This is a guest post by reader Andy B
The best route for a second crossing of the Waitemata Harbour is back on the agenda. This week the government signalled a ‘rethink’ of the pedestrian/cycle bridge and work going into a tunnel crossing of the harbour as part of the whole network approach. Given the subtle, but significant, change in language seen from the government over the last 6 months on a number of projects (particularly City-to-Mangere Light Rail) now is the time to really think about what the purpose of a second crossing should be.
What is the current proposal?
The ‘Potential Future Rapid Transport Network’ map above sets out a high level alignment that connects Albany to the Central City with a Takapuna spur. The 2020 Waka Kotahi NZTA business case is the most recent study in the public domain which GA critiqued in their April 8th blog. GA gave some great analysis of the shortlisted options for rail, which either replicated the busway alignment or tunnelled under one of the widest sections of the harbour. The goal appears to be about getting to Takapuna as the primary priority.
There have been other options looked at over the decades including a direct tunnel to Britomart, a tunnel landing in the Grafton Gully and even options through Devonport.
The government over the last few months has subtly changed the priorities (at least in their language) for transport projects. The Transport Minister, when announcing the Mangere light rail, included a change in rhetoric which (and I paraphrase) switched from ‘city to airport as fast as possible’ to ‘connecting up the bits along the way’. For Mangere light rail that means a focus on the developments Kāinga Ora and Panuku are working on (11,000 planned homes at Roskill Development, 10,000 planned homes at Mangere Development and Transform Onehunga) and unlocking areas with existing poor transport.
The Establishment Unit for Mangere light rail has been given a wider remit to look at compatibility with future stages. This GA article shed some light on the considerations that the unit has which include all the good things we know and dream of; mode shift, emission reductions, land use & transport integration and the role transport has on responding to enabled growth (up-zoned areas).
To quote the light rail website
A Better Route
So with all this in mind, I think that we need to rethink rail to the north shore from ‘city to the north as fast as possible’ to ‘connecting up the bits along the way’. Make it much more than a transport project and consider how the route could better connect areas of existing density, enable future growth, catalyse mode shift and actually make some inroads on emissions.
In my view, it simply needs more stations and more catchments. It needs to go to places that people live. It should take a network approach and intersect, rather than replicate, the Northern Busway. Takapuna, Akoranga (Busway), Northcote, Birkenhead, Ponsonby, Freemans Bay and into the Central City (Aotea Square).
This alignment is approximately 11km, 1.5km longer than the Waka Kotahi option, but with seven stations rather than four. Each station has a catchment, an existing critical mass and a zoned capacity for further intensification. The extra stations are possible because the alignment doesn’t have more than half of its corridor under water.
Will it be more expensive? The tunnelling won’t be, but the stations will because stations are expensive components of transport projects and having more stations therefore costs more. But stations are also where people get on; where TOD (Transit Orientated Development) happens and where the most opportunity for low-carbon urban life is created. If we are going to actually create vibrant and sustainable urban centres then tunnelling for 5km under water to get to one centre isn’t effective.
It better enables councils own urban development strategy by linking up more of its ‘development areas’ and proving more stations in the high growth area of the central city fringe. The combined population growth of the three North Shore development areas is forecast to be over 22,000 people by 2048. Servicing this enabled growth with good public transport is vital to their success and likely to see the forecast growth happen quicker.
The case for each station
Takapuna – Takapuna is a Metropolitan Centre; it has a skyscraper and a beach. Panuku are leading a ‘Regenerate Takapuna Central’ framework which has some interesting proposals like the 40 Anzac Street car park redevelopment. The councils’ development strategy identifies a further enabled housing capacity (zoned) of 10,430 dwellings. There is a strong case for Takapuna, as all the Waka Kotahi business cases allude to, that it deserves a station on any North Shore rail project and I agree.
Akoranga – Akoranga does not have a great walkable catchment (thanks motorway) but it does provide the interchange into the Northern Busway and good connection to the AUT campus.
Northcote – Northcote is undergoing significant development right now. Kāinga Ora are masterplanning for 1500+ dwellings on their landholdings and Panuku are planning a regeneration of the town centre. There is lots of money going into schools and open space that will make this a high amenity centre. The councils’ development strategy identifies a further enabled housing capacity (zoned) of 7,260 dwellings.
Birkenhead – Birkenhead has a good little cluster of shops and according to the councils 2018 development strategy document ‘Planning is also underway for the redevelopment of the Highbury Shopping Centre, including the addition of apartments above the mall.’ This doesn’t appear to be happening but a station might just be the catalysts needed for it to start. The councils’ development strategy identifies a further enabled housing capacity (zoned) of 9,380 dwellings.
The great advantage of a Birkenhead station would be its ability to feed all of the Beach Haven to Glenfield bus catchment into an interchange, freeing up a significant amount of capacity (both car and bus) on Onewa Road and over the Harbour Bridge.
Ponsonby & Freemans Bay – Ponsonby is a destination in of its self. It’s a hub for food, shopping and socialising. It already has a reasonable population density with projects like Vinegar Lane leading the way. Some parts of Ponsonby have quite low zoning but to the north (where I suggest that station goes) there is more MHU (Mixed Housing Urban) and THAB (Terrace and Apartment Buildings). The NPS-UD would also likely see additional up-zoning by default. Freemans Bay has a good cluster of THAB zoning and would be an in-between station similar to Grafton and Parnell.
Both Ponsonby and Freemans Bay enhance the overall central city by providing greater coverage and vibrant, sustainable and car free housing choices. These stations would also help to manage the steep topography changes which can currently limit people with low mobility from accessing parts of the city without a car.
At its most simplistic the alternative alignment joins up more centres within walking distance to a station. It provides a new transport corridor rather than replicating an existing one, freeing up capacity for the Busway to keep on doing its good work. It better fits the emerging goals for major transport projects to shape Auckland for good. Its what’s needed if we have any chance of making the North Shore an economically efficient and sustainable place it needs to become.