The Eye of the Fish

Philip
February 14, 2008

Stop Transit’s Tunnels – A Summary

Last night was of course, Stop Transit’s Tunnels, a public meeting to inform the public about Transit’s plans, better alternatives and how to influence the process of the Ngauranga to Airport Transport Strategy.

Note: Sorry, its been a busy night, and its 3am….this post will be edited into a more complete writeup with some analysis and supporting material when I get the chance. Check back soon, but in the mean time, here are some (rough) points of what was covered:

Celia, giving a summary of the Ngauranga to Airport Transport Strategic Study

Sue Kedgley, Green party MP

“If you actually read the fine print of the report, it is trying to solve the problem of road with more road….doubling car capacity at the very time when petrol prices are doubling”

Kent Duston, local consultant (Mt. Victoria citizens group?)

Andy Foster, portfolio leader of Urban Development for council

Celia, Councillor, president of Living Streets

  • Mike, president of living streets wellington
  • Brett, showing video “Wellington Light Rail Now”

    Q&A

    Matthew Bartlett
    14 - 02 - 08

    Thanks Philip. Here are my notes from the event. I had trouble keeping up with Iona Pannett’s pace but the rest is reasonably readable.

    Kevyn Miller
    15 - 02 - 08

    Sue Kedgley began by identifying the underlying cause of congestion (the nine-to-five work day)and some viable solutions (glidetime, etc). There is plenty of good research to support her arguments. I haven’t been able to find any reputable study showing that you can build your way out of congestion no matter what you build. So it was disappointing that Sue concluded by suggesting that the light rail opton can achieve the impossible and reduce traffic congestion. Perhaps Sue has never heard of triple convergence? Triple convergence is the reversal of a change of behaviour adopted by drivers to avoid unacceptable congestion. Any attempt to reduce congestion by adding capacity to roads or public transort will cause those drivers who have modified their behaviour to avoid the worst congestion to revert back to pre-congestion behaviour. The inevitable result is that the reduction in peak congestion doesn’t last long. Shoulder peak congestion will improve but that isn’t what everybody is jumping up and down about. Sue’s opening comment was the correct one.

    Sue then went on to claim that new roads induce new traffic. Research in the 1990s supported this conclusion but more recent studies have found that in the absence of land use developements along new roads there is very little induced traffic. The corridor study seems to be all about opening up a satelite CBD yet it’s projections of traffic growth seem to assume that traffic growth rates will be independent of the purpose of the corridor.

    Sue’s comment about London was very telling. London had appalling congestion precongestion charge. Actually it applies all the time so it is not really an effective congestion charge. More importantly London’s congestion had been almost unchanged throughout the 20th century despite cars replacing horses and most importantly despite the construction of the underground. Most alarmingly traffic is growing faster inside the cordon than outside it. Some researchers predicted that this would happen as the cordon charge is only for non-residents entering the inner city. Residents are free to fill up the space vacated by foreigners and this is exactly what has been happening. A similar situation exists in Manhattan where tunnels and bridges have always had tolls creating a defacto cordon charge.

    What is needed is something much braver than a spend up on light rail. What is needed is supply/demand pricing on roads and parking. Drivers can always dodge petrol price
    rises by driver more fuel efficient cars. They can only avoid road pricing by avoiding road use.

    Failing to tackling road pricing means public transport will be a very expensive way of achieving buggar all, at least on such a short corridor as N2A where the walking part of a bus or LRT trip is “wastes” more time than being stuck in traffic. And you stay warm and dry when you’re stuck in traffic.

    Has anybody calculated the overall effect on sustainability and profitability when buses lose their highest occupancy parts of their routes to light rail on this corridor? The only detailed studies I have seen are from the USA. The impact has always been negative, although that is influenced by the electricity supply.

    Tim Jones
    15 - 02 - 08

    I was surprised at my own reaction to the meeting: I left it feeling angry with those transport planners who, despite the twin crises of climate change and oil depletion, despite the evidence that increased roading capacity does not lessen congestion, continue to trot out the same tired recipe for failure: build more roads! There’s more on this at http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2008/02/stupid-wasteful-and-dangerous.html

    Kerryn
    15 - 02 - 08

    Does anyone find the idea of building light rail to an airport a bit odd in a bigger picture kind of way?

    Philip
    15 - 02 - 08

    My concern is that congestion isn’t a problem that would be solved by any single solution, yet the extension of state highway 1 is just that – a large, all-or-nothing proposal. It seems that if any part of the roading wasn’t completed, then the entire thing would be useless (ie 4/2 lane bottleneck).

    For that reason, the roading seems to be much more of a gamble than light rail – LRT would at the least have some positive effect on congestion and little damage to the urban fabric. Whereas the doubled road lanes would undoubtedly have a negative effect on the urban environment, regardless of whether it was successful or not.

    Under either rail or road, there is going to be increased load on transit in the future, the growing population guarantees it. What neither solution addresses is a fundamental shift in the way we use transport. Sue started talking on this sort of thing ( ie the staggered-start work day), but I dont think these initiatives are going to change the status quo without some radical driving force behind them (total oil crash? legislation? both are very extreme conditions).

    Similarly, putting massive tolls on roads is an extreme condition; economically restrictive and political suicide.

    To be honest, the most promising proposal I saw was the new bus system, it seems this would have an undeniable positive effect on transit congestion/quality. RE: bus profitability/occupancy issue – this is difficult. Under a successful LRT option, you would hope that the bus system would undergo a heavy reconfiguration – ie a dramatic reduction in buses along the golden mile. LRT and buses (especially in Wellington’s terrain) seem like they could be a mutually beneficial relationship – but that’s assuming a successful niche shift

    Tubehat
    16 - 02 - 08

    Anti public transport is equally as stupid as anti roading. I believe in a combined solution. For public transport:

    The water front should only be 1 lane each way with the rest of the space used for light rail (which can be shared as a bus lane) and extra wide foot paths providing a much improved cbd to waterfront pedestrian environment. The Hutt road south of ngauranga (the part parallel to the motorway) and thorndon quay should have bus lanes running along the full length as well as cycle lanes. This can be done by removing (or re-arranging, it used to be four lanes) the car parking along thorndon quay and removing a lane each way along the hutt road. Later on the light rail can be extended along this route, buses would still be able to use this too.

    For private transport:

    The terrace tunnel should have a duplicate two lane tunnel. Cars should be on SH1 and not along a city street (jervois quay). Right now traffic leaving wellington heading north on the motorway through the tunnel in the is about 6,000 cars more than arriving through the tunnel heading southbound, this means that those 6,000 cars are driving along city streets (jervois quay) instead of the motorway to get there in the morning due to the fact there is only one lane southbound. By having a duplicate tunnel this will allow that traffic to drive the whole way along the motorway, where it should be. Less traffic on the waterfront is good for everyone.

    libertyscott
    16 - 02 - 08

    There are two fundamental problems:
    1. Demand exceeds supply of capacity, mostly for road space, but occasionally for public transport. Most of the day both roads and public transport have ample capacity. This whole study is predicated on engineering solutions, in other words “build a solution” when the problem is pricing. At peak times both modes are grossly underpriced, which is why roads get congested and public transport is subsidised (to pay for capacity that mostly sits idle most of the day). Wellington needs congestion pricing to address this and also to increase peak public transport fares relative to offpeak. The resulting revenue from congestion pricing cpuld replace using rates funding for roads, and help fund improvements to the road network.
    2. The corridor between the airport and the region is grossly inadequate from Kilbirnie to the urban motorway. It needs completing to provide a high quality bypass around Te Aro/CBD. It should be a covered trench highway much like Oslo has to take through traffic out of the city.

    The bigger ideological problem is that many have been seduced by the faith in light rail, which never stands up to close scrutiny by transport economists. Public transport works well in a hub and spoke network to a compact CBD, it is virtually useless to bypass it because it can never have the frequency nor route network adequate to service the diversity of origins or destinations.

    Similarly, talk of oil depletion and climate change drives a fictional (almost wishful thinking) that private transport and roads will be unnecessary. It doesn’t bear any close scrutiny. The move towards private car ownership and usage started in the 1920s, and will move to other fuels over time. Roads are the ubiquitous flexible network that can handle freight, private and public transport easily, if demand/capacity is managed/supplied appropriately by price/investment.

    Kevyn made the critical point, you can’t build your way out of congestion while you underprice all that you build. Is it any wonder roads appear like Soviet bread queues when they are priced the same whether you drive at 7am or 1am?

    erentz
    16 - 02 - 08

    Kerryn, “Does anyone find the idea of building light rail to an airport a bit odd in a bigger picture kind of way?”

    Ha! Yeah, there is a small bit of irony in there (with the peak oil arguments, etc.). I don’t think of it as serving the airport though, there are a lot of options with how the eastern suburbs might be served that would come out through more detailed route study. LRT to the airport would get more passengers from the residents rather than travellers.

    erentz
    16 - 02 - 08

    libertyscott, “2. The corridor between the airport and the region is grossly inadequate from Kilbirnie to the urban motorway. It needs completing to provide a high quality bypass around Te Aro/CBD. It should be a covered trench highway much like Oslo has to take through traffic out of the city.”

    Yeah, I’ve always been in favour of completing SH1 too, which makes me a bit of an outsider as a PT proponent. A few things to say on that:

    We largely lost this opportunity with the bypass. Now it’ll be even more expensive to do, but it is still feasible if planning takes it into account now!

    However, the reports collectively suggest that the bypass configuration we have will be all we’ll ever have. They also suggest that once the package of proposed upgrades is in place, it’ll be difficult or impossible to do more. So you have to ask:

    – What if a future generation wants to put the thing underground?
    – What if they decide the additional 1-lane tunnel through The Terrace isn’t enough?

    Because of such small foresight it wont be possible. By the time they are implemented they’ll already be congested at the same level as now (according to the report), so little is gained, and there is no plan in the report for what to do after that.

    If we want this then the planning needs to go into it such that this can be done in the future, because once you have a large amount of traffic on the route it becomes near impossible to rip up and replace with what you want. (Boston’s Big Dig for an extreme example.)

    This is part of the reason why I am in favour of leaving it for another 10 years before considering what we want along here. Until then, focus on road charging to control congestion, and improving public transport to full the gap.

    At that point we’ll have a better idea of what it is we want as a city (perhaps we discover we really like PT). What is available in terms of technology to replace cars. How successful the intensification is. Etc.

    Also, it’s a lot of money! Maybe the Government will by that time allow cities to be more flexible with Government’s money. It does seem we’re spending it on roads because that’s what it has been allocated to, not because that’s the best place for the money to benefit the city’s economy. E.g. If its really about moving freight, do congestion charging, if it’s about intensified land use, naturally PT. If it’s about economy, what about spending money on the other things, like Fibre to the Home? (Which helps with teleworking, and staggard work start times.)

    So build out PT now, in 10 years look at the roads.

    David
    16 - 02 - 08

    >Similarly, talk of oil depletion and climate change drives a fictional (almost wishful thinking) that private transport and roads will be unnecessary. It doesn’t bear any close scrutiny. The move towards private car ownership and usage started in the 1920s, and will move to other fuels over time.

    Agreed. History shows that at some stage, an oil replacement will be invented and will be better and cheaper than oil. (And also that the price of oil will then crash, so that it will be available for ever AND be extremely cheap because no one wants or needs it). I can’t see any viable replacement taking away people’s flexibility and freedom, so it is likely that in 50 years time there will be far more cars around.

    As a cyclist who crosses the CBD to work every day, the transport improvement I’d like to see is a proper motorway from the Terrace tunnels to Mt Vic and beyond. That would allow cars to drive on a road that was designed for and dedicated to them, rather than one that they need to share with pedestrians and cyclists. Most of my commute is spent sitting at lights… it’d be nice if some of them weren’t needed. (And I’d get rid of some of them already… I’ve never seen enough traffic on Molesworth St to warrant lights at Hill St).

    Kevyn Miller
    16 - 02 - 08

    One other question needs to be asked. Are Wellington’s transport problems serious enough to justify depriving other regions of a fair share of the nation’s roading revenue? Assuming we are still an egelitarian society, of course. Rural North Island regions were deprived of $500 million (in current dollars) from the mid-60s to the mid-70s to help fund the foothills motorway. With our appalling road toll now revealed in all it’s gory detail at http://www.kiwirap.org.nz there is no way to deny that bad crashes are caused by bad roads just as much as they are caused by bad drivers.

    erentz
    16 - 02 - 08

    Kevyn, “Are Wellington’s transport problems serious enough to justify depriving other regions of a fair share of the nation’s roading revenue?”

    Anyone know of a simple centralised (and honest/accurate!) source of information about what has been spent where, and when, and in what year’s dollar value by region? For roads, or even just for general allocation of tax funds for all capex, it’d be nice to see.

    erentz
    16 - 02 - 08

    Aha, a mega-spreadhseet-of-doom can be found at: petroltax.org.nz

    Interesting, not sure where all the information is sourced from.

    Philip
    17 - 02 - 08

    So, looking at the responses so far in this thread, a few trends come up. Some questions and thoughts on the implementation of tolls/PT:

    Reducing peak time traffic via tolls.

    – To be placed just before entering the city from the motorway – or a more widespread application?
    – What sort of price point will be needed to cause a significant change in habits?
    – What will be done with the proceeds? Should we reduce overall rates, or use them to specifically fund carbon-neutrality/transit projects?
    – Can we expect business’s to implement wide spread adoption of staggered/flexible starting times. Are incentives needed, and viable?

    Increasing public transport use/quality.

    – It is clear that we need to create an easier ticket processes, add bus tracking and follow through (completely) on the new bus lane development.
    – If tolls were implimented, will major upgrades be needed to address the increased demand (LRT? bus lanes?)
    – Should we continue/increase/stop PT subsidies?
    – Are these changes really radical enough to move public opinion/habits massively towards PT?

    libertyscott
    19 - 02 - 08

    Philip

    On tolls you would need a cordon of sorts with the motorway and bypass being the boundary, operating peak times only in the peak direction of flow (with some selected residents’ discounts for those caught in some locations). It would need to have shoulder periods. You would need stated preference surveys and modelling to establish the appropriate charge, based on partially recovering marginal congestion costs. The proceeds should be used to offset rates spending on roads, but you don’t need much effort on staggered starting times. Just get central government to do it, that will be plenty.

    It would be a gradual process, would need to be linked to increasing PT fares at a slower pace (after all the problem is peak demand) and it would also significantly enhance cycling and walking.

    erentz
    19 - 02 - 08

    – It is clear that we need to create an easier ticket processes, add bus tracking and follow through (completely) on the new bus lane development.

    Smart card ticketing please! Tap-on, tap-off, as in Singapore/Hong Kong/etc. Completely remove the transaction with the driver and thus dwell times. Even a flat charge (with no change given) system such as in the US dramatically reduces dwell times. In Seattle during peak hours you pay as you get off, not 100% sure, but I assumed that was a creative method to reduce dwell times in the CBD.

    I actually thought this must be on its way but haven’t heard anything. I’ve noticed a lot of busses have had little posts and sockets installed by the doors that look like they’re just waiting for the card readers to be plugged in.

    This system only really makes sense if you restrict the use of the cash register though (e.g. only allow cash payment when not at main stops with ticketing machines).

    Instead of tap-on/tap-off, another option is just to read the RFID tags as you step in and out of the doors even if it’s in your pocket. This might be useful for example on the trains since we don’t have turnstyles here. You’ll always get cheats, but thats life.

    – Should we continue/increase/stop PT subsidies?

    Half of me thinks it’d be nice if the true full costs of all systems should be born by the users. But the reality is that would probably be stupid and risky and seriously impact far too many people. (Though it’d probably be good for filling up the cycle lanes when people realise the true cost of transport.)

    This question is really about the strategy for the city, what is the objective? How do we reach that objective? The study hasn’t identified any objectives really, it’s all just an assortment of policy statements that can mostly be read as per your ideology (typical political documents). The study should’ve properly identified the end state up front, then looked at how to achieve it. E.g. what is the desired density in the particular regions, where should employment be concentrated, what is the preferred mode split, what level of traffic is acceptable where, etc. Only then can you answer questions like how much subsidies/priority you should give to PT.

    – Are these changes really radical enough to move public opinion/habits massively towards PT?

    Most people simply like what they’re used to. Habits are hard to change and people are rarely happy to change them. Thats why in car oriented cities like Wellington people expect to be able to drive anywhere, and doing anything else is going to be utterly horribly upsetting to many of them. Whereas in cities where people have always used PT at high levels (e.g. New York) they like using it, and can’t imagine lazy bastards that refuse to walk a couple of kilometers or think they have a right to drive everywhere. So perhaps changing these opinions might take a generation. (That said, if you look at mode share by age group, younger people use PT far more than older people already.)

    Buzz
    27 - 03 - 08

    As a born and bred Wellingtonian now resident in Auckland (with 2 monthly trips back to Wgtn over the last 6 years) I can honestly say that you Wellingtonians don’t know you’re even born! You just don’t know the meaning of congestion. Congestion in Wgtn lasts 5 minutes a day compared to Auckland. Here it lasts nearly all day. You have arguably the best public transport system in the country and the best patronised.
    The big question to my mind is: what is the political agenda behind this push for more roads, more tunnels, more bypasses, more transport to get to the airport? Is it just so politicians can spend longer in the House before leaving to catch their planes?

    Maximus
    27 - 03 - 08

    Buzz, 16km long tailback up the coast on Easter Monday….. i think we can say we know what congestion is like too. Just because we have avoided it getting as bad as Auckland doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem though…. the thing that Auckland does have, that we don’t, is alternative routes. Here, we have a route up the Ngauranga Gorge to get out of Wellington, or else…. umm, not much else really. At least in Auckland you have ten different roads to take to get to the Airport – via Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Road, Manukau Rd, via Ellerslie, etc etc. Here, as i hardly need remind you, we have a hill with a tiny hole through it called the Mt Vic tunnel, and if that is full, you’re pretty much stuffed. Its nothing to be proud of – but when we get gridlock, we really do get gridlock….

    Of course -if they build a second tunnel, it’ll just get full of cars. We already have a bus tunnel – the only one in NZ? So should we just leave the cars to rot in peace?

    Kerryn
    4 - 01 - 10

    Does anyone find the idea of building light rail to an airport a bit odd in a bigger picture kind of way?