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Central bus lanes idea spreads

The idea of putting Dominion Road’s bus lanes in the middle of the road, rather than at its edges, seems to be gaining traction – with a NZ Herald article today discussing the matter. Some extracts from that article:

Auckland’s Dominion Rd could have bus lanes running up and down its centre, just as trams did until the middle of last century.

The idea has been raised by Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, amid uncertainty over kerbside bus lanes introduced in 1999.

Although he has criticised a decision by Auckland City’s transport committee to consult the public on whether to open the lanes to all vehicles with one or more passengers, committee chairman Ken Baguley agrees running buses along the centre of Dominion Rd merits consideration.

The council is planning a $50 million-plus upgrade for the road, which will include widening long stretches by up to 2m.

Even so, space will remain tight through intersections with Balmoral and Valley Rds after the abandonment of a proposal for bus loops, which would have turned shopping centres into islands.

“If you could treat the bus as a tram and have it going on its own set of lights through one central lane, far less road is going to be required by the bus lane,” Mr Baguley said…

…Mr Lee said that if there was a problem with bus lanes along the edges of Dominion Rd, conflicts with vehicles pulling out of driveways or side streets could be removed by running buses down the middle.

Traffic lights could be used for passengers to reach platforms in the middle of the road.

“Such a system would cope with far higher numbers of buses than the current system or the proposed retrograde T2 idea [of allowing cars with two or more occupants into bus lanes].”

He said afterwards that the system could also future-proof Dominion Rd for light railcars once passenger demand grew beyond the capacity of buses.

Now a couple of comments are probably worth making straight away. First is that the idea I talked about in this previous post (and Mike Lee’s idea) is about two central bus lanes, not one solitary (presumably reversible) lane that Ken Baguely seems to have interpreted it. A cross-section of the road would look something like this: Undoubtedly at the main shopping centres thing would need to be narrowed down quite a lot: narrower footpaths, cycle lane, and no median – but that’s not particularly impossible to achieve. Also where the buses stop you would need to narrow it down (though you’d stagger the stops slightly so that you didn’t need a central island platform – you could have your bus stop between the bus lane at the general traffic lane, which means that you could run normal buses on it (otherwise people would be boarding from the other side of the bus).

There has been quite a lot of very interesting debate on the Dominion Road bus/T2 lane issue on the Aucklandtrains blog, with councillor Mark Donnelly providing some very interesting input to the comment section. His main concern seems to be ensuring that Dominion Road does not become the kind of “de-facto motorway” that other four-lane roads with no parking on their sides (such as Balmoral Road) have kind of become. I think he has a reasonable concern, although in some respects putting the bus lanes in the centre of the road could assist in solving this problem – because that would become the part of the road where you’re focused on the speed of getting people through the village centres, whereas the general traffic lanes could be “humanised” through paving, narrowing and other landscaping to slow traffic down as it passes through the town centres: thereby making the places more pedestrian friendly.

I think there are some key questions that we need to consider about what to do with Dominion Road. The first is whether there’s a place for on-street parking – and I think we need to consider both the for and against arguments. While allowing parking is a fairly inefficient use of what is extremely valuable “through-space”, it generally does help support local business centres and it also provides a barrier between pedestrians and the road, often making the pedestrian environment more friendly. Cars slow down because the road is narrower and they’re cautious about people stepping out of their cars and so forth – it does help humanise the road a bit. My general opinion is that retaining some level of on-street parking could be nice, but I just don’t know where it could go in terms of other priorities we have for this route.

The second key question is about the hours of operation for the bus priority lanes, whether they’re at the edge of the road or in the middle. As noted in the herald article above, Ken Baguley seems to want to restrict bus priority to peak hours, whereas the original proposal was for the priority to be at all times. I think the current “peak hours” of 7-9am inbound and 4-6pm outbound is completely insufficient – as we have 5 minute bus frequencies interpeak on weekdays. Even on Saturday the buses run every 10 minutes along Dominion Road throughout the day. I think ideally the bus lanes should operate 6am-7pm, seven days a week. It seems a bit pointless keeping the bus lanes in operation at 3am in the morning when there are absolutely no buses. Extending the hours of the bus lanes to beyond just the peak times recognises that Dominion Road really is urban transit, and not just commuter transit, a point that the current b.line concept also tries to emphasise.

In the end, I think that we need to think clearly about “what is the core purpose of Dominion Road in Auckland?” Obviously we want to run cars along it, obviously we want to ensure that the village centres along it can be vibrant, obviously we want to provide cycle lanes where possible, and obviously we want to make it a good public transport route. But quite simply there isn’t enough space along the road to provide perfectly for everyone, so we need to prioritise. On almost every single road in Auckland, cars passing through or cars parking are given priority. We have an extensive motorway system where cars are given exclusive priority, we have enormous carparks all over our city where cars parking are given priority – so surely on perhaps Auckland’s best bus route we should, for once, start off our thinking by asking “what works best for buses here?” and then fit everything else around that.

And that’s why I ultimately think that putting the bus lanes down the middle of the road is the best idea. Because it’s what would work best for the buses, and they’re our priority on this corridor – for once.

12 comments to Central bus lanes idea spreads

  • Matt L

    With bus lanes in the centre I don’t really think we need the median strip. That combined with the tree pit space in places would allow for cars to be parked on one side of the road in indented bays (providing the cycle lane isn’t affected) It could even be that the parking alternates the side of the road it is on every 100 or so meters, the idea being that it is something like:
    Footpath, tree pit, cycle lane, general traffic lane, buslane, buslane, general traffic lane, car parks, cycle lane footpath.

    When submissions open we will have to put some through.

  • sj

    I’m glad that people who matter have finally picked up on the idea of placing bus lanes in the middle of roads. It has always seemed to be to be the obvious place to put them. Melbourne’s larger tram stops provide an example for anyone wondering how boarding might work.

    With bus lanes in the centre, a median is no longer really necessary: if there is ample space, it is better to place “medians”, preferably planted, either side of the central “bus road”, separating the buses from general traffic for speed and safety. Alternatively the space saved by removing the median can be used to widen the other lanes, or preferably to widen the footpaths.

  • ingolfson

    I am interested however in the idea of having (in the town centres, where width is at a premium), only a single “tidal” bus lane. Now, acknowleding that for PT that is less than the perfect solution – would it work? You would signalise / mark it like a centre lane on a bridge like Panmure. In the morning, one general traffic lane north, one bus only lane north (none of that T2 nonsense!) and one general traffic lane south. If Dom Road is anything as tidal as I think, the buses should not have too much trouble going south on the single general southbound lane?

    The whole thing would of course, as soon as you are out of the town centres, change to four lanes (2 bus, two general) again. But in the town centres, you’d only need three effective lanes, which might be what you need to improve cycling and parking etc… Would that be so bad, when otherwise, we might not get dedicated bus lanes in these sections at all?

  • Ingolfson, I agree it’s not ideal – but potentially it might be what is needed. Maybe we should send the general traffic behind the shops?

    • Scott

      Although it will be very hard to sell this to the pubic it would make a lot of scene. If one of the “super-stops” could be placed outside the shops it would allow a large amount of foot traffic to support the shops. Additionally funneling one direction of traffic around the back of the shops would force it to drive past the on street parking so car occupants would be able to “pop in”. Ponsonby has a one way section through its main set of shops (half the traffic is funneled around the back). I don’t see why it couldn’t be used here as well.

  • axio

    I think the key problem is the buses themselves. Presumably some of the route, say at Symonds street, will need access from the left whereas the middle section needs access from the right. I guess buses could run in the wrong direction down the median-lanes but that would be very confusing for everybody involved. So basically we’d need buses that load from both sides.

    Conceivably the driver’s seat could swivel (when the bus is stationary) but its not the sort of thing I’ve seen before. Would it perhaps be possible for the front door to be in the front windshield on the opposite side from the driver – this would at least avoid people having to step out into other traffic.

    I guess those considerations assume the driver is collecting fares, but ideally fares would pre-purchased. Although, I would imagine there would need to be frequent checks to prevent fare evasion (like one or two ‘conductors’ patrolling random buses on the route during operation) as well as infrastructure to enable purchasing.

    So maybe three doors – left front for driver fare collection, right middle for embarking/disembarking from ‘center-stations’ and left middle for normal disembarking. Alright then.. I might have convinced myself that it could work in the process of this post. :D

  • Not necessarily axio. See picture below about how it could work:

    - yellow area = bus platform
    - red lines is signalised pedestrian crossing
    - yellow lines are the bus lanes
    - blue lines are the general lanes.

  • axio

    Yikes – nothing like turning a straight road into a racetrack :)

    I think islands can work, where they basically take the place of the median for 50m or so. I sort of imagined something about 1.8m wide (the bus lane can narrow slightly at stops since bus should be going slower) which is comfortable enough for two people side by side, and two buses long so that half is serving one bus and half serving the other with pedestrian access in the middle. This should allow disembarking passengers to go around embarking ones.

    Something like this…

    I acknowledge there may still be accessibility issues for disabled users with such a narrow area.

  • nzbcfanboi

    Gotta love the use of MAN Sl202′s in the bus lane considering the cars look a bit newer with what looks like a 911 and BMW 3 series this might give people the wrong idea about the age of buses

  • Kegan

    You might be interested to know that central bus lanes have been mentioned as a longer term option for Adelaide Rd in Wellington. The council report doesn’t go into much detail, but does contain an artist’s impression of what they might look like. Might be of interest as the width of Adelaide Rd post widening will be pretty similar to Dominion Rd and the pic might help to clear some of the confusion that seems to surround the issue.

    Link is and the bit on centre bus lanes is on page 21.

  • rtc

    The whole central bus lanes seems to be a back to future type of deal and Auckland used to have central tram lines with island platforms as seen in other countries.

    This picture is from the 1800s

  • rtc

    Other interesting photos of central tram lanes on Queen Street are here

    Perhaps we just need to dig out the old plans for Dominion Rd (and Queen Street seeing as that’s likely to have trams before Dominion Rd) and build them as the street was originally planned, would save us some time perhaps…

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