WellUrban

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

Friday, May 11, 2007

Distant hills


Some ambiguity and a touch of hyperbole in my post about targeted infill led some commenters to think that I was suggesting all of Karori and Churton Park were "distant hills" with "two buses a day if you're lucky". That's not quite what I meant to say, but I stand by my assertion that the outskirts of these suburbs (and many others) have poor public transport service, and thus poor public transport use, meaning that infill in those places would just result in more people driving to work.

To test that, here's a map showing the proportion of people in the northern suburbs who took a car to work, based on 2006 Census data. Shades of red show where more than half took a car, while in meshblocks with shades of blue, less than half took the car. Central Johnsonville is at the bottom left, with Churton Park at the top.

Proportion of people using a car to get to work in the northern suburbs of Wellington, 2006 CensusIt's clear that the further you get from the transport hub of Johnsonville, the more likely you are to drive. It's not rocket science, but it shows that the mere presence of a couple of bus routes is not enough. Churton Park does indeed have a decent bus service at peak times, but many parts of it are a long walk from the bus stops and there's not a lot of choice. Central Johnsonville, by contrast, not only has more public transport choice (and I'd suggest that the option of rail as well as bus is an important factor) but also a certain amount of employment, so that some people can walk to work. It thus seems eminently sensible to do what the council is doing and limit the amount of ad hoc infill, while targeting residential intensification where there is a proper transport corridor and plenty of shops and services: places like Johnsonville town centre for example.

The above map shows just a small part of the city, and could give the impression that driving to work is the norm in most parts of town. Looking at all of Wellington City, by comparison, you get a very different picture:

Proportion of people using a car to get to work in Wellington, 2006 CensusBlue dominates in most parts of the city, except the northern suburbs and a few hillside and coastal fringes. As today's Dominion Post article about the rebuilding of the trolley buses says, "Wellingtonians [catch] the bus more than residents of any other Australasian city", and if you add in walking, cycling and trains, it's clear that most of Wellington (except wherever John Morrison lives) has a different attitude to cars from the rest of the country.

If you look closely (click the map for a much larger version) you'll see that Karori has mostly 30-50% car use, but with definite red patches, especially once you get away from the main drag. That's another example of how infill should be targeted at quite a fine scale. Increasing density by a moderate amount on the fringes wouldn't be enough to justify many extra bus services, but increasing density near existing transport corridors would make much more sense.

This isn't a proper analysis, of course: there's an element of "chicken and egg" about the whole thing, and it's hard to tell whether low public transport use is due to poor services or vice versa. The council will presumably be carrying out much more detailed GIS analysis (including transport catchments, existing density and the physical capacity for more building) and more qualitative analysis of heritage, character and attitudes before finalising the areas of "stability", "limited infill" and "change". Purely from this map, though, it's clear that the urban spine (Johnsonville, CBD, Newtown, Kilbirnie) is an obvious place to start, especially when you include the hospital and airport as major destinations. Parts of Karori, Wilton, Brooklyn Island Bay, Hataitai and Miramar also look feasible, and moderate increases in density there could justify even better public transport services, more local facilities, and thus an even greater proportion of people making sustainable transport choices.

16 Comments:

At 3:38 PM, May 11, 2007, Blogger Baz said...

In the TVNZ article you link to, councillor John Morrison sounds borderline paranoid -- "Restrictions and reductions and attacks on motorists" indeed. Has he tried to use public transport in the past few decades?

There's a big anti-car conspiracy, I tell you! The poor innocent roads lobby doesn't have a chance!

 
At 3:50 PM, May 11, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

And there are crazier quotes out there, but I couldn't find any to link to straight away. Here's a good one, though:

"The fact is buses are not safe. How can you say buses are safer when people are being run over by them?"

Whereas no-one ever gets hit by a car, oh no.

 
At 6:59 PM, May 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand by my theory, that the people who live there are just dicks. Most of Churton Park isn't so terribly far from a bus stop as to dissuade people; they just wouldn't use it anyway. It's just so frightfully common, you see.

 
At 7:39 PM, May 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's rubbish. I'm anti-car myself, I cringe whenever I hear John Morrison speak (although he's got charisma and his radio sport show was /is terrific) and I bore my family to tears when I visit them in Auckland as I bitch and moan about roads and sprawl and strip malls and petrol stations and big box retail and the state of public transport there.

But I understand why people take their cars. There's convenience. If you have somewhere to park at work then unless the traffic is ridiculously bad, which, let's face it, in Wellington it isn't, it's quicker and easier to drive. The frequency of buses is also important. I live on the Island Bay 1 route and I would like my buses to be more frequent (hence I want this bus route to be dense all the way along its length (like Dominion or Manukau Roads in Auckland for example), so imagine if you live in Woodridge because you can't afford to live any closer to the city (at least, anywhere with insulation) and have to drop the kids off at daycare in Tawa before you go to work. Maybe you catch the train from there, but then if your kid gets sick and you've gotta get back to Tawa in the middle of the day but there's only one train every hour and it's a hot day and the tracks are bending and blalalba you get where I'm coming from.

I would assume a lot of people in sleeper suburbs are shift workers too. My Mum was a nurse and we lived in Hataitai. She would walk or catch two buses but didn't feel comfortable doing that at night and despite the hospital charging nurses to park at work and not offering much in the way of security, she preferred to drive.

The trick here is not to make driving less desirable but to make public transport more desirable.

I catch buses every day and I hate every moment of it. I hate the bus stops, I hate the people on the bus, I dislike the bus drivers, I dislike the seats, I find it uncomfortable at rush hour when I am sandwiched between people and I'm struggling to keep my bag from knocking into people sitting down near me. I hate it when it rains or is windy and I'm standing there for forty minutes because three full buses have gone past.

I live on the Island Bay route and I find the buses too infrequent to warrant me travelling on them especially since with the recent price rise it would be more financially prudential for me to drive to work and university.

Until Wellington has a 24 hour bus system (which unless there is a huge population AND density increase is not feasible) and doubles the frequency of both peak and off-peak services it will remain more desirable to drive my (nonexistent) car to work, especially if I work at night or etc.

And the buses aren't safe. Nor are cars, but the fact is I've had more near misses with buses than I have with cars and I know when a bus hits me I've got no chance.

And I call myself a public transport advocate.

(plus I have more arguments but I'm eating dinner :D)

Oh, and "I stand by my theory, that the people who live there are just dicks" sounds like we haven't got the wrong sort of system, we've got the wrong sort of people. And I'm sure there's some sort of political commentary I could insert here but I'm failing my politics course and I'm lazy.

 
At 11:02 PM, May 11, 2007, Anonymous Brenda said...

aha.. that red block or two on east brooklyn - that's vogeltown. buses once and hour, and the last one @ 6:45pm... no wonder people drive to work.

 
At 10:55 AM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Karori and Churton Park were "distant hills" with "two buses a day if
you're lucky". That's not quite what I meant to say


We moved to Karori two months ago and I have since caught the bus to and
from work in the CBD each day. So do lots of other people, as the buses are
packed. I get on at Karori Park terminus and find most seats are taken by
the time the bus leaves there.

Karori is a compact suburb along the Karori Road spine and although we live
on one of the "distant hills" you talk about, the walk down to the bus is
six minutes.

The bus service has the best base frequency in Wellington (10 minutes) and
patronage matches that.

There is a chronic traffic problem up here though, in that Karori Road is
clogged to a standstill between the mall and Standen St from 7.45am to
8.30am and it takes the bus (and cars) up to 30 minutes to grind that short
distance.

However when the schools went on holiday, the gridlock vanished for two
weeks, then returned when schools resumed. I've carefully observed the
traffic patterns from my bus since and I have discerned that the gridlock is
caused by kids being driven to school.

I also observe that the number of people being carried on the bus along
Karori Road in the peaks massively exceeds the number in cars.

I live on the Island Bay route and I find the buses too infrequent to
warrant me travelling on them


Is this irony? Island Bay has the second-best base frequency of any route
(12 minutes weekdays and Saturdays) and buses leave the terminus about every
two minutes in rush hour (there are more expresses than base services in
rush hour, many not in the timetable).

Auckland, a much bigger city, would die for the kind of service we enjoy on
the Island Bay and Karori routes... and they would die for our trolley
buses, too.

 
At 11:47 AM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, you're more likely to survive being hit by a bus than a car. True story. Of course, neither of them is good for you.

And yes, the issue is "the wrong sort of people" - some people just won't get a bus, no matter how close or convenient it is. It's a fallacy to claim it's caused by something else.

The point about shift-workers is valid, though. Bus coverage through the night is abysmal to non-existent, and even after about 7pm the schedule is often impractical. Especially if you have to change buses somewhere, there's just no thought at all put into connecting services.

Things could certainly be improved in that respect, but there'll never be full or even majority penetration some places.

 
At 4:41 PM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the anon who wrote: "that's rubbish" - thank you, that's a really lovely piece of writing, almost poetical in your reasoning why bussing is really not your choice of transport. Great stuff, and all (apparently) while you were eating dinner as well.

And great map Tom - beyond me how you do that (i guess you're not sitting with a book of stats and a paint bucket in Photoshop, although that's the only way i can think of doing it...) - only draw back is that, once again, your GIS map killed my Safari. Several times in a row. Had to resort to a ancient PC running IE.

And Tom, just while i'm still marvelling on your ability to produce meaningful maps out of numerical gibberish, you note "whereas no-one ever gets hit by a car, oh no." - any chance of you producing a map of where cars and people DO collide ? Just curious....

 
At 5:10 PM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't irony. I am aware that the number 1 is one of the most frequent buses in the city but it is still less convenient for me than getting in a car and going when it suits me. The buses should be smaller and more frequent. I always envision quick, light and cheap electric shuttles running every three minutes rather than big, heavy and expensive buses running every twelve.

You can't look at the problem as if it's the people that is the problem. The people don't exist to ensure the smooth workings of a public transport system, the public transport system exists to serve the people. If the people are a certain way then sure, invest a very small amount in changing attitudes, but invest the rest of your time, money and effort in making a system that meets their needs. Those needs, for me, are the ability to walk out of my door and get into a vehicle which drops me at the door, or very close to, my place of work or education. (Fortunately, my bus stop is outside my kitchen window and I'm on an hourly bus to uni, it's great) Also, I don't want to get wet or have to worry about how I am going to carry that brand new microwave home. I also want it to be cheap. I think that's probably a fair generalisation on what a good portion of people want. Interestingly, and frustratingly (let's be clear here, if there was an anti-car conspiracy I'd be part of it), except for a few residents lucky enough to be on a busy bus route with shelters etc. they automobile offers that, and you can listen to the radio too!

And wow, I didn't know that about being hit by a bus. Is that to do with the spreading of the impact over a big surface or the fact that a bus probably isn't travelling as fast as a car? I withdraw my statement :D

Auckland would also die for our geography and our reasonably cohesive local governance. (as well as some common sense road network design) From the city to Island Bay and from the city to Karori is pretty much just one long spine with few branches. Also, the city lies as the hub of these spokes. Compare Auckland, where as well as commuter (suburb to city) traffic, there is significant cross town travel (esp. with the five or six main shopping centres, Botany, Newmarket, Sylvia Park, St. Lukes, Westgate, and that one up by North Harbour (all of which my Mother (who has just sold her Epsom home, dammit, I loved that place) goes to for different reasons) lying away from the Auckland hub). (Too many parentheses!)

The fact that other cities would die for our public transport does not necessarily make our public transport good. It is, but it's not great. Try catching a bus between 7 and 8:30am from Wallace Street into town. I can almost guarantee that if you just watched for an hour you'd see five or six overloaded buses go past, leaving frustrated people standing at the bus stop checking their watches. That dairy does a roaring trade (if it's open) with people that grow tired of waiting and buy a pump bottle for when they eventually give up and walk.

The kids being driven to school point is important too. The ridiculous zoning and geography of Wellington high schools means that for a school like Wellington College, Karori is in the zone but Hataitai isn't. The fact that the nearest high school to Karori that boys can attend (co-ed or single sex) is either Wellington College or Onslow College (Actually, I could be completely wrong here, correct me if there is a closer one please) combined with the meandering route down from Karori (via the Terrace or Bowen Street) means that in school terms you have maybe 1000 extra people trying to get out of Karori and many more trying to get their girls in from outside. Again, my gut feeling is that there should be more and smaller schools but there are many reasons why that idea is unworkable and probably wrong.

A transport network which is at ground level in the burbs and above the road on the major spines would be nice (well, it'd be ugly) but density would need to be increased - aesthetically, so the transport network is not higher than any buildings; and economically, because there would be nowhere near the population to support it. Apparently there isn't the population to justify keeping the bus price down at the moment.

So, all up, my dream is of a Wellington with a population of 1 million people :D?

 
At 6:57 PM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bus survivability is (as far as I recall) partly the factors you mentioned, especially the area dispersement, but also that when you're hit by a car you tend to get thrown over the bonnet and seriously injured there; a bus, you're thrown to the ground.

Karori is also in zone for Wellington High (co-ed), although I confess I don't know whether it, Onslow, or Wellington College is more easily accessible. Onslow seemed to be the default follow-on from KNS when I was there.

Smaller, more frequent buses might be nice, but that's a cost trade-off, since it means many more drivers. Until we have a way to make driverless buses...

Wellington's public transport could be better, but it's pretty good as-is: increasing usage in some places would be more a factor of cars becoming less attractive (in absolute terms) than anything else. Better routing through outlying areas of suburbs might help somewhat, but I don't think it's actually desirable except as a "link" connecting service.

The major improvements we could use are integrated ticketing and some actual thought put into connecting services. And light rail.

 
At 9:01 PM, May 12, 2007, Anonymous M-D said...

Nice graphic analysis Tom!

I love buses, I used to drive in because it was cheaper, but I find the bus service much better - if only for the entertainment value - my driver got pulled over and ticketed for speeding the other day...

I find it much more relaxing to travel in from Lyall Bay to the city in a bus, than to wait in the lines of traffic either through Newtown or down Wellington Road - incidentally, the latter of which is much worse since those damn lights on the basin - methinks the transport planners are doing everything they can to create gridlock and lobby for more road building funding...

Also, in complete opposition to the wordy anon, I like the walk to the bus too - although my nearest stop is about 3 mins walk (handy when I'm 'running' late), I usually walk the 10-15 mins to Kilbirnie and save an extra zone...

 
At 3:35 PM, May 13, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I'll respond to the content of these comments soon, but first some technical notes. In response to "And great map Tom - beyond me how you do that": thanks, it's what I sort-of used to do for a living, though I like to take it a bit further at times. In the past I've used MapInfo Professional, which is a fairly expensive piece of professional GIS software. For now, though, I'm using completely open-source software. I used Quantum GIS to create the map, since it has some based tools for thematic mapping (i.e. assigning colours based on a variable), with PostGIS to do the data work (joining tables etc).

Unfortunately, the data is not open source. The meshblock count data is free now (you can't download it, but you can ask for a free CD). But in order to create a map from it, you need the meshblock boundaries dataset, which is definitely not free. It costs between $1600 and $3000 depending upon provider, but you can get geographic subsets for less (about $300 for Wellington, I think).

"only draw back is that, once again, your GIS map killed my Safari". I'm not sure how this could happen with these maps, since they're just static images. I could understand the earlier ZoomIn maps causing problems, since Safari has some known bugs that cause it to crash with ZoomIn's Javascript. The only thing I can think of is that the maps are in PNG format, and if Safari crashes on trying to read them, it really, really is time for you to think about Firefox :-)

"any chance of you producing a map of where cars and people DO collide ?" I'm not sure whether the Police, LTSA or anyone else publishes that information in any mappable form, but it's an interesting thought, and I'll have a look for it some time.

 
At 9:40 PM, May 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a note on the magical disappearance of traffic in school holidays- it's partially due to parents taking the time off work too. As you might have noticed if you have ever tried to book anything like accomodaton or flights in school holidays...

Another vote of appreciation for that map, it is quite impressive to see the high proportion of PT users. I guess Wellingtonians are definitely voting with their feet.

I know it's probably off-topic for a mainly architecture blog, but the announcement for all new trains, new Raumati and Lindale stations, plus electrification and double tracking to Waikanae, as well as new trolley buses are quite impressive. It must be election year or something!

However with the legacy of decades of mismanagement and decay under Tranzrail the regional council is doing a great job, long may it continue.

 
At 11:58 AM, May 14, 2007, Anonymous Simon said...

Best single thing you can do to improve the peak traffic demand in Karori [beyond light rail, monorail etc..] is build a good secondary school and find someway of convincing the fine parents of Karori that Wellington Collage is not the be-all of schools.
First part easy [$$$] the second part = change mindset of string-of-pearl wearing, golf-on-Wednesday - types. who knows....

 
At 4:06 PM, May 18, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Wow, that's a lot to respond to. Some of you won't take a bus unless it goes right past your door, while others are happy to walk quite some distance. That fits the data: in just about every meshblock, there are at least some people who take public transport, even though it is quite an effort in some places. However, the closer a place is to PT, and the greater the choice and frequency on offer, the more people will use it. Thus I stand by my statement that it's sensible to guide population growth towards existing transport corridors.

"I live on the Island Bay route and I find the buses too infrequent to warrant me travelling on them" vs "Is this irony? Island Bay has the second-best base frequency of any route"

You're both right, in a way. Parts of Wellington have PT service that is far above anything else in NZ, yet it's still pretty feeble by the standard of many overseas cities. PT really becomes easy to use when it's so frequent that you don't even bother about timetables, and that doesn't happen until there's at least one every 5 minutes or so (10 minutes at a stretch).

"Until Wellington has a 24 hour bus system (which unless there is a huge population AND density increase is not feasible) and doubles the frequency of both peak and off-peak services it will remain more desirable to drive my (nonexistent) car to work, especially if I work at night or etc."

I don't know if we need a huge increase in population: density would be enough. After all, the population along any given mass transit line in a major metropolis might only be a few hundred thousand. We'll never have the population of London or New York, but if we can concentrate all our density along a linear route, we could certainly justify a much, much better service along that route.

"Karori is a compact suburb along the Karori Road spine"

Not all that compact, really: a bit denser than standard NZ suburbia, but not by international urban standards or even compared to Mt Vic or Thorndon. But it has the capability to be more so.

"The point about shift-workers is valid, though. Bus coverage through the night is abysmal to non-existent, and even after about 7pm the schedule is often impractical."

I know all about the problem of using PT when working shifts. I used to work at the airport (having chosen a flat in Kelburn to be close to work, and then being transferred to another office), and I remember rushing from the evening shift changeover at 11pm to catch the last bus. There wasn't even a service directly from the airport then, so I had to run to the corner to get the bus coming from Seatoun. If it was early or nightshift was late, I'd have to either blow my penal rates on a taxi or walk home (1 hour 40 was my best time). That all goes to support the idea that more people living along a single spine that also includes the main employment centres (CBD, hospital, airport) would support better PT, and for longer hours.

"If the people are a certain way then sure, invest a very small amount in changing attitudes, but invest the rest of your time, money and effort in making a system that meets their needs."

That's exactly what the councils have to wake up to. They've been wittering on for years about "encouraging" public transport use, and not making any investment, so that now when people do make the switch, the system can't cope.

"The buses should be smaller and more frequent. I always envision quick, light and cheap electric shuttles running every three minutes rather than big, heavy and expensive buses running every twelve."

Actually, based even on current ridership levels, the buses need to more frequent but kept the same size. I don't know whether four 10-seater buses would be any cheaper to buy than one 40-seater, and they'd certainly require four times the labour cost (that's one of the advantages of light rail over buses - one driver can handle twice he passengers). They'd also take up more space on the roads than a single larger bus. Small shuttles have their place on sparsely populated routes, but the main routes just need better capacity (& reliability & comfort & speed).

"The major improvements we could use are integrated ticketing and some actual thought put into connecting services."

Amen. Integrated ticketing and real-time information may finally be on the way.

"And light rail."

Double Amen! But no sign of it yet.

"Apparently there isn't the population to justify keeping the bus price down at the moment."

That's not entirely so: our fares are the way they are because they are subsidised far less than in many cities.

"So, all up, my dream is of a Wellington with a population of 1 million people :D?"

Yes I'd love that too :-) But realistically, I'd settle for modest increased in population, but concentrated near the city and along the spine.

 
At 3:17 AM, May 22, 2007, Anonymous Kevyn Miller said...

Yes, the LTSA (now LTNZ) does have a crash location mapping system. WCC and/or WRC probably use it too.

One of the main reasons it makes little difference being by a car or a bus is because the relative mass ratio is hugely important up to the point where the probability of death approaches 100%. Since this critical RMR tends to occur between a pedestrian and car at less than the urban speed limit the additional mass of a bus (or truck) is largely irrelevant. However the RMR dictates that in a car/bus collision there is high risk for car occupants and low risk for bus occupants. But in a bus/bus collision the risk to bus occupants will be similar to the risk to car occupants in a car/car collision. Now is the time to make seatbelt anchorage points mandatory on new buses even if the belts themselves wont be needed for 10 or 15 years, assuming a minimum 20 year fleet replacement cycle.

 

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