WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Back on track: Courtenay to airport light rail


We're getting mixed signals about public transport at the moment, with a welcome (if belated) commitment to providing more buses offset by increasing fares and what seems like a petty and shortsighted squabble over trolley bus funding. But I'd rather concentrate on the future, so with (perhaps unjustifiable) optimism, here's the next part of my series about light rail for the capital.

Last week I looked at proposed CBD routes, and today I'll look at an extension from Courtenay Place to the airport. Unlike the CBD section, which would suit closely-spaced stops and a route shared with other modes, this section should be more of an express route with a dedicated right-of-way wherever possible. I haven't seen any detailed descriptions of exactly where a LRT (light rail transit) line might go to reach the airport, so I've made my own amateur investigation and come up with a suggestion. One possibility would have been to go via the bus tunnel and Hataitai, but that would miss out key nodes along the growth spine such as the hospital, Newtown and Kilbirnie. So here's my suggestion highlighted in solid red, with alternatives as dotted lines:

Possible routes for a Wellington CBD to airport LRT system - basemap from zoomin.co.nz
Courtenay Place to Basin Reserve
This should be straightforward, since Kent and Cambridge Terraces form a very broad boulevard. With a rearrangement of the median or the removal of some parking the line could easily have an exclusive right-of-way, and combined with signal priority at the lights this would make for a speedy uninterrupted trip down to the north end of the Basin Reserve. A stop here would serve Massey University, southern Mt Victoria and SoCo, and of course the Basin iteslf.

Basin Reserve to Newtown
Getting around the Basin could be tricky in heavy traffic, but prioritised signalling would help. Likewise, peak-hour bus/LRT lanes might be necessary on Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St, but the existing congestion along this corridor might mean a dedicated alternative route is called for, and I've suggested one below. The natural stop locations would be the hospital and the corner of Riddiford and Constable streets.

Newtown to Kilbirnie
Constable St is a straight run, but the eastern side of the hill involves the narrow, winding Crawford St and a fiddly intersection with Rongotai Rd. In an ideal world a tunnel or elevated section would make this a quick and easy trip, but for the moment I think this would require careful traffic management to prevent cars delaying the LRVs. I don't think the gradients would be an issue, given that trams used this route until 1961. There may be justification for a stop partway along Constable St, but I think the express nature of the route lends itself to just having a stop at Kilbirnie, near the corner of Rongotai and Bay roads.

Kilbirnie to Airport
There are plenty of possibilities from here on, and since this is not my stamping ground, I can't give an in-depth analysis of the ideal route. I've stuck with an obvious, if circuitous, route along Rongotai Rd, Troy St and Cobham Drive before heading down Calabar Rd to the terminal. This route has the advantage of plenty of centre medians, which could make this quite a quick section despite having to go all the way around the runway. There could also be a stop near Cobham Drive Park, thus ameliorating the unfortunate location of the indoor sports stadium.

Variations

All of the is based upon keeping costs and disruption down by using existing rights of way where possible. But if the government and councils really wanted to invest in a sustainable future (don't laugh) there might be ways to make this journey much more efficient without requiring bypass-like destruction.

One of the sections that might be most affected by congestion is the stretch from the Basin Reserve to Riddiford St. One commenter suggested that the council should be "buying back land to widen Adeleide Road to 35 metres, turning it into an avenue with rail in the middle", which is certainly possible given the wide setbacks to most buildings there, and that could be a good option. However, it still leaves the notoriously congested intersection of Adelaide Rd and John St , and with a cluster of heritage buildings right on the corner this would be hard to widen without serious disruption.

Possible routes for a Wellington CBD to airport LRT system - Adelaide Rd - basemap from zoomin.co.nzMy alternative would be to use a narrow strip along the edge of Government House grounds, then thread through the hospital and along its wide Riddiford St frontage to join Riddiford St near Mein St. Parts of it would require some earthworks, and it goes close to some houses in places, but it would provide a direct and uncontested route that bypasses both the Rugby St and John St intersections. To some, Government House grounds should be sacrosanct, and I certainly wouldn't endorse selling off chunks to developers, but I think the G-G should be able to sacrifice a tiny fraction of private greenery for long-term public gain.

Possible routes for a Wellington CBD to airport LRT system - Kilbirnie to airport - basemap from zoomin.co.nzAt the Airport end, the main difficulty is that the terminal is on the east side of the runway, meaining that any surface route has to make a long detour. However, if we're willing to stump up the money, putting a short tunnel beneath the runway might be worthwhile. I've suggested two alternatives here, both using a tunnel near the present pedestrian/cycle underpass. The first one uses Rongotai Rd as above, then Salek and Coutts streets, which while not having median strips are relatively uncongested. The second takes a more southerly route along Onepu Rd, then whizzes down an existing pedestrian right-of-way along the southern edge of Rongotai College. If this is not too narrow to be practical, it could be the quickest route, and it has the added advantage that a stop near Tirangi Rd could service the burgeoning Rongotai retail district.

I'm not a transport engineer so I can't be sure, but I think these alternative routes could speed up the journey considerably, making it much faster than a bus or car, especially at peak times. And imagine this typical scenario: 100 business passengers arrive on an 8:30am flight destined for 9am meetings in the CBD. They could get into 100 taxis, as they're likely to do at the moment, clogging the Mt Victoria tunnel when it's already horribly congested with commuters. Or they could get into a double-unit LRV train that takes up the same space as about 3 or 4 cars. If even a fraction of them chose the light rail option, it would obviate the need for a vastly expensive and disruptive expansion of the tunnel.

5 Comments:

At 11:54 PM, May 08, 2006, Blogger bush whacker said...

Tom, you're dealing with the same problems that the Jubilee Line had in London when they extended it : Canary Wharf Ltd (the Reichman brothers) just wanted it to go straight to their office tower, while the british government wanted to have the maximum stops along the way for the good of all the people who were currently not being served.

And, sensibly of course, you're taking the maximum-use-to-the-population route ie down through Basin Reserve and Newton. Except that Constable / Crawford / Rongotai area and junctions is fraught with traffic chaos.

The other option is to say to hell with that, and blast a hole straight through Mt Vic, high speed tunnel out to the airport. Yes, its a bigger expense, but not impossible - its only money. But will it be faster than a $20 cab fare?

There is a middle ground as well - a bit of both. Yes, trams used to negotiate that horrible intersection at the top of Crawford - but it's not really feasible for a Light Rail there. Certainly that bit at the very least would need a tunnel to escape the clashes with cars, and it would / could emerge from the hillside to integrate into Kilbirnie shopping centre.

 
At 2:33 AM, May 09, 2006, Blogger libertyscott said...

Tom, you’re in cuckoo land for economics here. You are talking about building a new transport corridor, an expensive single use one that involves two pieces of new infrastructure (rails and overhead wires/electrics) when the existing infrastructure (roads) between the city and the airport – for buses (not cars) – has plenty of capacity and could be faster with the installation of relatively cheap priority measures at intersections (traffic light signalling and priority queuing lanes). More frequent express bus services through the bus tunnel and Kilbirnie would be as fast as light rail for the fraction of the cost – look at the Melbourne airport bus service for a good comparison.

The volumes of traffic you are talking about are so far removed from what is needed to consider light rail, that it is literally money down the drain. Remember you are also advocating dropping bus stops (and access for some people) in favour of less LRT stops – while people do walk further to LRT/rail than bus, presumably some bus services are being cut back (otherwise the LRT would be half empty or you’d have lots of empty buses too).

The so called “growth spine” is better served by extending bus priority through Newtown at peak times. Light rail couldn’t be faster because you could never give it a dedicated corridor unblocked by traffic, so it is literally a very expensive stretch of road. The proposed Basin Reserve flyover would help the buses immensely, by removing the traffic lights and the Mt.Vic Tunnel-Buckle St/Cambridge Tce traffic from the Basin.

Your scenario of 100 business passengers on one flight getting one LRV ignores the likelihood that around half of them wont be going to the CBD, but going to the Hutt, Porirua, or the periphery of the CBD. Remember you’re LRV is going to stop a few times, be held up by traffic in Constable St, Kilbirnie, Riddiford St and through the CBD as well.

And if they were paying the full cost of the LRT trip including capital it would easily be more than the taxi.

So starting with the buses, you could cheaply increase frequency and speed and provide pretty much what you are saying, at a fraction of the cost.

Longer term expansion of Mt Victoria Tunnel (duplication) would be cheaper than LRT, benefit far more people (including freight traffic to/from eastern suburbs/airport) and would not need subsidisation, and would be little disruption. It can go on without affecting existing traffic flows at all.

 
At 4:34 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

bush whacker: you're right, my first priority is to serve the Hospital and the growing population along the spine, rather than the airport itself. I don't spend much time southeast of the Basin, and virtually none at rush hour these days, so I have to take my information on congestion from the council's Transport Strategy. That mentions the Mt Vic tunnel and Adelaide Rd as crunch points, but not Constable/Crawford/Rongotai. A tunnel would be great, but I wanted to start with relatively low-cost options.

libertyscott: I'm not really going to get into debating economics with aomeone who lists "The Fountainhead" as his favourite book, but I've already said why I disagree with you about buses being better than light rail. Buses (even with dedicated lanes) don't supply the space or labour efficiency of LRVs, can't use existing rail lines, don't drive Transit-Oriented Development and attract nowhere near the ridership that LRT does.

"Remember you are also advocating dropping bus stops": where did I say that? I've never suggested that bus stops be dropped, and buses will still be needed in the low-density suburbs away form the spine. LRT doesn't cannibalise bus ridership: instead it makes the PT network as a whole more attractive. The passengers would come from drivers switching to PT as it becomes more reliable and convenient, as petrol becomes more expensive, and eventually as congestion charging and reduction of car parking makes driving into the CBD less attractive.

"Your scenario ... ignores the likelihood that around half of them wont be going to the CBD". But Thorndon, Lambton and Te Aro make up over 65% of the city's employment, and the other main employment centres are also along the spine, so I'd say that more than half of the business passengers on a flight could use LRT.

"Starting with the buses, you could ... provide pretty much what you are saying, at a fraction of the cost." So why does LRT have higher farebox recovery rates than buses? The infrastructure work that you suggest (Basin flyover, tunnel duplication) is hardly going to be cheap either, and will just encourage more people to drive into the CBD, calling for more parking, wider roads and higher speed limits. In other words, further stuffing up what could be a compact, healthy and pedestrian oriented inner city.

 
At 10:19 PM, May 12, 2006, Blogger libertyscott said...

"Buses (even with dedicated lanes) don't supply the space or labour efficiency of LRVs, can't use existing rail lines, don't drive Transit-Oriented Development and attract nowhere near the ridership that LRT does."

You are right about space and labour efficiency, which is only relevant when you get to very high levels of patronage, not exactly Wellington. I would suggest you better get close to that before you start building a completely duplicate set of infrastructure to do essentially the same job.

You didn't mention Transit-Oriented Development before which is another issue, and ridership? Try Ottawa and Brisbane busways, you'll find ridership levels that rival many LRT routes worldwide. People prefer trams over buses, but they are not prepared to pay the threefold increase in cost.

"I've never suggested that bus stops be dropped, and buses will still be needed in the low-density suburbs away form the spine."

All the suburbs are low density, always will be, except for inner city apartment living. This is New Zealand, where people want a backyard in the suburbs, not highrise.

"LRT doesn't cannibalise bus ridership: instead it makes the PT network as a whole more attractive."

So adding LRT to a Kilbirnie to city route will mean all existing bus users will remain on buses? Please! It adds capacity and unless that capacity is filled from new trips or car trips, it takes some business from buses or walking/cycling.

"The passengers would come from drivers switching to PT as it becomes more reliable and convenient, as petrol becomes more expensive, and eventually as congestion charging and reduction of car parking makes driving into the CBD less attractive."

You are right if congestion charging is introduced. Without it, it wont work as modelling in Auckland demonstrated - all the public transport in the world doesn't take people out of their cars in anything other than small amounts, without charging for road space efficiently. Same would work for buses though, people would use buses more and buses would have a free run into the city with less traffic.



"so I'd say that more than half of the business passengers on a flight could use LRT." fair point, could - but wont. Why did Melbourne go for a rapid bus system to/from its airport when it has trams and rail that it could connect? It is because the cost of the rail/bus options didn't stack up and were no faster.

"So why does LRT have higher farebox recovery rates than buses?"

It does, but it costs 3 times as much to finance and operate. Why do you think all councils in NZ abandoned trams in the 1950s and 1960s? They were largely not a bunch of National Party hacks, it was hellishly expensive maintaining and replacing overhead wires and tracks, and vehicles that are far more expensive than buses.

"The infrastructure work that you suggest (Basin flyover, tunnel duplication) is hardly going to be cheap either, and will just encourage more people to drive into the CBD, calling for more parking, wider roads and higher speed limits. In other words, further stuffing up what could be a compact, healthy and pedestrian oriented inner city."

The road projects can be funded by road users with congestion pricing, and provide an excellent bypass to the city for through traffic (which is rarely attracted to public transport) removing that traffic from Te Aro and the waterfront. The city would be healthier - Oslo is a good example of this. Big bypass highways tolled that have allowed much of the central city to be fully or partly pedestrianised.

 
At 4:39 PM, May 15, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

"You are right about space and labour efficiency, which is only relevant when you get to very high levels of patronage, not exactly Wellington"

I'd say that our levels of PT patronage are very high already, as the congestion of buses through the Golden Mile shows. The space efficiency of LRT vs buses would be very relevant here.

"You didn't mention Transit-Oriented Development before"

Perhaps not explicitly, but that's exactly what the "growth spine" concept is about.

"All the suburbs are low density, always will be, except for inner city apartment living. This is New Zealand, where people want a backyard in the suburbs, not highrise."

Not true. You don't have to get to Hong Kong levels to be high enough density for LRT, just higher than the quarter-acre suburbs. Traditional inner residential areas like Mt Vic and parts of Kelburn and Mt Cook are much denser than Kiwi suburbia, yet are highly sought after. There's a middle ground between quarter acres and CBD apartments, which allows for gardens yet is dense enough to support mass transit, and that's what the growth spine strategy seems set to encourage.

"So adding LRT to a Kilbirnie to city route will mean all existing bus users will remain on buses? Please!"

Not all bus users will remain on buses, but given the current level of crowding on many bus routes, some switching of mode would be welcome.

"It adds capacity and unless that capacity is filled from new trips or car trips, it takes some business from buses or walking/cycling"

There will be new trips, given the growth projections for Wellington, and drivers are already switching to public transport, so there's no need to take trips from walking or cycling.

"You are right if congestion charging is introduced ... Same would work for buses though"

But buses don't attract riders the same way that LRT does. And buses won't be able to make use of the existing train rights-of-way, so won't create a seamless PT route.

"Why did Melbourne go for a rapid bus system to/from its airport when it has trams and rail that it could connect?"

I don't know the details of the Melbourne decision, but I gather the "rapid bus" system used existing motorway lanes, which would explain the lower cost. We have no existing capacity between the CBD and airport that can be spared, so a dedicated busway to the airport here would require much more expensive infrastructure (including tunneling) and massive social disruption as roads are widened through existing neighbourhoods (cf the "bypass").

"The road projects can ... provide an excellent bypass to the city for through traffic (which is rarely attracted to public transport) removing that traffic from Te Aro and the waterfront"

The current "bypass" is hardly removing traffic from Te Aro: it's going right through Te Aro!

 

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