The additional southbound lanes over the Victoria Park Viaduct, made possible through the construction of the Victoria Park Tunnel, open to vehicles today. John Roughan’s NZ Herald editorial can barely contain his excitement at this prospect, largely because (he hopes) it will get rid of queue jumpers holding up traffic through St Mary’s Bay. While I must admit a small part of me is hoping for the motorway opening to be yet another congestion catastrophe, this is generally a motorway project that I have supported because it is aimed at eliminating a bottleneck, rather than simply adding capacity and creating a bottleneck elsewhere in the system.
One of the biggest potential benefits from this project was highlighted in the comments section of my previous post on the motorway opening: that connections between the northern motorway and the Port would become more attractive, removing cross-CBD traffic from Customs, Quay and Fanshawe streets. In many ways, this benefit of the project is similar to how the biggest benefits the Waterview Connection proposal will bring is through a reduction in local traffic on roads like Mt Albert, Blockhouse Bay, Sandringham, Dominion and Richardson roads.
While Google Maps suggests that someone travelling between the North Shore and the Port/Parnell area would utilise the motorway system, rather than travelling through the heart of town, congestion on and around the viaduct (back to the harbour bridge for southbound traffic, the incredibly slow ramp signal for northbound traffic before it joins SH1) means that much of the traffic takes the red route instead: When the Victoria Park Tunnel is open to its full complement of three lanes for northbound traffic, and any teething issue for southbound vehicles have been resolved, we should see a reduction in through traffic away from the red route (and hopefully also away from Customs Street). However, as with the Waterview Connection, the Hobsonville deviation and the Manukau Connection, the reduction in vehicles on local roads is only likely to be temporary – thanks to induced demand. If there’s way less traffic on Quay Street and Fanshawe Street, then vehicles using other congested routes will shift back to these freer flowing streets. Motorway traffic may also shift back onto the local roads as some people find them to be faster. Over time, if we don’t make some interventions, we could end up back where we started – but now with a congested wider motorway and congested inner-city streets. Such an outcome would undermine what should be one of the biggest benefits of the Vic Park Tunnel project: the removal of traffic from CBD streets to free up more space for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
However, if we’re smart we can avoid such an outcome. And, for once, I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to actually achieve some real benefits if we move quickly. The City Centre Master Plan proposes to significantly increase pedestrian priority along Quay Street by reducing vehicle capacity – exactly the kind of intervention that’s necessary to dissuade vehicles back onto Quay Street once it’s a bit quieter: It’s also a golden opportunity to get rid of the horrific Hobson Street viaduct: Fortunately, this is also given consideration in the City Centre Master Plan: Completion of the Vic Park Tunnel may also be a golden opportunity to look at reallocating a bit of roadspace to buses along Fanshawe Street so we can actually complete the Northern Busway. At the moment we find ourselves in the stupid situation of having citybound buses take as long to complete the last few hundred metres of their journey as they did to get between Constellation and Akoranga stations – something we spent hundreds of millions on speeding up, to go and undermine our investment simply because we can’t be bothered putting bus lanes along remaining sections of city streets.
The key point is that we have to move quickly in advancing these projects to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ to really lock in the benefits of the Victoria Park Tunnel project. If we stuff around for a few years then we will lose this window, and implementing projects that reallocate roadspace away from vehicles will be that much harder.