Archive | Traffic

Self-drive, the catalyst for monumental transformation

I read a US newsletter at the weekend that looked at change resulting from self-driving electric cars, but not just about the vehicles themselves. In this commentary, I take the possibilities further.

My conclusion: Change is not going to happen overnight, but it will be rapid, it will change how you regard your personal convenience and it will wring fundamental changes in property use, and therefore in property ownership, tenancy, value, design.

While you work through the questions & issues below, keep in mind that common use of land-based self-driving electric vehicles might become historic almost before it becomes common.

First, the questions:

Will you own a car – or, in families, multiple cars?

Will you expect to drive to work, as you do now?

Where will you park?

Who will provide that parking?

How do you shop? Mostly, weekly at the supermarket?

Do you use your car for lazy storage?

Do you use storage, music up loud, door-to-door as your excuses for an aversion to public transport?

How might pricing of vehicle ownership, journeys & parking change, and how might public transport be transformed?

Why own for minimal use when you can summons a vehicle at will, to take you door-to-door if necessary?

Now go through some answers:

While you might maintain that you need your car, most decisions of that nature have never really been yours to make.

The people who created mass production of cars were able to do so based on pricing low enough for widespread ownership. But think back to New Zealand’s brief era of carless days, when your vehicle had to be off the road for a stipulated one day/week, which roughly coincided with the start of mass importing of second-hand cars from Japan. Suddenly, from the inconvenience of having to travel by public transport occasionally, New Zealand was awash with cheap cars. You could go where you wanted, whenever you wanted.

Except, it’s reached the point that you can’t quite go whenever you want, because congestion has reached such a level that your journey becomes much slower. In response you look at passengers passing you in the bus lane and ponder joining them, or you drive to work in the dark.

In Auckland, if you cross the harbour bridge in peak traffic, you can see maybe 10 people near you – one per vehicle, all forced by congestion to travel slowly.

Parking made harder

The era of Uber is upon us – and the suggestion is that the Uber will lose its driver too. Pricing will dictate whether you travel as a solitary occupant in a car, or multiple. Either way, you will be taken from your door to your ultimate destination, or perhaps to a conveyance which carries more people.

Your own car will sit in its garage, and soon you will figure you don’t need it. One reason will be that you can order up a vehicle to suit your travel purpose – if you have more luggage, a bigger vehicle; travelling to the supermarket you don’t need space, but travelling home you do. Or perhaps you do all that shopping onscreen, without going anywhere.

You may see those possibilities as pure & unlikely conjecture until you consider the next point: the decision won’t be yours.

The next stage in your decision on how to get to a fixed place of work will occur when your employer, or the building owner, decides you don’t need a parking space because self-drives & public transport eliminate the need. Parked cars which do nothing but sit, waiting for you to come back in 8 hours, are a very large expense. The building owner will convert that parking space to other uses, especially if it becomes harder to fill every space.

Then, the road maintenance equation

It occurs to you that your journey could be much faster because there’s less competition on the road… Except, who pays for that road’s existence & maintenance? The motorist, the local council & the Government do – the motorist via taxes & levies, the council via rates & perhaps fuel taxes & targeted rates, the Government via those taxes & levies.

If there are fewer users, or use is far more efficient courtesy of the self-drive & decline of private ownership, government & council will pursue ways to lower their costs. And when they discover less road surface is needed, or they can get away with providing less, they will reduce maintenance. Much like Auckland Council’s decision not to mow the berm outside your house anymore, authorities will see the way clear to trim road surfaces based on saving money – 4 lanes back to 2 and, within suburbs, 2 back to a single lane.

This can happen because there will be fewer parked cars, and eventually none, the self-drives will be able to negotiate a single lane, and.. well, you’ll have even more berm to mow. The road surface that remains will be a coarser, cheaper product next time it’s laid, the maintained suburban road surface can be shrunk, and arterials – even motorways – probably can too.

You’ll turn your garage over to storage, or another bedroom, or a games room or home office.

The city end of the equation

Your decision on how to travel will be driven by external imperatives – council maintenance costs, shifts in tax spending, reduced provision of parking. Many of the parking lots around the inner city have existed because of property development downturns. The bungy site on Victoria St, right in the heart of the city, is vacant because the 1987 property & sharemarket crashes killed development plans, and more recent plans there have been more grandiose than real.

Feeding on to Victoria St East, the exit from the council’s Victoria St parking building is briefly on to High St – which is a popular nominee as one of the streets for a council project to trial more car-free areas. The council’s Downtown parking building has been considered for a number of years as a high value development proposition. Changes such as those would be dramatic, but no longer whimsical once self-drive vehicles start to appear.

Now to city occupants, and then to fringe centres

Offices & apartments without parking provided will become the norm, and those old basement parking floors will lose that value. Owners will look to new uses in old buildings and design parking out of new buildings. In the old buildings that will be an interesting exercise, because in many of them the ceilings will be too low. It will take ingenuity to find economic solutions.

For the individual, you’ve lost your parking floor in the office building, and all the other parking floors & parking buildings are being converted. You will be forced to seek other travel options – bus & train for distance or, as we’re starting to see, bike or scooter for shorter journeys.

But not everybody works in a central city office or shop. Suburban work centres are likely to face the same pressures for change, and industrial precincts might too. Think, as a property owner, what you can do with the space occupied by 30 or 50 employees’ cars. Tenants, especially in outlying areas, pay low rent for parking. Building them out will provide a better return.

Other consequences

If you accept that these kinds of change are not just on their way sometime, but more likely imminent – perhaps within a decade – you can turn your mind to other consequences.

Fewer cars, fewer motor mechanics, a whole sector of insurance becomes redundant. Car sale yards & car loans will be history. Tradies will become lords of the road, but their costs will also rise through higher contributions for upkeep. Delivery vans will have a bigger role.

Just the change from oil to electric is a revolution in itself. The oil industry has held sway for a century, but its decline will be swift if battery-operated travel can prove efficient, practical & cheap. That will ring in momentous change in international affairs, in economic relationships, in degrees of political power. Revolutions in self-drive & public transport will force local change.

Real or unreal? We don’t know yet. What we do know is that if change like this is catapaulted into our lives, it pays to start thinking of options early.

Attribution: Comment.

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Private car’s days as symbol of power coming to an end

Never mind those petty rules of staying in your lane, indicating to change, obeying the traffic lights, feeding parking meters, accommodating your vehicle in an approved parking garage. No matter how beat up, or that it’s a polished company vehicle thrust into your care to proclaim your high status. Your car is a symbol of your independence & superiority.

Or, in downtown Auckland, it was.

In March, Auckland Council’s Auckland Development Office will file a report recommending trials to pedestrianise nominated streets in the central business district.

Queen St below Mayoral Drive is the primary candidate. High & Lorne Sts are among the smaller streets also likely to be high on the list.

Quay St would be reduced to 2 lanes, making it much more a pedestrian environment across from the wharves. Eastern suburbs traffic would be directed into the new traffic zones.

But before the trials, other preparation is needed. The development office wants traffic to be guided into zones, and not allowed to cross zones, and the office knows the pedestrians-only trials won’t work unless those preparations are in place.

Turning whole streets over to people on foot – plus bikes, prams, scooters, restricted visits by service vehicles and, in some streets, buses & trams – has been a venture too far for councillors for decades.

When Auckland City Council hired Ludo Campbell-Reid for the new role of urban design specialist in 2006 – coming from Tower Hamlets Council in London after earlier roles as chief executive of Urban Design London and in Cape Town – the notion of pedestrianising Queen St downhill from Mayoral Drive was getting, well, a foot into people’s thinking.

The city council turned down that idea, and also spurned pedestrianising a couple of blocks by a narrow margin. One change that did come, in 2007, was the introduction of bus lanes down Queen St. In addition, Lower Queen St between Customs & Quay Sts, and a couple of side streets – the lower end of Swanson St and Vulcan Lane – had their vehicle access ended.

But Mr Campbell-Reid switched from full-on pedestrianisation for major thoroughfares to the introduction of shared spaces, carried out in Elliot St, part of Fort St, and most recently in O’Connell St.

Meanwhile, gridlock took over, made worse over the last 2 years by the streetworks for the city rail link on Albert, Customs & Victoria Sts. People have watched – I think in awe, certainly not scowling – as they’ve waited at traffic lights and been able to observe the tunnelling below them.

And slowly the tide has turned. By the end of 2021, all going well, those tunnels are going to transport hundreds of passengers every 10 minutes or so into 3 central stations – people who have left the status symbol, the car, at home, or don’t even have one there.

The council development office, which Mr Campbell-Reid heads, can rely on those waves of passengers to lift support for locking cars out of the dominance they’ve long had in the city centre.

Those traffic trials are the biggest changes in the review of the city centre masterplan, approved in 2012, this time combined with the waterfront plan as the City Centre Masterplan 2040.

Proposed digital presentation of the new masterplan will allow for rolling reviews.

Auckland Council’s planning committee agreed unanimously yesterday to the development office’s proposals:

  • Digitisation in time to inform the council’s 2021-31 long-term plan
  • Rolling updates rather than 6-yearly updates
  • New content for public consultation & committee approval by July 2019
  • Maori outcomes
  • Grafton Gully boulevard
  • Access for everyone – the friendlier name for pedestrianisation
  • Trials & tactical urbanism initiatives to test & for consultation
  • Trial an “open streets” initiative in the city centre and work with interested local boards to trial it in other centres

Cllr Richard Hills summed it up: “At the Victoria-Queen St intersection at lunchtime, we’ve got 4500 people crossing & 500 cars. We’ve halved the number of cars coming down Queen St already, from 21,000 to 10,000. We have 7000 bikes/day coming into the city. That’s [the equivalent of] a whole lane from Silverdale.”

Committee agenda item 9, City centre masterplan 2040   

Earlier story:
12 January 2006: Auckland hires London urban design specialist Campbell-Reid

Attribution: Council committee meeting & agenda.

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Immediate policy change for council cbd parking buildings up for debate tomorrow

While Auckland Transport has extended the consultation period on its comprehensive document on parking around the region, the organisation’s parent, Auckland Council, will consider a parking policy change tomorrow which could have more immediate consequences.

The consultation period on the Auckland Transport document has been extended by a month, now closing on Thursday 31 July.

The council’s regional strategy committee will consider recommendations tomorrow which include adopting a price adjustment policy for the council’s 4 cbd parking buildings, to come into effect immediately.

Its principal change would be to give priority to short-term users over commuter parking.

Management of onstreet parking was handed to Auckland Transport as part of the division of responsibilities when Auckland Council & its group of council-controlled organisations were established in 2010.

Auckland Transport also manages the cbd parking buildings, but doesn’t control policy over matters such as pricing.

The resolution before the committee tomorrow starts with a couple of points on parking at council libraries, then moves on to delegating to Auckland Transport management, control & enforcement of all council offstreet parking.

Next is a proposal to adopt, as an interim measure, the newly written price adjustment policy for council-owned offstreet parking in the cbd – the Downtown, Victoria St, Fanshawe St & Civic carparks – until the wider parking strategic objectives can be finalised.

The policy contains principles & methods for the flexible management of these carparks “to achieve council goals for the city centre”.

The report to the committee says: “Early adoption of the interim cbd price adjustment policy is sought primarily because the council-owned inner-city carpark buildings are becoming full more frequently, meaning that people wanting to conduct business or visit the city centre for recreation & shopping are struggling to find parking. Changes to pricing structures for different parking products (earlybird or short stay) are needed to balance the needs of all users and make effective use of public resources.”

Links: Committee agenda item, Delegation of further off-street parking responsibilities to Auckland Transport
AT parking discussion document

Attribution: Council report.

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Will the new soldier help our traffic woes?

Published: 17 February 2005

The New York Times runs a story today which is frightening in the cold-blooded potential it describes, awesome in opening up the potential for more quantum leaps in technology-driven change.

Under the heading A new model soldier rolls closer to battle, Tim Weiner wrote in the newspaper’s technology section: “The American military is working on a new generation of soldiers, far different from the army it has.

“They don’t get hungry,” said Gordon Johnson of the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon. “They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.”

The article then describes progress towards development of the robot soldier. “By April, an armed version of the bomb-disposal robot will be in Baghdad, capable of firing 1000 rounds/minute. Though controlled by a soldier with a laptop, the robot will be the first thinking machine of its kind to take up a front-line infantry position, ready to kill enemies,” Mr Weiner wrote.

From Hollywood to the real world.

I read this story after sitting in traffic for an hour then listening to Auckland’s mayor, Dick Hubbard, talk about solving the city’s transport & traffic woes. It’s time for a quantum leap here, too; the question is, do the people in position to take us on that leap have the ability for the job?

The New York Times story carries a photo of a robot tank climbing a staircase. Several years ago I wrote about a transport proposal which would enable people to catch a communally owned vehicle, use it to crab sideways or cross uneven surfaces as well as run along a road, and drop it at a convenient dropoff point.

Military advances are often the first to break through major barriers and the reasoning that will promote the advance of the robot soldier is much like the reasoning that should advance progress on city decongestion: cost.

On the robots, Mr Weiner wrote: “Money, in fact, may matter more than morals. The Pentagon today owes its soldiers $US653 billion in future retirement benefits that it cannot presently pay. Robots, unlike old soldiers, do not fade away. The median lifetime cost of a soldier is about $US4 million today and growing, according to a Pentagon study. Robot soldiers could cost a 10th of that or less.”

The abandoned Auckland eastern transport corridor project advanced in cost, very little in technology. The price tag rocketed from something over $1 billion to a possible $4 billion before being brought to a $1.1-1.4 billion range after some major surgery.

Mr Hubbard did talk today of the economic multiplier effect from completing the western ring road package – $2.30 for every dollar spent. Gains are to be made from reducing travel times & congestion. The eastern corridor wasn’t going to get ahead of congestion, but would have eased a worsening state; as the regional population is projected to continue rising rapidly, the western ring is also likely to be only a way of easing growth in congestion, not a long-term solution.

The robot as soldier is one thing, the robot as driver with perception is also coming off the drawing board, so far for military purposes but also in due course for city transport.

New York Times article: A new model soldier rolls closer to battle


If you want to comment on this story, write to the BD Central Discussion forum or send an email to [email protected].

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Council seeks funding for central transit corridor

Auckland City Council has approved the route & is seeking funding for the proposed central transit corridor between the CBD & Newmarket, and has called for submissions on several proposed new CBD bus lanes which are intended to improve services to the north & west.

It’s also extended the operating hours for CBD bus lanes.

Next steps for the central transit corridor

The council will seek funding from Infrastructure Auckland, Transfund & other beneficiaries for the $25 million proposed central transit corridor between the CBD & Newmarket.

The route is intended to reduce the journey time & improve reliability of bus services along the preferred route (Anzac Avenue, Symonds St, Grafton Bridge, Park Rd & Khyber Pass). It’s to have a high-frequency bus service via Auckland University, Hospital & Medical School.

Council transport committee chairman Greg McKeown said Grafton Bridge would be dedicated to buses, pedestrians, cyclists & all emergency vehicles between 7am-7pm weekdays, but open to all vehicles outside those hours.

The proposal will go to public consultation before returning to the committee later this year.

Cllr McKeown said the scheme assessment report for the corridor showed the route can be almost entirely within the road reserve and wouldn’t impact on planned landscaping along Park Rd or at the hospital.

Cllr McKeown said the project incorporated a high level of street amenity improvements and quality streetscaping, factors that had been proven to support walking communities.
The proposed bus lanes include:
a west-bound bus lane on Fanshawe St (from Hobson St to Nelson St)
extension of the east-bound bus lanes on Fanshawe St to Sturdee St
a south-bound bus lane on Albert St (south of Customs St)
a north-bound bus lane from Swanson St to Quay St
an east-bound bus lane on Mayoral Drive, from Cook St to Queen St
separate bus & bike lanes (southbound) on Vincent St
either a south-bound bus lane or a wider footpath on Albert St, between Wyndham St & Victoria St, opposite the Auckland District Court.
a new bus stop on Albert St opposite the AA building, to bring buses from the North Shore closer to the midtown area and reduce walking distances.

The bus lanes would operate between 6-10am and 3-7pm. The council said the new initiatives would be implemented in association with the Auckland Regional Council’s proposed bus route changes for the North Shore busway, on which work has started.

New bus lanes on New North Rd

The council’s transport committee has approved new bus lanes for New North Rd between the Sandringham Rd intersection and the New North Rd flyover, in both city-bound and outbound directions.

Changes to operation times of clearways and bus lanes

The committee agreed to extend the operating hours of central area clearways by an hour each side of the current 2-hour periods. They’ll will be extended to 6-10am and 3-7pm. The standard 7-9am & 4-6pm operating hours for clearways across the city will generally remain, but will be reviewed on a route-by-route basis to ensure effectiveness.

Bus lanes feedback web page:

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