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

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stupidly lazy?

A perceptive (though perhaps less than tactful) commenter said, in response to my post on the Johnsonville Town Centre Plan:
The major flaw seems to be the assumption that J'Ville becomes a walkable community. People are stupidly lazy and will drive 5 minutes instead of walking 10. Take the ugly car parks away and they'll probably just drive somewhere else.
In my response, I suggested that it's a valid concern, but that evidence suggests that those who live close to the centre are less likely to drive. The Census data that I analysed some time ago applies only to driving to work, rather than for shopping or entertainment, but it gives some indication that car use among those within walking distance of the town centre and transport hub is much lower than further out. Here's a repeat of my previous map, with shades of red for places where more than 50% of people drive to work and blue for less than 50%, but this time with the Johnsonville "intensification zone" highlighted in green.

Use of cars for commuting in Johnsonville, with intensification zoneIt's clear that most people in the intensification zone don't use a car to get to work, while by the time you get out to the further reaches of the northern suburbs, car use is dominant. Thus, it seems sensible to encourage more residents in the inner zone (which, it should be noted, doesn't include the controversial Woodland Rd subdivision), given that most current residents find that walking or using public transport is feasible. I'm not so ready to label those further out as "stupidly lazy", though: I don't think I'd be keen on walking 20 minutes up a steep hill on a Wellington winter's day.

One possible anomaly stands out. The zone contracts to exclude Alex Moore Park, which is sensible enough, but the blocks just southwest of there are pretty close to the transport hub, and it evidently seems to be a location that is convenient for public transport. Can anyone think of why it was excluded from the townhouse zone? Is it an area of outstanding built or natural heritage (don't laugh)? Does a councillor live there?


At 7:29 pm, July 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I'm reading where Alex Moore Park is properly there, the southwest isn't really suitable for building up on. It's either, depending on which block you mean, a very awkwardly-shaped hill that you'd need to bulldoze to construct anything else on, or what's by and large a gully (complete with stream).

I believe the schools have some sort of (informal?) veto over development in the blocks around them, too. I'm not sure whether they'd use it in this case, but it might play into it.

At 10:52 am, July 20, 2007, Blogger s. said...

Does the manufacture and consumption of Class A pharmaceuticals count as a heritage activity? ;>

At 11:35 am, July 20, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Michael: I'm talking about the blocks between Bannister Ave and Kipling St, and while I don't have a topographic map handy, the aerial images show the sort of grid pattern and housing that hints at reasonably flat land. It's not greenfield land but existing low-density housing, suitable for gradual infill rather than large-scale development, but that applies to most of the "townhouse zone" too. There are other schools within the zone, so that wouldn't seem to be an issue, and besides, some two- or three-storey townhouses across the road are hardly going to ruin anyone's education.

Stephen: In Johnsonville? Quite possibly ;-) Though it's a long way to ship it out to all those dairies up the coast.

At 7:51 am, July 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't think I'd be keen on walking 20 minutes up a steep hill on a Wellington winter's day."

Wasn't the census taken in summer? I wonder how much the colours on your pretty pictures change throughout the year.

I also can't see a reason for the SW indentation, unless they view Alex Moore park as some sort of a barrier.

I don't think development in Johnsonville will change the walking attitudes of those outside the 10 min zone. Nor those of one stupidly lazy resident of my house inside the 10 min zone.

At 2:03 pm, July 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the future there will be a lot more people looking at access to public transport when choosing housing.

Considering that if NZ had the same exchange rate as in 2000, petrol would now be over $3 a litre... If there is a correction in the exchange rates there will be a lot more people unable to fill up their 4WDs.

Future oil shortages will see a whole new age of walking everywhere- in fact 100 years ago in wellington it was not unusual for people to walk khandallah to the city and back.

The J-ville densification plan sounds great- you can even keep the carparks by building them underground, with apartments on top. However the key thing would be the transport links- any word on when the new train infrastructure will be built?

At 3:16 pm, July 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An explanation might be to prevent sparse developments. There is only so much development that can go on at any one time so contracting the boundaries means these will all occur closer together, achieving the aims of densifying J'ville faster. And as the centre does become denser they can grow the boundaries out a bit to free up more space.

At 9:14 am, July 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While Johnsonville looks flat, it is really quite hilly. Tom, you really must get out and have a look before commenting. The suburb is literally on top of the mountain (in the saddle) with all residential areas higher (sometimes much higher) than the town centre. This makes walking to anywhere quite difficult for most, including accessing PT. For example, to get from the rail station onto Frank Moore Park, you have to go up two flights of stairs, walk up and across Moorefield & Broderick Roads and then up a further ramp, a horizontal distance of maybe 60m but climbing about 30 m in the process.

You calculated that Census Mesh Block areas close to the town centre have under 50% driving versus over 50% driving for areas away from the town centre. This is largely irrelevant for the obvious reason that only a small minority of residents can fit into this area. Even with an extra 1,500 in the area, 3/4 of residents will still be up and away from the centre. Given most of these extra will still drive, all you have done is put extra traffic on roads that are already too narrow and congest the access for everyone else who cannot avoid commuting through Johnsonville Centre.

The other misleading aspect of your analysis is attributing the benefits of increased density to the rail PT service. There are two problems with this. The first is that only half the PT users located near the centre actually use the train, half go by bus into town. The facts are, (as you should know) that that the majority of North Wellington residents that do use PT go by bus and that rail usage has not only been falling in % terms, but is predicted to fall further !

Secondly, Johnsonville is hardly a shining example of low car usage. If you want to see where you get reduced car usage (by the 2006 Census Area Units), well I calculate there are 36 Area Units (AUs) in Wellington with under 50% private transport use. The predominant "non-driving" mode in these AUs is: walking/cycling (in 22 AUs including the top 9); followed by bus (11 in AUs including the only AU where PT % exceeds private transport %) and then rail (top mode in only 3 AUs). Of the 36 AUs where the majority do not travel by private care, train use is only above 10% in 2 areas. I don't see any "track record" in reducing car usage here.

Finally, the government and GWRC has already decided not to improve North Wellington PT. All they will do is replace the rail units . . . no extra services, no bus improvements (and no public consultantion on this decision). So it is very unlikely that increasing the density of the housing in central Johnsonville will do anything more than increase traffic and parking problems that are already identified as the top two issues for the Johnsonville Town Centre Review.

At 11:08 am, July 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a horizontal distance of maybe 60m but climbing about 30 m in the process."

Utter nonsense. That is a tiny climb (I'd guess more like the 10m that an inaccurate Google Earth would give you). If that's the sort of jaunt that puts you off walking then I'm not surprised we get comments like "people from Churton Park are dicks" on this site.

At 11:47 am, July 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nitpicking and insults . . . WOW, what a brilliant approach to convince someone. So superior to the old fashioned method of facts and logic !

At 1:55 pm, July 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I presume "johnsonville commuter" meant Alex Moore Park, in which case yes, s/he's right, it's a bitch to get to from the tran station. And it is more than ten metres up (but not near thirty), although the description given is a little misleading ("two flights of stairs"? Technically true, but only so that they can fit in a couple more carparks). And it goes all the way to the actual park for some reason, which is raised several metres above street level at that point and isn't on the footpath side of the road.

That said, the whole area is very hilly, and it wouldn't be too pleasant to walk to parts of the "intensification zone" at the end of the day. Examining it closely, I don't think anything in it would be too bad, but if it were extended much further it could be. Up towards Johnsonville Park, or Raroa Park, it's probably implausible to expect a significant PT uptake if it involves walking from the train station. People are indeed lazy.

Those blocks on the other side of Alex Moore are possible from that perspective, but building them up would be costlier than the rest of the area because of their geography. Which is a good reason to leave them out until later, I suppose.

At 2:28 pm, July 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for the insult, but I'm truely astounded that the example is considered a strenuous ascent. (do people on the Terrace or at University complain about their hill?)

I lived in Tokyo for two years and my local subway station had a longer flight of stairs than that - which I had to scale on a regular basis carrying a push chair complete with occupant. The now 3-year old occupant regularly walks over 10 minutes uphill from kindy in central J'Ville without complaint.

The Tokyo trains outside of the central loop were not always in better condition than the J'Ville line. During rush hour they were certainly more unpleasant. I'm not saying we should aspire to be like Tokyo, just to consider getting out of our cars and perhaps get a bit of excerise in the process.

If they upgrade that corner (which is now a disused car yard) you might even get an escalator.

At 2:31 pm, July 24, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

a: "Wasn't the census taken in summer? I wonder how much the colours on your pretty pictures change throughout the year."

Tuesday 7th March 2006: so not exactly summer, but generally better weather than winter. That's the problem with snapshots: numbers like this can very wildly from one day to the next based on weather, special events etc. Does anyone know of a site where I could get historical weather data for a specific day?

"johnsonville commuter": I'll let "a" and others deal with some of your specific points. You're right that I don't know Johnsonville well, which is why I was asking people if they knew any impediments to including those blocks in the intensification zone. I've only got access to reasonably low-res contours (a lot of detail can be hidden between 20m contours), but I think that most of the intensification zone (plus the blocks I mentioned) hardly count as vertiginous by Wellington standards.

"You calculated that Census Mesh Block areas close to the town centre have under 50% driving versus over 50% driving for areas away from the town centre. This is largely irrelevant for the obvious reason that only a small minority of residents can fit into this area. Even with an extra 1,500 in the area, 3/4 of residents will still be up and away from the centre. Given most of these extra will still drive"

It's your own comparison that's irrelevant: you say that only a minority of residents can fit into the intensification zone (which is true), but then you go on to talk about the extra residents, which is entirely different. It is entirely possible, and in fact the very intention of this plan, that the majority of extra residents go into the inner zone. An extra 1500 (or more) residents moving into the central zone, where fewer than 50% of residents currently drive, will result in fewer car journeys than if the same number of residents were scattered around the far hills.

"The other misleading aspect of your analysis is attributing the benefits of increased density to the rail PT service."

If you actually read my post, you'll find that I never use the word "rail" or "train": I quite deliberately said "transport hub" to account for both bus and train services.

"The facts are, (as you should know) that that the majority of North Wellington residents that do use PT go by bus and that rail usage has not only been falling in % terms, but is predicted to fall further !"

*Sigh* here we go again. That all relies on a definition of "North Wellington" that seemed almost deliberately designed to dilute the areas serviced by rail. Of course rail use has fallen in %age terms, because councils have allowed development to continue in places that could never be serviced by rail, which is exactly what this plan is designed to stop. As I showed earlier, in those parts of "North Wellington" that are serviced by both bus and train, commuters prefer the train. Far from "only half the PT users located near the centre actually us[ing] the train, half go by bus into town", in most of the inner MBs more than half of PT is by train, and in many of the MBs it's well over 70%. As for being "predicted to fall further", we know how well the "official" predictions have worked in the past.

"Finally, the government and GWRC has already decided not to improve North Wellington PT."

True, at last. There'll be some slight modifications to the infrastructure, but that's mostly just lowering the tracks in the tunnels to allow for the new rolling stock, which is really just catching up on work that should have been done years ago. At least they're not downgrading the infrastructure like the council wanted, but it will take considerably more investment to even catch up to recent demand, let alone plan for the future. All of which I included in my submission.

Michael: thanks for the information. It sounds like some of the difficulties with walking to and from the station could be addressed by the revamps that they're thinking of. The blocks I was talking about don't look particularly steep on the map, so it's good to get some local knowledge.

At 10:59 pm, July 24, 2007, Blogger s. said...

That's totally walkable. The stairs are a pain in the ass, but there's always the "long way" for e.g. out of the carpark. I can't imagine why at least half of the ppl in the SW block wouldn't walk the gentler route to the Raroa station, anyway, apart from (from memory) lack of pedestrian crossings.

At 2:59 am, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with johnsonville commuter's reply is the sentnce beginning "Given most of these extra will still drive". In this context given has the same meaning as assume. It is not a proven fact that this will happen and overseas experience with this way of creating walkable communities provides plenty of evidence that they actually attract residents who want not to drive.

Johnsonville commuter also ignores the effect that this type of development will have on the profitability of both bus and rail services even if only half the new residents use them. The increased demand for services and the increased fares revenue will be the catalyst to actually upgrade PT services for the north Wellington suburbs.

That final point is the one area of difference I have with Tom on suburban infill housing. Assuming that infill house buyers are no more PT oriented than the existing residents the mere increasing of the population density by any percent will increase demand for PT services by that same percent. Most importantly if there is already a PT service available the fare revenue will also increase by that percentage, with no investment needed by the service operator. Essentially this is a reversal of the process that occurred during the '50s and '60s. As new suburbs reduced the overall urban density average revenues per passenger km fell and what had previously been profitable tramways degenerated into loss making bus services. I suspect the impact that infill housing has on PT won't be linear either. When the increased ridership resulting from infill gets to the point that more frequent services need to be provided yu will find that this improved service attracts existing residents due solely to the increased convenience. Again this is reversal of the spiral of decline of the '50s and '60s.

At 1:39 pm, July 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom: I must take issue with your claim to have “proved” that when people have a choice between bus and rail, they take rail (and using a map of North Wellington to prove it). There is only one place in Wellington where commuters have a true choice between a regular bus and rail service . . . and this is at Johnsonville Station where the split is 50/50. There is some choice at Petone Rail Station (where some commuters get on the Wainui and Eastbourne buses) but the GWRC actively avoids having bus services near rail services (this will shortly become GWRC policy in the PT Operational Plan) because significant numbers of people do switch to buses.

On the south part of your map where rail usage predominates (around West Ngaio/Arinui and Crofton Downs) residents do not have any bus service (or they have to pass a rail station to get to it), the same applies to Raroa Station. Of course, the area with the highest percentage PT usage in North Wellington is East Ngaio, another hilly area but with a half decent bus service that (unlike Johnsonville & Newlands buses) does not face too much congestion getting into town.

This leads me to two areas you consistently avoid comment (probably because they do not support your arguments):
1) It does not matter if rail services attract 100% of users within walking distance. These are still only a minority of residents. If PT is to be effective, it needs to reach the majority of areas and travel to all the main areas of employment. This is only possible by bus PT.
2) Even more importantly, where Wellington bus services are effective (such as from Newtown), they generate higher levels of PT usage than any rail service. If the aim of PT is to provide an effective alternative to driving, then rail simply does not deliver.

Tom, you have the Census and you do draw very good demographic maps. Please can you give us all a map of the area with the highest public transport usage in the country ?

Kevyn: Predictions are difficult to make, especially about the future..

In answer to your comment “It is not a proven fact that this will happen and overseas experience with this way of creating walkable communities provides plenty of evidence that they actually attract residents who want not to drive”, I would say, maybe you are right, although I and others have commented that J’ville is quite hilly with lots of traffic meaning it is not as “walkable” as say Newtown or Karori.

Also my analysis of the 2006 Census for the area 800m from J'ville Station had 3,078 people traveling on Census Day of which only 6% walked or cycled to work. Hardly a good foundation of a walkable neighborhood. The same analysis also shows only 11% of these residents do not have a car while 38% have two or more cars.

It may be a surprise to fans keen to turn Johnsonville into a TOD that 55% of residents living near the station still went to work by private vehicle (versus 65% of residents of “car orientated” Newlands/Churton Park). Public Transport use is even less affected by the presence of a rail station with 20% (606 to be exact) taking public Transport (10% by rail) versus 15% PT usage for Newlands/Churton Park Residents. In other words, if the area near the rail station had the same PT usage as Newlands/Churton Park, all of 153 less people would not take PT, assuming they drive, car usage would grow from 55% to 60%.

Of course adding 1,500 people to the area may increase PT, but the most likely cause will be the hundreds of additional cars these people will bring causing increased peak hour congestion.

The above is a long way of saying, again, that Johnsonville is not a good candidate to increase the residential density or to try out building a successful TOD. It is not very walkable, there is not much local employment, the roads are very busy because there is a lot of through traffic and some roads are too narrow.

Kevyn, your comments on increasing demand for PT services increasing profitability is also wrong (at least for Wellington). The main problem is perhaps 85% of all travel is in the morning and evening peaks. You only need to look at all the EMUs parked at Wellington Rail Station outside peak times to see all the peak rail units standing idle. This means that most trains and buses are only full for one or at most two trips per day and the fares taken do not come close to covering the fixed costs of vehicle and driver. This means these extra peak services need a higher level of subsidy than the base PT service. Should I mention that 60% of bus routes are unsubsidised while rail fares do not cover the costs on any line or will this just annoy you ?

Tom, you choose to live in a dense urban area, I choose to live in a suburb. I do not want to live in Mt Vic or Thorndon and I object to attempts at experiments to turn Johnsonville into the same. WellUrban is a great blog, but you need to get out of the CBD if WellSuburban is to give the same quality of comment. As I tell many people, if you want to understand the bus vs rail thing, go to J’ville Station from 7:30 – 8:15am and just look at what real people do when given a choice.

At 12:44 am, July 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johnsonville commuter, Don't worry, nothing you say will annoy me as long as you make your assumptions clear.

The future is indeed unpredictable, except with the benefit of hindsight, and especially if we forget that the future always starts in the past.

The fixed and variable costs are very different for buses and trains. If increased passengers can be accomodated on existing services then profits increase. If additional services have to be added then you may get a loss situation or a loss-leader situation. Without knowing the fixed and variable costs it is impossible model the overall impact of patronage increases. But the point you make was accepted by Transfund in 1999/2000 when higher subsidies were introduced for new passengers although I don't know the details of how this new system works in practice.

At 10:52 am, July 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johnsonville Commuter, I apreciate your view on urban vs suburban. How would you like to see J'Ville grow in the future? I think without serious council involvement what would happen is that the owners of the Mall would turn J'ville into even more of a big box centre with little regard to the surrounding area. I agree with many of the views expressed in the plan. The positives include the family friendly nature of J'Ville in comparison to the busy city. The negatives are mainly around poor layout. I don't think that commercial retail and housing developers can be relied upon to think of the wider picture without guidance.

I've only been in J'Ville for 3 years. Petone and Newtown were just out of reach financially. Mt Vic (where I've rented in the past) way out. However, I do like it here. I'm very positive about the plan.

Putting aside the bus vs train debate. How would you like to see the area develop?

At 9:05 pm, July 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevyn: I am not sure about LTNZ making any special funding available for peak passengers, but perhaps you mean the
Revised PT Funding formula that changed govt PT subsidies from %60 of operating and capital to 48% of operating only for current passengers and 75% for new passengers. The extra funding for new passengers was to cover the capital start-up costs for new PT services. One result of this change is to cut govt bus subsidies to Wellington and Christchurch who had large but stable bus patronage.

During the review, LTNZ decided to exclude rail meaning rail funding is still under the old 60% operating and capital regime. In fact, at the beginning of this year LTNZ quietly shifted the funding in the Wellington Transport Package to take the govt (i.e. taxpayer) capital subsidy to Wellington Rail to 90% ! (the money coming from the pool previously allocated to major roading such as Transmission Gully).

I think Johnsonville is a very successful suburban centre with the main problem it being too successful at attracting shoppers. It has the best mall for families in Wellington (not too big or small), but they will probably spoil this. Despite Tom's assertions above to contrary, a major part of the WCC Northern Growth Management Framework is to add 8,000 more to areas North and East of Johnsonville and they will add to those already shopping, etc.

I think the focus of the centre should be to provide enhanced suburban style retail and entertainment to the rest of North Wellington and this, in turn, means improved roading and parking (many of our roads are too narrow as are the intersections).

I also think the WCC could do more to permit better shopping in other suburbs (and take some pressure off J'ville). Churton Park is nearly as big as J'ville and has only one dairy !

The other big problem is to get rid of the through traffic from Khandallah/Broadmeadows and Churton Park. The root cause of the latter problem is they built the Churton Park off-ramp far too far north (I heard something about a land owner influencing the decision). To date LTNZ has resisted building another on/off ramp to the Helston Road Bridge but this is probably needed. Broderick and Moorefield road (and intersections) need expanding.

Otherwise, I would like to see the core business area spread out a bit to maintain the accessibility. Going up will mean city style parking (i.e. multi-story parking buildings and metered parks), some of the things I am glad Johnsonville does not have.

What are your thoughts (bus vs rail aside) ?

At 10:23 am, July 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Churton Park off-ramp is in Glenside. It's stupidly useless unless you're heading north, and even then you'd do just as well getting on at Tawa. It was an enormous waste of money.

At 3:54 am, August 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johnsonville Commuter, Yes that is what I was referring to. Transfund broadly referred to this change when the Orbiter bus was introduced in Christchurch but they didn't give the full facts.

You can find the amount of money (actual and constant dollars)allocated to PT/ATR in each region since 1991 in an excell spread sheet at

Wellinton has had roughly a five-fold increase compared with seven-fold increase nationally and for Christchurch, and eight-fold in Auckland. That might reflect the different approaches to buses and trains. Notably Wellington PT funding has been increased by over 100% this year and for Christchurch the increase is 50%this year whereas Auckland is about the same as the last two years.


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