Late last week Auckland Transport put out a press release about the upgrade of Dominion Rd saying that would start as early as September. Here’s the first part of it:
Work on the long awaited upgrade of Dominion Road, one of Auckland’s busiest roads and its second busiest bus route, will go ahead in September, following decisions by Auckland Transport and New Zealand Transport Agency this week, to fund the $66.3 million project.
The project which will transform Dominion Road and the key villages that it serves, will be carried out in stages and is expected to be completed in about mid-2016.
Work on the associated cycle routes on streets paralleling Dominion Road, will start in May and be completed by about October.
This has been greeted by Auckland Transport chairman, Dr Lester Levy, as a red letter day for Auckland and one that the New Zealand Transport Agency has helped to make possible.
Dr Levy says that the improvements to the road will give it the capacity to deliver up to 3 million bus passengers a year to their destinations, quickly and efficiently.
He says that because of the importance of Dominion Road to Auckland’s future public transport systems, with greater walking and cycling options and reduced congestion as part of the mix, Auckland Transport (AT) and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) had collaborated in the planning and funding of the upgrade.
NZTA’s commitment has been vital to an immediate start, Dr Levy says. “Joint planning and coordination has been followed by joint funding by NZTA, who will contribute 53% of the cost. This means we can start the search for tenders immediately.”
It’s great that it the upgrade will be starting soon however the cost of the project caught my attention. The last we had heard, the project including the alternate cycling routes were expected to cost $47 million. I had been meaning to write a post about exactly this and asking how the costs had increased by ~$20 million without anyone knowing however the Herald did just that yesterday morning. I’ve bolded the key part.
Auckland Transport’s cost estimate for upgrading Dominion Rd has ballooned by 40 per cent to $66.3 million.
That compares with $47 million which the council body announced late in 2012, after rethinking a controversial $100 million plan which included 24-hour bus lanes along the full 5km length of the route, with extra room for cyclists as well.
Although there will now be little widening – except to extend bus-lanes along the road’s southern section between the Mt Roskill shops and the Southwestern Motorway – transport planners blame the latest cost blow-out on having to buy more properties than expected and design changes to preserve parking in side streets after public consultation.
That is to compensate for lost parking on Dominion Rd at peak times, to make way for an extension of bus lanes through village centres in Mt Eden, Balmoral and Mt Roskill, communications general manager Wally Thomas said.
I do support the general idea of putting parking on the side streets however $20 million of ratepayer money is an obscene amount to spend to do this. This is even more so seeing as the current plan doesn’t even include making the upgraded bus lanes permanent which potentially means there will still be people parking on Dominion Rd outside of peak hours (some of the released images show this). I’m not sure how many carparks are planned to be built with the property prices that exist in many of these areas $20 million won’t go far. My guess is AT would be lucky to get an extra 100 carparks for that kind of money and what budget did they cut to find that extra $20 million needed?
What AT are clearly doing is caving into the noisy local retailers who simply don’t get that people buy stuff, not cars. Making it easier for more people to get to their stores should be the primary goal and the most effective way to do that is through the vastly improved bus lanes. Already on Dominion Rd more than half the people at peak times are in a bus and from what I’ve seen (and heard about), buses are often extremely full well outside of peak times. Currently around 1.8 million people use buses and the upgrade is said to have the capacity for up to 3 million trips a year. In contrast a handful of carparks won’t get close to delivering half that many extra people.
And it’s not just us saying this. Research conducted by the NZTA which saw similar results to research overseas found that shoppers who didn’t arrive by car spent more on average than those that did while retailers also tend to overestimate the impact of car parking on their businesses. Unsurprisingly making an area nicer for pedestrians is far more important.
This research project investigated the economic impacts of transport and road space reallocation in shopping areas located in central cities and along major transport corridors in New Zealand. It focused on three research questions. The first being to understand the retail spending of transport users; resulting in data that provides an average $ spent per user and primary mode of transport. The second element focused on identifying the road space allocation and design elements important to retailers and shoppers. Finally, a case study compendium was developed.
The data shows that sustainable transport users account for 40% of the total spend in the shopping areas and account for 37% of all shoppers who completed the survey. The data indicates the pedestrians and cyclists contribute a higher economic spend proportionately to the modal share and are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas.
The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.
In addition to all of this it also shows a lack of faith by Auckland Transport in the increasing quality of the PT system to be useful for a wider variety of trips and in many cases it helps to actively undermine the organisations PT goals. Perhaps it’s decisions like this that go towards AT asking for their targets to be cut on the back of lower than predicted patronage.
Lastly many cyclists have been particularly upset by the “parallel” cycle routes which basically consist of traffic calming local roads. One of the biggest complaints is the windy routes many they take that makes journeys considerably longer than they would be by using Dominion Rd. This is especially the case around King Edward St and Burnley Tce where users are forced to either Sandringham Rd or Dominion Rd. This decision seems to suggest it’s ok to spend millions on buying up houses to provide what will probably be free parking for local businesses but it isn’t ok to do the same to make those alternate cycle routes more viable.