it is a way to reduce traffic volumes.
the Downtown site’s strong focus [is] on short stay, flexible parking, and it’s really supporting that travel during the interpeak.
We’ve got some way to travel in terms of making public transport and alternative modes available to everyone. That is why our proposal to date has said that we need to manage that over time.
Short stay parking induces more driving than long stay parking does, because each park is used multiple times during the day.
AT are focused on improving commuting at peak times, but reducing emissions requires them to reduce driving outside the peak hours, when congestion doesn’t naturally create modeshift. Offering cheap short stay parking works against this goal – it makes driving attractive and by increasing traffic, makes active travel less safe and public transport slower.
Here, they are rejecting an opportunity to improve the “alternative modes,” on the basis of the “alternative modes” not yet being improved.
Auckland Transport could have reminded Councillor Stewart that
- by the time the Downtown Carpark is closed for redevelopment, Ameti will be open, giving her ward superior public transport options to the city centre
- more city centre parking would be incompatible with Council’s unanimous support of the Auckland Climate Plan and the decision to remain in C40
The Auckland Transport delegation also misrepresented how parking is envisaged in the City Centre Masterplan. The original 2012 plan said:
An appropriate level of parking, particularly short-stay parking, is required to support the economic vitality of the city centre.
What level is “appropriate” is clear from the rest of the plan, which seeks to reduce the domination of vehicles:
Vehicles and their parking and servicing requirements have dominated the public realm… a high number of cars dominates the city centre. For pedestrians, this means poor-quality walking environments, inconvenient routes and inefficient travel times.
There was no call for any parking loss to be mitigated – as that would work against the plan’s goal of reducing traffic – yet that is what Auckland Transport is attempting to do, in an approach that undermines the City Centre Masterplan’s objectives:
when the Access 4 Everyone project comes along, we’re expecting a lot of that road space to be reallocated to pedestrians. So we’d see AT’s share of on street short stay parking decline. However we would seek to mitigate that loss of short stay parking by transferring it into the parking buildings and removing the longer stay leases that we have in those parking buildings.
This misrepresentation of the plans should be very alarming to the Councillors. The 2012 CCMP specifically called for the re-purposing of Council’s car parking buildings:
Council-owned car parking buildings and sites will, when appropriate, be considered for more productive uses that could continue to generate revenue to fund public transport and street improvements.
We are now at this “appropriate” moment.
Of all the analysis done about the carpark site, you’d think Auckland Transport would at least know how much money it makes for the Council, as Councillor Walker expected:
we generate a significant amount of revenue from parking, it is pretty important, and I venture to suggest it is better than the cost of capital and in this instance we’re entering into a contractual relationship with a party that may well be providing the space for us very economically and that may even further impact on the return on investment. So I would’ve thought we would have that information, Mr Chair. We don’t.
Councillor Sayers was more realistic that Council subsidises parking by influencing the market, but hadn’t yet joined the dots about climate impact:
What levers have we got going forward to ensure that some sort of tension remains and price for parking doesn’t skyrocket, potentially?
Auckland Transport replied:
It’ll be market forces that will dictate prices moving forward.
But the delegation squandered the opportunity to explain that:
- parking revenue is less than what could be generated with other uses on this city centre site,
- Imposing a requirement for parking will reduce the value of the property,
- in the constrained funding environment Council faces, this means deserving programmes will continue to be underfunded,
- driving and parking are already heavily subsidised, and this subsidy is a major reason for our car dependence,
- decarbonisation is assisted by transferring the costs of driving and parking onto drivers.
Most telling of all was the discussion about how the networks would be managed during the redevelopment of the Downtown Site.
The focus was entirely on parking! What about safety for people on foot and bike? Retaining footfall for businesses? Taking the opportunity provided by lane closures to monitor traffic evaporation, and trial new circulation plans?
Influencing Travel Demand
Reducing traffic is called for in the City Centre Masterplan and in the Auckland Climate Plan and is, for example, a core “problem statement” for the Connected Communities programme:
Too many vehicles in our urban centres are degrading the environment and liveability of our communities.
Access for Everyone is intended to:
tackle vehicular emissions by reducing the amount of motor traffic moving through the city.
Yet Thursday’s delegation from Auckland Transport showed they don’t believe they are responsible for reducing the current level of vehicle traffic, only for accommodating new demand with sustainable modes:
What you see over time is a really significant increase in PT use into the city centre in accordance with that plan of accommodating that growth in demand for travel via public transport.
In fact, they seem to believe all their planning – for any mode – merely “accommodates demand.” This is regressive. Auckland Transport’s own modeshift plan, Better Travel Choices requires Auckland Transport to influence travel demand:
Councillor Coom was frustrated at this:
We’ve got to try to imagine Auckland in 7 years’ time… What’s missing is what numbers we expect to be coming into the city centre in what mode. Not just what your trends are. But what have we directed you to deliver… modeshift percentage change, emissions reduction… And could you tell us how we’re going to get there? … at the moment you’re telling us the trend and what we should design for.
This misconception of AT’s is preventing many improvements to our transport planning.
Auckland Transport also demonstrated a poor use of business cases, which are primarily intended to inform the decision about whether a project should be undertaken.
In this case, the City Centre Masterplan and Access 4 Everyone have already been approved. The decision that this Downtown Carpark should be put to better use – as part of reducing traffic and encouraging modeshift – has essentially already been made. It is a design process required now, not a business case.
But Auckland Transport are working on a business case for Access 4 Everyone. This has not only delayed the project itself, but meant the project hasn’t been able to inform Auckland Transport’s “modelling” of the parking demand:
In terms of the Access 4 Everyone implication; that’s not included in the modelling to date because that project is still going through a business case to identify the specific nature of the project / how it’s going to be delivered. But we would expect to see further reductions in car use here.
Future changes to mobility
Auckland Transport’s proposal includes a “flexible space” (including parking) of 2 to 3 storeys. One of these storeys would become the second storey of the bus facility, but presumably only after the “demand” for parking had dropped.
The graphic – instead of showing the parking, or e-cargo bikes, showed driverless passenger and cargo vehicles.
Councillor Walker asked about the work they’d done to understand these future mobility needs:
How quickly can we get even a rough order schematic to inform us around the mobility requirements that you’ve listed… the requirement for the people, as pedestrians, to move from the parking facility to the ferries to the light rail to the buses to the intercity buses to the heavy rail and so on, because… we’re probably talking about… very large numbers of people occupying space… When are we going to have that information?
The delegation had expected the Councillors to approve the plan without this information.
The Bus Facility
The AT Metro team had done a good job of exploring what would be required to squeeze a bus passenger facility and layover into the small-ish site:
This was a useful exercise; it showed that in order to fit the bus facility:
- The entire extent of the property would be needed, with no setbacks.
- Space for lifts or core shafts seems limited.
- There’d be no pedestrian laneways through the site.
- The upper floor might cantilever out over Customs St, losing beautiful mature trees and creating a (probably quite unpleasant) tunnel effect at street level.
- The street frontages would be two (extra high) storeys of bus terminal.
- The passenger platforms would be internal, meaning passengers would disappear into the building rather than contribute to a vibrant and safer streetscape.
Therefore, the proposal did not meet the strategic outcomes that Council had agreed to last year:
The issues noted by the team were:
Could Access 4 Everyone, Light Rail, and providing Healthy Streets, not resolve many of these issues?
This facility doesn’t provide a particularly useful transfer function, as it only serves the isthmus and western areas, which are already connected with crosstown routes.
A Council officer explained:
the problem that is trying to be solved is actually: how do you remove buses from the city centre streets?
Who identified this as “the problem”? If the problem is too many vehicles, the solution is removing car traffic – so start by reducing parking and implementing A4E. The City Centre Masterplan lists public transport as a mode that needs more priority on the streets, along with walking, cycling and mobility devices. Somehow, a narrative seems to have developed that:
Transport is important because the site currently has a transport use.
In fact, one of the problems with our car dependent transport system is that we have dedicated too much space to the movement and storage of vehicles. Removing transport use altogether from this site, which is currently simply used for parking, is preferable to proposing a poor use for the valuable site and losing revenue.
The incredibly slow pace of rolling out the City Centre Masterplan must be frustrating Councillors, and good on them for not rubber stamping this weak proposal, as the AT Board must have done. Until AT show willingness to manage parking elsewhere in the city (particularly on berms, paths, and parks) Council should probably ignore every claim they make about the value they offer as parking building custodians.
Auckland Transport are simply not fulfilling their leadership role. They aren’t providing the necessary technical support Councillors need to help communicate the modeshift and transport transformation we need. I think Auckland Transport urgently needs refreshing at senior levels – or alternatively, Council may need to form a new group to actually implement the City Centre Masterplan.