Better Buses needed

Every year for many years now March has been mad for public transport use and every year that madness has been entirely predictable.  It’s happens due to a combination of many factors such as high numbers of people being at work, schools and universities all back in action and generally decent weather. But predictability doesn’t mean AT do anything all that much about it and this year, AT’s solution publicly was just to tough it out

Mark Hannan, Auckland Transport spokesman, said it was too early to say if complaints had increased this year as tertiary students had only just started back.

“The numbers travelling on buses and trains does increase but settles back again as students work out their schedules. The best advice is to plan ahead and try to travel outside peak times.”

Now we know they did a little more than that, for example getting bus operators like Party Bus to run services but that was far from enough. While I accept that some of the factors will change over the year, one that AT seem to not even consider is that people are so put off by the poor and crowded services that they simply go back to driving.

As well as the ‘tough it out’ stance of AT, I’ve noticed over the year’s people increasingly fed up with how AT handle complaints, often feeling that no one has even cared about the issues raised and that’s if they hear back from AT at all.

This year our friends at Generation Zero ran a campaign asking for people to provide on poor bus experiences they’ve had and they’ve now released the some of the results of their survey. Overall they say they had over 1,000 responses which is impressive as by comparison it appears AT had about 1,900 complaints. The complains came from primarily along the isthmus and Mt Eden Rd is very noticeable.

Generation Zero - Better Buses - Location of complaint

Unsurprisingly the big issues related to buses being late and full/overcrowded.

Generation Zero - Better Buses - Types of complaint

 

There’s a lot more in the report breaking down the results in various ways however the key takeaways for me are that AT need to do better to improve capacity through more frequent/bigger buses as well as get the bus lanes sorted so they’re more useful to buses and therefore the city.

After Generation Zero released the report, AT responded and continued continuing the line that people just need to tough it out.

Auckland Transport welcomes the Generation Zero: Better Bus Report but General Manager AT Metro Mark Lambert says it highlights some of the key initiatives already underway that will improve bus services in Auckland further.

“We would generally support the report and its findings and note we are already working on much of what it recommends.”

Mr Lambert says the Generation Zero report highlights the increased travel demand in March but doesn’t consider the fact that Auckland Transport has to plan for all 12 months of the year.

“March Madness is an annual phenomenon which isn’t unique to Auckland. During the month we carried 5.9 million bus passenger trips. March is the month each year with the highest demand on transport and other services. With the end of February it includes the start of the tertiary year, schools are back and more people are in the city following summer holidays.

“With significant public funding provided for public transport, it would be financially irresponsible to plan for the least possible wait time for a bus during the busiest period of the year, otherwise we would have empty buses on the network for the rest of the year. But we do need to ensure that average wait times for buses are acceptable and improved. On some corridors, especially Mt Eden Road, wait times were too long in March.”

In the 12 months to the end of March public transport use has increased by 4.1% and now exceeds 81.4 million passengers trips a year with record bus, rail and ferry passenger levels. In January, Auckland Transport recorded its best ever month for bus punctuality and in March punctuality was down slightly to 90% of bus services operating within 5 minutes of schedule.

In the past year Auckland Transport added 53,000 extra seats on public transport with 30,000 of those on buses. “We are also part way through a programme to roll-out more than 60 double decker buses to the Auckland network and in the year to the end of June we will add another 17 kilometres of bus lanes.”

He also says Auckland Transport is planning more services, more often with the public transport New Network which starts in the south later this year. The New Network reviews every bus route in Auckland and is implementing from October a hub-and-spoke system of feeding local bus services into a connected network of higher frequency services that will operate on key corridors, either rail or high frequency bus routes, operating 7 days a week between 7am and 7pm.

Mr Lambert says a simpler and more logical public transport fares structure is planned to be launched in the coming months to encourage further public transport use.

“With all these changes we are in a much better position to handle the growing demand for bus services in Auckland but we have to work within current budgets.“

The problem with the theory that it’s all just a one off month and that things will soon return to normal is that it hasn’t. Even in May we’re still hearing/seeing people commenting about full buses. One such example was yesterday by Journalist Kim Baker-Wilson but there have been plenty of others.

Perhaps we need a name for each month to describe the overcrowding. This month could be May Mayhem while next month could Jammed Up June.

AT also make mention of some of the projects they’re working on like integrated fares – which ironically could encourage more people to use PT, possibly making it worse. Double deckers on additional routes and the New Network are also mentioned. All of these changes are good of course but they’re taking an age to complete. AT need to get these changes rolled out faster.

Western line frequencies finally about to improve

Next week Auckland’s busiest rail line will finally have its frequencies improved to match the two other main lines in the region. The Western Line will change to services every 10 minutes at peak and every 20 minutes between the peaks which is an improvement from the 15/30 timetable we have at the moment. Early mornings, evenings and weekends remain at only 30 minute frequencies.

As a Western Line user I see first-hand how full the trains often get during both the peaks and off peaks, especially west of Grafton. In addition it’s also particularly noticeable how much more useful 10 minute peak services are when standing on a platform at Britomart having just missed a service and jealously watching multiple services arrive and depart on the Eastern and Southern lines.

May-16 Timetable poster

The improvement has been a long time coming after increases were originally promised to occur back in 2010 to coincide with the completion of double tracking of the western line. But that promise quietly disappeared – for what I understand are a variety of reasons such as there not being enough trains, signalling/junction limitations etc. In fact I understand there are still a number of people within AT/Transdev/Kiwirail who don’t want to see any improvement as they are concerned that Newmarket and the line between there and Britomart can’t cope.

I certainly hope that whatever issues there are but the best long term solution is of course the CRL which will mean that Western Line trains no longer need to clog up a platform at Newmarket while they clumsily turn around each trip.

It also appears AT are making a slight redesign to the timetable including just showing departures at peak as times past the hour rather than every individual service. This is something common in timetables in many cities.

May-16 Timetable western line

One thing that isn’t clear yet is just how much capacity this timetable change will add, if any. Currently most services at peak are 6-car trains however if they need to split some of those up to provide the frequency there won’t be any capacity gain.

There are a few disappointments with the timetable however.

  • There are a few positive/negative changes on trips between some stations but they largely balance themselves out, the one exception is between Britomart and Newmarket where an extra minute has been added. I understand one reason for this is to be consistent with the Southern and Onehunga line trains.
  • There is still no attempt to speed up services, especially at Newmarket where the driver end change is scheduled to take four minutes.
  • There is no change to the hours services run with the last service on weekdays still departing the city just after 10pm and still only terminating at Henderson

AT have been suggesting in the reports to their board that another new timetable is due next year for all lines which is when they’ll start making improvements to travel times. Presumably that’s also when they’ll make changes to improve interpeak frequencies which are required to be improved to match what AT have promised for the new network which goes live in South Auckland in October.

K Rd Open Streets a success

Who are you and what have you done with Auckland Transport?

For the third time in a week I find myself praising Auckland Transport for something related to walking and cycling. This time following the fantastic Open Streets on K Rd.

Image from Tina Plunkett

Image from Tina Plunkett

AT fixed the biggest issue from the last few years on Quay St when there simply wasn’t enough space for the tens of thousands of people out enjoying the day due to them leaving half of the road open to traffic. This time they closed off the entire street from Newton/Ponsonby Rd all the way through to Upper Queen St. The day also went longer than in the past with this year it opening to people from 12-7pm. The extra space and time were definitely needed with the event proving hugely popular and thousands flocking to the street. Given K Rd’s colourful history I suspect for many it might have been the first time in a long time – and what a way to see it.

AT worked with the K Rd business association to put on the day and I love that the organisers didn’t try to sanitise what makes K Rd unique, instead the event felt like a celebration of what K Rd is so wasn’t something else that was awkwardly shoehorned into it. From the music to street performers to the drag queens commenting on street football/limbo, the street’s culture and colour were vital in helping to make the event both interesting and also not feel manufactured.

The very nature of the street also played a big role, the subtle twists and turns as K Rd makes its way along the ridge helped too in breaking up the street and creating some mystery. As you come around a corner and the street opens up ahead of you, you found something new to check out and a heap more people.

I think the day would have also been great for businesses along the street, some of which don’t normally even open on a Sunday. All of the cafe’s and bars I saw were humming with people and their presence meant there wasn’t a need for things like food trucks which also helped in allowing for more space for people.

Everyone that I talked to, both on the street and online afterwards was extremely positive about the event with many also saying:

  • It should happen every Sunday
  • It needs to happen in many other town centres around the region.

If the K Rd event did become a regular event and even if only half as many people turned up it would still be hugely successful and see a far greater number of people use the road than had it been open to cars.

Following the previous events on Quay St, it feels like Auckland is now starting to tap into the right vein of what is needed to make events like this successful in the future. This includes

  • Closing the whole street to give people enough the space to move about
  • Tapping into the local community and letting them put their own flavour on things.
  • Not over manufacturing things

And as successful as the day was, I also couldn’t help imagine what it would be like once the CRL is open and thousands of people an hour are pouring out of the K Rd station.

There are a heap of photos from the event on twitter and I’m sure other social media too.

As part of the event Auckland Transport were also talking about the options for upgrading the streetscape of K Rd which includes adding cycleways. The project covers the area from the Newton/Ponsonby Rd intersection through to Symonds St. AT are still working on the design for it but were asking for feedback on which kind of cycleway design people liked best.

For most of the street where there’s enough space they asked for people’s preferences between three different cycleway options.

K Rd open street consultation - 3 cycleway options

While for the central section between Pitt St and Upper Queen St there were two options suggested. For these AT also had the ideas shown in virtual reality which gave a different perspective and definitely influenced my preference.

K Rd open street consultation - central cycleway options

And as of about 5:15pm, here’s how the voting AT had set up was looking. As you can see they were hugely in favour of physical separation in both cases. In the central section, after looking at the VR version I actually preferred the kerbside option as the extra width was noticeable and there’s less likely to be people walking over the cycleway.

K Rd open street consultation - voting

 

Overall an excellent day that was enjoyed by tens of thousands. Well done to all involved in organising this.

Did you go to the event, if so what did you think?

 

North Shore New Bus Network to be confirmed

In the middle of last year, Auckland Transport consulted on the new bus network for the North Shore. Now in a report to the open session of the AT board meeting today is an item with the outcome of the consultation (9.9MB).

At a high level:

  • AT had a massive response with over 3,100 responses which is huge considering the South and West Auckland consultations each only had around 1,000 responses.
  • In response to the question “Overall to what extent do you support or oppose the North Shore New Network?” 54% were in support and 34% opposed.
  • As a result of the feedback they’ve made changes to 21 of the 40 routes that were proposed in the consultation and have added two new routes although one route was removed. In addition 15 routes have had changes to their frequency or hours of operation.

Here’s what the final bus routes on the Shore will look like

North Shore New Network Final

As a comparison here’s what the route maps currently look like. It’s a much busier map which largely because there are a lot of infrequent services that wind their way through the suburbs.

North Shore Current Buses

One of the key principles of the new network is to make use of transfers to get better use out of buses so that rather than running multiple buses infrequently in all directions, buses run to fewer locations but more frequently with transfers to extend the reach of PT routes.

Principles of the New Network model

Of course competing with this, many people want buses to travel express from their local stop to their destination. As such AT received a number of pieces of feedback to retain or create express services. Positively it appears they’ve resisted the urge to do this as it would likely have both increased costs and AT say in their report that it would have put even more buses on already busy city streets. With the exception of the Western North Shore and a few other locations, most services will feed into a busway station – like buses will do with trains in the South and the West. To ensure there is adequate space for people transferring from feeder buses in the mornings, AT say some busway buses will start at Constellation or other intermediate stations.

The busway itself will get a boost with multiple Northern Express (NEX) routes so services to the city will be even more frequent than they are now – although different services from across the Shore to the city will use different routes. This is shown below but essentially the NEX 1 and the frequent services from Onewa Rd will go to lower Albert St like they’ve started doing since the change for the CRL works. The NEX 2 (former 881) and other buses from the shore will loop through the middle of town while a few services like the NEX 3 will go via Ponsonby and K Rd to Newmarket however these will only operate on weekdays. A small note says that whether they go via Ponsonby Rd or not will depend on bus priority investigations.

North Shore New Network Final - City

AT say that to implement the new network they’ll need 100-150 new or relocated bus stops and likely some other minor infrastructure too such as bus layover facilities, and bus priority.

It’s hard to say just what impact the new network will have but AT estimate the should achieve about a 15% increase in bus use during the morning peak within 12-18 months of implementation which would be the equivalent to about 1,000 cars.

But it will still be some time away before these changes take place. AT say the procurement for the North Shore is likely to happen at the end of this year with the new network rolled out in early 2018. The network that’s is to be approved will result in around a 20% increase in service kilometres being run and about a 15% increase in the number of hours they run for compared to what currently exists. AT managed to save $3 million a year on the South Auckland contracts so I imagine they’ll be needing the same levels of savings from buses on the Shore to help pay for that.

Lastly here is a view of the new route map showing the changes that were made, what do you think about them?

North Shore New Network Final - with comments

Franklin Rd design improves

For the second time this week I’m able to say that AT have improved the design of a cycleway, this time on Franklin Rd.

Franklin Rd Impression

Franklin Rd is one of the most iconic streets in Auckland with its large established trees.

The plans to upgrade Franklin Rd have been fairly contentious over the last year or so resulting in multiple designs, redesigns and debates. There were cycle lanes, then there weren’t, then there were as AT kept changing how it responded to feedback from locals and others who use the street. The same applied for the painted median and parking between the trees.

During the last consultation AT presented three options

  • On road painted cycle lanes with a median and cars parked between the trees
  • On road painted cycle lanes with no median and cars parked between the trees
  • Raised cycle lanes inside of parked cars and no median

In the end they chose Option 1 saying amongst other reasons why it was preferred that “it provides for confident cyclists”

Franklin Rd - October 2015 -revised option 1

Option 1 from last year

But AT are now back with a new consulting on the plans following their more detailed design work. They’re now proposing to slightly raise the cycle lanes by 50-70mm above the road and on the inside of the kerb line. The kerb itself will be rounded rather than vertical so still easy to mount but will still be much better than what was proposed before of just paint.

As I understand it, one of the key drivers for the change was that the previous design would have required digging storm water catch pits in the tree roots – and AT are trying to avoid damaging the trees. This seems like a much better outcome for both the trees and those on bikes.

In addition to the cycle lanes there are other good changes too such as having raised tables over the side streets and at the intersection of Wellington/England streets where a narrow roundabout will be installed on top of a raised table with pedestrian crossings included and even cycle bypasses.

Franklin Road Roundabout Design

Positively the design also appears to be acceptable to local residents including Waitemata Councillor candidate Bill Ralston.

While I’m aware Bill hadn’t opposed them before, some others had and that AT have been able to come up with a solution that is acceptable to the various interest groups is a great sign.

In addition to the cycle lane changes, AT are also consulting on the street lighting. Traditional street lighting would require regular and ongoing tree maintenance and so they’re also considering using a catenary system – something they say could also be used for the annual Christmas lights further enhancing the street.

They are consulting on these changes with it open till 10 May.

Well done AT

April AT Board Meeting

Tomorrow is the next AT board meeting and as usual I’ve been through the reports to pull out the stuff I find interesting.

The closed session is where all of the really interesting stuff happens, my comments in italics.

Decisions for Approval/Decision

  • Quarterly Report
  • AMETI Delivery Strategy
  • CAP Programme Business Case – This is briefly described in the business report as

The Programme Business Case for the Central Access Plan (isthmus to city centre) has been developed jointly with NZTA and Council. A recommended integrated programme (IP) will be provided to the AT Board in April and NZTA Board for approval in May. The IP identifies a range of investments to address growing bus patronage demands against corridor / terminus capacity constraints.

  • Road Stoppings
  • Lodgement of Lincoln Rd NoR
  • Station Security & Fare Enforcement – This will likely relate to changes announced last year including changing some stations including changing access to platforms etc.
  • Integrated Fares Product, Pricing – With integrated fares only a few months away I’m sure AT are finalising the details for it now.
  • CRL Enabling Works Update
  • CRL Procurement update – AT appear to be finalising how they’ll procure the main works part of the CRL

Items for Noting

  • 2016/17 Budget
  • Deep Dive – Harbour Master
  • CRL Communications Update
  • AT Deliverables
    1. Results for Projects completed to 31 March 2016
    2. AT Deliverables – Tasks for completion by 30 June 2016

In the open session there is an item looking at the final design of the New Network on the North Shore, I’ll look at that in more detail tomorrow.

On to the main Business Report. These are listed in the order they appear in the report

From the technology team there is this about AT HOP. It’s not clear just what this entails or what parts of HOP infrastructure are classed as aging.

A programme has been established to address the aging AT HOP infrastructure and the associated support requirements. This will also incorporate increased capacity if required; following the Integrated Fares rollout.

Project Updates

  • They say the design of Nelson St phase 2 is 85% complete and construction is due to start in October. As yet there is still no indication of just what the final decision about what side it will go on.
  • On the trains they’re now trialling harmonic reducing software and other power management tools presumably to improve reliability of the trains further.
  • The hearing for the bridge to replace the Sarawia St level crossing was held last week. Hopefully we can get a resolution on this project soon.
  • Otahuhu Bus/Train interchange is on track for completion in August which is earlier than I thought was intended.

Not in the project section but this chart below shows how AT are tracking on their PT project spend for the financial year and as you can see there’s still quite a bit to go in some areas. On the bus infrastructure improvements they say they are still on target as a lot of works are due to happen in May and June however on the bus priorities and bus lanes they say

As a result of delays in receiving project mandates, we are forecasting a $1.3m underspent this financial year. It is proposed to defer the underspent amount to next financial year. That way we will still be on track to deliver the overall three year programme. We continue to work with Metro to improve program and gateway handover’s

2016-04 PT Infrastructure spend

When AT introduced the city centre parking zone a few years ago it also came with a policy about how AT would review the pricing on a regular basis. The pricing is meant to be demand responsive to ensure that occupancy of the carparks is in the 70-90% range and as part of that the hourly price increases if you stay in the park longer. The point of that is to encourage long term to parking buildings and leave on street parking just for short stay parking. As part of this the first 10 minutes are also free. As a result of the regular review AT plan to make some changes to prices.

In area one prices will go from $4/hour for the first two hours with $8/hour thereafter to $4.50/hour for the first two hours then $9/hour for every subsequent hour. In area 2 there are two different prices and AT will standardise them to $3/hour for the first two hours and then $6/hour for every subsequent hour. That’s an increase for some areas such as at Wynyard but no change elsewhere. Occupancy of the areas is shown below.

Of course some media have already picked up on this and are using it to make headlines.

2016-04 City Centre Parkting Zone changes

There’s a section of the report talking about a Waterview Connection Completion Plan which appears to be the NZTA and AT working out how everything will operate but it also says some physical works will be needed to local roads as a result. It also says this is needed “due to the requirement to manage traffic in the Waterview Tunnel”. The wording of the information suggests to me that the NZTA don’t want traffic backing up in the tunnels and so they will restrict access to them at times (presumably during the peak) and divert extra traffic to local roads. I’ve asked the NZTA for more info about this.

AT are closely monitoring traffic in the city especially so with all of the disruption that is and will be going on for some time to come. They say this highlighted issues with bus journey time reliability which seems mostly related to works that were happening such as the CRL enabling works on Victoria St. In response to this they’re making changes such as to signals to reduce impacts. The wording seems to suggest they’re only worried about traffic flow and I hope those changes that are being made aren’t also negatively impacting on pedestrians as a result.

There are a number of PT Updates, some of the more interesting are:

  • AT are in discussions with Birkenhead Transport for them to buy double deckers for use on Onewa Rd in the future.
  • In what is likely related to the PT financial tracking, AT say that as part of the new network for South Auckland, 32 projects for new or upgraded bus stops are under construction or about to start with another 152 in the pipeline.
  • AT are working on moving the Glen Eden Park n Ride which is due to be completed in June
  • On-board train digital information screens have been installed on one train and will be tested in May while they say the screens on buses will be trialled from April
  • AT include information on the number of complaints they have had about PT. With crowded buses in February and March it’s no surprise bus complaints have jumped up recently.

2016-04 PT Complaints

Thoughts on CBD Bus Changes

Last week Auckland Transport made the latest round of changes to streets in advance of the construction works for the City Rail Link. As mentioned in my post the other day, these changes impact me quite a bit as my commute normally involves transferring between buses and trains at Britomart. Below are just a few personal observations I’ve made over the last few days and I’m keen to hear your experiences of the changes.

Train to Bus

For my trip to work I catch a train to Britomart and then transfer to the Northern Express. In the mornings, the NEX runs every 7-8 minutes and so every second bus is effectively on the same timetable pattern as the western line. Due to the timetabling of services, previously I usually arrived in town just a few minutes before the next NEX departure so a quick dash from the train platform to the bus and I was on my way again with minimal delay.

CRL Bus changes map departure

Now, instead of walking across the road outside of Britomart I now have to walk to Albert St and the timing difference means I just bus I would have previously caught is just pulling away from the stop. That’s a little frustrating but given the frequency it’s not a massive deal. This should also all change when the Western line gets a frequency bump in about two weeks so I suspect could see pretty much back to as they were – with a slightly minor and not terrible walk.

Given lower Albert St is where many buses will leave from post CRL, I don’t think the short walk is terrible – or at least it won’t be once the permanent lane through the Commercial Bay development is completed. It’s certainly not the disaster some like George Wood would have us believe

Downtown Lane

Bus to Train

My trip back to the city is generally a little varied. I’ll either catch a bus direct from Takapuna and then transfer to either a City Link or a NEX on Fanshawe St or I’ll go to Akoranga and catch a NEX from there. For the purposes of this I’m only referring to these services from about the Nelson St intersection towards Britomart.

CRL Bus changes map arrival

City Link – Previously this used to travel down lower Hobson St then along Quay St before heading up Queen St. This part of the trip used to infuriate me as lower Hobson St and Quay St were often jammed up and it could sometimes take over 10 minutes to travel about 500m and the reason I’d transfer to a NEX if possible. The change to using Customs St West with a right turn into Queen St has been a fantastic change and it feels like it’s significantly sped up the service. The stop is just up from the Customs St intersection and even with a short walk from there to Britomart instead of being right outside, it is a much more pleasant journey.

Of course on Queen St also now has bus lanes and it was good to see AT out monitoring them the other day. Given how AT have acted in the past, I suspect they will start with an educational approach first.

Queen St Bus Lane enforcement

NEX – I’ve had mixed results with the NEX so far. In the afternoon peak the downtown carpark can disgorge a lot of cars onto Customs St West who then want to loop around the block to get to Hobson St – presumably that’s faster/easier than using the dedicated ramp to Fanshawe St. In one experience the bus was held up from being able to turn left at Albert St for a set of lights or two as a line of cars in front of my full bus took their turn to do so. That plus the short walk to Britomart was just enough to see a western line train departing as I walked in the building. However in another experience there were only a few buses and we weren’t held up so I suspect it could be a bit of a hit and miss situation.

Other observations

A few other related observations.

  • Crossing lower Queen St outside Britomart was quite easy, sometimes a bus or two to dodge but fine so long as you were paying attention. Crossing lower Albert St is not the same as for one general traffic is allowed on it which they weren’t on Queen St. And because it’s open to cars and quite a wide road there are inevitably some idiots out behind the wheel trying to see how fast they can get to the next set of traffic lights.
  • Of course crossing at the lights is always an option too and given the numbers of people who will now be getting off NEX services and probably heading southeast of the bus stop I wonder if AT should consider converting the Albert/Customs St intersection into a Barnes Dance like the intersections to the east of Albert St.
  • By contrast to Albert St, the new/currently temporary space outside of Britomart has been a welcome improvement. Walking to/from the station and having more space without having to dodge buses is fantastic. I also like that AT are thinking about temporary activation of the area – such as this which was being painted the other day.

Temporary Activation outside Britomart

Overall the changes seem to have gone fairly smoothly and I haven’t seen any real issues with the changes either personally or on social media (not saying there haven’t been). I’ve also noticed that AT have had a lot of ambassadors around directing people who might need it to the new bus stops which is useful. So all up sounds like AT have been fairly successful here. Were you affected by the changes and if so what are your thoughts on them?

Supersizing Lincoln Rd

Way back at the end of 2013 Auckland Transport started a consultation on supersizing Lincoln Rd in Henderson – a road that in my view as a regular user is one of the most soul destroying in all of Auckland. It’s a road that’s almost completely automobile focused in its design and land-use yet seems to perform poorly for cars too, a textbook Stroad.

AT’s basic plan back then for Lincoln Rd was to once again widen it – this time to three lanes each way with the additional lanes being T3. Each direction would be separated by a solid raised median. At the big intersections that six-lane road would blow out to 9-10 lanes wide to cater for various turning movements while pedestrians and cyclists were to only have shared paths which from memory didn’t even meet AT’s low standards of the time. Here’s a video of what was proposed.

When they released the outcome of the consultation almost a year later one of the strongest pieces of feedback was around the cycle infrastructure and wanting separated cycleways, after-all if AT were going to the cost and bother of buying land they should at least cater for all modes properly. Their response to that was “A separated facility for cyclists will be investigated as part of the detailed design

But following that I had heard almost nothing about the project till this week when on the closed session agenda at the Auckland Transport board meeting this item was listed – “Lodgement of Lincoln Rd NoR” [notice of requirement]. This surprised me given that AT normally at least show their designs and often have a second (or even third) round of consultation before embarking on lodging a notice of requirement. Recent examples include Mill Rd, the Newmarket Crossing and seemingly most cycling projects.

A quick look at AT’s page for the project found they had uploaded some new details about the project in February but that they only alerted a narrow range of people. I would certainly count us and our friends at Bike Auckland in that last category.

February/ March 2016

Property owners individually notified of whether AT intends to purchase some or all of their property.

The latest version of the Lincoln Road upgrade incorporating feedback from previous consultation rounds will be shared with:

  • Affected property owners.
  • Tenants.
  • The wider catchment around Lincoln Road deemed to be indirectly affected by or interested in the proposals.

AT will also seek feedback from these stakeholders.

As for what’s now proposed, most of the project seems pretty much identical to what was proposed back in 2013 with the main change being that they have added separated bike lanes in.

The proposed upgrade of Lincoln Road seeks to:

  • Widen the road to provide an additional bus/T3 transit lane on each side.
  • Install an on-road kerbside cycleway segregated from the transit lane on both sides of the road.
  • Upgrade existing intersections.
  • Build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median.
  • Upgrade traffic signals and implement stormwater treatments.
  • Relocate and upgrade existing utility services.
  • Integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s motorway interchange upgrade at Lincoln Road.

And the preliminary design (4.2MB) indicates what the road will look like. Below I’ll step through it with my observations, click the images to enlarge. In all cases North is to the left of the image.

The Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr intersection

As you can see the Lincoln Rd splays out over 10 lanes wide here if you count the space for the cycle lanes and central raised median. You can also see the cycle lanes that have been added which will be segregated – although this plan doesn’t say how yet.

One big new addition here is what appears to be a new road which presumably AT want to build to allow for driveways to be taken out. This may be for traffic reasons or that widening the road will make driveways physically impossible. There also seems to be a small island of houses being left that with this new road will effectively be surrounded by roads. I wonder if this is a case where AT and Panuku Development Auckland need to work together to come up with a better outcome. One potential positive though is that road also seems to open up the local park which is currently only accessed by a few walkways.

A few other things you can notice are a new possible shared path on the North-western side of the intersection which will presumably lead to an extension of the NW cycleway as part of the Royal Rd motorway widening. There also appear to be raised tables on each of the slip lanes which is at least positive and it adds the missing pedestrian crossing on the northern side of the intersection

Lincoln Rd Feb Design - Triangle-Central Park

Universal Dr intersectoin

Continuing on from the image above you can see a mid-block pedestrian crossing being proposed. One good thing is it appears that side streets such as Paramount Dr and Datyona Rd will get raised tables at their intersections with Lincoln Rd.

At Universal Dr the road once again splays out to a wide beast with 9 traffic lanes on either side. Most of the changes here are not too dissimilar to those at the Triangle/Central Park intersection. The left turn for cars to head north on Lincoln Rd has also been narrowed to a single lane which might upset some drivers. I’d also like to see a cycle lane on the western side of Universal Dr right up to the intersection as especially with that left turn being narrowed as there’s not much space there.

Lincoln Rd Feb Design - Universal

Pomaria Rd intersection

Pomaria Rd represents the end of this project and the image shows one of the aspects that concern me the most with the current incarnation of it. As you can see just after the intersection for coming out of the Pak n Save and Mitre 10 carpark (on left of image), the cycle lanes on either side just stop dead and there’s no indication of how bikes will be accommodated after that. In my view, AT need to find a way to extend those cycle lanes right to the Pomaria Rd intersection where it can at least there join with the existing cycle infrastructure.

Lincoln Rd Feb Design - Pomaria

Overall the design has improved but regardless it still represents a massive supersizing of the road and one that won’t come cheap. There is no indication of any changes south of Pomaria where ideally at least protected cycle lanes would be extended in the future.

While AT are about to go through the NoR for the project it seems it could be quite some time before anything is actually built. based on this timeline.

  • February 2016 to May 2016 – Project update with affected property owners and affected/interested parties.
  • May 2016 to June 2017 – Notice of Requirement (NoR) processes.
  • July 2017 to June 2020 – Hold up period (due to lack of funds).
  • July 2020 to December 2022 – Detailed design and land-take.
  • July 2020 to June 2022 – Consenting processes.
  • April 2023 to April 2025 – Construction.

All future dates are projections. Final timelines are to be confirmed and are subject to availability of funds.

Quay St Cycleway design improves

The Quay St cycleway is now well under construction and there are two good pieces of news that emerged on Friday. One is a new image showing what the western section – which will be level with the existing footpath – will look like. It also shows that for the first time it in Auckland, a cycleway will be buffered from vehicles using planters boxes which is a fantastic addition.

Quay St with plant buffer

I hope AT start using these planters on other cycleways.

The planter boxes will extend all the way along Quay St

Planter Boxes - Queens Wharf

 

The other perhaps even better piece of news relates to how the cycleway will be designed around the Ferry Terminal and Queens Wharf. If you recall that during consultation AT said that in that section – the narrowest of the route – that bikes would have to share with pedestrians due to needing the space to accommodate the Explorer tourist bus and a few other uses. Following the consultation AT left that part of the designs blank saying more work needed to be done.

In good news, on Friday AT said they had come to a solution on this and it was to do the logical thing of moving the Explorer bus stop. That means the cycleway can continue the entire way along Quay St without forcing riders back on to the footpath busy with pedestrians.

Quay St Cycleway - Outside Ferry Terminal

Well done to all the people from AT involved in making this decision.

March-16 Patronage

March was definitely mad for many bus and train users with the annual surge in usage resulting in many reporting full services – which in the case of buses often resulting in having to wait for a number to go past before one with enough space to squeeze on came along. Infact it was so mad AT even roped in other operators like Party Bus to help provide extra capacity. However, a number of factors – such as having Easter in March – meant that for buses at least, the month won’t go down in the record books. There were however still some good results on the city’s trains and ferries.

2016-03 - Total Patronage

In total patronage was down slightly by 2.8% however taking Easter and special events like the Cricket World Cup last year in to account it would have been up 1.6%. What isn’t mentioned anywhere in the AT reports is any impact the fare changes at the end of February may have had.

2016-03 - Patronage Table

The fall in patronage was led by buses which in March were down 5.8% compared to March last year, a fairly substantial change. When AT normalise the usage to take into account the unique factors they say it would still have been down 2.2%. But in addition to the normal factors, they say changes to bus stops late last year as part of the first stage of City Rail Link changes also had an impact on usage and had they not occurred, patronage would have been slightly up. They also say they expect to see some recovery in these figures in April. I certainly hope that happens as March is the third consecutive month that patronage has fallen compared to the same time last year.

Despite the factors that negatively impacted on patronage, the solid growth in train use in the past few years has continued – although those factors tempered it a bit. For the month train trips were up 4.7% but AT say taking the other factors into account would have seen it up 13.8%. The underlying growth has remained solid with the average number of trips each business day rising by around 10,000 per day or 17.3%. Given the pattern seen last year with weekday usage, this suggests we should continue to see strong rail growth this year too. As we already know, we passed 16 million trips in early April.

2016-03 - Rail Weekday

One thing that will definitely be helping rail usage is the significant improvement in performance since going all electric in July last year. In March 98.9% arrived at their final destination and of those 95.1% did so within 5 minutes of the timetable.

Ferries are also doing well with the number of trips up 9.2% compared to last March and it would have been up 11.2% without the likes of Easter.

 

In addition to the overall patronage, there are some other interesting metrics in the monthly stats report.

  • The latest quarterly satisfaction results are available and show a mixed bag with trains up, buses flat and ferries down compared when last measured in December. Buses and ferries are also down compared to March last year.

2016-03 - PT Satisfaction

  • There is a two-month lag on the financial metrics but they show PT and especially rail continuing to improve. Farebox recovery which is mandated by the NZTA to reach 50% by June 2018 reached 49.6% and that is primarily being driven by a relatively rapid improvement in rail performance. As this month’s result won’t be seen till we get the April figures, it will be interesting to see what impact the falling bus patronage and change in fares at the end of February has had.

2016-03 - Farebox

  • HOP usage also improved in March hitting 80% for the first time on trains and buses not far behind on 78%

2016-03 - HOP Usage

There are a number of things that will boost patronage in coming months.

  • According to AT’s journey planner, the Western Line will go to 10 minute peak and 20 minute inter-peak frequencies – matching the southern and eastern line – on May 9
  • At the end of July AT will introduce integrated fares which along with making multiple trips using PT easier, is also likely reduce the cost for many people. AT staff are seeking board approval for the prices in the closed session of the board meeting later this week.
  • HOP usage should continue to improve as all SuperGold card trips will have to be made by HOP card from July onwards (via a concession)
  • AT are also planning to improve the frequency of the Northern Express from Silverdale in late June, shifting from 15 to 10 minute peak frequencies which they say is in response to high patronage growth and insufficient capacity.
  • The new bus network for South Auckland along with the Otahuhu bus/train interchange is still on track to go live in October.