It’s Friday and we’re still waiting to see if we’ll have a government. In the meantime, here are some things that caught our attention this week.
This Week in Greater Auckland
On Monday Matt covered the launch of the new Western Express
On Wednesday looked at the latest next steps for congestion pricing
Congestion Pricing Next Steps Approved
We’ll start our roundup with the two items we covered this week. First up, yesterday the council approved for Auckland Transport to move to the next steps on congestion pricing.
Auckland Council is pressing on with developing a system to charge motorists using key routes into the city centre, possibly from 2026 onwards.
Detail work will include whether exemptions and discounts can be offered, and how to minimise the financial impact on those least able to pay.
An exasperated-sounding mayor Wayne Brown said: “I want this underway as soon as possible”.
“This is urgent, don’t expect to be voted in next time if we haven’t got this,” he told councillors.
AT officials said there would be public consultation on the details of the scheme.
A nine-member “political reference group” including the mayor, senior councillors, and a member of the Independent Māori Statutory Board to oversee the work.
Councillors voted 19-2 to endorse the ongoing programme, with Ken Turner and Wayne Walker opposing.
Stuff’s Todd Niall has been doing some great reporting this week on the Western Express. He lives in the North West and has long written about the issues with public transport in the area.
Important elements in Auckland’s new western “pop-up” busway won’t be built for another six months, and long stretches of motorway shoulder will remain out-of-bounds to buses on safety grounds.
Bus priority lanes are still to be built at both the western and city ends of the “interim” busway – a $100 million upgrade of the motorway shoulders, with new bus interchanges.
Congestion delaying buses getting onto the upgraded motorway at Westgate on Tuesday, caused waits of more than 20 minutes at the Te Atatu interchange for the new 10-minute frequency WX1 service.
Waka Kotahi said it expected construction of a bus priority lane on the Westgate onramp to be completed by May 2024, with similar dates for the Newton Road onramp for westbound services.
A Day One test of the Western Express by Stuff on Monday also highlighted the extent of motorway shoulder on which buses are not allowed to travel, pitching them back into often slow-moving traffic.
And at one point, buses have to leave their priority lane and merge with general traffic, shortly before taking the Te Atatu offramp.
Most of the stretch from Waterview to Newton Rd has no bus priority even though there is space.
Some early ancedotal evidence suggests the bus is popular.
As we leave Te Atatu the bus is at capacity we have left people behind from connecting buses.
— Grady Connell (@TheGradyConnell) November 13, 2023
Some other bus speed improvements
And another great article from Todd on some of the low-hanging fruit to speed up buses that were missed from AT’s PT Recovery Plan.
Millions of dollars and a lot of expensive time is being invested in making bus journeys through Auckland faster and with more reliable travel times.
Bus priority is the buzzword, with even mayor Wayne Brown pushing for buses getting priority at traffic lights.
In the quest for trimming minutes from a journey, is Auckland Transport missing some simple ideas that bus users and motorists could make happen for them?
His suggestions included
- Using the backdoor to exit the bus rather than letting people push past people boarding
- Use all-door boarding on busy routes
- Campaigns to let buses exiting bus stops go first
Speaking of Todd, sadly for all of us he announced that he is retiring at the end of the month. Todd has been fantastic at covering Auckland over his long career so his retirement will be a big loss for both journalism and Auckland.
Personal News: After 46 years in daily news I am taking the joyous leap into retirement on Nov 30. Time for new adventures like grandparenthood, travelling, chasing new tales of the Trekka https://t.co/ZtGiFqewcG and of course another America's Cup. It's been a privilege pic.twitter.com/DBi2RttZbP
— Todd Niall (@toddniall) November 16, 2023
Downtown Carpark to Commercial Bay 2.0
As the council get ready to make a decision on whether to sell the Downtown Carpark to Precinct Properties for redevelopment – with predicable opposition from people who want a car-first city centre – images of what Precinct plan have leaked and it looks fantastic.
Twin towers and a laneway weaving its way from Britomart to the Viaduct are proposed if Auckland councillors agree to sell the Downtown carpark building to Precinct Properties.
A pack of confidential images leaked to the Weekend Herald reveal Precinct’s plan to expand its portfolio of office towers on the Auckland waterfront from Commercial Bay to the Viaduct.
To pull it off, Precinct plans to buy and demolish the carpark building and develop the prime 0.625ha waterfront site where the plain, but functional seven-storey building with 1944 spaces has provided affordable parking since it was built in 1970.
Central to Precinct’s plans are two slim skyscrapers nearly 40 storeys high towering above the M Social hotel on Quay St that will have a mix of office space and apartments with spectacular views of the Waitematā Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf.
At ground level, the laneway through Commercial Bay from Te Komititanga Square will be extended across lower Albert St, weaving between Aon House and HSBC Tower before passing the two new towers to Lower Hobson St. There are also plans for a park on part of Sturdee St.
Comments in the pack show Precinct Properties is keen to remove the Hobson St flyover to open up and refurbish lower Hobson St, saying that keeping the flyover will prevent access to the Viaduct, reduce the visibility of a podium development and compromise the overall quality of the project.
The cost of the project is not known, but likely to be well in excess of $1 billion, which was about the cost of Precinct’s 180m-tall PwC Tower housing the Commercial Bay shopping centre at the bottom of Queen St.
Let’s hope the councillors approve the sale.
Middlemore Station Upgrade
Auckland Transport and Kiwirail have finally released some details about the Middlemore Station upgrade to accommodate the new third main that is being built.
Middlemore Station will remain open during construction of the upgrades, including access to the lifts and pedestrian bridge.
KiwiRail will also temporarily extend Platform 1 to ensure that trains can continue stopping at Middlemore Station. More information about travelling to and from Middlemore during construction is available below.
KiwiRail have worked collaboratively with Te Whatu Ora and Auckland Transport to ensure the upgraded station can meet the needs of everyone, including public transport users and hospital staff, patients, and visitors.
The upgrades to Middlemore Station include:
- A new platform to serve the Third Main Line
- A new pedestrian bridge at the northern end of the station
- An extension of the existing pedestrian bridge
- A new gate line for the new platform
- A new entrance for Te Whatu Ora staff via Rosella Road
- Accessibility improvements for pedestrians and vehicles
Trains will still stop at Middlemore during the work and construction is expected to last till early 2025.
My main concern with all of this is that they don’t appear to have designed with with a fourth main in mind – which is something our rail plans now say we will need.
Night Train Renaissance
Night Trains continue to rise in popularity and recognition. Here’s a great article on it by CNN.
Night trains have been making a resurgence across Europe after decades of decline, raising the prospect of more sustainable ways of crisscrossing the continent as travelers look to find alternatives to flying.
There’s nothing quite like an overnight train. The excitement before an evening departure. The sense of adventure. The cosmopolitan mix of international travelers. And the timeless cultural appeal that inspired “Murder on the Orient Express” and “From Russia With Love” or legendary songs by the likes of James Brown, David Bowie and Ray Charles.
And then there’s the journey itself – retiring to bed as you clatter out of a big city and waking up in a new city, or even a new country, can create memories to last a lifetime.
At least that’s the theory – and why the new wave of night trains are being touted as one way to replace short or even medium-haul flights across Europe and the US.
So how’s that going?
Even before their renaissance, night trains could be a pleasant, memorable and sometimes economic way to cover long distances – but luck has always been a big factor.
Wrong end of the per-capita chart
New Zealand seems to love pointing out how well we often perform at things on a per capita basis. We can’t do that with road safety though.
Waka Kotahi update pic.twitter.com/tWLpJufQSQ
— AK CC ResidentsGroup (@CityAklccrg) November 15, 2023
What’s worse is that this figure is based on the end of 2021, a year which was severely disrupted by covid lockdowns. Based on the the end of 2022 we were sitting at 7.3 per 100,000 people which would put us even lower down the list.
Coromandel Reconnected Sooner
Some impressive work by Waka Kotahi and their contractors means SH25A will be open again this year – after a slip washed away a huge part of the road during the weather events earlier this year. That they’ve been able to deliver this so quickly is testament to the workers but also to using standard designs and being able to work at all hours of the day. Also great is that they’ve used the closure to get other maintenance tasks on the road done.
State Highway 25A between Kōpū and Hikuai will reopen to traffic in time for Christmas – a full three months earlier than anticipated.
The news brings a welcome economic boost to the beleaguered Coromandel Peninsula, an area heavily reliant on tourism, which has suffered severe economic downturn on the back of last summer’s cyclones and weather events.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency regional manager of infrastructure delivery for Waikato/Bay of Plenty Jo Wilton says the route will re-open by 20 December 2023, now that the decking is complete on the new 124-metre viaduct bridge, which spans the abyss that severed the highway in late January.
“Our team has done an amazing job, not only constructing the new bridge in record time, but at the same time we’ve invested an additional $25 million to enable multiple crews to clear slips, replace the original undersized culvert, and undertake crucial road maintenance work along the rest of the length of SH25A to ensure the whole corridor is up to scratch, safe and more resilient,” Wilton said.
“Getting this maintenance work completed now also means we can avoid further work and disruption for drivers during the busy summer period.”
“With the build beginning in June, getting it open in less than seven months is a huge achievement given a bridge of this type would normally take 12 to 14 months to construct.
“We’ve built the bridge in record time by accelerating our work programme, with teams working 24-hour shifts both onsite and offsite at Eastbridge in Napier, where the steel girders were manufactured.
“In addition, we used a bridge design we already had and repurposed steel plates which had been purchased for the Minden Bridge on Tauranga’s Takitimu North Link project, meaning we didn’t have a lengthy wait for steel to come in from overseas.”
Have a great weekend.