Human Connectivity – Which Way Is Best? Why Should (A2B) Light Rail Go Down Manukau Station Road and not Ronwood Avenue.

Connectivity rather than encouraging urban regeneration is the name of the game

Part of this article was a presentation was recently given to MCBC Toastmasters as part of the Innovative Planning Pathway (Level 3, Presenting a Proposal). It was also on LinkedIn

With the news from Auckland Transport that the first stage of the Airport to Botany (A2B) Rapid Transit is set to start construction Quarter Three of 2019 a question that has not been answered yet is how A2B would travel through Manukau City Centre, Auckland’s largest Metropolitan Centre and Node.

Context

Stage 1 of Airport to Botany Rapid Transit consists of the upgrade of Puhinui Station to allow busses to meet trains at the station. With Stage 1 the busses would use an at-grade platform until Stages 2 and 3 are complete (with the full A2B line running over the existing rail line). Bus priority measures on State Highway 20B, Lambie Drive and either Ronwood Avenue or Manukau Station Road would be added as part of Stage 1 to allow the busses easier access to either Manukau Station or the Airport. Stages 2 and 3 either become Bus Rapid Transit or more likely Light Rail.

Puhinui Station upgrades. Source Auckland Transport

Rapid Transit through Manukau City Centre

Manukau City Centre is relatively blessed urban design wise compared to its sister Metropolitan Centres of Albany and Westgate (which are also nodes under the Auckland Plan). The street pattern is a grid with main arterial roads forming the borders of the Metropolitan Centre on all four sides (rather than running down the guts of it). State Highways 1 and 20 do sever Manukau from Wiri and Otara but these can be easily fixed. On the transit side Manukau is connected by the Eastern (heavy rail line) and has the Manukau Bus Station which forms the central bus station for Southern Auckland. The area will also have the A2B Line running through it as well connecting Manukau to Botany and the Airport.

A large park (Hayman Park) sits on the western side of the Metropolitan Centre and while small parklets lack the large grass medians do break up the sea of tarmac in Manukau. Manukau also has quite a few hidden lane-ways that can be easily spruced up into urban spaces as well.

All in all Manukau has a rich potential for redevelopment.

Manukau City Centre. Source: Panuku

Before we get into the two suggested routes for A2B Rapid Transit we need to take a look at future urban geographic trends as I have picked up below:

As noted by Panuku Development Auckland recently the first tract of land (after Barrowcliffe Place) is coming onto the market with interest sought after on developing these super lots that total around 2.7ha of the 600ha of land inside Our Manukau. The blue arrows are the Panuku owned lots that are open for initial potential urban development with the scarlet arrow showing Kotuku House (see above post for more information on that building) and the yellow is a watch and see. These development sites are consistent with the Transform Manukau High Level Project Plan, and Framework Plan in which the Davis Avenue/Central area is the first stage of a thirty year pipeline of urban development potential inside the Our Manukau area (Transform Manukau is now known as Our Manukau).

I’ll repeat that again, the 2.7ha of land currently up for initial potential urban development inside Our Manukau is the first stage of a thirty year urban regeneration pipeline. Also notice how Ronwood (Avenue) sits in the long term bracket? This played a major influence on my preferred route selection for Airport to Botany Rapid Transit through Manukau.

Before I continue here is an enlarged picture of the 2.7ha of land inside Our Manukau up on the blocks for some good urban development:

Arrows indicating urban development sites inside #OurManukau area

Notice it is focused around the Manukau Station Road and Davis Avenue area NOT Ronwood Avenue.

Rapid Transit down Manukau Station Road – about the connectivity!

400 metres, that is a number I want you to remember! 400 metres is the walking distance between Manukau Rail/Bus Stations and Ronwood Avenue (which is also down a hill).

As Airport to Botany (A2B) Rapid Transit progresses a debate about which route it should take through Manukau City Centre has popped up.

The initial line of thought in 2016 via a Jacobs report was to run Light Rail down Manukau Station Road to allow A2B to connect to the existing heavy rail and bus station. Panuku and myself (I write this as an independent analyst) support this route while Auckland Transport think A2B should run down Ronwood Avenue.

Auckland Transport’s logic being:

Airport Line through Manukau
Source: https://www.scribd.com/document/365399828/Southern-Airport-Line-LRT-Alignment-Proposals-and-Final# 
Southern Airport Line LRT
Source: https://www.scribd.com/document/365399828/Southern-Airport-Line-LRT-Alignment-Proposals-and-Final#

Given Auckland Transport is about to dissolve its Urban Design/Place making division in its restructure (AT’s urban design has often been fraught with Stakeholders in the first place) and that aspect should be left to Panuku and the respective Local Boards I am not convinced by AT’s argument that A2B should run down Ronwood Avenue.

Auckland Transport state (as above) that Manukau Station Road is well served by the Frequent Transport Network (aka the 33 Great South Road Bus), ironically so is Ronwood Avenue which is ALSO served by the 33 Great South Road bus as it continues its trip north from the bus station to Otahuhu (or vice versa heading south). So moot point there Auckland Transport.

Another moot point is that Ronwood Avenue is in the long term basket for redevelopment so even if you were to run LRT down it it would not trigger urban renewal as most of that would continue in the southern part of the Metropolitan Centre.

This brings us back to Manukau Station Road for A2B and my presentation on this preferred route selection.

My preferred route for A2B through Manukau City Centre:

Yellow = A2B route, White = alternative A2B route, Blue = busses and Manukau Bus Station, Black = Manukau Station and Eastern (heavy rail) Line

As we can see the busses already service Ronwood Avenue with a frequency of at least every 15 minutes (often more frequent given there is several routes that ply Ronwood Avenue). As for A2B I have kept it on a wide loop down Lambie Drive (left of the photo) in order to capture future development at the Manukau Supa Centre area which its landowners did state in the Unitary Plan Independent Hearing Panel days they would like to build apartments ontop of the big box retail. However, I am open to bring A2B down the core of Manukau City Centre (so the white line) that would turn Osterley Way into a Transit Mall as it connects back up to Manukau Station Road.

This alternative could capture Cavendish Drive, Ronwood Avenue, and the Manukau Bus/Rail Station giving us a best of Both Worlds situation. The draw back is that you could lose speed on this dog-leg route although the express portion of A2B is from Puhinui Station to the Airport.

The white line A2B Light Rail alternative also perfectly captures both the initial urban regeneration in the Central Heart as mentioned earlier while also being available for when Ronwood Avenue is ready to redevelop. Remember how I said 400 metres? That is the gap between Manukau Rail/Bus Stations and the proposed Ronwood Avenue A2B Station wanted by Auckland Transport. This means to connect from A2B to a bus or heavy rail you have a 400 metre walk in the full open air with either your luggage or kids in tow. Knowing Auckland’s wind and rain that makes for a very unpleasant user experience as human connectivity is lost. Whether the Yellow or White route is taken for A2B what both eliminate is the 400 metre gap and make the User Experience or Human Connectivity a more pleasant experience.

Human Connectivity by running A2B down Ronwood Avenue and not have it connect with Manukau Station would be lost due to a Rapid Transit Line not intersecting with another Rapid Transit Line (heavy rail) and a primary commuter and inter city bus hub.

Human Connectivity would also be lost due to missed urban development potential that for at least the next decade would be most intense around the existing Manukau Station. That is not only residential and commercial urban developments where those blue arrows were but also Civic infrastructure development in the immediate area. By Civic infrastructure I refer to MIT Manukau’s expansion, Te Papa North, a new Council civic campus replacing Kotuku House, and the possibility of either a new school and/or Government Departments establishing satellites in Manukau. It should be noted that this Civic infrastructure would be developed in proximity to Manukau Station not Ronwood Avenue. Thus again having A2B intersect Manukau Station would allow that human connectivity to that Civic infrastructure especially as Manukau is set down as Southern Auckland’s Civic Node.

Auckland Plan 2050 with the highlighting of the Manukau Node. The Node covers the Our Manukau area as well as the A2B spine to Auckland Airport. Source of Map: Auckland Council.

What about the Manukau residential area inside Our Manukau?

Human Connectivity also extends south and into an existing residential area that sits on the southern half of the Our Manukau area. It is known either as Manukau (different to Manukau City Centre) or Wiri depending on the social identity placed by the community. The area is low density single or duplex dwellings that are either currently or were with Housing New Zealand. There is an affordable housing development underway on Barrowcliffe Place that sits between the existing urban area and State Highway 20. Barrowcliffe will have some 300 homes and is part of the first deliverables (short term) under Our Manukau. It is Barrowcliffe Place that lends another strong reason why A2B should intersect with Manukau Station and not miss it altogether by going down Ronwood Avenue.

800 metre/10min walk up catchment to Manukau Bus Station

The yellow dot is Manukau Bus Station and where the A2B Manukau Station would also be as well. The blue circle is the 800 metre radius walk up catchment an able bodied person would be able to do to get to the station. Notice how the walk up catchment encompasses all of the Barrowcliffe Place development (just south of the yellow arrow) and just under half of the Wiri residential area. Barrowcliffe will having walking connections into the existing residential area allowing for straight access to the stations.

Now if we were to move the A2B station to where the white diamond is as Auckland Transport would want we need to move the 800m circle 400 metres (there is that number again) north. Where does the catchment now end – where that yellow arrow is or otherwise State Highway 20. Effectively by placing A2B through Ronwood Avenue and not Manukau Station Road human connectivity from one half of Our Manukau (the residential area) is disconnected from the other half (the employment, civic and transport area).

To make it more interesting Barrowcliffe Place is zoned Terraced Housing and Apartment Zone under the Unitary Plan while the rest of the Wiri residential area is either Mixed Housing Suburban or Urban zoned. Meaning the area can undergo intensification and when you have intensification it needs to be backed up by transit. Even if Wiri residents used the 365 feeder bus that runs to the west of the residential area to Manukau Station, you still need to do that 400 metre walk down hill in the open air to get to the A2B Line.

Conclusion

Which ever way you slice and dice it having Airport to Botany Rapid Transit down Ronwood Avenue does not make sense compared to the Manukau Station Road option. It all comes down to Human Connectivity and which of the two options gives the best Human Connectivity.

In my Urban Geographic opinion running Airport to Botany Rapid Transit down Manukau Station Road (either the yellow or white route) allows for the best Human Connectivity in the Our Manukau area through:

  1. Airport to Botany intersecting with the Manukau Rail and Bus Stations which form the core transport hub for Southern Auckland
  2. Supporting initial urban and longer term civic development in the Central Heart
  3. Walk up catchment encompasses a medium development residential development currently underway as well as an existing low density residential area
  4. If the white alternative route through Osterley Way to Manukau Station Road is used then we get a Best of Both Worlds approach where the Central Heart, Wiri residential area and Ronwood Avenue corridor are all connected to the Airport to Botany Rapid Transit Line

Airport to Botany Rapid Transit through Manukau City Centre is not about kick starting urban regeneration. That is already happening through other place making and public/private investments including civic infrastructure. What needs to be maintained is that Human Connectivity in the Central Heart, with existing transit lines, and a intensifying residential area.

This is why Airport to Botany Rapid Transit should run down Manukau Station Road not Ronwood Avenue.

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