By Brendon Harre*
“Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination.” Paul Goldberger
Auckland Light Rail so far has been an unhappy initiative — it has been delayed by three years and the project is now on its second Minister.
Michael Wood the new Transport Minister has created a new light rail process with public engagement at its core. There will be a six-month work programme undertaken by an Establishment Unit. At the end of the year when the Government receives advice from the Unit, it will make the key decisions on route, mode, and delivery entity.
So, now is the time for the public to constructively engage in the Auckland light rail conversation — rethinking the urban shaping project is still possible.
A difficult trade-off problem for the Establishment Unit is that New Zealand’s early transport planners did not allocate enough space so that arterial roads could meet future needs. This issue can be resolved by choosing from the following options.
- Widen the arterial road to a boulevard corridor as discussed in this paper. This gives all multi-modal transport users — in particular, light rail passengers, cyclists, micro-mobility users, and pedestrians more space.
- Build a more expensive underground or elevated metro style system.
- Keep the current width of the chosen arterial road (Sandringham or Dominion Road) and close down the corridor for motor vehicle through traffic, or at a minimum make it one-way, as urbanist and cycling advocates have explained. Note this proposal is not just about reallocating arterial road space width-wise. Reducing motor vehicle traffic traveling the length of the LRT arterial corridor makes managing cross traffic at intersections simpler.
- Build Light Rail right — Close the centres to cars
- Light Rail for the Isthmus… with room for bikes! A Bike AKL proposal
Source — @ScootFoundation
Whichever light rail option is chosen will need to be a choice that Auckland and New Zealand can live with. For Auckland this is another Robbie’s Rapid Rail moment - making the wrong choice or missing a desired opportunity will be remembered.
Boulevard light rail corridors
Oslo Bjorvika Tram
Trams work well in wide boulevards. In Oslo, depicted above, the streetscape has plenty of space for tree-lined footpaths, cycle lanes, two lanes of road traffic and a green, tree-lined tramway.
The built form response to this high-quality boulevard space are buildings with a minimum height of six storeys. As a housing advocate, I cannot help but think: how many thousands of homes does this sort of built environment create?
If you take a 100-metre section on one side of the boulevard, for example, and assume it was built to a depth of 25m at six storeys high, that creates 15,000 square metres of floor space. At 100 square metres per dwelling, that comes to 150 homes (assuming communal spaces such as hallways, stairs and elevators are part of the 100 square metres per dwelling figure).
It is difficult to build these sorts of boulevards in New Zealand because our arterial roads are typically only one chain (20m) wide, and a good boulevard is 30 to 40 meters wide. The Oslo example depicted above, for instance, is 40m.
In my opinion, the Auckland light rail debate should focus on how to create high value boulevard corridors as its first step.
For instance, could the Government use the Public Works Act to acquire houses lining the chosen arterial road? Say a 50m wide corridor on both sides. Would that be possible on Dominion Rd or Sandringham Rd?
If 10m of private property on both sides of a standard New Zealand arterial road were added to the public right-of-way this would create a 40m wide road. This corridor would not only be useful for above ground amenities, it also creates plenty of space for below ground infrastructure, such as upgraded water pipes, electricity lines and fibre networks.
Many existing houses and buildings would need to be removed for this to happen — a problem that comes with some benefits, as any new housing could be built much higher. And this uplift building could happen all at once, or at least much quicker than the upzoning facilitated through the NPS-UD, which is a longer term incremental process.
Over time, though, the NPS-UD will have the stronger influence because it affects the wider ‘walkable’ catchment area around rapid transit. The upzoning it allows will be an important component in the long-term success of a boulevard light rail development.
Major transport projects frequently require the acquisition of private property. The Mill Rd project, for instance, will create a 30m wide road corridor and requires land acquisition negotiations with about 600 landowners. If the benefits outweigh the costs, then the use of the Public Works Act is appropriate.
Three options for rapid transit between Auckland CBD and the Airport. Source — NZ Herald
It appears to me like the goals for Auckland light rail have evolved over time. At the start of the debate, the conversation was about relieving inner city bus congestion and then about providing a fast link between the city centre and the airport.
Now the goal seems to be twofold: what will prompt the best house building response, and what option gives the greatest number of people access to the expanding rapid transit network. This probably reflects increasing public concern about the housing crisis and climate change.
Bearing these shifting goals in mind, would investigating a boulevard light rail project be an appropriate next step for Auckland?
What about converting Sandringham Rd into a light rail boulevard, from Kingsland to Onehunga stations?
If planners prioritised integrating light rail with housing development and people accessing the existing rapid transit network and downgraded the importance of the city centre and airport parts of the project (which could be provided for in later stages), then Sandringham Rd might be the preferred option. If the city centre link is considered essential, then the Dominion Rd boulevard development might be the better option.
What does Sandringham road look like?
It is a typical New Zealand, 20m wide arterial road lined with one-to-two storey retail or residential buildings. This gives the road a lot of uplift potential.
Sandringham Road just past the Burnley corner on the left. Note the cramped nature of the road corridor. Source — GoogleMaps
Sandringham Rd is approximately 4 kilometres long from Kingsland station to its southern end. From there, light rail could use the designated (but unbuilt) rail corridor alongside the motorway to Onehunga station. I roughly estimate there are about 500 properties that front onto the 4km length of Sandringham Rd.
Widening the Sandringham Road from 20 to 40m would be necessary from Kingsland Station in the north to Stoddard Road in the South. Source — GoogleMaps
The benefits of taking the Sandringham Road route
It would expand Auckland’s rapid transit network by providing a connection between Kingsland station and Onehunga station.
Proposed Sandringham light rail in black connecting Kingsland an Onehunga stations. Source — CityRailLink-Benefits including travel times page.
There are a large number of Kainga Ora houses close to Sandringham Road that are planned for intensification which would benefit from access to light rail. These can be seen in the ‘routes’ section of Light Rail Next Steps paper by the Greater Auckland website.
Sandringham light rail would remove a lot of bus congestion at peak times in the city centre. Over twenty Sandringham road buses an hour in the morning peak could be replaced by light rail.
Providing another rapid transit access route to Onehunga improves access and mode-shift for the second largest employment area in Auckland.
The major employment areas in Auckland are:
- City Centre: 120,000 employees
- Penrose/ Onehunga/ Mt Wellington industrial: 58,800 employees
- Manukau/ Wiri industrial: 35,800 employees
- Auckland Airport and the airport corridor industrial: 28,800 employees
- East Tamaki: 28,200 employees
- Rosedale/ North Harbour industrial: 25,700 employees
- Takapuna: 19,700 employees (includes Smales Farm, the hospital, Barrys Point Rd etc)
Not only could Sandringham light rail be built in three incremental stages there are several further incremental upgrade possibilities.
In particular, a Crosstown light rail service between Penrose and Avondale stations via Onehunga station could easily be built as most of the corridor is already designated and it would provide many connection benefits across Auckland’s isthmus.
A more expensive light metro route from Auckland CBD to the airport would also be possible. This could take a more direct route to Onehunga – perhaps similar to the original 1950s tram route.
Source – Auckland tram routes in 1950
What are the cost implications?
Land acquisition costs for a boulevard development would be considerable. Buying out 500 Auckland houses could easily cost $500 million to $1 billion dollars. Although after the boulevard is completed, the remaining parts of each plot will have increased in value, so much if not all, of the land acquisition costs could be recovered.
Constructing light rail itself should be easier on a wider road. Constructing a street running system is one quarter of the cost of an above or below ground light metro system. The distance from Kingsland to Onehunga stations is about 10km which is a shorter distance than recent Australasian light rail projects, such as Canberra’s light rail, which cost less than $1 billion.
Given there is speculation Auckland light rail could cost anywhere between $6b and $20b, being able to keep costs to around $2b for the first stage, with some of that being recoverable, should be reassuring.
The emphasis of this post is mainly about ‘mode’ — how to create good quality boulevard corridors that encourages greater mode shift to — light rail, walking, and cycling. And how to create high value amenity spaces that encourages a good built-environment response. The post is less certain about ‘route’ — a good argument can be made for Dominion Road over Sandringham Road. In an ideal world — both routes would be the answer to the ‘what route question’. And some other light rail routes could be viable too!
for the cost of a single underground metro line beneath Dominion Road, we could build a light rail network like this pic.twitter.com/6COJnSEmEQ— scoot! (@ScootFoundation) April 23, 2021
This is a repost of an article here. It is here with permission.