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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Growing a spine

I've mentioned the "urban spine" concept many times before, and the expectation that much of Wellington's population growth will occur along a relatively compact corridor extending from Johnsonville via the CBD and hospital to the airport. The consultation and planning process has already started for Johnsonville, and now attention is moving to the southern parts of the city with the "Adelaide Rd - Planning for the Future" process.

This project looks to the northern stretch of Adelaide Rd, from John St to the Basin, as a site for potential intensification. It's currently right at the start of the consultation process, so there's not much detail yet, but the vision is clear from the brochure (398kB PDF): "This project provides a unique opportunity to transform Adelaide Road into an exciting and vibrant urban village, incorporating a number of different land uses and activities, whilst retaining and enhancing its unique characteristics and features." For most of us who are familiar with Adelaide Rd, there wouldn't seem much worth retaining apart from a few characterful buildings scattered among the car yards and drive-throughs, but this map of the study area shows that it's much more than just Adelaide Rd itself that's being considered.

Adelaide Rd study areaThe consultation is actually looking at a much broader area, extending right up to Wallace St in the heart (such as it is) of Mt Cook. The areas around Wallace, Tasman and Hanson streets have a very different character from the light industrial/bulk retail mishmash of Adelaide Rd; one that is much more sensitive and historic, and intensification there will need to be handled very carefully.

While these early consultation documents don't mention anything as specific as height limits, there have already been some mixed messages floating around in the media. According to this week's Capital Times, "the council is considering whether to increase building height restrictions from 12m to 15-16m", into which one could conceivably fit 5-6 storeys. On the other hand, a Dominion Post article that I discussed back in August said that "it would be low-rise developments, no more than three storeys". As I said back then, three storeys might be an appropriate limit for the smaller-scale residential streets, but I see Adelaide Rd itself as being better suited by 6 storeys: more "urban" than "village".

As well as the core urban form and heritage questions, this study has to deal with connections to adjacent developments such as supermarkets and Memorial Park, and perhaps most vexedly, with transport issues. Adelaide Rd has room to expand to the east by at least one lane with very little demolition or relocation of buildings, but it would seem a waste to use the extra space for something as inefficient as private vehicles. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, but among the images on the front page is this street section or sections:

Light Rail for Adelaide Rd?!?
Those things on the left look very much like light rail vehicles, so perhaps if you all go and vote for "light rail to the airport" in the Wellingtonista Award's "most needed" category, we'll have a chance of making this real!

I could write more about Adelaide Rd, but I've already covered a lot of that in my entry in the aBc competition. I just have to get around to converting it into a more web-friendly form (and by "web-friendly" I mostly mean "less than 100MB"), then I'll post that here. In the meantime, read the media release and consultation documents, and you have until the 14th of December to make your thoughts known. That may not seem long, but this is just the first stage, with a community workshop to follow next year. Even if you don't currently live or travel through there, you may want to sometime in the future, be affected by the impact of transport planning on the city as a whole, or just be glad that there's an opportunity to plan for sustainable urban growth. So get involved.


At 9:09 AM, November 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that that image does not really look like Light rail, but more like a dedicated seperated bus lane, similar to what they used to have in Parts of Vancouver

But it is the fist sign of a dedicated public transport corridor, that as population densities increase can be looked at for converstion to light rail or "trams".

vancouver B line buslane

This one has been recently ripped and replaced by the extension of the skytrain to the ariport and richmond

At 9:16 AM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Certainly any sort of dedicated PT corridor is a good start, and bus lanes could be precursors to light rail. But I'm pretty sure that they look more like light rail vehicles (e.g. this Citadis one) than buses: they're too low and close together to be buses. The brochure cover also has a larger perspective image of an LRV that looked more definite, but I liked the section image better since it shows LR in context with trees and other lanes.

At 9:28 AM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Evad Rehtona said...

Those things on the left look very much like light rail vehicles

They are Citadis trams! These are made in France and have been used on most of the many French tramway systems that have opened in the past 10 years, but also elsewhere such as in Dublin, Tunis and, closest to home, Melbourne, where they operate the 109 Box Hill - Port Melbourne tram route.

I would like to see trams used in Wellington initially from Johnsonville to Newtown, utilising the Johnsonville rail line (which could be extended northwards on-street from Johnsonville station using trams), the Golden Mile*, the Kent-Cambridge median, a tunnel below the Basin Reserve and then via Adelaide Road as in the photo, to the hospital and Newtown.

Stage Two could be either to the airport (but the route would be problematic over/under the hill into Kilbirnie) or to Island Bay, reinstating the old Island Bay tram line, a route ideal for modern trams such as the Citadis because of its high frequency and high patronage.

With trams in Adelaide Road, the buses that use it now would divert via Taranaki St and Wallace St,which are wired for them.

* Tom, I know your preference is for light rail to bypass the Golden Mile by using the quays, but experience in Europe has found that putting trams underground in city centres does not diminish the demand for street public transport, and some cities that have undergrounded CBD trams have reinstated them, while almost all the new tramway systems in Europe are on-street in the main CBD because that attracts the highest patronage. Diverting light rail into the quays would be even worse than undergrounding.... it would be right out of the way of where people are and where they want to go.

What I would do is limit public transit in the CBD to trams and trolley buses, and stop all those hordes of Mana, Newlands and Hutt Valley buses at the Lambton Interchange where they used to terminate before they were allowed to flood into the CBD in 1991, choking the streets and reducing the average speed of the city buses.

Passengers from those northern buses could transfer to the trams.

At 12:09 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

Ha! That was a surprise. Sorry to dissapoint everyone but that is just a snippet they must've taken from my entry in the the ABC competition. That was for Cambridge/Kent Tce. I'll throw some high res ones of them later (along with the descriptions/rational) for the curious.

FWIW though, I think the fact they've included the LRVs shows there is an interest in a Light Rail reserve.

At 1:38 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Evad: my preference for a quays route is that it makes it easier to create a dedicated right of way for an express route, which is important if the airport is the ultimate destination. If it was just going to Courtenay Pl, then a Golden Mile route would be closer to more CBD destinations, but it would be hard to avoid bus and private vehicle traffic. Besides, with waterfront development and the emergence of the "Silver Mile", the quays won't be quite so out of the way as they were a few years ago.

At 1:43 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Erentz: I suppose you should be flattered! The fact that there are two separate LRV images on the front page should, one hopse, be a hint that they're taking it seriously at some stage in the future. It would seem potentially very misleading otherwise.

At 3:26 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Evad Rehtona said...

Tom, many European cities run trams through their narrow CBD streets without it being obstructed by private vehicle traffic.

This is done by closing the streets or the lanes concerned to private traffic, ie, only trams and emergency vehicles can use the space laid with tram tracks, and using traffic light pre-emption so that the trams always have a green light as they proceed through the CBD (this should be done right now for our buses -- the technology is decades old overseas).

In Wellington I would run tram lines via Lambton Quay (in reserved median tracks to Panama Street then ban non-transit traffic to Willis St), Willis Street (bar non-transit traffic), Manners St (make the entire length a mall with tracks along it) and Courtenay Place (in reserved median tracks) to Kent and Cambridge terrace.

They would have traffic light pre-emption all along.

The present trolley bus routing would probably remain the same, and diesel bus routes from the far northern suburbs, Hutt Valley etc would terminate at Lambton Interchange.

Trolley buses share the road space occupied by tram tracks in streets closed to private traffic in numerous European cities, eg the route 12 tram in Geneva, which runs along streets similar to Lambton Quay in the way I envisiage for the latter, shared with trolley buses.

People wanting to go to and from the airport also want to go to the CBD. The main city route is much closer to hotels, backpacker lodges etc that the quays. I caught an airport bus into the city yesterday and noticed that many passengers with luggage were able to get off close to their hotels, something that would not happen if the route was along the quays.

At 3:32 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Evad Rehtona said...

To illustrate what I mean, this link goes straight to the main page of the Geneva public transport agency, TPG, and there is a photo of a route 12 tram passing a trolley bus in the very street I mean, and you can see why to me this looks very much like the third of Lambton Quay from Kirk's to Stewart Dawson's.


At 4:55 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Seamonkey Madness said...

Speaking of shared corridors for public transport...
In the majority of the cities I visited which had these (Geneve, Berlin, Krakow), they had maintenance work being carried out upon them.

If we were to embark upon the bus & tram/light rail corridor, then one would hope that WCC/GWRC carry out repair/maintenance cost analysis.
Pavements are getting dug out and replaced often enough as it is. I wouldn't like to imagine the cost of adding rail replacement/repair into the mix! >_<

PS: congratulations Erantz. You had to wonder why they had this condition: "While the entrant retains his/her copyright of
the submitted work, the competition organiser (Wellington City Council) will retain perpetual, non-exclusive rights to use images of the proposals in any future publication, promotional material and/or online service related to this IntensCITY Week initiative with no compensation
other than credit of the entrant’s name."

Although, would you call this publication "related" to it?
And did they give you anycredt!?!

At 9:12 AM, November 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, Your famous:

At 2:18 PM, November 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm against having light rail. If you want any kind of rail access to the airport it should be compatible with the existing track. Start with the original 60's plan of extending the current railway underground to near Courtenay Place. Then add to that by extending to the airport.

At 3:15 PM, November 24, 2007, Anonymous Kevyn Miller said...

Before going all weak at the knees at the thought of getting a light rail system you really should pause to consider the cost and whether light rail has actually delivered the anticipated benefits in any city similar to Wellington.

Applying a little algebra to the financial info in some press releases at Alstom's website
comes up with an approximate cost of $NZ300 for a 15km double track, 15 trainset Citadis system. Depending on the average speed of the units, which should be between 15kmh and 30kmh depending on the number of stops, it would have a maximum carrying capacity of 7,500 passengers per hour, about the same as three lanes of single occupant vehicles. More trainsets and fewer stops are needed to achieve the oft-quoted figure of 20,000 passengers per hour for light rail. Clearways and a reversible centre lane would provide three lanes for the tidal flow on Adelaide. Admittedly this is the cheap and nasty option. My preference would be to adopt the boulevard approach that was used to replace San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway, but with bus lanes instead of extra traffic lanes.

Is Wellington sufficiently similar to Portland to make comparisons valid? Cost overruns on Portland's lightrail led to a reduction in bus services during the construction of the light rail. The 50% increase in public transport ridership created by the lightrail system followed a 1/3 reduction during the construction period. Thus the apparent success is no success at all. It's absolutely critical that planning for light rail should consider the impact of cost blowouts on other transport spending. The US experience is for initial capital cost estimates to be well below the actual cost, a problem also common to contentious urban freeways.

The other objective of stimulating high density developments did not happen until generous tax incentives were provided to developers. I don't know whether that was a cultural problem or poor route planning.

At 4:50 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

As promised for the curious, the drawings are up here.

Kevyn, "Clearways and a reversible centre lane would provide three lanes for the tidal flow on Adelaide. Admittedly this is the cheap and nasty option. My preference would be to adopt the boulevard approach that was used to replace San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway, but with bus lanes instead of extra traffic lanes."

I agree, the contraflow was the approach I took to providing more capacity in my submission. The reason was simply that:

1) there is only 26.5m reserved at present.
2) the Council has a record of blowing away good reserves anyway by allowing new buildings to be built on them (e.g. Vivian St)
3) the Council is generally in favour of cheaper not better, they have indicated they'll be narrowing footpaths rather than widening roads in order to accomodate buslanes in future.
4) the Council is slow to act, and doesn't generally make forward thinking planning decisions, I figured at 28m, it was a design suitable enough to squeeze into 26.5m spaces for those few spots that missed and and were redeveloped before the council did its thing.

I hear the Embarcadero comparison a lot. SFO had 55m of room to play with, and at some sections double that. The best opportunity WLG has for a grand boulevard is Cambridge/Kent Tce at 47m wide. Even the Quays at 30-31m wide are constricting in what you can do, especially at P.O. Square where it narrows to 25m of effective roadway space due to the Wharf Offices (though they could always be moved over slightly).

At 4:51 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

Oops try again.

At 6:05 AM, December 01, 2007, Blogger libertyscott said...

Given that central government has funded new rolling stock for the Johnsonville and replacement trolley buses, light rail would be duplicating what has already been ordered. Nice idea if you have a bottomless pit of cash, but NZ does not - at best light rail is now not even worth considering for around 35 years.

Light rail is little more than a roll-royce version of a bus, with less flexibility and little more capacity.

Bus lanes which can also be used by heavy goods vehicles (which also don't have any alternative but to use the roads) and taxis would be a good alternative reallocation of road space, until road pricing is introduced to put all land transport on a level playing field.

At 7:14 AM, December 01, 2007, Blogger Evad Rehtona said...

Given that central government has funded new rolling stock for the Johnsonville and replacement trolley buses, light rail would be duplicating what has already been ordered.

Not at all. The heavy rail EMUs are for all the Wellingon area electrified lines. Only a few of them will be used on the short Johnsonville line, replacing the 55-year-old English Electric EMUs. If the Johnsonville line is converted to light rail, there would be plenty of use for them elsewhere given patronage growth and the Waikenae extension, or at the least, the worst of the Ganz Mavag EMUs (which will be 30 years old by the time the new trains arrive) could be replaced.

Light rail would not replace any trolley buses, unless used on, say, the Island Bay route. In any event there are nowhere near enough trolley buses for existing services. At least a third of the buses on the wired routes are diesel buses. We need more trolley buses than the 61 being bought. There used to be 119, and as recently as 1987 there were 88. Diesel buses have been replacing trolley buses by stealth and our streets are much the noisier for it.

And the Government is not paying for the new trolley buses, Infratil is. What the Government is paying is a half share (GWRC pays the other half) of the annual trolley bus operating subsidy, much of which is for the overhead wires. It similarly pays a half share of the diesel bus operating susbidy.

At 3:48 PM, December 01, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

libertyscott, Evad responded to part of your post. Regarding the money part:

I think it is ok to use Transmission Gully as a benchmark. $1 billion dollars to primarily provide private vehicle commuter access into the CBD for 50,000 ageing residents living in a far flung suburb. (Easy test, if it didn't get congested during peak hour, do you really think we'd be building it?)

There is about 65,000 people living in the south/east at the moment. With probably the fastest growth rate in the region, that should double in the next 30 years.

I think it is reasonable to suggest these residents deserve as much attention for their transport needs as the people living in Kapiti, so I think $1 billion for the corridor is fair.

You mention capacity. The biggest capacity benefit of Light Rail over busses is that one LRV carries between 3 and 5 bus loads (depending on the length/type of vehicle). You have one vehicle now carrying 250+ passengers at peak load. It is easier to maintain headways with LRVs because there are fixed lines, and platform alignments, no ramps for wheelchair loading, no passengers paying to get on, or asking the driver questions, and all boarding via one crowded single access point. The entire system has been constructed before in hundreds of cities, the control systems already exist to keep the LRVs on the right schedule.

So lets assume we want to try to do the same with a bus.

1) We'd have to have 3 to 6 times more vehicles, which means headways are reduced by 3 to 6 times. 2) We'd have to have a wider separated ROW, experience with BRT lines such as the Orange line demonstrate narrow ROWs cause drivers to slow down, especially when oncoming busses pass. 3) We'd have to align the busses perfectly to stops so we'd not need loading ramps. Which means developing/using new automation technology which isn't in use. 4) We'd have to adopt an automatic payment system (this is sensible and we should do it anyway!). By the time you've done all this world leading stuff it'd probably not cost much different than LRT.

So in the end you might end up trying to reliably run busses at 60 second headways to achieve a capacity of around 4200 PPH. Whereas you'd achieve the same with 4 minute headways on an LRT system.

Of course there is also the experience that demonstrates LRT systems also attract a much larger number of passengers than busses for various reasons psychological and otherwise. People actually will walk further to take LRT rather than a bus. So if we want to encourage public transport this is a good thing. (And if you don't think we need to encourage public transport, thats a whole other story.)

Regarding freight, Google "cargo tram", for one way freight is beginging to be handled in some places.

City's adapt, and Wellington is going to change in many ways over the next 20-30 years if it is a successful city. It will be denser, and very much more congested. Things like freight movements will adapt and increasingly occur in other ways and at other times. Have a look Venice for a fun example of that. Everything moved by barge, it's quite incredible.

At 10:33 AM, December 02, 2007, Blogger Evad Rehtona said...

We need more trolley buses than the 61 being bought. There used to be 119, and as recently as 1987 there were 88.

Sorry, as recently as 1991.

The last act of the anti-trolley former Wellington City Transport Department was to scrap the 20 Ansaldo trolleys that were brand new in only 1985. These must have been the shortest-lived trolley buses in the world.

At 5:20 AM, December 06, 2007, Blogger libertyscott said...

Evad: "there would be plenty of use for them elsewhere given patronage growth and the Waikenae extension, or at the least, the worst of the Ganz Mavag EMUs (which will be 30 years old by the time the new trains arrive) could be replaced"

Yes, money grows on trees doesn't it? So if funding is approved for one option, it's ok money magically appears to do it - again, more expensively with little incremental economic return.

It is a nonsense to build a bespoke single line system, simple as that. Light rail has been demonstrated to be more expensive without delivering a patronage shift worth the cost, simple as that. Some people have to make choices with limited supplies of money rather than play fanciful games of what would be "nice to do". After all, light rail is simply a rollsroyce version of a busway doing pretty much the same job - the Johnsonville line carries a lot less people than the Karori Park, Island or Seatoun bus routes, but has sunk capital involved in the rail corridor. Extending it through the city would do nothing for any other routes - and remember that for most of the day it will carry the equivalent of small bus loads, like the Johnsonville line does, 30 people at a time, half hourly.

By no stretch of the imagination is that an economic case for expensive bespoke infrastructure for one route through the CBD that would have to be shared with buses.

Erentz: Transmission Gully is an absolute dog of a project with a negative economic return. The last figure I saw on its BCR was in the 0.5 category, both the benefits and costs will have inflated since then, so it wont be too much better. I blogged about it extensively a couple of years back. That destroys your strawman - it is NOT reasonable to force central government taxpayers to pay for ANY transport investments that do not generate a BCR of well over 1 Transmission Gully doesn't and a Rolls Royce Light rail system wouldn't either. If the users wont pay for it, ratepayers wont pay for it and it's not enough benefit to road users for them to fund it, then why should everyone else pay for it, instead of hospitals, schools or their own mortgage repayments?

The story about the capacity of light rail is well known, you don't see anything remotely close to that usage on the Johnsonville line or the bus corridors in Wellington now, certainly not enough spread over the day to justify building expensive duplicate infrastructure. Interesting how you can't charge a similar fare and pay a similar subsidy for light rail to carry the same numbers by bus.

and if you think the answer to freight transport is to put it on urban rail then you have to be smoking something. Why is there no rail freight between Wellington and the Hutt or Porirua or Kapiti? Short haul rail freight with few exceptions (bulk and rail at origin and destination), is unviable, and evaporated in the 1960s (which is why the 30 mile rail freight monopoly went to 40 mile in the 1960s, and then 150km in 1978 before being abolished in 1983).

The answer to congestion in Wellington is predominantly to charge the roads properly - congestion is a function of demand exceeding supply and not being rationed efficiently. Road pricing can do that, free up road space for more road space efficient modes (buses and trucks), and encourage mode shift and time shift.

The real transport insanity is the phenomenal cost of paying for infrastructure to support very high numbers of people for single direction peak trips over short periods - this is predominantly due to price, and imposes considerable financial, time and environmental costs.

At 1:37 PM, December 07, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

libertyscott, Given your clearly passionate interest in road user charges, you might want to investigate what the WRC is doing on this. I read some reports into road charging that were very favourable of it, so it very well might happen.

Regarding the rest of your arguments about bus capacity vs. light rail capacity, you need to remember this is not for current capacities, but about planning for the future. There a lots of factors at play, including the encouragement of growth along that spine (rather than elsewhere), which is why Wellington (city) is actually quite lucky in only needing the one major high capacity transport line. Other cities like christchurch naturally have numerous lines with low capacity due to the sprawling unconstrained nature of the city.

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