A significant benefit of the City Rail Link project, compared to any of its possible alternatives, is the relief it will provide to Auckland’s roading network – particularly in the city centre. As Auckland grows by up to a million people over the next 30 years it’s clear that we won’t be able to provide that proportion of growth in the capacity of our roading network. So it will be essential to squeeze as much out of a part of the transport network that currently has spare capacity – the rail system.
Work done by NZTA back in 2010 looked at the number of bus movements on city centre streets in 2041 with and without the City Rail Link project. These are presented below – firstly without CRL being built:
As anything above 130 or so buses an hour creates significant operational problems, even with impressive bus priority measures, it’s fair to say that the city centre would be completely and utterly swamped with buses in this scenario. Even with CRL, the study shows that many routes would be overwhelmed, but not by nearly as much:
Since this analysis by NZTA, a lot of work has gone into further refining the bus network so that the number of buses can be realistically minimised to take advantage of the additional rail capacity provided first by electrification and then by CRL. So it is likely that the numbers will be lower than what’s shown in this study – especially with the CRL.
More recently, the Draft City Centre Future Access Study highlighted the enormous pressure which would come on the city centre’s roading network over the next 10 years in particular – especially if the CRL is not built by 2022 as planned:
Rush-hour traffic in central Auckland will slow to walking pace if the central city rail tunnel isn’t built, a confidential report warns.
The draft report by transport engineers Sinclair Knight Merz puts further pressure on the Government to back the project.
By 2021, most bus networks near and in the city centre will be at capacity or overloaded in terms of what can be provided on existing roads, the report says.
Private motor vehicle speeds will have halved from 16km/h in the morning peak to 8km/h.
The rail network will have reached the maximum number of services possible.
And by 2041, the bus network will be “significantly over capacity” and the average morning peak car speed in the city centre will be 5km/h.
Car journey times to the city centre from the west and south will increase by 30 to 50 per cent, adding an extra 30 minutes each way from the South Auckland growth area.
And there’s more doom and gloom:
The draft also warns that by as early as 2021 growing congestion would “limit Auckland’s potential growth” by increasing travel times for city centre workers and reducing efficiency for freight and commercial road users using the port, moving around the city centre, or passing through.
The growing congestion would also push employment out of the centre, reducing productivity and resulting in a less competitive economy.
By 2041, the report said, traffic jams would be keeping 15,200 employees and students out of the city centre and would reduce speeds for commuter, freight and commercial vehicles by 75 per cent.
Because buses inevitably compete with cars for streetspace, any solution to Auckland’s impending problems that relies on buses will significantly reduce the amount of capacity available for general traffic.
Therefore, perhaps ironically and certainly not surprisingly, the best way to ease pressure on Auckland’s roading network in the future – particularly in the city centre – is to boost the capacity and attractiveness of the rail system to get people off the roads altogether. Which is exactly what the CRL does.