Transportation Blog Post WSP OPUS

23 January 2018 Daniel Jurgens

WSP Opus’ Global BIM Manager Daniel Jurgens looks at the complexities facing Auckland and other major cities around the world in designing an effective transportation system that will cope with the demands of future population growth.

Auckland is the largest urban area in New Zealand, with approximately a third of the nation’s population. Over the last three years alone, Auckland has grown by over 93,000 new residents – that’s a new Aucklander roughly every 20 minutes. If growth continues at this rate, Auckland will reach a population of two million by 2030. While most of Auckland’s growth is within the existing urban area, 15,000 hectares of mainly rural greenfield land has been targeted for future development.

Over the next 30 years, it is expected that there will be around 110,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs in these growth areas, putting additional pressure on the wider Auckland transport network. How is Auckland’s current urban form and transport infrastructure working for its people? How can we address this expected future growth when designing Auckland’s transport network today? How can the use of data to engineer solutions help?

Auckland’s choked transport network

Patronage of the Auckland network continues to grow at unprecedented rates, and it is undeniable that congestion is increasingly choking the Auckland region. 25 percent of Auckland’s busiest roads are already congested during morning and evening peaks, up from 18 percent two years ago, and motorway speed has declined by nine per cent in the three years to 2016. But this is only the visible symptoms of the underlying problems, there are much deeper issues that Auckland and many other large cities must tackle with urgency.

The real issues are ever-increasing population growth and the underinvestment in infrastructure over many decades. And the solution is not an easy fix due to the slow and convoluted decision-making process to make a truly transformational change. The reality is, by the time most new projects have been realised, the corresponding increase in vehicles on the road over this same period wipes out any potential benefit.

Auckland Transport has unveiled a new plan to address these issues: a hub and spoke network showing buses, trains and light rail stretching to the urban fringes, with services running every 10 minutes. The services are to be built over the next 30 years and have been targeted at areas with a lot of planned residential and employment growth.

Auckland is not alone in trying to address this struggle. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the world will need to spend US$57 trillion on infrastructure by 2030 to keep up with global GDP growth. By 2050, it is estimated we will be living in a world of nine billion humans, 70 percent of them living in cities.

Many countries are bracing for greater urban sprawl and planning how to catch up on historical underinvestment in infrastructure, but is building faster, bigger, and introducing more road capacity the answer? I think no. I believe the solution is prioritising rapid public transport solutions and reducing the number of private vehicles on the road.

The future of transport

The historic private vehicle focused city is not sustainable, while through the realisation of resource-sensing ‘smart cities’ we are reimagining what urbanisation can and should be.

Autonomous vehicles trials are occurring in more than 40 cities around the world, and heavy investment in drone technology is now including human transportation. The convenience and cost savings of on-demand fully autonomous vehicles, especially in cities, means that consumers are likely to forgo personal vehicle ownership altogether.

This technology has the potential to change to change commuting patterns, bring mobility to the young, elderly or disabled and will disrupt the way we connect with home, office and leisure destinations. Garages, petrol stations and carparks will need to be repurposed. Analysts predict that autonomous vehicles will eliminate up to 90 per cent of the current parking spaces in cities with the remaining repurposed as charge stations to power-up fleets of electric vehicles.

We also need to acknowledge that urbanisation can drive economic development and growth but it comes at a cost. Urbanisation consumes resources, increases pollution and magnifies the effects of environmental hazards such as flooding and other extreme weather events. All of which will affect cities the most.

With radically different rapid transport options fast becoming a reality, we have an opportunity to re-think what we want from our cities. Does the endless urban sprawl of megacities make sense anymore? Does the topology of a “city”, or the very concept of transport/commuting need to change? Will distributed networks of smaller communities become more prevalent, taking the hub-and-spoke principle to regional or global scale? Rather than focusing solely on transportation networks, we should widen our scope and focus on creating liveable cities, of which smart transportation is one key element.

Creating liveable cities

Technology is just an enabler for change and innovation; we should be embracing a people-centric approach to help us build better cities. One such approach is ‘smart cities’. A smart city is a municipality that uses different types of electronic data collection to communicate information to manage assets and resources efficiently, to and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. One successful example of this approach can be found in Barcelona. To help save money and optimise the urban infrastructure, the local government embraced smart city initiatives in several areas, including water and lighting. These initiatives included:

  • Directing drivers to empty parking spaces via sensors, helping to reduce congestion and emissions.
  • Creating a sensor network to monitor precipitation and humidity, allowing officials to remotely target and control irrigation.
  • Installing 19,500 smart meters to monitor energy consumption and improve efficiency.

In total, Barcelona calculated that it saved US$37 million from smart lighting, US$58 million from smart water measures, and increased cash flow from parking by US$50 million.

This ‘network of networks’ in Barcelona is used by city agencies but also by citizens who seek to understand the local environment. The information generated is made available in an open source platform available to other governments and shared with citizens via kiosks. This endeavour has saved the city money, generated 47,000 new jobs, and achieved a plethora of benefits for the wider community.

Planning for the future

To cope with the growing strains of urban population, smart, sustainable cities, and connectivity of infrastructure is essential.

We need a modern transport system that embraces smart city strategies utilising technology to collect, process and utilise data; to inform the design, construction and procurement process, provide operational effectiveness, efficiency, safety, and resilience across all transport modes and services.

Imagine a smart, sustainable and resilient city, where intelligent multimodal transport networks communicate with associated infrastructure, service providers, designers, contractors and users. A network that connects the wider area it services effortlessly, resulting in an emission-free, quiet and green CBD. This is a vision I strive for and a future I want for my children and future generations.